Disclaimers: None.  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 this far into the series? 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 for sticking around to beta read for me.  She’s picked up all kinds of dropped letters because Pink and Fluffy tend to leave a trail of them.  All errors belong strictly to me.

Special Thanks: To the many of you that have taken the time to send your kind words about the Valiant Series thus far.  I greatly appreciate your feedback and your patience in waiting for this installment.  I was actually writing this and Brave New World concurrently, and I appreciate both your patience and your indulgence.

Author’s Notes: Words and music used belong to Martina McBride.  No money is being made from it and no copyright infringement is intended.  The rest of the author’s notes will follow at the end of this story, though the Storyteller’s Cardinal Rule is finally back in effect. smiley face


A Valiant Option

By D


“NO!” The furious sound echoed across the hall of the temple as Sky gave Tiny his assessment of Randi’s condition.  A vase flew into the wall with the single flick of a wrist and Ares stomped back over to the scrying bowl, watching the scramble of activity taking place in the palace room.  “No, Randi!  This isn’t supposed to happen!!  I didn’t hit you hard enough to kill you.”  He rubbed a hand across his face.  “Damn it all to Tartarus!!”  He watched a little while longer then roared in absolute frustration when Gwen was rushed to Randi’s side on a hover board and curled her body around Randi’s.

“No! It’s not supposed to be like this, dammit!!  You’re supposed to call on me to join you so we can rule together, Randi.  You’re not supposed choose that irritating little blonde over me and you’re certainly not supposed to die!”

“C’mon! C’mon!” Ares growled as he continued to watch Tiny and Lacey fight to keep Randi’s body alive.  Then everything came to a screeching halt when Gwen sat up in the bed with a single cry....


“Oh, no!” bellowed Ares.  “No!  It is not going to end like this between us, warrior!  You’re mine now! I own you! You don’t get to choose your path!”  And with that pronouncement, Ares disappeared in a shower of blue fire.


Chapter I

“Are you sure about this, Rosie?” Lacey had set up her equipment to breathe for Randi, thus keeping her body alive, then set up the remainder to monitor both Randi and Gwen.  Then at Rosie’s instruction, everyone had moved away from them.  Now Geoff looked to the shamaness for some answers.

“I’m sure, Geoff.  We’ve done all we can do.  It’s up to them now.  There’s nothing we can do except wait and hope.”

“How long?”

Rosie shrugged.  “There’s no way to know.  It depends on them and....”  Whatever she had been going to say next was interrupted by the shimmer of dark sparkles that filtered into the room as Ares materialized next to the bed.  Everyone shifted into action and what happened next was like a blur in super slow motion.

Ares lifted his hand to move Gwen off Randi’s body.  Reed, Lacey and Rosie scrambled towards the bed as a single unit to protect them.  Ares sent a burst of energy towards the three, knocking them across the room and into the wall.  Tiny, meanwhile, headed directly for Ares, only to find himself thrown into Sky who was following behind him and together they slid down the wall next to the other three. 

Fury lent strength to Geoff’s legs and the distraction of the rest allowed him the chance to slide into position covering Gwen and Randi with his own body.  Then he screamed in agony when Ares’ hand landed on his back, but he refused to move from his place protecting them.  Jill ran towards Geoff only to find herself physically assaulted when Ares backhanded her away from him, putting all of his anger and frustration into the blow.

Before he could turn to finish her off, he found himself being transported put of the palace against his will.  “NOOOOOOOO!!!” he screamed, catching a glimpse of his three sisters connecting together to send him out of the palace.  When he was able to see again, he didn’t recognize where he was; but he knew instinctively it wasn’t anywhere close to the palace.

He growled and orbed back to his temple on Olympus, intent on finding a way around this latest complication to his victory.


Aphrodite, Artemis and Athena looked around at the carnage Ares had created.  The five human beings slumped against the wall were slowly starting to stir, and Artemis crossed over to check on them.  Athena went immediately to Jill who lay face down on the floor some distance from the bed.  Blood trickled from her ear and onto the carpet beneath it.

Dite moved to the bed, anxious to check on Gwen and Randi, but also concerned about Geoff’s stiff, unmoving form.  He seemed frozen in agony, and when Dite touched him he simply collapsed away from the pair he had been so desperate to protect.

“Athena!  Athena, NOW!”

“I can’t, Dite!  She’s dying!” motioning to Jill with her head.  Both hands were occupied with trying to heal her.  Ares had done serious deliberate damage and Athena wasn’t sure she could heal her completely, not with the time factor working against them.  She had to get to Randi and Gwen.

“The, I think he is dead already,” Dite insisted, wanting to be grossed out but not really having time for it.

“Well, check, Dite!!”  But she didn’t have to.  Artemis had been successful in getting the others to their feet, albeit shakily, and Tiny stumbled to Geoff’s side with Lacey right behind him.  The rest were a little slower, but they followed as quickly as they could manage.

By then, Tiny had scooped Geoff up in his arms and was moving him over to the couch.  Lacey was quick to move over to help, opening his shirt and visibly flinching at the amount of physical damage Ares had done to Geoff.  She exchanged a glance with Tiny and shook her head slightly, but still proceeded to start resuscitation and regen processes on him.

Dite’s focus immediately went to the two women still wrapped around one another on the bed, completely unaware of the drama being played out around them.  She placed a hand on Randi and the other on Gwen, trying to sense them.  Artemis walked over to Athena and checked on Jill’s condition before she allowed Sky to pick Jill up and move her over to the couch with Geoff.  Athena continued to channel healing to her and Artemis lent her strength to help Athena.

The restrictions placed on them and the rest of the Pantheon made everything more difficult, and that was never more apparent or more frustrating than it was at this very moment in this time and place.  It should have been so easy, and yet they were forced to allow things to play out to their conclusion with only a minimum of interference.  Their only mission here was simply to protect Randi and Gwen until Randi could make her own decision.  The rest was a calculated risk, and only the fact that the damage was done by a god made it even possible.

“Goddess, is there anything we can do to help?” Rosie asked, directing her question generally. 

Dite pulled her hands away and shook her head.  “There is nothing any of us can do,” she said quietly.  “It really is all up to them now.”  She blew out a deep breath.  “Let’s go see if we can help them,” motioning to the small group on the couch.

“But what about the antidote?” Rosie asked.  “Surely we can....”

“We found it, but it’s here on the physical plane.  They have to be awake... here... for us to make the offer.  We have to wait for them to come to us... or not,“ said Artemis.

“Rosie, were you able to set up a perimeter when you moved here?” Athena asked as Jill continued to heal ever so slowly.  She wondered if Jill were resisting the healing because of her husband’s condition or if Ares had done irreparable damage.

The shamaness nodded vigorously.  “Apparently Geoff rounded up all the local military and Sabre members he could contact, and we sent the People out as soon as Gwen demanded we move her back here.  I’m not sure what happened after that, except that the People knew to reset a perimeter here as tightly as they could manage.  I’m not sure how you or Ares were able to penetrate it, in fact.”

Reed answered.  “They weren’t focused on keeping gods out here since we never expected an attack from Ares against Randi.  We figured he would target Gwen, though given that obvious error in judgment, maybe we need to change that,” gesturing to the mess around them.  “They were simply trying to bolster our strength.”  Reed looked around.   “Let me go take care of that.”  She slipped out of the room and the rest went over to see how the Goldmans were doing.

Reed took a deep breath as she walked out the door.  Her defenses had taken quite a beating once she had lost direct support from Rosie, though her barriers were more intact than she’d had any reasonable hope of expecting given the current situation.  Still, it was good to get out of that room and into the strong support she could feel flowing from the People in waves.  She realized that the military and Sabres that Geoff had managed to gather together had been interspersed among the people and were doing their best to follow the example of those around them, and there were so many that they were within touching distance of one another.

Reed stopped at each person to thank them for the support and to give them new instructions on changing their focus.  Some of the regular military members didn’t understand, but they were willing to try.  Fortunately the Sabres and the People did understand, and they would be able to redirect the rest.  When she was finished, she took a deep breath and crossed back into the bedroom.

Rosie met her at the door, taking her hand immediately, and providing her with some much needed relief.  “How are you doing, my friend?” Rosie asked as her eyes began to glow once more as she channeled the enormous amount of power she was able to gather from the room into Reed.

