Disclaimers: Only a very, very few of the characters herein belong to me - seriously. However I can honestly say, though, that story is all mine, so.... If you’re still reading my stuff at this point, you pretty well know what you’re getting into. If you don’t have an open mind, why exactly are you still reading? However, if you do read it and you find something you think needs disclaiming, you are still more than welcome to let me know. It won’t change anything, but it may make you feel better. Ugliness will earn you a smack to the back of your head.
Thanks: To Phil, Mac and Jeanne for beta reading this for me - twice. They’ve picked up all kinds of dropped letters and missed quotation marks because Pink and Fluffy tend to leave a trail of them. Their diligence is greatly appreciated. Honestly, I couldn’t ask for a better group of women to beta read for me. All errors belong strictly to me.
And to J Crater, for taking all the pix Phil sent her and creating the massive collage so folks would know who’s who in this tale. Total awesome-sauce! ☺
Special Thanks: To Phil for playing poker for me. Otherwise we would have ended up playing Solitaire, and really... where’s the fun in that?? And for doing all sorts of research that she’s REALLY good at and which quite frankly gives me hives to do. And for listening to me ramble while dusting on Saturday mornings – and practically every other day of the week as well as we got closer to the end of this thing. Nothing like being able to list ‘DIVA sitting’ as a job skill. :-P Oh, and especially for giving me the basis for the riddles in the poker run and for playing Dinah for me – we know who does the straight man gig when it comes to comedy shtick around here. Seriously, I couldn’t have written any of the fun stuff without her input and efforts. YOU ROCK, Babe!!!
Author’s Notes: This story is the result of two distinctly separate events colliding in the mother of all head-on impacts. The first was a mystery hunt we did for the third Orlando Bardcon that involved asking a desk clerk at the Grand Floridian Resort for chocolate syrup and duct tape – after informing him we were only going to be there for an hour or so. Man, the look on his face - I wish I’d had a camera!! The second came from my looking through the list of fandoms at Passion & Perfection one day and realizing how many of them I could tie together. So I decided to have a little fun – who knew I would develop writer’s block before I even got started on it?? However, after 18 months of real time and almost 10 months of actual writing, this sucker is finally done. Hallelujah!!
The Halloween story being told within this tale is mine as is the story Gabrielle tells near the end. The Storyteller’s Cardinal Rule is in effect.
“I don’t know about this, Xena,” Gabrielle muttered as she checked their dossier one last time. “I mean the more I think about it....”
Xena stepped into Gabrielle’s personal space and removed the notebook from her hands. She dropped it onto the table and took Gabrielle’s hands in hers. “It’s a little late to worry about it, sweetheart. Everyone has already acknowledged their plans to attend and is already waiting to check in as we speak. Why the sudden backtracking? We’ve been working on this for months and you’ve been nothing but enthusiastic about it. So what’s suddenly giving you cold feet?”
Gabrielle shrugged, though she held Xena’s gaze without flinching. “I don’t know. I really do think this is a good idea for your law enforcement women as well as my media ones; I just….” She hesitated then continued. “You know how sometimes you just get a bad feeling?” waiting for Xena to nod her head. “Right... well, I’ve got a bad feeling.”
Xena frowned. “Can you be more specific? I mean, do you know what caused it?”
Gabrielle smiled wryly. “If I knew that, there wouldn’t be a problem. Or at least we could take care of whatever it was before it became one.” She snorted softly. “Maybe it’s just the idea of that many female egos in that small a space. There’s liable to be lots of drama.”
Xena laughed out loud. “You’ve got media egos – I’ve got law enforcement ones. Wanna trade?”
“Not in this lifetime,” Gabrielle responded. “Yours have guns and legal briefs.”
“And don’t forget those honking huge needles and scalpels. Forensic experts are part of law enforcement as well you know.”
Gabrielle covered her eyes. “What were we thinking when we decided to hold two huge conventions like this at the same time?”
“We were thinking it would be a good way to combine work and pleasure?” Xena asked then shook her head. “Honestly, I’m not sure now. I know it sounded like a really good idea at the time.”
“Note to self – next time we want to go to Disney World, just take a vacation.” She looked around the room. “At least we picked a great place to hold these conferences. Nice facilities, nice accommodations and when we’re done for the day, we can send them off to the Disney parks to play.”
“You really think they will?”
Now it was Gabrielle’s turn to smirk. “You really think they won’t? C’mon, Xena – some of these women have waited a lifetime for a legitimate reason to come to Disney World and play like a kid. You honestly think they’d pass up a golden opportunity like this? We didn’t.”
“It would look a little funny if we did – seeing as how we’re in charge and all.” She tilted her head. “You feeling any better about this whole thing now?”
Gabrielle shrugged. “I’ve still got a bad feeling, but after surviving two thousand and some of years of bad feelings, I figure we’ll get through whatever it is. And you’ll be right beside me?”
“Every step of the way, sweetheart.” She took Gabrielle in her arms and rested her chin on the blonde head when Gabrielle snuggled in closer. “Despite all our misgivings, I think this is going to be an interesting weekend, to say the least. I don’t think there’s ever been a gathering together of so many powerful women from both your sphere of influence and mine in one place before. Who knows – maybe we’ll end up making this a yearly event.”
“Let’s just get through this one first. Then we can worry about doing it again.”
Xena snatched up the dossier from the table and handed it to Gabrielle before retrieving her own. “C’mon then – let’s go get our conventioneers checked in. It’s time to get this party started,” waggling her eyebrows suggestively.
Gabrielle rolled her eyes, but couldn’t stop the chuckle she felt rumble up from her belly. “We’re gonna have a good time?”
Xena grinned. “Count on it, my bard.”
“C’mon, Barbara. The sooner we get there, the sooner we can leave.” Barbara Gordon smirked, but didn’t take her eyes off of the space in front of her. There were simply too many women loitering about for her to risk glancing at her companion, even though most courteously stepped aside to accommodate her wheelchair as she made her way through the crowd.
“Helena, I can’t simply up and leave. You know I am Gabrielle’s co-chair for this event, and registration is part of my responsibility,” nodding towards the slim-line computer currently resting in her lap. “It’s my job to check everyone in; I put the program together, remember?”
“I remember,” Helena Kyle grumbled. “But you’re not gonna stay cooped up here forever, are you? C’mon, Barbara – this is Disney World. The most dangerous thing here is a Mouse that thinks everyone has a money tree in their backyard. Did you see the price of a bottle of water??” her voice outraged.
Barbara chuckled softly. “Yes, I did. Thankfully, we don’t have that particular worry.”
“Not the point, Babs. Not everyone has Bruce Wayne’s money to fall back on in a pinch – not that we would, but you know what I mean. I may have to do a little investigating... see if there is some sort of dark conspiracy behind this place.”
Barbara laughed. “Helena, it’s Disney World. Of course there’s a conspiracy. It’s called free enterprise.” She wheeled to the door, taking a moment to admire the ‘Powerful Women in the Media’ banner that hung neatly above the counter before keying in the code she’d been given by the convention staff. Helena held the door open, blithely ignoring the look Barbara gave her and following her into the registration area. They stopped short when they realized they were not alone, then Barbara smiled.
Gabrielle whipped around, having been so completely involved in preparing packets she hadn’t heard the two of them come in. Then she grinned and offered a hug first to Barbara and then to Helena; both of whom despite their normal reticence towards such gestures, welcomed from Gabrielle. They had known one another for years and Gabrielle and Xena had proven to be trusted and loyal friends.