Reed nodded.  “Better now,” she acknowledged.  “This hasn’t been anything like I thought it would be.  Thank you for being here, Rosie.  I wouldn’t have survived this without you... none of us would.”

Rosie bowed her head slightly to acknowledge the compliment, then looked around.  Lacey and Tiny continued to work over Geoff’s unmoving form; Sky cradled Jill while Athena healed her and Artemis provided support for them both.  Only Dite sat apart from the group, her focus totally taken by the two who remained motionless on the bed.

“What is up with them, Reed?  Can you sense... anything?”

Reed shook her head.  “Only a residual trace.  It’s like they have gone somewhere beyond themselves – probably... hopefully, they are in Randi’s safe place in her mind.”  She blew out a breath and glanced over towards the bed before looking back at Rosie.  “The thing that concerns me – the two things, actually – are that Randi’s physical body is only being kept alive by Lacey’s machines and the fact that I can’t seem to reach Gwen.  I feel like we’ve let them down.”

“Faith, Reed.  Gwen knows we’re here and when we can help, she’ll let us know.”

“I hope so, Rosie.”


Gwen struggled to look around the darkness.  When Randi’s chest had stilled here in the Empress’ safe place, everything had been plunged into a thick, inky blackness.  Now as Gwen searched with her hands, she realized that Randi had moved out of this room, and Gwen knew of only one other place she could have gone.  Unfortunately, she wasn’t sure how to find Randi’s other safe place without at least the smallest amount of light, and even wishing for a light hadn’t garnered her any.

So she closed her eyes against the blackness and simply let herself feel, hoping her heart would lead her to Randi despite the darkness.  After concentrating for a long moment, Gwen felt the warmth she had been searching for. She slid off the marble slab and followed where her heart was leading her.

She walked for a while, remembering from her previous walks that time and space here was a fluid thing.  Her thoughts and concerns were focused on Randi and why she had disappeared from the Empress’ safe room.  Her pace was quick but not rushed, not wanting to miss anything coming from Randi, and the warmth she felt flowing meant Randi was alive here.  

Her greatest concern was the fact that Randi, at least for a few brief moments, had stopped breathing here.  She could only imagine the havoc that was causing in the real world.

The warmth didn’t get weaker, but it didn’t get any stronger either.  So it was an unpleasant sensation, though not an unwelcome event, when she literally ran into the second marble slab.  Her groan caused a gasp and an echoing moan from the form she fell into, and immediately a light appeared to illuminate the small area around them.

What Gwen saw there was nothing short of shocking, and it rendered her momentarily speechless.  It was Randi – not unexpected given their current location in her mind – but it was Randi twice over again – very unexpected in any case.

Randi lay with her head in the Empress’ lap, curled up into a fetal position to try and alleviate the ache in her chest.  Her breathing was slow and shallow as though she were hanging onto her life by the barest thread.  The Empress’ hands gently combed through Randi’s hair, trying to offer comfort without adding to her misery, both still feeling the lancing pain the separation had caused them.

Gwen simply gazed at them for what felt like a very long time, trying to wrap her mind around the fact that Randi was no longer whole... again.  Then she took the Empress’s hand in one of her own and placed the other on Randi’s chest, just barely able to fell the irregular tempo of her heartbeat.  She met the Empress’ eyes seriously, finding pain and true fear lurking in those stark blue depths. Gwen moved her hand up to cup the Empress’s face, gratified when she leaned into the touch.

“Sweetheart, what happened here?  Why are you two separate personalities again?”  The Empress shrugged gently so as not to disturb the woman cradled in her lap.  Her blue eyes dropped back to herself and she watched as she combed long fingers through her own dark hair, realizing in a dark, far-off way just how surreal the whole situation was.

Fingers under her chin lifted her face and she brought her eyes up to meet Gwen’s, finding only love and concern in those green depths and wanting to fall into them.  “It’s not my fault, Gwen.  I didn’t do this... she did.”

“Love, I’m not blaming the warrior or the woman for this – I’m not blaming any part of you at all.  I’m just trying to figure out what happened so we can try to fix it.  If we’re both still here, then we must still be on our spirit walk.  We need to finish it and get out of here, and I think to do that, we have to make you whole again.  I felt you die, Randi....”  She drew a sobbing breath.  “Oh God, I can’t live through that again.  I can’t.”  The last was a bare whisper, but in the silence of the stillness around them, it was as if she shouted it from the hilltops.

Everything was tranquil and still for a long moment then Gwen gasped when she felt the Randi that lay unconscious reach up and cover the hand that rested on her aching chest.  Gwen tore her eyes from the Empress’ and glanced down, but Randi’s eyes remained closed and her breathing uneven.  Gwen turned her attention back to the Empress.


“We don’t want to die, Gwen... not like this.  But we’re not sure how to fix this either.”

“Tell me what happened or at least what you remember.”

The Empress considered the request thoughtfully.  “I remember you leaving us - talking about it here... well, in my space.”  She gave Gwen a small smile and Gwen returned it.  “We talked – you and I; and we forgave each other even though I am still not sure what I was forgiving you for.  I know, I know.... this was us, but it was mostly me – even if Ares did cause it.  I was so tired... both parts of me were and it just felt like we were fighting each other – still.”

“The pain was just... overwhelming.  It hurt so much and the realization of what I had done as the warrior just finally....”  The Empress motioned to the part of herself that remained unconscious in her lap.  “It was too much for the woman in us to hold together.  We’re afraid... *I’m* afraid that Ares will win after all if I can’t figure out how to get us back together again.  We can’t defeat him apart like this.”

“Are you choosing to die here then?  Are you choosing to give up instead of facing him together with me in the real world?”

“No, love, NO!  We would choose to stand with you under any circumstances.  But I don’t think we can defeat him as a ‘we’ entity.  We need to be a single whole person to stand with you as the single whole you and I are together.”

Gwen straightened up, though neither Randi released their grip to allow her to move away from them.  “All right.  Have you tried... you know, like we did before?  Laying down and merging yourself together?”

The Empress nodded.  “As soon as we separated.  We were still whole while we were in my safe place, but we were struggling... I was so tired and she was – it felt like she was dying inside me.  Or I was dying inside her.  We kissed you and closed our eyes for a little rest and when we opened them we were here in her safe place, and we had gone from being one person to two distinct personalities.”

“So since she was already laying on the slab here, I tried to lay in the same space.  But something went wrong – it nearly killed her.  I felt her stop breathing, and the pain....  The pain was excruciating.  My chest... my head... God, Gwen, it hurt so badly.  The only good thing was she started breathing again as soon as I was expelled.  Then... we just waited, here, just like we are now.  We knew you’d come looking for us.  You promised you would.”

Gwen cupped the Empress’ face once more, then brushed their lips together in the gentlest of kisses.  “You’re absolutely right... I did.  And I meant it, Randi – I always have.  Wherever you go, I go.  However, that being said, the only place I want to go right now is out of here.”

Gwen caught and held the Empress’ eyes with an intensity she seldom employed outside the intimacy of their bedroom, even when they were alone. It got her attention instantly as it always did.  “Randi, I need to know if you can carry her out of here,” motioning to Randi’s unconscious self.

The Empress held Gwen’s gaze, then looked down at her other self and nodded.  “If it’ll get us out of this goddamn darkness, I’ll carry her back to reality.”

Gwen chuckled.  “Not that far, love.  I just want to go to the glade... to the safe room in my mind.”

“Is that a good idea?  I mean, given what happened the last time....”

“We’ll make it secure for both of us.  Trust me, sweetheart.  I think it’s what we need.  I think you need the peace of that place to be whole again.”

The Empress looked into those eyes that held the mirrors of her soul and trusted.  Then she slid her arms around herself and scooped Randi into her embrace, groaning a little as the full weight hit her.  She exchanged glances with Gwen.  “Remind me I need to go on a diet when all this is over.  I think I may give myself a hernia.”

Gwen snorted.  “Sweetheart, it’s not fat that’s making you heavy.  That is pure, unadulterated Valiant muscle.  And I like it just the way it is.”

The Empress glared, though Gwen could easily see the twinkle that lurked in the back of those eyes, even in the dim light of this place.  “You play dirty.”