“Hello, Barbara... Helena.” She blew her bangs off her forehead and looked around at the boxes surrounding them. “Judging by the look of things, this is shaping up to be an interesting weekend.”
“Wait... weekend? You’re going to be doing this all weekend?” Helena whined. “When are we gonna have time to go play together? You promised....”
Barbara turned and looked at Helena and Gabrielle hid her smile. “Helena,” Barbara said patiently, “we won’t be conferencing all weekend; evenings are all ours unless we decide to do something with the group. I know Gabrielle and Xena have several options available for entertainment. Besides, it’s not like we’re not going to be here for a few days after this is over. I promise you we will have plenty of fun before we return to New Gotham.”
“Is the JLA keeping an eye on things while you’re here?” Gabrielle asked curiously. Barbara nodded.
“Yes. Nightwing promised he and a few others would make sure things were taken care of until we get back.” She frowned when Helena wandered off, only to smile when she returned a moment later with Dinah in tow.
“Sorry I’m late,” she said breathlessly as she set her computer next to Barbara’s and went about hooking them both up. “This place is ginormous.”
“No worries, Kid. Barbara and Gabrielle are still doing their thing.” Helena looked at both of them as Dinah finished attaching the necessary cables. “You about ready for me to open us up for business?” motioning towards the roll down that was still lowered in place. Dinah nodded her assent and Gabrielle smiled at their eagerness. One thing she liked about Helena – she was painfully honest about her likes and dislikes, but when she committed to something, she committed wholeheartedly.
“Yeah... I think we’re ready. Let ‘er rip.”
With that, Helena rolled up the gate.
“Hey, Lucy... how’s it coming?” Xena asked her second chair as she stepped into the registration area. Like Gabrielle, she’d been making up packets before Lucy arrived and it was only after she started setting up the equipment Scud had put together for her that Xena had taken a break so Lucy would have the space she needed to work in. “This is gonna be quite a convention. Have you seen the number of women waiting to take part in this?”
Lucy gave her the patented Reynolds’ smirk. “Yeah... we knew that already from the registrations, remember? I just hope no one shows up looking for Lucy Diamond.”
“Not a problem, Luc. Everyone here knows you’re part of my team and that makes you golden.”
“Even if the D.E.B.S. show up?”
“Even then. C’mon, Lucy... do you really think they’re gonna screw you and Amy over like that? If they were gonna do something, Max would’ve ordered it done when they had you under the gun. By your own admission, they let you walk the first time they had you dead to rights because Amy was in your bed and they covered for you when you ran away from Endgame.”
Lucy shrugged. “I never did understand that.”
“Job security,” Xena joked. “Or maybe they just like you.”
Lucy scrunched up her face comically. “Okay... that’s just weird, ya know?”
“I know. But it made ya stop worrying about it too.”
“True, but now I need to go wash my brain out. And what about the rest of these guys? How do you know...?”
“Lucy – stop worrying and trust me on this. No one here is going to try to arrest you. They are here to learn from you. Now, c’mon... are we ready to start checking people in? I’d like to get finished sometime today. I’ve got a date with Gabrielle tonight and I’d rather not be late.”
This time Lucy smiled. “God... you two remind me more of newlyweds than old marrieds the way you act some times. Are you sure you’ve been together long enough to actually *be* old marrieds?”
Xena chuckled soundlessly and nodded her head. “Oh yeah. I’m sure. Let’s get moving. I’m doubt you want Amy coming down here later looking for you and I *know* you don’t want to see Gabrielle because we’re running late. Besides... I’d never live it down.”
Lucy snorted. “I take it back – you *are* old marrieds. They’re the only ones who worry about shit like that.”
“Careful,” Xena warned, though her blue eyes glinted with wicked humor. “It could be you one day.”
Lucy’s smile was a brilliant as the diamonds she was infamous for. “Only if I’m really lucky,” then gasped as a pair of arms slid around her neck. Amy planted a kiss beneath her ear and grinned up at Xena when Lucy sank back into her embrace.
“Somehow,” Amy whispered, though not softly enough for Xena not to hear, “I think you’re gonna be real lucky.” Lucy blushed and cleared her throat before catching Xena’s eyes.
“Well, c’mon then. We’ve got work to do.” Xena rolled up the gate with a laugh and waved to Amy as she headed back out to meet up with her old teammates. Lucy wiped her forehead and they got down to business. It was shaping up to be an interesting weekend and they hadn’t even gotten started yet.
“Amy?” The blonde head whirled at the sound of a familiar voice calling her name. Then she squealed and ran into Janet’s arms, hugging her briefly before embracing Max and Dominique in turn.
“It’s so good to see you guys! I’m so glad you decided to come.”
Max snorted. “Like we were going to turn down the opportunity to see you again. How are you? How’s Barcelona? And where’s your evil half?”
“Hey! Lucy’s gone straight....” pausing when she caught the smirks the D.E.B.S. were exchanging. Amy rolled her eyes. “You know what I mean... she’s legitimate now. She’s at the registration desk; she’s part of the staff of the conference you’re attending. That’s how I knew you’d all be here.”
“So you’re not attending?”
“Not the ‘Women in Law Enforcement’ convention, no. I don’t do that anymore remember?”
“You totally came here to go to Disney World, didn’t you?” Janet asked enthusiastically. “That’s so cool. Can I tell you how cool I think that is? I’ve told these guys we should have some fun while we’re here. I mean Ms Petrie wouldn’t care if we had a little fun, right?”
“Janet, breathe, okay? As a matter of fact, I’m attending my own convention this weekend. There’s a ‘Women in the Media’ conference right next door,” motioning to the counter where Gabrielle and Barbara were working in tandem with Dinah and Helena. “And since I do design work and book illustrations....”
“How very fortunate,” Dominique said dryly in her accented speech. “It is almost as if you had planned it yourself, non?”
Amy shook her head. “Not me,” she replied chuckling. “Xena’s significant other is a writer and publisher. She and Xena are the ones who did the planning for both events.”
“That explains the number of women here. I’d wondered, especially seeing such a mixed crowd,” Max said disdainfully.
“Oh, lighten up, Max,” Janet chided, only to step behind Amy when Max glowered at her. She held up her hand in surrender. “I’m just saying.”
Max held her gaze for a minute longer before looking back at Amy. “We need to go check in. We’ll see you later?”
Amy nodded. “Absolutely.”
Max grabbed Janet and Dominique by the elbows and headed towards the check-in line. Janet turned and waved to Amy. Amy waved back and shook her head with a smile then headed back to her own side of the convention hall, passing not one, but three military uniforms. She wondered when the military had come to Disney, then had her attention taken by the number of bellman carts being pushed through the crowd, loaded down with book boxes. Looked like it was going to be quite a convention.
“Sam, are you sure we’re supposed to be here?” Janet Fraiser asked as she surreptitiously clutched Sam’s elbow to keep from being separated from her. “I don’t see any uniforms except yours and mine and....” craning her neck. “What looks like a Marine over there.”
Col. Samantha Carter looked up from the paper she’d been studying and glanced down at Janet. “I think so,” motioning to the map. “According to this, we’re exactly where we’re supposed to be. I just....” Her head snapped up when she heard her name called.
“Sam? Samantha Carter?”
“Sarah MacKenzie?” Sam smiled and moved in the direction Janet had indicated only a moment prior. They hugged and pulled back almost in the same instant. Sam reached down and took Janet’s hand in hers. “Sarah, *this* is Dr. Janet Fraiser. Janet, meet Sarah MacKenzie. We go way back.”
“*The* Janet Fraiser?? But I thought....”
“We all did,” Sam explained before Mac could finish her thought. Even though it was no longer true, it still brought back the painful memories and a hollow ache in her chest when she remembered the time after the disaster that had been the mission to P3X-666. Only Daniel’s intervention as an ascended being had made things right and Sam thanked him on a regular basis in her thoughts. “Fortunately, a mutual friend discovered Janet was only MIA... not KIA... and brought her home.”
“That’s wonderful, Sam! I’m so glad.”
“Me too,” Sam replied fervently.
Janet blinked and dredged up the manners that had been blown away at Sam’s enthusiastic greeting of the Marine officer. They had known one another so long, Janet sometimes conveniently forgot that Sam had had a life before Janet had been a part of it. She offered Mac her hand.
“How do you do, Colonel?”
“Please, Dr. Fraiser. Call me Mac. All my friends do, except for Sam and Sam talked about you so often, I feel as if I already know you.”
Janet arched an eyebrow, casting a look between Sam and Mac and catching Sam with her head bowed, a deep blush tipping her ears blood red. She turned back to Mac. “Oh? Do tell, please. Sam hasn’t mentioned you at all. And call me Janet. I think we will make great friends.”
Mac turned her head towards Sam and smirked. “I can see some interesting stories in my future.”
“I am so doomed,” Sam muttered, head still bowed. Janet and Mac exchanged glances and snickered.
“Pretty much,” Janet agreed, forcing Sam to look up at her. Mac broke the tableau by mock-punching Sam in the arm, causing Sam to turn and glower in her direction.
“What was that for?”
“How did you make full bird ahead of me? Deep Space Telemetry isn’t *that* interesting.”
“Says the JAG lawyer,” Sam teased. “What are you doing here anyway?”
“Attending a conference – Women in Law Enforcement. The Admiral thought it would be a nice way to network with some of the civilian agencies we sometimes have to liaison with. I’ve actually had dealings with a few of the women here,” nodding to a group of well-dressed women standing a short distance from them. “How about you two?”
“Same thing – I’m representing the Air Force’s interests in Homeland Security and Janet is attending the ME’s portion of the convention.”
“You’re a medical examiner?” Mac asked Janet.
“Not at all,” Janet responded with a smile, “though I’ve done my share of autopsies.”
Mac grinned. “You wanted a trip to Disney World – got it.” She turned and looked at the crowd gathering. “C’mon... let’s go get checked in and then get changed out of these monkey suits. I don’t know about you two, but I’m ready for a drink and a little R&R.”
“That sounds wonderful,” Sam said. “Maybe you can introduce us to some of your friends here. And I promise to fill you both in on... stuff,” with a look between Janet and Mac.
“Sounds like a plan to me,” Janet said, taking Sam’s elbow once more.
“Me too,” Mac agreed. They moved as one towards the registration area, passing by the group Mac had acknowledged earlier.
“I didn’t expect the military to be here,” the redhead commented to her dark-headed partner. Abbie just smiled at Casey and took her hand.
“Remind me to introduce you to Mac – she’s the Marine and a damned fine JAG lawyer. Don’t know about the two Air Force officers, but I bet we can get an introduction later if you want. C’mon,” tugging gently on the hand she held. “Alex and Liv are waiting for us and by the looks of things, they brought the entire Manhattan office with them. Wonder who’s minding the store?”
“Guess we’ll find out in a minute,” Casey said as they made their way towards their friends.
“Hey, guys!” Abbie called out in greeting as she opened her arms to Alex and Olivia. They obliged with hugs of their own and pulled back with smiles.
“God, it’s good to see you two. How’s DC treating you?” Alex asked, noting the rest of their contingent gathering closer to them. Abbie wrapped an arm around Casey’s shoulder and smiled when Casey leaned into her, curling an arm around her waist. Alex grinned. “Nevermind. I think we’ve all got the picture.”
“C’mon, Alex,” Tracey complained. “Let them talk.”
“Yes, Counselor,” Liz said drolly. “Some of us don’t have the opportunity to talk to either of them on a regular basis.” Alex rolled her eyes at Abbie and Casey who snickered.
“Not my fault you can’t pick up a phone, Liz,” Alex snarked, but stepped aside to allow the judge and the rest of their contingent to move forward for their own hugs. Melinda nudged Olivia while Serena and Kelly joined the rest of the lawyers in a circle.
“Your girl likes living dangerously, Olivia.”
Liv snorted. “Tell me something I don’t know. I’m still trying to figure out how she managed to get all of us off together to come to Disney World.”
“I am a woman of many skills, Detective. You of all people here should appreciate that fact.”
Olivia smiled rakishly, but couldn’t stop the blush that tinged her features. “Admit it, Alex... you just wanted to come to Disney World.”
“Well however she managed to do it, I for one am glad she did,” turning to Alex. “Thank you. My family is thrilled to be here, even if I’m attending this conference while they’re out playing in the parks.”
“Are you going to hang around once the weekend is over... get a little time to play too?”
Melinda smiled and nodded. “Yeah. I took an extra week so we could have a little family time.”
“So did we,” Alex commented. “I think this weekend will be good for all of us – very informative – but I am so looking forward to next week.”
“So are we,” Blair commented as she and Jo joined the small circle of friends. “We’ve never been here before.”
“I think that can be said for most of us.”
“Well, we’re not gonna get to have any fun if we don’t get the conference out of the way first. Wanna go get registered so we can get things started?” Jo asked casually.
Blair grinned and took Jo’s hand in hers. “Don’t let her fool you. I nearly had....” Her words were suddenly muffled when Jo’s hand covered her mouth. Brown eyes glared into green and Jo smiled beguilingly at her.
“They don’t want to know all the gory details, sweetheart,” Jo assured her and then scowled at them before either Alex or Olivia could comment to the contrary. “Hey,” looking at the crowd milling around them. “If that’s Abbie,” nodding towards the woman still embracing Casey and surrounded by their New York friends, “then who is that?” looking at four women a short distance away.
Then they heard the Abbie look-a-like become an Abbie sound-a-like with a longer drawl. “TEX!!”
Abbie’s head whipped around before her face broke into a bright grin and she slid her hand into Casey’s as they moved to greet the newcomers.
“Guess we’ll find out in a minute,” Olivia commented when the whole group headed their way.
“Well, if there was any doubt before, I think it’s safe to say we’re in the right place,” Jill commented as Abbie and Casey headed their way. “Who’s the like-a-like, Linds?”
“My cousin,” Lindsay said just as Abbie walked into her arms. She lifted the lighter woman up, knowing Abbie would squeal and demand release, but also well aware the lawyer’s slight frame wasn’t enough to do the same with her more muscular one. Surprisingly, instead of pulling away, Abbie wrapped her arms more fully around Lindsay’s neck and held on for a long moment. Lindsay returned the hug, then set Abbie on her feet.
“Later?” she asked softly. Abbie nodded before extending her hand to Casey.
“Case? I’d like you to meet my cousin, Lindsay Boxer. Linds, meet Casey Novak – the love of my life.”