“Yes, but I play to win.  Now, c’mon.  I want fresh air and sunshine.”

The Empress sighed, but obediently followed Gwen, noting she refused to lose contact with either part of Randi.  And they slowly made their way from the darkness into full-blown light.

When they crossed into the glade, the Empress slid to the ground – not under the weight of the burden of self she bore, but more from relief of being out of the darkness at last.  She looked around with new eyes, as though she had never seen this place before, and for a few minutes, Gwen was content to allow her the luxury.  Then the unconscious woman began to stir at last and both of their attention was taken by her.

Without losing contact with the warrior, Gwen brushed the woman’s hair back from Randi’s face, gently caressing her skin and getting the tiniest smile out of Randi for her actions.  “Hey,” she called softly.  “How ya doing?”

“Hurts,” Randi replied in a whisper.  “Hurts.”

“I know it does, sweetheart.  I know.  But you have to let yourself be whole again.  It’s the only way you can heal.  You need the warrior’s strength as well as the woman’s.  You need her clarity of mind and judgment as well as your compassion and mercy.  You need to be whole to heal, love, and I need you whole so we can go kick Ares’ ass, remember?”

Randi nodded and then shook her head.  “Tried... already.  Can’t.”

“Do you trust me, Randi?”  Two heads nodded simultaneously.  “Then you can do this.  This is our place – yours and mine, and there is an energy here that is just us.  Do you feel it?”  Both incarnations nodded again.  “It’s healing energy, Randi.  This is what I feel when we come to our glade together – refreshed and revived and renewed.  Trust in it, and let it heal you and make you whole again.  Accept that you need what you perceive to be both your strengths and your weaknesses from both parts of yourself, love.”

Randi and the Empress looked at each other for long moments, measuring the other’s worth. Finally, they nodded, and the Empress gently placed Randi on the soft grass with her head in Gwen’s lap. Randi moaned in pain then breathed out, trying to force herself to relax.

Gwen put her hand on Randi’s shoulder, and Randi reached up to cover it with her hand.  Then Gwen took the Empress’ hand in her own and squeezed it lightly.  “I love and believe in both of you – with all my heart.”

“Will you hold us?” the Empress asked as she prepared to try to merge into Randi once more.  Gwen brought the hand to her lips and kissed it.

“For as long as it takes.”

Then the Empress took a deep breath and lay down on her body.  Gwen watched in fascination as the features melded back into the woman she knew and loved.


Reed gasped and froze, nearly hyperventilating as sensations cascaded over her.  Rosie was instantly at her side offering support, and the rest moved as swiftly as they could manage.  They had done all they could for Geoff and Jill; now it was a matter of waiting, which they were mostly content to do – until Reed had reacted so violently to whatever had hit her senses.

Tiny took her hands in his, chafing them lightly.  Lacey moved over to check on Randi and Gwen as the monitors and sensors on them started whining bare seconds behind Reed’s response.  Sky took her other side, hoping between him and Rosie, Reed would be able to feel the energy they were able to channel from the abundance that was being conducted to them.

Only the goddesses remained still, Athena and Artemis supporting Aphrodite in much the same way the others were sustaining Reed.  Then they waited for Reed to speak.  Tiny was talking to her quietly to offer comfort and to give her a few minutes to collect her wits from whatever corner they had been scattered to when Randi and Gwen had done whatever they had managed to do.

Finally Reed took a deep breath and swallowed, meeting his gaze.  “Sweetheart, are you okay?” he asked, refusing to let his hands loose from hers, and she clasped his gratefully.  She nodded and turned her head towards the bed.


“They are... Randi is breathing on her own.  Her pulse is stronger, though still weak, and I think she might be healing finally, though at the rate it is happening, we’re still gonna be here a while.”

“What about Gwen?”  This from a groggy Jill who was lying next to Geoff.  She had been sleeping until the commotion in the room had stirred her from her deep slumber, and though she still couldn’t open her eyes or dredge up the will to move, she had to know how her daughter was fairing in all of this drama.

“If she curled around Randi any tighter, they’d be sharing the same skin,” Lacey replied with a smile.  “She’s doing great – deep, even breathing, strong pulse, nice color.  Whatever Reed sensed has been a good thing for both of them.”

“Reed?” Tiny said, curious to know what had caused such fierce reaction.

“It was... I felt... it was almost like their souls merged or something.”  She shook her head.  “Whatever it was, it was powerful and intense.”

“Was it bad?”

Reed shook her head.  “Not bad in a painful way... not like it has been.  It was just overwhelming and unexpected.  But for the first time in what seems like forever, it feels like they are back to being part of one another again.”

She let her gaze go inward, then blinked and drew a deep breath.  She made a move to stand, and the three around her stood with her as a single unit, unsure what she had in mind, but unwilling to lose contact with her even briefly.

“Reed?” Tiny asked.

“Turn me around, Tiny.  I want to see their auras.”

Tiny kept his eyes locked on hers, reading, not apprehension, but excitement and expectancy.  For the first time in a long time, Reed was anticipating something good between Randi and Gwen instead of the searing pain that had long since accompanied these looks.

Rosie clasped one arm, and Sky took the other and they walked in a solemn circle and allowed Tiny to turn them in a circle so they never lost contact with Reed.  When they were facing Randi and Gwen, Reed closed her eyes and took a deep breath.  Then she opened her eyes and looked, pushing her body into Tiny’s behind her for support.  She couldn’t stop the flow of tears.  Tiny tightened his embrace and looked down into her face.

“You all right, baby?”

Reed smiled and nodded her head even through the tears.  “Oh yeah.  I haven’t hurt this good in forever it seems like.  This is awesome.”

Tiny squeezed her again, and only then did he notice that Sky had his eyes clenched shut, shaking slightly.  “Sky?”

“Even I can see it from here, Tiny,” the chief whispered.  “They are so in tune with one another, it is impossible to tell them apart.  They are indeed a single whole together once more.”

“So you can sense their life force again?”

“Yes, and it’s a beautiful thing,” Reed smiled.  “It is so strong.  Randi is... Randi’s body is still damaged, but her soul is a single entity again.  I don’t feel the struggle for power inside her that has been present since Gwen’s kidnapping and especially since she assumed command of the Sabres.  And Gwen is simply melding into her.  I wish you could see this; it’s amazing.”

The three goddesses listened, but didn’t comment directly.  When Dite had felt Randi’s body die, she had lost any connection to them whatsoever.  So the only information the three of them were allowed now was whatever their human counterparts could share with them.  Instead, Artemis brought up the issue that wasn’t far from any of their minds.

“Can you contact her?  Can you let them know about the antidote?”

Reed shrugged.  “I dunno.  I can try...” starting towards the bed when a shake of Lacey’s head stopped her.  “Or I can wait,” she added, a frown creasing her forehead at Lacey’s action.  “What’s wrong, Lace?”

“Their aura may be strong, but I’m not sure their physical bodies are up to that sort of effort yet.  I’d rather not take the chance on doing damage that we could avoid by waiting for them... especially Randi... to heal a little while longer.  Reed, I’m afraid it would kill them.”

“Can we afford to wait?” from Athena.

“I don’t think we can afford not to,” was Lacey’s stark answer.  “Killing them due to our impatience would sort of defeat our whole purpose in being here trying to protect them.”

“Besides,” Reed broke in before the goddesses could get angry for any sort of perceived impudence on Lacey’s part.  She had always been a straight shooter and tended to speak bluntly.  Made for an interesting trait in a healer, but it was perfectly suited to the Sabre she was.  “We have the barriers set up against Ares to keep him from popping in again.  Aside from that, there really isn’t much we can do until Randi is well enough to return to consciousness or Gwen lets me know they need something.  I can go back to monitoring them again.”

Reed looked around the room at that suggestion, finding every head, Lacey and goddesses included, agreeing with her suggestion.  “All right then.  We need to get set up.  Um... what about Geoff and Jill?” motioning to the two figures still reclining on the couch motionless.

“I have monitors set up for them,” Lacey said, “But I’ve done all I can for them at the moment.  Jill needs rest and Geoff....”  She shook her head. 