Lindsay’s eyebrows went into her hairline. “I can see we’re gonna have a lot to talk about,” she commented to Abbie. Then she looked at Casey and took her extended hand, pulling her into a hug. “Nice to meet you, Casey.”
“You too, Lindsay. Abbie hasn’t mentioned you, so I think we may have to get together and swap stories.”
“Us too?” Cindy asked before Lindsay or Abbie could reply.
“Absolutely,” Casey answered. “I’m Casey,” she continued, offering her hand. Cindy accepted it and motioned to the rest of their little club.
“This is Jill, Claire and I’m Cindy.”
“Nice to meet you all. Would you like to join us?” motioning towards the group of women they had so recently vacated that were still watching their interaction. “I know a few people there are definitely going to be interested in meeting you.”
Lindsay wrapped an arm around Abbie’s neck. “Sure. Lead the way, Tex.”
Abbie glared, but it apparently lost something in translation since Lindsay’s only response was a grin complete with dimples. Cindy caught her hand briefly. Lindsay raised an eyebrow.
“I think I see someone I know. I’ll be there in a minute.”
Lindsay nodded, then she and the girls headed back the way Abbie and Casey had come. Cindy went in the opposite direction, looking for the couple she had briefly spotted in the crowd.
“Wow,” Brooke said quietly. “It’s crowded.”
“Popular conventions I guess. Should we try to find Alex and Abbie?” Sam asked, looking around at the growing number of women continuing to flow into the convention area and knowing they were expected by at least a few people attending. Then she heard their names called and turned to find Cindy Thomas waving at her. She took Brooke’s hand and met Cindy halfway to them. Sam accepted a brief hug, then Brooke did the same and Cindy released them both with a smile.
“Congratulations, Sam. I hear you’re up for a Pulitzer.”
“You too – that Kiss-Me-Not series was incredible... like you were actually there,” wondering what about that statement that caused Cindy Thomas to blush.
“Would you like to meet the Inspector credited with closing that case?” Cindy offered. Sam and Brooke exchanged glances before nodding with excited smiles. “C’mon then... she’s over there,” pointing to the growing group of women standing to one side of the registration area where Xena and Lucy were still checking people in. Sam brightened when she realized who they were.
“Alex and Abbie are with them, so that works out perfectly.”
“You know Abbie?” Cindy asked curiously. Sam nodded.
“She and Alex are the ones I wrote my series about.” Cindy shook her head.
“I didn’t realize. Small world – she’s Lindsay’s cousin. Lindsay’s the Inspector I wanted you to meet.”
“Lead on, MacDuff,” Sam said, gesturing Cindy towards the women whose attention was suddenly turned in their direction. They didn’t even notice the entourage they had to maneuver around, so intent were they to reach their friends.
But the entourage certainly noticed them.
“Emily, find out who those people are,” motioning vaguely in the direction Sam, Brooke and Cindy had gone. “And I want to know what they do,” she continued without pause. “If they are part of this convention, I want to know where to find them and if they’re not, I want to know that too. The girls will need someone to take them to the parks everyday and someone will need to retrieve them as well, but they’re fine to wander around by themselves for now. That may change depending on how things go; they are almost fifteen after all – they should be able to manage. Make reservations at whatever restaurants they want to eat at – you’ll have to ask them what they want to do. Ensure there is San Pellegrino available at my table that is refreshed every hour and *what* is SHE doing here?”
Emily looked up from her notepad to glance in the direction Miranda motioned. Her steps didn’t falter but she blinked twice before she answered. “Andrea is one of the speakers, Miranda – just like you.”
Miranda’s eyes grew cold. “Make certain she does not appear anywhere near me, Emily.”
Emily watched Miranda stride off before turning her attention to her one time nemesis and now almost friend. She grasped Andy by the elbow and pulled her out of the melee. Andy slapped at her hand and jerked her elbow from Emily’s hold.
“Look, Andrea – I know why you’re here. Just please, *please* stay out of her line of sight.”
“Why do you care?”
Emily rolled her eyes. “Andrea, I already had to clean up one mess you made; I do not want to be stuck again cleaning up the fallout that that particular encounter would create. And despite what you did in Paris and the resulting chaos that followed, I wouldn’t really want you to endure it either.”
“Trust me, Andrea... it wouldn’t be pretty.”
Andy nodded. “I’ll do my best Em, but we are attending the same conference. We’re bound to be in the same space at some point.”
“Make sure there are people between you,” then sighed when her phone rang. “Yes, Miranda. I’ll be right there.” She turned her attention back to Andrea. “Stay out of her way.”
“Good luck, Em.”
Andy watched Emily dash out of sight before turning back towards the registration desk. “Oh, excuse me,” she mumbled to the two women she bumped into. “Are you all right?”
“No harm, no foul, sugar,” drawled a low, Southern voice. “You?”
“Fine, thanks. Sorry about that.”
“No problem. Excuse us.” Andy nodded and continued on her path back towards the media conference registration area. Nikki and Nora looked at one another, then motioned ahead. “I think that is where we’re supposed to be heading.”
Nikki took Nora’s hand, gratified when her still skittish, newly outted girlfriend clasped her hand tightly. She grinned. “I think you’re right. I’ve got a really big sense of lawyer vibe coming from that direction.”
“What? No cop vibes?”
“Oh sure,” Nikki assured Nora as they made their way towards the registration desk. “Ours is just a lot cooler.” She cocked her eyebrow. “The lawyers definitely have some great shoes though.”
“Shoe envy, sweetheart?”
“Just appreciation. C’mon – let’s get signed in. I wanna go check out that pool bar before the sun sets.” They resumed their course when suddenly Nora almost yanked Nikki to a dead halt. Nikki growled in frustration and frowned at Nora. “What?” her voice tempered by concern from the expression on Nora’s face.
“Nik, I thought you were an only child.”
Nikki blinked at the complete non-sequitor. “What? I am, Nora. You know that.”
“Right. So who’s that?” gesturing with her chin to keep from pointing. She watched Nikki’s eyes follow her motion and felt the sudden intake of breath when Nikki found her doppleganger.
“I dunno, but I think I need to find out. C’mon.” She started to lead Nora away – or would have had the other woman not stonewalled her by maintaining her stance. Nikki looked at her in sheer aggravation. “Nora?”
“Honey, I agree that you need to talk to this woman, but look – she’s obviously attending the same conference we are,” noting that she and her group were receiving their packets from Xena right then. “We have time to do a little investigating – find out who she is and what she does. Once we know that much, then we... as in you and I both together... can confront her. Just remember that she probably doesn’t have a clue either and she deserves the benefit of the doubt.”
Nikki held Nora’s gaze for a long moment before nodding her agreement. “All right, but c’mon. Maybe we can sneak a peek at their badges. That should give us a good idea where to start.”
And they headed to the booth just as the other party moved away, missing the curious second glance cast their way.
“Hey Wendy,” Sofia said as she looped the conference badge around her neck. “I didn’t realize you had a sister.”
Wendy’s brow furrowed in confusion. “What? I don’t and you know it. Only child, single mother. Why would you say something like that?” Before Sofia could respond to the undercutting of anger in Wendy’s voice, Catherine wrapped an arm around her shoulders and turned her just slightly.
“Probably because of the twin standing at the registration counter,” jerking her head in that direction. Wendy’s brown eyes widened.
“Wow... you don’t suppose....” her voice trailing off as her thoughts scattered in a hundred different directions.
“I think we can probably find out,” Sofia assured her, “if you really want to know.” Wendy blinked and swallowed hard. Coming face to face with a twin you never imagined in your wildest dreams you might have was a little unnerving. She looked at Catherine who still had an arm wrapped around her shoulder.
“You don’t have to decide right now, Wendy. We’ve got all weekend.”
“Catherine’s right,” Sofia concurred. “Besides, if we can find out who this woman is, it might tell us a few things.”
“Hey, I see a couple people I know,” Sara broke in with a hint of excitement in her voice, breaking the awkward moment. “Come on, and I’ll introduce you.” The other three looked at her, trying to determine how the taciturn woman knew anyone else here besides them. It wasn’t like she was known for making friends, and it only took seconds for their curiosity to overwhelm them before they were traipsing along in her wake.
Sara stepped up to her mentor and she grasped the ME’s elbow. Claire swung around with her hand raised, then relaxed and broke into smiles as she returned the fervent hug she was receiving from Sara Sidle. When they separated, their friends were both looking at them in question and they went through the introductions as quickly as possible.
“Sara was the best CSI I’d ever worked with,” Claire commented. “I was pretty put out with Gil Grissom for swiping her right out from under my nose.”
“Yeah,” another voice spoke up from behind them, “but you stole her from my lab first.”
“Jordan,” Sara said as she turned to the woman she had worked with while she had been a student at Harvard. “God, it’s good to see you again,” embracing her before turning for yet another round of introductions.
“You too, Slim. Still doing eighty hours a week though, huh?” Jordan asked as she traced the dark circles under Sara’s eyes.
“Would you really expect anything less from my old roomie?” Emily asked as she, JJ and Garcia joined the ever-widening circle. “Come on, Jordan – that dedication is what put her at the top of her class.”
“Maybe,” Claire agreed with a growl, “but she needs to take care of Sara too. She always did have trouble with that particular detail.”
Sara blushed and the Vegas contingent watched in awe as these women they didn’t know treated Sara like she was a special part of the family. Then Catherine stepped forward and they began introductions once more.
“I can’t believe how much this is turning into old home week,” Sofia commented as Lily stepped up beside her. “I’m glad you decided to come.”
Lily smiled. “I had to when I knew you’d be here, Sofia. What would Mama have said if she found out I missed the chance to catch up with my favorite half-sister at Disney World?”
“Only half-sister, you mean. If I was you, I’d be more inclined to worry about what she’s gonna do when she finds out you came down here to see me without her,” Sofia replied with a laugh.
Lily bit her lips firmly. “Mama doesn’t need to know *everything*,” she assured Sofia primly.
“Uh huh, and when was the last time you had to tell her something that she didn’t already know?”
“Shut up, Sofia,” she grumbled good-naturedly. “Besides, even she thought this would be a good way to network and make a few contacts. After all, it’s not everyday you get to meet the FBI’s top profile team – who knows when that might be an unexpected advantage?”
“Yeah,” Sofia agreed, then frowned at the look on Emily’s face. “But she looks like she’s seen a ghost. Maybe we should find out what’s going on. I don’t want this weekend to blow up before we even get a chance to see Mickey Mouse.”
“Emily?” JJ asked with concern, placing a steadying hand on Emily’s arm. She waited a long moment for Emily’s eyes to track to hers, then had to swallow a gasp at the furious look on her face. “Emily? What’s wrong?”
Emily didn’t respond verbally; instead she took JJ’s chin in her hand and turned her head until they were looking in the same direction. Penelope followed their gaze and her eyes widened comically behind her pink frames.
“It sure looks like it,” Emily growled softly. “Would you excuse me a moment?”
She moved two steps before realizing JJ was keeping pace right beside her. She turned and looked at JJ questioningly. JJ shrugged.
“I screwed up once by letting you walk away from me... or by me walking away from you. I vowed to myself that it wouldn’t happen again – not for any reason... including your mother.”
Emily smiled. “Possessive much?”
“Only about the important stuff. Now c’mon... let’s go see why Ambassador Elizabeth Prentiss is at a law enforcement convention.”
“Yeah,” Garcia seconded. “What she said.”
“Bre? Do you know the young woman currently headed our way?” Kelly asked as she watched Emily’s determined approach. She turned to look at Sabrina, surprised to find a gobsmacked expression on her face. “Bre?” She exchanged a concerned glance with Kris who shrugged and shook her head.
“I don’t believe... this can’t be.” She took two steps forward only to find them matched on either side by her compatriots. She stopped walking and looked at Kris and then Kelly, waiting for an explanation.
“It’s obviously important, Bre. We do this together,” tucking her hand into Sabrina’s elbow and smiling when Kris did the same. Sabrina smiled and crossed her arms to pat the two hands clutching her biceps. Then Emily was standing in front of them, frowning.
“Emily?” Sabrina asked cautiously. Emily shook her head even as Sabrina reached out a shaky hand, but she allowed the tender touch. “I haven’t seen you since you were a very little girl. You probably don’t even remember me,” she said around a catch in her voice. Sabrina cleared her throat. “Your mother refused....” watching the recognition flare in Emily’s eyes.
Kelly and Kris released their hold on Sabrina’s arms just as JJ put her hand on the small of Emily’s back and gently urged her forward. They met halfway and Sabrina lightly rocked them together even as Emily held on for dear life.
Kelly, Kris, JJ and Garcia all exchanged curious glances before returning their attention to the tableau in front of them. Hopefully, sooner rather than later, they would be getting an explanation. For now it was enough to realize that something good was happening in front of them.
“Doesn’t that look like the women from the FBI Behavioral Analysis Unit?” Cameron asked Angela as they and Temperance headed towards the registration desk past the large group of women gathered in front of it. “I know they were talking about participating, but there was some doubt about whether or not their director would give them the time off they needed to come here.”
“I think so. I haven’t....”
“It is,” Bones broke in. “I’ve had the opportunity to work with them on occasion. “
“Really? I didn’t know,” Cameron said with a hint of a question in her voice.
“Um hmm,” Tempe said, though she didn’t expound on it. Angela chuckled and Cameron just rolled her eyes, following Tempe towards the sign in desk.
“Well, I wonder who the other women are. I haven’t seen them before.”
“I dunno,” Angela replied. “But I’d guess the two hugging are related somehow. They have the same bone structure.” She shrugged. “Maybe we’ll get a chance to find out this weekend.”
“Could be. Meanwhile, I intend to take full advantage of our time here.”
“I thought this was a work seminar,” Bones commented solemnly.
“Doesn’t mean we won’t have some time off to have a little fun,” Angela commented with a smile that was immediately backed up by Cameron. “Maybe we can even sneak into to the other convention that seems to be here - ‘Women in the Media’. Who knows who we might run into?”
“We can if you want to,” Bones replied off-handedly. “I was invited to participate since I am a best-selling author. I just....” Brennan stopped speaking when she was surrounded on both sides and herded towards the law enforcement convention. “But....”
“Trust me, honey,” Angela assured her. “It’s for the best.”
“Wonder what that’s all about,” Helen commented to Nikki and they pushed through the crowd of women, passing Cam and Angela moving Bones away from them. Nikki shrugged.
“Dunno, love. But it looks like they’re going to your side of the hall.”