Reed blew out a breath.  They would have to worry about those consequences once Randi and Gwen were back in this reality with them.  First though....  The four of them – Tiny, Sky, Rosie and Reed – moved as one body towards the bed, not wanting to lose tactile contact with each other.  It was a bit of a struggle, but they managed to get Reed situated so she was able to monitor Randi and Gwen without losing the support the rest provided.

Reed closed her eyes and let her mind wander, following the warmth she could feel between them and searching for her own safe place to observe and wait.

Then everyone settled in, hoping with a little luck, they would get a good ending to all of this soon.


Chapter II

Gwen opened her eyes when Randi shifted in her grip.  She couldn’t have said how long they had they had been in the glade.  When Randi was a single being once more, both she and Gwen had fallen into a deep, healing slumber.  Now Randi stirred slowly, gingerly testing the limits of her still healing, sorely abused body.  She was cautiously pleased, feeling the healing taking place in her body and relatively happy with the results.  Then she looked up and found sleepy green eyes gazing back at her with a look that was nothing but genuine love.  It made her smile.

Gwen smiled at the sight.  “What are you smiling at?”

“You.  Do you know just how beautiful you are?”

Gwen blushed.  She couldn’t help it.  When Randi looked at her with the combination of love, lust and passion that burned out of those bright blue eyes, it set her very soul on fire.  And it had been so long since she had seen it focused in her direction, Gwen found she was somewhat taken by surprise by it now.  She cupped Randi’s face in her hand and gave into her desire for a kiss – a kiss that she quickly lost control of when Randi took passionate possession of her mouth.

Gwen leaned back when it was over, blinking and breathing before she cleared her throat to speak. “Ahem... well, that certainly answers that question.”

“What question... how beautiful you are?” Randi teased, waggling her eyebrows to good effect.

“No, you goofball.  You’re the only one who sees me that way.  No, I was going to ask you how you felt, but I think your response to that kiss said plenty.”

Randi tangled her hands in Gwen’s lengthening hair and pulled her down until their lips were just touching.  “First of all,” she growled low, “I’m certainly not the only one who thinks you are beautiful, love.  I’m just the only one who gets to enjoy it privately.”

This time Gwen took control of the kiss, and only stopped reluctantly when Randi nipped her bottom lip.  “Air... I need air, sweetheart.  I’m still having....”

“Oh, God, Randi!  Did I hurt you?  Are you all right?”

Randi captured the hands that were wandering over her torso checking the damage.  It tickled and was stimulating and painful all at the same time.  “I’m fine, Gwen, really.  Coming here has worked wonders for me.  I feel whole again... for the first time since Ben infected me with whatever that was.  I’m not fighting with myself anymore, and that feels so wonderful.”

“Does it feel different than what happened before?”

Randi nodded and slid up until she was partially sitting and could rest her head in the crook of Gwen’s neck.  “It’s very different.  Before I could still feel both parts, and though we weren’t fighting one another, we could only merge so far... sort of whole, but not.”

“Is that why you weren’t healing?”

“Probably.  The more we read, the harder it was for the woman in me to hear what the warrior in me had done, especially in my actions towards you.  That caused it to get worse and the darkness we were held in only exacerbated the problem.  Being here, with you, in the light, has made all the difference.  I can see the good I did as well as the bad now.”

“Can you really?”

“Uh huh.  It’s kinda hard to explain.”

“Would you try?”

“Um... sure, but I don’t know if I can make it make sense.  See, as I accepted responsibility for everything I’ve done in the last year, the injuries Ares inflicted on me spread, because I was focused on the bad.  Accepting responsibility meant acknowledging the deaths I had committed and the misery I had caused... especially yours.  I took the guilt for my actions on all of me... not just the warrior part.  Since Ares had already tried to blow the snot out of me, doing that weakened me enough to force the Empress and me to split into two distinct personalities again.”

“Okay, so how is your merging different this time?  How do we know this will stick?”

Randi chuckled... a painful venture, but well worth the answering smile it brought to Gwen’s face.  “Well, for one thing, there is only me now.  I am the Empress as well as the woman... the lover and the fighter.  Look into my eyes love.  This close, you’d be able to see the parts of my soul if it was still fractured.”

Gwen did so and the sight brought tears to her eyes.  Randi wiped them away gently with her thumb, understand all too well where they were coming from.

“Do you know,” Gwen whispered as she tightened her arms around Randi while still trying to keep from doing more damage to her slowly healing upper body.  “Do you know how wonderful... how amazing it is to see you... all of you looking back at me again?  To see that love and strength and desire all in the same glance?”

“I know how fantastic it feels to be able to do that again.  It’s one reason I believe the merging will stick.  I think it means whatever poison Ares used to infect me is gone, because before, I had to fight to feel anything beyond rage and hatred for the rebels.  I should have destroyed them... I was originally going to and I didn’t.  That’s another reason I think this merging is permanent – I did good, Gwen.  I can actually see that now.  Before, I could only see the ugliness of my actions, but there have been a lot of positive consequences as well.  I think it is safe to say I have expunged the poison from my being – body and soul.  ”

“There is an antidote... at least Artemis had top Amazon scientists working on one.  I know they were close, but I don’t know if it is done yet.  Do you think you still need it?”

Randi shrugged, then winced at the pull on her chest.  “Gotta remember not to do that for a while yet.  As for the other, I honestly don’t know, love.  I don’t think so, because I feel clean and whole.  On the other hand if it is ready, would it hurt?  Maybe it would help me to heal faster.”

“Well, not a lot we can do about it here, and I’m not ready to leave yet.  I like it here with you; besides, you have to get stronger before we can go.  I want you to be able to kick Ares’ ass, but mostly I want you to see how I see you.  And you’re going to need every bit of strength and fortitude we can muster for that.”

Randi frowned.  “Why?  Are you planning to take me back into that room?” remembering the lights and colors and music she had briefly glimpsed in the open corridors of Gwen’s mind.

“Yes,” Gwen said frankly.  “It is the only way for you to see yourself through my eyes and I think it’s important that you do.  We will take every precaution, but this means a lot to me.”

“We’ll see what we can do, love.  I don’t want to do any more damage to either of us.  But for now I am perfectly content to remain right here with you.  It is lovely and peaceful and totally refreshing.” 

They passed a bit of time in contented silence before Randi spoke again.  “Kinda late for me to worry about this, I suppose, but I’m not hurting you, am I?  Because I’m not sensing the warmth from outside us that I did before, which means you’re not getting any extra strength even though you are sharing yours with me.  Wonder why we lost it.”

Gwen brushed a light kiss over Randi’s temple and gently started tracing the familiar planes of Randi’s face.  “No, sweetheart.  I am relishing the experience of having you in my arms again.  In fact, when we get out of the spirit realm and back to the real world, I see everything taking a backseat to some serious ‘us’ time.  We have a lot of make-up cuddling and tracing and snuggling to do.”

“Please do not forget about the make-up sex.  I figure we may get a chance to come out of the bedroom after the first fifty years or so.”

Gwen blushed again but decided to turn the tables on Randi.  “I hate to break it to you, Stud, but I’m not gonna have had my fill of you by then, so if you want a turn, we’re gonna be in that bedroom for a lot longer than fifty years.  I may let you be on top after fifty years if you’re lucky.”

The rejoinder was so unexpected, even the tips of Randi’s ears burned beet red.  “Ahem, well, that is more than sufficient motivation for me to hurry up and get the hell out of here so we can kick Ares’ ass and go home.”

“Do we get to go home, Randi?”

“I think it depends on what we want to do, sweetheart.  We have the world by the tail now, as it were.  We can do what we want with it.”

“But can we really do that?  Your becoming Empress means you accepted a responsibility for the world and the people of it.  Can you just walk away from that?  Do you want to?”

Randi tilted her head.  “Well, when I took the job, I did so with the understanding that the responsibility was a temporary one for me... much like the job of Sabre Commandant.  I did what I set out to do with them, accomplished the goals I set for myself.  I quelled the rebellion and brought peace back to the world. The threat is gone.”

“Yes, but just two nights ago you promised to stay.  You said, and I quote, ‘Since it is the will of the people, I will accept the responsibility to continue as your Empress until such time as we feel the peace is well established enough to maintain itself without my governing.’  You just accepted the position; last night was your Coronation Ball, for heaven’s sakes!  That doesn’t sound like something you can just walk away from at a whim.”