Helen smiled and tucked her hand into Nikki’s arm, squeezing lightly for emphasis. “I canna believe we’re here, Nik. Who’d a thought it?”
“Great place for a second honeymoon, Helen.”
“I wasna aware we were done with our first.” She grinned in response to Nikki’s unexpectedly shy smile. “I am so happy to be here with you, Nikki. So proud of you.”
“Me too,” Nikki replied cheekily. Then she cupped Helen’s face tenderly. “I’ve always been proud to be seen with you.”
Helen captured Nikki’s hand and brushed a kiss over her fingers. “Let’s get you checked in, love. Anyone whose writing has won awards like yours has is bound to be expected.”
“Right, and then we’ll get you done as well?”
“Sure, though I’m thinking a former warden won’t be nearly as exciting as a best selling author. Say, isn’t that Kate and Emma?” motioning to the two women currently approaching them.
“Think so,” Nikki replied as the two detectives greeted them with a wave.
“Isn’t this just the best?” Scribbs asked with enthusiasm as they met up. “I never thought to be here, and to be able to charge it off to work....”
Nikki chuckled. Helen and Kate exchanged eye rolls and smiles. Kate reached for Emma’s hand. “C’mon, then. We need to get checked in and participate in the work portion of this trip first.”
“Aw, Ash – you’re taking all the fun out of this.”
“Good. That means the rules are still working. Now let’s go. Helen, would you like to come with us?” Helen looked at Nikki who nodded.
“Go on then, love. I’ll join you in a few minutes.” So they split up, heading for their separate registration areas to get checked in.
“I’m glad we decided to come,” Annabelle confided to Simone as they got into line behind Nikki.
Simone smiled indulgently at Annabelle and tried to ignore the crush of women around her. “Gabrielle made it really hard to say no. And besides, you ask so little of me – how could we not? Especially since your first book received such critical acclaim.”
Annabelle smiled and the excitement of the little girl she’d left behind not so long ago peeked back at Simone, reminding her again of the many reasons she loved the young woman standing in front of her.
“Be honest, Simone – you just wanted to ride the teacups and get an autograph from Peter Pan.”
Simone rolled her eyes and just managed to contain the snort she wanted to give. “Actually,” she said drolly, though she couldn’t hide the twinkle in her eye. “I came to stalk princesses. I understand I can find them in all four parks if I know when and where to look.”
They had just reached the desk and Annabelle crossed her arms over her chest and frowned in thought. “I’ll have to see if they have a costume in my size,” she muttered, much to Simone’s delight.
“I’m pretty sure I can make some arrangements for you if you need help,” Gabrielle replied without missing a beat, having overheard the last part of their conversation. Annabelle’s eyes lit up and Simone flushed a beet red. “Come see me later,” she directed. “We’ll see what we can do.”
“Gabrielle!!” Simone protested in embarrassment. Gabrielle just smiled.
“Don’t bother, Simone. I know better.”
“Ack... bu... how...? Nevermind,” Simone sputtered. “On that note....” They accepted their packets and Barbara turned from her computer to look at Gabrielle.
“You are a wicked woman.”
“Thank you. I’ve had years to perfect my technique. Are we about done?” A beat as she glanced in Barbara’s direction, then looked where the redhead was looking. “Barbara... is there a problem?”
Barbara shook her head. “I don’t know. She’s not supposed to be here,” motioning to the woman coming towards them. “I mean she didn’t register in advance.”
“Then she’s not part of our conference. Everything is already set up.”
“She’s trouble, Gabrielle. You’re going to want to keep an eye on her.”
“Hey,” Helena cut in, “isn’t she the bitch that...?” trailing off when Barbara gave her the evil eye. The woman in question stepped up to the booth moments later wearing a sickly false smile. She extended a hand that Gabrielle accepted, wincing at the limp dead fish grip she was offered.
“Gabrielle? I am Desdemona Imala Von A’Calandra of AVID Publishing, but you can call me DIVA – all my friends do. I was wondering if it was too late for me to register my company for your convention.”
“I’m sorry, Ms Von A’Calandra, but it really is. Everything has already been set up and I’m afraid there is simply no way to change it at this late date.”
“I see,” her words cold and cutting. “Perhaps you should talk to Ms Gordon. I’m sure someone as brilliant as she is would be able to help you come up with a way to make it possible.” She glared at all of them briefly before turning on her heel and stalking off. Helena looked at Barbara.
“Are you sure we can’t make an exception to that killing rule?”
Gabrielle shook her head. “No killing. But let’s wrap this up and head back to my suite. I want to hear more about this DIVA person. I’m sure there is quite a story there.”
Barbara sighed and nodded her head wearily, only to glance up at Dinah when she tapped her on the arm. She raised a brow in unspoken question.
“Um... isn’t that Diana? What’s she doing here?”
Three heads turned in the direction Dinah was indicating. Barbara nodded even as Gabrielle explained.
“She is here by my invitation... and Xena’s. She’s an old friend,” not feeling the need to share just exactly *how* old.
Diana looked around the convention hall carefully, noting almost absently the number of women gathered between the two registration areas. It was fairly easy to pick out who went with what group and she smiled as she watched them eye the other with a bit of trepidation and curiosity. She approached Xena’s counter, watching as she came from behind and wrapped her in a hug that Diana fervently returned.
“Hello, old friend. Long time, no see,” Xena greeted.
“Yes and don’t think I don’t hear about that particular problem on a regular basis. The sisters miss you and Hippolyta wants to know when you and Gabrielle will be returning to Paradise Island for a visit.”
“Soon,” Xena promised. “Maybe when this is over.”
“I’ll make sure to tell them you said so.”
“I’m sure you will. C’mere – I want you to meet someone. Diana, this is Lucy Reynolds, my second in command. Lucy, Diana Prince... my oldest friend in the world aside from Gabrielle.”
Xena excused herself to take a call. So Lucy and Diana exchanged greetings briefly; then Lucy took care of getting Diana registered and handed her the welcome packet. “Speaking of Gabrielle,” Diana said after a moment of awkward silence, “I’d better go say hello to her as well.”
“Hang on and I’ll go with you,” Xena said. “Can you handle things here, Luce?”
“Piece of cake. We’re about done anyway. I think Diana was the last person that needed to check in. I’ll call Scud and have him come help me get this stuff moved into the main hall. Are you coming back tonight?”
“Yeah, we’ll stroll back over after dinner. So don’t stay too long. Get it moved and you and Amy go have a little fun tonight.”
Lucy smirked and nodded, but didn’t say anything else. Xena took Diana’s elbow and they headed over to where Gabrielle was currently disassembling her own registration area.
She paused momentarily in her work to come around and jump into Diana’s arms. Fortunately, Diana was prepared as this was the normal greeting she received from Gabrielle on the rare occasions they saw one another in man’s world. She kissed both cheeks before lowering Gabrielle back to the floor.
“Hippolyta sends her regards and best wishes to you both.”
Gabrielle smirked. “I’m fairly certain that’s not all she sent.” She looked back at the women still sitting behind the counter. “I think you all know each other.”
“Indeed we do,” Diana assured Gabrielle. “Hello Barbara, Helena, Dinah. It’s good to see you out of Gotham and Metropolis.”
Dinah smiled widely. “It’s good to be out of Gotham and Metropolis.”
“Very true. I’m looking forward to exploring this whole Disney thing.”