“If it’s a choice between going home with you and staying here to rule alone, there’s no contest, Gwen.  I’m not giving us up again... not for anything.  I can’t believe I gave it up to start with... not given how goddamn hard I had to fight for it in the first damn place.”  There was more than a little disgust in her voice and Gwen moved a hand from around her shoulders up to cradle her face.

“You never gave us up, Randi... not once.  You fought to protect me, to keep me safe.  Just because I didn’t agree with the way you went about it doesn’t mean you gave us up, sweetheart.  You fought for us harder than I did.  I didn’t do anything but give you grief.”

“On the contrary, you gave me a reason.  Without you, I would have slaughtered the rebels.  Without you, innocents would have died.  Because of you, the rebels got a choice... a second chance, and the Amazon Nation is reestablishing itself.  Don’t you dare discount your worth... to me or to anyone else.  You are the reason the world is changing.”

“I... but... um, really?”

Randi grinned charmingly, enraptured of the stunned expression on Gwen’s face.  “Yeah... really.”

“I never... um, I never actually considered... I never thought... wow!”

Randi chuckled.  “I love you, ya know.”

“I know.  That makes me the luckiest woman in the whole damn world.  And I love you too... so much.”

It was quiet for a while after that, because those words needed an unspoken affirmation, and they took their time and enjoyed the connection between them.  When they finally broke apart for air, they spent a long moment simply gazing into one another’s eyes.  Then they smiled.

“God, I’ve missed this,” gently tracing the planes of Randi’s face.  Randi smiled and raised her hand to trace Gwen’s lips.

“So have I, and it feels so good.  Even better, I can sense the healing happening... almost feel things mending inside me when we kiss.  Your love... our love is healing me.”

“Does this mean we should keep kissing?”

“Um hmm... for the greater good, you understand.”

“I see,” Gwen said, easing out from behind Randi and lowering her gently into the soft grass.  Then she stretched out beside her and propped her head in her hand and looked into Randi’s face with a mischievous twinkle in her eyes.  Gwen let her fingers trace around Randi’s collarbone and down into her cleavage, watching Randi’s breathing hitch as she circled a nipple without touching it.  “So,” Gwen said, clearing the huskiness from her throat, “if kissing can heal you slowly, do you suppose escalating our physical activities might speed the healing process even more?”

Randi didn’t deign to answer verbally; instead she let her fingers do the walking, sliding them into Gwen’s clothing and making skin on skin contact.  She felt Gwen’s gasp as sensations began to cascade between them and grinned fiercely, then she was too busy feeling... for what seemed like the first time in eternity.


Reed gasped.  The sensations she felt between them were overwhelming, but she almost welcomed the burn.  It, even more than their aura, signified a true return to the strength of their bonding.  A strength that she welcomed gladly.  It made the tears run from her eyes.

“Reed?”  Tiny lifted one hand to wipe the tears from her eyes and Reed smiled at him with blinding intensity.

“Oh God, Tiny.  It hurts so much, and it feels so good.  They’ve re-knit the bond between them, stronger than it was before.”  She took Tiny’s hands in hers and opened her mind, willing him to see what she did.  She knew the moment he saw – he simply froze all movement.  Then his mouth dropped open and his eyes bugged out, forgetting to blink and forgetting to breathe.  She cut her eyes at Sky who understood her unspoken directive, and moved to intercept Tiny when Reed removed her hands from his.  Sky held onto him gently as Tiny came back to himself, blinking rapidly as his body tried to catch up to the experience his mind had seen.

“*That’s* what Randi has been living without for the past few months??  Damn!  No wonder she’s been pricklier than a hedgehog in heat!”

The small group, even the goddesses, chuckled at his pronouncement.  Despite its innate truth, it was a great stress reliever, and everyone appreciated the chance to laugh.  Lacey stopped first, though her smile remained big as she looked around the room.

“You want even better news?  Whatever they are doing to repair their bond is also working to heal Randi’s physical injuries.  I can almost see it repairing itself in front of my eyes.”

That announcement made everyone shift in her direction, though no one, Reed especially, got close enough to touch.  What they saw made them all gasp.

As Lacey had indicated, Randi’s healing could almost be seen taking place with the naked eye.  It was obviously clear that the damage Ares had done to her was getting better.  Athena looked at Lacey.  “Are you sure this is them and not the regen unit finally doing its thing?”

“Oh yeah... I’m sure.  The regen unit isn’t even on.  Sky removed it at my instruction just before we arrived.  We thought since her wounds were inflicted by Ares that perhaps trying to regen her was making her worse instead of better.  So whatever is happening... whatever is causing her to heal... is them alone.  We’re not doing anything at all to make a difference.  We’re not even channeling strength their way right now.  They are completely on their own except for the outside monitoring we’re doing.”

“Why?  Why aren’t you channeling strength to them?”

“Same reason Reed isn’t trying to contact Gwen right now.  It’s not safe for them... or for her, for that matter.”

“I don’t understand,” Dite piped up.  “I mean, I know I totally lost them when Randi died, but....”

Lacey took a deep breath.  “When we moved Gwen and we got them physically together again, they literally pushed all of us out of their space.  To try to reestablish a connection with them, without an invitation, means disrupting whatever they have going on between them.  And since whatever they’re doing is working for them, distracting them from it could kill them... and us.”  She looked at Aphrodite.  “It could even do serious damage to you.”

“Okay, dying would majorly suck.”  She looked between Reed and Lacey.  “Any idea how long this healing biz will take?”

Reed and Lacey exchanged glances and shrugged.  “Best guess physically speaking... if she keeps healing at her current rate, I’d say within the next two hours.”

“And then they’ll be all right?  Everything will be back to normal for them?”

Reed smirked.  “What’s normal for them?”  The rest returned her look, exchanging smiles with one another.  “The fractures to their auras are already healed, mended as though they never happened.  Their bond is stronger than it has ever been.  I think the only reason they haven’t finished their spirit walk is because Randi’s physical self is still healing.  When they are ready, they will return to us.  Then the real work begins.”

“How do you figure?”

“Well, Randi is still the Empress, Gwen is still the Amazon queen and the rebels are still in the process of being reeducated.  Then there is the fact that the people really want Randi as a leader; they like what she has done in the few months she has been in command of the Sabres and control of the world.  It’s a safer place than it has ever been and they are informed like they haven’t been in their lifetimes.  She promised them she would stay until everyone was satisfied that the peace was in place, and we all know that could take a while.  Mankind’s track record in the peace department is pretty sorry.”

“It gets more complicated,” Tiny chimed in.

“Of course it does,” the rest answered in chorus.

“We all know that neither of them will stand for that sort of demand on them for very long.  They have fought too long and too hard to be together to allow that sort of intrusion into their lives more than briefly.  That means they are going to be looking for a way to return home alone.  Randi has always been an extremely private individual; she won’t stand for any sort of public scrutiny for long.”

“Neither will Gwen,” Reed assured him.  “Despite her status as a celebrity, Gwen is a very private woman and has always safeguarded her privacy fiercely.  She won’t tolerate the examination of every little detail of her life either.”

“So what can we do?  Regardless of whatever support we provide for them, we are still simply support for them.  They are the names and faces the world knows and wants.  We can’t just jump in and take over now that things are more stable.  No one knows us... that could cause Gwen and Randi far more problems than it would solve.  And none of us want that.”

“That’s true, Lace... but I think we need to be proactive about this – anything to make this easier.”

“What about Ares?”

Tiny shrugged and looked at Aphrodite.  “That will be up to Randi... or more to the point, it will be up to both of them.  But I’d imagine, all things considered, that is the one thing she will insist on taking care of personally.  The rest... well, it would be nice to figure out a way to go ahead and get the ball rolling.  The sooner we have a plan of sorts figured out to present to Randi, the better off things will be for them... and for us.”

“All righty!  So we need some radical plan of action, right?  I think we should totally look into some food first then, babe.  I know if I’ve got the munchies, the rest of you must be way starved.”  Artemis and Athena exchanged glances and shook their heads, but acknowledged Dite probably did have a point.  “Wicked.  Let’s see what we can whip up for these bodacious dudes and dudettes.”

“All right, Dite.  All right.  We’ll go figure out something good to feed them, and they can get to work figuring out what they can do to speed things along, as it were.”


“This is my favorite place in the whole world,” Gwen said sometime later.  She was curled up in Randi’s arms with her head resting over Randi’s heart, listening to the strong rhythm of her heartbeat.  Her hand traveled over every bit of skin she could reach, lightly tracing familiar patterns and feeling the goosebumps follow behind her touch.  Randi squirmed a little, then turned her head and brushed a kiss over the blonde hair.

“You’re tickling me,” she stated matter-of-factly.  “And I wouldn’t have you be anywhere else, love.  I have missed this with you so much.  I have missed *everything* with you so much.”

“Ditto, Stud.  I can’t tell you how good it feels to just lay here like this with you and just be.”

“You don’t have to, sweetheart.  I know.”

Silence reigned for a while before Gwen eased her head up and turned to meet Randi’s gaze.  “How do you feel?” gesturing to Randi’s torso.  “I mean, it looks healed, but here I am laying on it and it could still be painful for you.”  She stopped talking when a hand cupped the back of her head and positioned her on Randi’s chest again listening to her heartbeat.  Gwen smiled.  “Guess that means you’re feeling better, huh?  God, I’m glad.”

“Me too, though I suppose that means we have to head back to the real world.  And that means we’ll be separated again, at least for a little while.”

“Why?  Do you need me to go away from you again?”

Randi brow creased in a frown.  “Again?  Gwen, sweetheart, you already left.  Remember?  That’s what started this spirit quest in the first damn place.”  She drew a shuddering breath and her voice dropped to a whisper.  “You gave me back your ring and you left.”

“And I have already made the return trip back to the palace.”  Randi shifted so they were both lying on their sides, facing one another.  She stared into Gwen’s eyes searching for answers.  Gwen put on hand on Randi’s cheek and cupped it lightly.  “I had Reed move me back to the palace a while ago.  You were dying here in the spirit realm as well as on the physical plane.  I wanted physical contact with you.  I hoped it might help you heal.”

“Gwen, that could have killed you.”

“Randi, if you had died here, it wouldn’t have mattered.  I would have been dead anyway.  Where you go, I go, remember?”


“Shh.  It’s the truth and you know it.  It always has been; it just sometimes takes a little longer to remember that promise than it does others.”

“I’ve been thinking about that... a lot actually.  And about what to do about Ares.  I want this to be the end with him, Gwen.  We have been through the karmic cycle over and over again throughout history – for thousands of years - and in every lifetime, he’s been there... teasing me, tempting me, trying to separate us.  Sometimes he has been subtle, and sometimes he’s been blatant, but always, *always* he has been some part of our lives together.”

“So what do you wanna do, love?  I know you’ve been thinking about this for at least a little while.”

Randi nodded and sat up, leaning against their tree and pulling Gwen’s naked body into her own, relishing the simple sensation of skin on skin contact.  She wrapped her arms around Gwen’s middle and smiled when not only did Gwen cover her arms with her hands, but she leaned back into Randi’s chest with a sigh of absolute contentment.

“In the short term, I am going to demand a code duello with set conditions.  As the one who has been wronged repeatedly, it is my right to do so and I believe it will be easy enough to get my demands met... if not by Ares’ choice, then on command of a higher authority.  You know there are a number of gods who would stand for us.  More than anything, Ares cannot afford to lose face over this, and if he refuses to accede to my demands, the rest will view him as weak.”

“Playing on his vanity, huh?  You’re pretty damned smart.”  Gwen felt the silent chuckle behind her.  “Do you think you can beat him though, love?  I mean... he is a god after all.  And I don’t want him doing damage to you again like he did today.”

“Ah, but I’ve already thought of that.  See, one of the conditions will be that he will have to lose the god powers to fight.  Not just have them bound or whatever, but have them completely stripped away.  He has to fight as a mortal, with only the skill he possesses.  It’s not going to be a fight to the death either.  I only want to make him yield.”

“He’ll never go for it, Randi.  He can’t stack the odds that way.”

Randi smiled.  “I know.  But I will make it a very public challenge if I have to – so not only will the entire worldwide pantheon of gods know about it, but the entire world will.  He will have to accept just to keep the followers he has, because who wants to follow a war god who won’t accept a challenge?”

“Won’t he lose face when you beat him?”

Randi’s smile turned melancholy.  “You’ve never lost faith in me, have you?  Even when you left tonight, you did so knowing I would choose you,” letting her fingers trace over Gwen’s smooth skin.  “As for the other, yes – that is why it’s a win/win situation for me no matter what he chooses to do.  He’s going to have to choose one or the other.”

Gwen caught Randi’s fingers in her own and tangled them together in a light clasp.  “I had my doubts,” seeing the immediate hurt in wide blue eyes, “but not in you or us.  My doubts had more to do with Ares and what he had done to you.”  Her eyes dropped to their still joined hands.  “I’m sorry for the doubts though.  He just stacked the decked against you so high; I never expected you to choose me so quickly.  I didn’t know you were fighting him so hard or so long on your own.”

Randi brought their hands up under Gwen’s chin and lifted it until their eyes met.  “I know... and I’m sorry for that.  I was fighting so hard it made everything else nearly impossible, especially talking about it.  I’m just glad you forced the choice.  I think it was the kick in the pants I needed to confront Ares.” 

Gwen smiled tremulously into Randi’s eyes.  “Guess we make a pretty good team, huh?”

“Damn straight,” then stealing a kiss.

“Okay, you said that was short term.  What’s the long term plan, or is there one yet?”

Randi nodded slowly.  “There is one, sorta.  It kinda depends on you.”


“Uh huh.  I figure the short term solution will buy us peace in this lifetime.  The only way we’re gonna have eternal peace is to remove our souls from the karmic cycle... completely.”

“Completely?”  Gwen sat still staring blindly ahead for a long moment considering Randi’s words, then she blew out a breath.  “Wow.  That’s... I never thought about....  Why haven’t we done that before now?”  She leaned her head to one side so she and Randi could gaze into one another’s eyes.

Randi shrugged.  “Probably because he’s never pushed us so hard or so far.  He hasn’t been this involved in our lives since our original journeys together millennia ago.  So we’ve never really had a reason to make a decision like this; his participation has been minuscule or so completely detached that it was nearly impossible to trace anything back to him.  This lifetime, he was blatant.”

“Is that what you want to do, love?  Doesn’t he win if we quit?”

“I guess it depends on your point of view.  I don’t think so, because we would be doing it on our terms; it would be our decision.  I’ll be honest with you, Gwen – I’ve been thinking about this a lot, especially lately.”  She looked down the length of their bodies then back in Gwen’s eyes.  “I’m tired, Little One.  More tired than I have ever been before.  It’s selfish of me to say this, but I really don’t know that I want to keep doing this anymore.”

Gen sat up and turned around in Randi’s lap, straddling her legs and resting her arms on the broad shoulders beneath her.  She twined her hands together in the dark hair and tilted Randi’s face up to meet her gaze.  They stayed that way for a long moment; spending that kind of quality time together in the past few months was something they had both sorely missed, and it was apparent they were going to indulge that need very often in the foreseeable future.

Gwen brushed her lips over Randi’s but didn’t allow the contact to deepen.  “I’m gonna keep saying this until you catch a clue, all right?  Where you go, I go, warrior.  In life, in death, in the afterlife, to the moon or another plane of existence... it doesn’t matter.  I promised you forever. In each and every lifetime we have shared together, I have always promised you forever, and that has never ever changed... not since we first exchanged vows privately between us, nor anytime since then.  God, Randi... I love you so much.  You are the best part of who I am and who I want to be.  I will walk with you anywhere.  You got that?” capturing the lips just beneath hers passionately until she felt Randi’s hands start to wander indiscriminately.

They separated on an uneven breath and Randi smiled – a smile that started in the depths of her blue eyes and worked its way outward until it consumed her entire expression.  “I got that.  I got you – FOREVER - and that makes me the luckiest human being to ever walk the face of this planet.  However,” tilting her head for another kiss, “you can always keep reminding me this way.  I’ll never, ever get tired of hearing it.”