“Me too,” Dinah replied with enthusiasm. “And I’m gonna take Barbara and Helena along with me if I have to drag them kicking and screaming.”
“HEY!” Helena protested. “I’m the one that’s been trying to get out to the parks to play since we got here.”
“We’ll get there, Hel... I did promise.”
“Good thing I made you do that,” Helena grumbled. “Otherwise I’m pretty sure you’d be happy to stay cooped up here all week.”
“So you are staying here after the convention?”
“Yes!” Helena replied emphatically to counter Barbara’s eye roll. “And we’re going to....”
While she was naming all the things they had plans to see and do, Xena took Gabrielle aside. “What’s wrong, love?”
“I think I found my bad feeling.” Xena arched a brow but Gabrielle shook her head. “Not here. Barbara is coming back to the room with us. She’s got the scoop.”
“Well, let’s get this shut down and head out. I’m sort of interested to hear what she has to say. Besides, I’m hungry.”
“Why don’t you go arrange for some snacks for us since I’m not sure how long this will take and I don’t want you keeling over from hunger before we have a chance for a proper meal. We’ll be there shortly. OH! Make sure you include Pop-Tarts for Helena – strawberry preferably.”
Xena blinked but nodded amiably. “You want me to bring Diana along?”
Gabrielle shrugged. “Ask her if she wants to come. She may have plans already.”
“All right,” planting a brief kiss on Gabrielle’s lips. “We’ll see you in a little while.”
Gabrielle smiled. “Gotta admit we’re starting out with a bang.”
Xena grinned. “When don’t we?” Then she excused herself and headed out with Diana at her side. It was already shaping up to be a very interesting weekend.
“Hey, Xena... wait up!” Xena and Diana turned from their stroll towards the food court at Helena’s call. They stopped and waited for her to catch up, exchanging glances as she wound her way through the many remaining conference attendees still clumped together in small groups. “God, you’d think they could find somewhere else to be besides in my way,” she muttered as she reached the two waiting women. “Gabrielle said you were picking up snacks?”
Xena nodded. “She said you needed Pop Tarts.”
“Yeah... about that....” Helena scratched the back of her neck with a hint of embarrassment. “I should probably pick those up myself.”
“I don’t mind,” Xena assured Helena, wondering about the odd sense of discomfiture she felt coming from the younger woman.
“Oh... I know. It’s just... I have a really fast metabolism, ya know, and it makes me kinda a chow hound. I um... I eat Pop Tarts by the box.” She cleared her throat awkwardly. “I should probably talk to Barbara about investing in them, actually. Anyway, I thought I’d go pick those up – save you and Di here the trouble.”
“Well, that’s very considerate of you, Helena,” Xena said with a completely serious countenance. “Could you pick up some chocolate milk as well? Diana and I can cover everything else here,” motioning to the food court behind them.
“Oh, sure... sure,” Helena acknowledged. “I’ll grab a couple bottles and meet you back at your place... unless you need my help...?”
“No, I think we’re good. Just let Gabrielle know we’re right behind you.”
Helena nodded and turned right down the hallway towards the main gift shop while Xena and Diana went left to enter the food court. They snagged a couple trays from the front and with a minimal amount of discussion, split up to cover more territory more quickly. Xena headed to the back to order a batch of French fries while Diana moved towards bakery section to pick up a supply of cookies and pastries.
The sudden muffled exclamation of “Holy fuck!” in Helena’s voice caused her and Xena to turn towards one another simultaneously, wondering if anyone else had heard. Reassured that it was only due to their exceptional hearing that they’d heard Helena’s mumbled expletive, they exchanged smirks and continued on with their appointed tasks. The sooner they finished here, the sooner they would find out what was going on.
The cashier eyed them both warily, but made no comment on their choices or the amount of food they had. Instead, she scanned their card quickly and politely, giving them a smile as they left the food court, where they were immediately met by Lucy and Amy. Xena cocked a brow in question. Lucy shrugged.
“Gabrielle said for us to come help you guys. Scud’s closing up shop as we speak,” answering both unspoken questions. Xena turned to Diana who just smirked at her.
“You’d think she thought she was the Queen of the Amazons or something the way she’s ordering everybody around,” Diana quipped with a smile. Xena rolled her eyes.
“If anyone should be Queen of the Amazons, you’d think it’d be Xena,” Amy replied seriously. “After all, she’s in charge of a convention full of cops – aren’t they modern day warriors?”
“C’mon.” Xena cut in before any real discussion about warriors and Amazon Queens could get rolling. “I want a shot at these fries before they’re stone cold and we’ve got to get all the way to the other side of the resort.”
“Well then,” Lucy said with a dimpled grin. “Guess it’s a good thing I arranged for transportation,” as they stepped out the doors to the waiting cart. Xena grinned.
“Great work, Lucy!” Xena commented as she climbed in. The rest followed and Lucy gave their location to the driver. Xena looked at her in question.
“Gabrielle said something about accommodating Barbara,” and Xena nodded. Then they settled back to enjoy the short ride to Barbara’s suite.
“Fuck, Barbara. Do you know what they charge for Pop Tarts here?? Two-fifty!! Two-fifty for two lousy Pop Tarts!! And milk... oh man – you don’t even wanna get into what milk costs!! We could almost buy a whole freaking cow for what a quart of milk costs here.”
“Helena, sweetie – calm down and take a deep breath,” Barbara said soothingly as Gabrielle and Dinah pretended to be busy outside the bedroom she and Helena were currently ensconced in. “Why is this bothering you so much, Hel? You knew when we came here it wasn’t going to be cheap and it’s not like we can’t afford it.”
“Not the point, Barbara. We can afford it so easily because we have *his* money to fall back on in a pinch. Imagine if we were doing this on your teacher’s salary... or my bartending one.”
Barbara nodded her head slowly. “All right, Hel... I see your point. What would you like me to do about it? Buy the Disney Company to make it more affordable for people to come here? Bruce might wonder, but I’m pretty sure he’s got the resources to do it.”
“Don’t tempt me,” Helena muttered darkly. “It might be worth it to see the look on his face to know that the Bat is the proud parent of the Mouse.”
Barbara snorted. She didn’t mean to but somehow the visual Helena’s words conjured up was just too good to pass up on. The sound caused Helena to grin slyly and glance at Barbara from beneath dark lashes. She waggled her eyebrows, causing Barbara to slap at her.
“Hey!” Helena complained. “Whadja do that for? I wasn’t the one snorting at the idea of....”
“Maybe we should just buy Kellogg’s too and just be done with it,” Barbara interrupted, cutting Helena off before she could continue further with her line of thought. She almost laughed at the way Helena’s eyes glazed over at the thought. “We could probably take over the world,” Barbara confided in a conspiratorial whisper, though her eyes twinkled with humor.
Helena crawled into her lap, bracing her legs on either side Barbara’s and tucking them into the chair to give them better stability. Barbara locked the brakes, then her arms automatically went to Helena’s hips to steady them; Helena wrapped her arms around Barbara’s neck in return, relishing the gentle smile she received.
“I like the way you think, Brain – Pop Tarts for every household at every meal,” grinning when the soft surface she was ensconced upon shook with silent, gentle laughter at her tomfoolery. “It’ll be a sugar revolution!”