Gwen laughed.  “I’ll bet.  We could debate the lucky part, but we’ll have to save that for another day.  Just like we probably need to table any other life-altering decisions until we get out of here.  As long as we understand one another and know that regardless of what we decide to do, it will be us together forever, the actual decision of what we do can wait until we get back to the real world.  But Randi, I’ll be happy to stop going and settle down.  I’m a little tired too.”

And Randi looked deep into those deep green eyes, and saw the truth in Gwen’s words.

Unexpectedly, Gwen stood up and offered her hand to Randi, who accepted the gesture automatically and allowed herself to be hauled to her feet.  They spent a few minutes dressing, then Gwen extended her hand again.

“C’mon,” she said with a tingle of excitement in her voice.  “One quick trip and then we’ll head back.”

Randi nodded, and slowly they walked to the door that would take them into the orderly chaos that was the creative side of Gwen’s productive mind.


Chapter III

“Oh man... I’m stuffed.  That was so good.  You don’t have a recipe, by any chance?” Rosie asked.

The three goddesses exchanged glances and Dite snorted.  “As if.  But, if you really want it, I guess we could manage to like, sit down together when this totally over and see what we can, you know, figure out.  Shouldn’t be too hard, huh?”

“After this... *nothing* should be too hard ever again.”

“True that,” Dite agreed.  “So you have some sort of gnarly plan worked out to show Randi?”  She and the other goddesses had left the five awake and aware humans to pour over ideas and details to present to Randi and Gwen when they awoke, because they had already interfered more than was actually allowed by the rules they now operated under.  It was bad enough they couldn’t fix the damage that had already been wrought by Ares. But they knew even better than Reed did how Randi and Gwen would covet all the time together that could be managed.

Tiny shrugged.  “Sorta.  More like a few suggestion and options.  We can’t do much until we know Randi’s state of mind.  If the Empress returns, we can only offer ideas.  If we get any other part, well, we’ll work with it when the time comes.”

His wording got Athena’s attention.  “Do you see her as more than one person, Tiny?”

Tiny considered his answer carefully.  “No,” he said at last.  “I see her as having many facets.  It’s just that her focus has been so intense lately that first the Commandant and then the Empress have dominated everything else.”

“Which facet do you think will return?  If Reed is right and she and Gwen have been on their spirit walk together, do you think the Empress or the Sabre will be in charge?  Or will Gwen find the woman she fell in love with and bring her to the fore?  I’m asking because if Reed is right, and we all believe she is, then I think it is safe to say that Gwen is not going to let this spirit walk end until she... until they... have been successful in returning Randi to a more complete sense of self than she has had lately.  That would explain why it is taking them so long.”

Tiny cleared his throat.  “If you think I’m betting against either of them in this, you are out of your mind... no offense intended.”

Athena chuckled.  “None taken.  We learned a long time ago not to rule out any possibilities where these two souls are concerned.”

A gasp from Reed stopped any further conversation and Tiny rushed back to her side.  She had wandered closer to the bed after their repast.  They had moved away to eat, knowing there was little they could do for Randi and Gwen and content that the monitors would alert them to any physical changes that took place in the meantime.


She reached out a hand blindly, knowing that Tiny would comprehend her need.  He intercepted it and held on tightly, moving to wrap her up in his arms.  After a moment, she stopped shaking and took a deep breath.  Then she relaxed in his arms and turned to smile at him.

“Thanks, honey.  I needed that.”

“What happened?”

Reed shrugged.  “A surge of energy between them.  They actually seemed to glow for a brief moment.”

“Do you think...?”

“I dunno, Tiny, and I am past guessing with these two.  I am too tired to try.”

Tiny chuckled wearily.  “I know exactly how you feel, and I’ve only been a supporter through all this.  Wonder if we could get a vacation out of this when it’s all over.”

Reed smiled.  “Well, if not a real vacation, I’ll bet we could probably borrow some of the holo programs Gwen was telling me she and Randi had collected.”  Her eyes twinkled in pure mischief.

“That good, huh?”

“Better,” Reed assured him.

A wailing noise caused them all to jump and Lacey to come skidding over to check the machines that had started screaming bloody murder in tandem.  She looked up at Reed and Tiny in alarm, but before she could say a word, Randi and Gwen sat up with a gasp, clinging to one another.  Then they fell back to the bed, blinking rapidly and panting for air, before curling completely into one another and falling into a deep healing sleep.

“What the hell was that all about??  Lacey, what’s going on?”

“I don’t know!  I’m not sure what happened between them to cause the monitors to go haywire, but they’re sleeping naturally now.  In my expert opinion, I’d say their spirit walk is over.”

“Waitaminute... that’s it?!?  That’s how it ends?  What a total bummer!!  Where’s the drama??”

Rosie laughed.  “Aphrodite, take a chill pill! You’re gonna hurt yourself in a minute.”  The goddess looked so flummoxed by Rosie’s words that she goggled at her, causing the rest to laugh as well.  She started to get angry, then decided it was a much needed stress release for everyone and joined in the laughter.

“Okay, so what just happened here?  Surely that’s not it??”

“No, it’s not.  Their spirit walk is over, but their work has just begun.  We might get to hear about their walk together, but then again, we may not.  You know how closed mouthed they can both be about things between them and this was intensely personal.”

Now Dite crossed her arms and pouted.  “Well, that just bites!  I wanted to dish... ya know?  Get some details from these babes.”  She sighed deeply.  “All right then... I guess if we’ve gotta wait, then we’ve just gotta wait.”  She looked around at the five men and women who had been up all night long keeping an eye on Randi and Gwen.

“Why don’t you rockin’ chicks and studs take off and get some shut-eye?  The three of us can keep and eye on those two,” motioning towards the big bed, “and those two,” gesturing to Geoff and Jill.  “Ya’ll have earned whatever fab rest you can find... especially if more work is rolling down that nasty pipeline for ya’ll.  So g’wan... shoo now, ‘kay?”

They all grinned tiredly in her direction.  Sky stood up from the chair he’d been sprawled in.  “I have to admit that sounds like a wonderfully decadent idea.”  He turned to Reed.  “I can’t begin to imagine how you feel.”

“Good,” she answered, looking at Randi and Gwen wrapped together once more before leaning back into Tiny’s embrace.  “I am exhausted and seeing them together again is painful, but I haven’t felt this good in a long, long time.  C’mon, baby.  Let’s go get some sleep.  We can worry about the consequences of all this tomorrow... or at least much later today.  The world will just have to manage on its own for a few hours.”

“What about the shielding?  The People and the military are not gonna be able to keep that up indefinitely.”

Sky and Reed closed their eyes simultaneously only to have them pop back open a moment later so they could trade startled glances. “They won’t have to,” Reed said softly.  “Randi and Gwen have their own shielding in place.”

Lacey looked between them before voicing the question on everyone’s mind.  “Um... what does that mean exactly?”

“It means,” Athena replied when no one else answered, “that at some point in the future, Randi and Gwen are going to challenge Ares’ claim and actions.  It means that they will have to invite him in for him to do anything else to them.”

“WHAT?!?  Wait... just... if they could do that all along, why wait til now?  We know they’ve already paid a terrific price to be together,” indicating the spot where Gwen’s parents were.  “Everyone here has suffered with and supported them through it for the past few months.  Why did we go through all the pain and suffering and shit first?  Why did they?  Why not do it as soon as they knew the truth?”

“Because, Lacey, even for the gods, everything happens in its own time and its own way.  The truth is, they couldn’t do it all along – they did it as soon as they could.  Their bond is unbreakable now; ask Reed... it is stronger than it has ever been.  They had to suffer, to know separation, to know the rending between them like they did before.  They had to make a conscious choice to be a part of one another again and to determine the cost they were willing to pay to be together – the cost they are willing to exact from Ares for his repeated interference in their lives.  Not just in this lifetime, but in every lifetime they have shared together since they found one another all those millennia ago.  Whatever happened to them in that spirit walk, they had to experience it alone together.  *That* is how they were able to finally seal their bond again.” 

“I wonder what the cost was for them and what it will be for Ares.”

The silence that followed was staggering.


Gwen stopped when they reached the door.  She could feel Randi’s rapid heartbeat through their joined hands.  She turned to look at Randi and watched as she closed her eyes and took a deep breath before opening her eyes and allowing their gazes to meet.

“You all right there, Stud?”