Barbara shook her head, but that didn’t dim the smile that rested on her lips. “And what are we going to do once we’ve taken over the world, Pinky?” she asked guilelessly with just a hint of laughter in her tone.
Helena leaned in close enough for their breaths to mingle and dropped her voice to a bare whisper. “I imagine we could come up with something.”
Barbara grinned and brushed their lips lightly together. “You think so?”
Helena nodded. “I’m clever that way you know,” she responded seriously.
This caused Barbara to laugh and Helena relished the sound as it washed over her. “I know, Pinky,” stealing another swift kiss before leaning back and patting the firm surface under her hands. “But for now we have guests, and we need to figure out what to do about Von A’Calandra.”
Helena took the hint and slid from Barbara’s lap, crossing her arms over her chest defensively when Barbara pinched the bridge of her nose at the mention of their latest nemesis.
“Still think we oughtta bend that killing rule.”
“I know, I know... doesn’t mean I have to like it though,” she groused before opening the door and motioning Barbara ahead of her. Six faces looked at them expectantly and Barbara slid neatly into place at the end of the couch beside Xena while Helena dropped onto the floor at her feet. Gabrielle passed over their drinks and made sure Helena had her Pop Tarts, then cleared her throat.
“All right... now that we’re all here, why don’t you fill us in on this DIVA person, Barbara?” she instructed politely. Barbara didn’t even open her mouth to speak before she was interrupted by Lucy’s gasp.
Xena turned to look at her. “You know her?”
“I know *of* her – she gives criminal masterminds a bad name... real slimy, if you know what I mean. Her idea of a major coup is blackmailing someone into doing her bidding.”
“Sounds charming,” Diana said drolly.
“She’s a snake,” Helena hissed. “Always wants what she doesn’t have and has no qualms about using any means at her disposal to take it.”
Gabrielle nodded her head in understanding, appreciating the fire in Helena’s eyes. “And blackmail is her chosen method of taking?” waiting for the nods she knew were coming. She directed her attention to Dinah. “What’s your take on her, Dinah? Can you get a read on her?”
Dinah tucked a lock of hair behind her ear nervously as she considered her answer. “She’s dark and manipulative and in possession of secrets she shouldn’t have. Trying to read her....” She shook her head and looked beseechingly at Barbara.
“When Von A’Calandra came to us originally, Dinah tried to get a read on her. It knocked her out cold.”
Xena and Gabrielle exchanged glances. “Sounds like someone made a deal with the devil.”
“So why haven’t we heard of her?”
“One of two reasons that I can think of,” Barbara offered. Xena cocked an eyebrow at her and she took the unspoken hint. “Either you don’t have any secrets that she can find or... or she found something that made her afraid of you for some reason.”
“I’d be more inclined to go with the first. Otherwise she wouldn’t have approached me like she did earlier.”
“The question is – what does she really want?” Amy asked. “If she really wanted to participate in the conference, it seems like she would have made more of an effort when the announcement first went out instead of waiting til the last minute and expecting some sort of preferential treatment.”
“That’s just the way she is – she seems to think there is an entitlement due her.”
“Sounds like she needs an attitude adjustment,” Xena muttered. Gabrielle laid a gentle hand on her arm and Xena gave her a wry smile before speaking again. “What do we want to do about her?”
“First I want to understand who she is and what she knows,” looking back at Barbara. The redhead pinched the bridge of her nose, breathing out slowly in an effort to stave off the headache she felt building up behind her eyes.
“Get comfortable – this could take a while.”
“Blair, have you heard from Natalie or Tootie?” Jo asked, looking at her phone. “They should have been here by now.”
Blair glanced at the phone that she’d tucked into her purse hours earlier. “No, and I’m starting to get concerned. They’re supposed to meet us for dinner.”
“Maybe we should try to reach them,” Jo commented, even as she put the phone to her ear. Then she shook her head. “Straight to voicemail. Did she mention who they were going to see or give you a number or anything?” as she snapped her phone shut.
“No. All I know was it was an old friend she’d met in Iraq during Desert Storm.”
“All right,” Jo sighed. “Let’s go meet the rest of the guys. They should be waiting out front by now.”
“Hopefully Alex managed to snag us large enough table at the brewery.”
Jo snorted and took Blair’s elbow as they exited their room. “Leave it to Cabot to find the single upscale beer joint at Disney. Where is this place anyway?”
“The Boardwalk,” Blair replied, dropping the valet ticket into Jo’s outstretched hand. “I’m going to leave a note at the desk for Tootie and Nat, in case they get back soon.” Jo nodded and headed toward the lobby where the rest of their party waited.
“Nat, are you sure these directions are right?” Tootie asked as she looked around at the nothing that surrounded them. Though, in fairness, that wasn’t completely accurate. There were orange groves just coming into fruit and pine trees tall and green that lined the four lane highway they were currently traveling on. Occasionally there were wide-open spaces with herds of cows spread across them.
“I printed them off exactly like she sent them to me, Tootie. Look around – the last thing she said to me was that when I was lost I’d be there. We’ve got to be close, because I am completely lost.”
“Well, if we’re taking a vote, I vote we turn around at the next available intersection. We’ve been out here for hours and hours and I’m not even able to get a cell signal to call Blair and Jo and let them know we’re going to miss dinner.”
Nat sighed. It hadn’t been hours and hours... not really, since only a couple had passed since they’d picked up the rental car... but she was beginning to agree with Tootie. Coming out here straight from the airport had probably not been the best idea she’d had.
“All right, Tootie. I’ll turn around at the next light and head back towards Disney. We probably should find a gas station and get some directions though.”
Tootie nodded and they rode another couple minutes in silence.
“Hey, look… there’s a light and a gas station,” Tootie pointed. Natalie started to laugh; Tootie just looked at her with a frown. Nat gestured towards the street sign attached to light they were approaching. Tootie looked up and back down at the directions she held in her hand. She began to laugh as well.
“Guess she wasn’t kidding.”
“And when you’re lost, you’re there,” Natalie said on a chuckle. She signaled her intent to turn and slid into the turn lane to wait for the light.
“Everything all right?” Alex asked Blair when she returned to the table.
“Yes. Apparently Natalie’s friend wasn’t kidding – she and Tootie were ready to turn around when they realized they’d found it.”
“Will they be back in time for the conference tomorrow?”
“Oh yes – they’ll probably be back before we are,” motioning towards the pool tables that their respective detectives were occupying. Jill and Casey had joined Jo and Olivia at the table and currently it was the lawyers versus the detectives with the lawyers taking quite a beating. Claire and Cindy were laughing and although Alex and Blair couldn’t hear the words being exchanged, it was clear they were all having fun.
“You realize we may not get them away from there before last call.”
“Sure we will,” Blair assured her. “Olivia doesn’t know you were a hustler back in the day, does she?”
Alex blinked shocked blue eyes. “How did you…?”
“You should know by now that what one Gamma knows....”
“... all Gammas know.”
“Um... you were quite the legend.” Alex blushed but held Blair’s gaze. “The question is... do you still got it?”
Alex smirked and rose from her seat. “What say we find out?” She waited for Blair to join her before she continued. “Besides, I think the twins need some time alone,” motioning to the end of the table where Abbie and Lindsay had their heads together, speaking quietly.
“Wonder what that’s all about.”
“I don’t know. Let’s leave them to it, though. We have a couple of detectives to hustle.”
With matching chuckles, they headed over to the pool tables.
Return to the Academy