Randi’s head nodded yes, but her eyes weren’t as confident in their answer.  Gwen reached over and took Randi’s other hand in hers and just held them for a long moment, chafing Randi’s pulse point until she could feel the pounding beneath her touch slow to a more normal rhythm.  Finally, Randi took a second deep breath and blew it out slowly.

“Sorry... I’m a little nervous.  After what happened before....”

“I know, love, and I’m sorry about that.  I didn’t know it would be as overwhelming for you as it was.   I didn’t know you were still fractured.  But this time you are going in whole.  Both parts of you have melded and blended to become one again and you and I are more a part of one another than ever.  Can you feel the difference?”

Randi considered Gwen’s words then nodded her agreement.

“Trust me, Randi.  Together we have the fortitude to do this again.  We need to do this... we both do.  I need you to see what I see when I look at you, and you need to see it.  I know you think I only see the darkness, love, and I know it is there.  It’s an integral part of who you are; it’s where your strength comes from.  But it is not all you are, and it is certainly not all I see.”

“How can you not, especially after all that has happened between us lately?”

“How could I, especially after all that has happened between us lately?”

Silence for a long moment while Randi let the peace and warmth of Gwen’s words soak into her, then she squeezed the hands she still held.  “All right,” she said with confidence.  “Let’s do it.”

Gwen put her hand on the door, then hesitated briefly.  “If it starts to get overwhelming again, focus on my voice and my eyes and my touch.  That will ground you until we can get back here.”

“I’m gonna be all right, sweetheart.  You’re gonna be there with me, and I’m ready for this.  You’re right... I do need to see this, as much as you need to share it.”  She reached over and put her hand on Gwen’s so that together they could open the door.  “Let’s do it.”

Randi kept her attention on Gwen, not allowing her eyes or hearing to stray beyond that focus.  She was peripherally aware of the sight and sounds and scents that surrounded her, of course, but she did not let it overwhelm her senses and she found it a much more pleasant experience than the time before.  It was warm and comforting and familiar and strangely enough, soothing to her battered psyche.  It occurred to her to wonder why; instead, Randi decided to simply enjoy the sensations.

They stopped walking and Gwen turned to find Randi’s eyes fixed intently on her.  She blushed and swallowed and Randi grinned ferally.   “Well, I was gonna ask how you were doing, but, um... I think I can guess.  Are you ready?”

Randi nodded, but didn’t take her gaze from Gwen.  Gwen slid around to stand beside her.  Randi’s eyes followed her; then Gwen reached out and turned Randi’s chin away from her form and toward what appeared to be a mirror.

She watched in fascination as her reflection faded and in its place....

The warrior facing her was dark and intense, but Randi could see an aura of light surrounding her.  Even as she watched, the reflection changed and morphed – she lost the dark, gleaming armor she wore and became a woman as well as a warrior.  There was strength and purpose in her body and determination in her stance.  She was a warrior to be both feared and admired.  But it was her eyes that Randi took note of.  They twinkled and glowed with unbridled love and affection and even from where she stood, Randi could feel the love and desire she felt both for and from Gwen.    

For a long time, Randi just stood looking, amazed at the image looking back at her.  Finally, she turned back to look at Gwen, the wonder clear in her eyes.  “Is that really how you see me?”

“Yep,” she said with a little smile.  “It really is.”

“That’s... um, wow, Gwen.  I... I never... I... hmm....”

This time Gwen chuckled.  “Speechless much there, love?”  Long fingers reached over and tickled Gwen’s ribs, eliciting a squeal.

“With you, it’s a constant state of being.”

The words were so unexpected Gwen sucked in a breath and just held it, staring into Randi’s eyes for a timeless moment.  Then she wrapped her arms around Randi’s neck and pulled her down for a deep, passionate kiss.  It went on until they broke for air, and when it was over they gasped, ending their spirit walk and sending them both into a natural, healing sleep. 


It was still raining when Gwen woke up, though not with the ferocity it had stormed the previous night.  She eased her head up off Randi’s shoulder and looked around, noting with distinct pleasure that she and Randi were not only sharing the same bed for the first time in months, but they were curled around one another possessively again.

She couldn’t stop the tears that flowed down her cheeks, but for the first time in forever, they were happy tears.  Gwen let her fingertips gently trace the planes of Randi’s face, learning the harsh changes the months had wrought on Randi’s features.  Her cheekbones were more pronounced and the planes were sharp.  She let her touch wander down Randi’s body, feeling her ribs more prominent than they should be.  Her fingers clenched into light fists in anger at the damage their separation had done to Randi and then she felt the touch of fingers on her face, tenderly wiping away her tears.

“Tears, Little One?  I thought waking up together like this was a good thing,” she teased lightly.  She was concerned, not because of the tears since Gwen had been known to cry on occasion when she was happy.  More, it was that she had felt the fists clench as well as the touch of anger that had flowed through Gwen.

“Waking up like this is an incredible thing, Stud.  I just can’t tell you how much.  These are happy tears,” leaning up so she could look into Randi eyes.  Then, just because she could, she leaned down and brushed their lips together, smiling into the kiss when Randi deepened it.  Only the clearing of a throat brought them back to an awareness of the present... and the fact that they were not alone.

Randi sat up and tucked Gwen behind her... or tried to at any rate.  She gave it up when Gwen simply wrapped around her like an octopus and held on tightly.  Aphrodite stepped into the light, wincing when Randi glared at her.  She shifted her gaze to Gwen and returned the small smile of contentment Gwen wore.  She shifted around to Gwen’s side of the bed and lightly touched her face, studying her face before exchanging a long look with Randi.

“It is so fab to have you two back again!  How’s it hanging?”

“Well, technically speaking, it’s not hanging at all,” Randi smirked, enjoying the light blush the banter got her.  Then she laughed at the smack it earned her on the belly, enjoying the rub that immediately followed.  “We’re doing good, Aphrodite.  In fact, better than good; we’re absolutely fantastic.”

Aphrodite clapped her hands together and hopped in place just a little. “That is so cool!  So what happened?  C’mon... tell Dite all about it!”  Unseen, Artemis and Athena just covered their eyes and shook their heads.  Leave it to Aphrodite to stir the pot unthinking very first thing.

“Excuse me?” Randi’s eyebrows went into her hairline. 

Dite dropped onto the bed.  “What??  C’mon, dish a little.”

Gwen wrapped her arms more securely around Randi’s frame, soothing her with a gentle touch.  Randi turned and met Gwen’s eyes, feeling her gaze soften.  Gwen arched an eyebrow in question and Randi gave her a tiny, crooked smile.  Gwen smiled back brightly before turning her attention to Aphrodite.  “No, Aphrodite.”


“No.  We’re not gonna share what happened between us there... at least not now.  Maybe not ever.”


“Dite, what happened to us on our spirit walk - it’s intensely personal and extremely private.”

Dite pouted and picked at the covers.  “All right, all right.  Fine.  But we still need to talk.  Ya’ll so need to know what’s been, like, going on here during your righteous walk together.  We’ve hit a few bumps while ya’ll were busy.”

The seriousness of her tone caused both Randi and Gwen to straighten up.  It was then that they realized that Athena and Artemis were in the room as well as they chose that moment the make their way over to the bed.  Randi tightened her hold on Gwen, feeling the tension mount when the other two goddesses arrived.

Dite reached for Gwen’s hands and Artemis sat behind her with her hands on Dite’s shoulders.  Athena stood behind both of them to lend her strength.  Gwen gripped Randi’s hands and looked at her in alarm.  Randi brushed a kiss across Gwen’s temple and murmured in her ear, “I love you.”  Then they held stares for a long moment, until Randi saw Gwen smile just the tiniest bit.  The embrace became a brief hug, and they turned their attention to the goddesses.

“All right... what kind of bumps??  Where is everyone?”

Dite gave Athena a plaintive look, and Athena cleared her throat.  Randi’s eyes sharpened into steel points and Athena took a deep breath and started to speak.  “We sent most everyone to bed to get some rest.  They had been working all night and were exhausted.  We stayed here keeping an eye on the two of you.  You’ve been sleeping for a full day... and so have they.”

They blinked at each other, then Randi spoke.  “You said most... what happened?”

“First of all, I need you to both understand that no one was ready for you to begin your spirit the way you did.  Nothing was in place like it was supposed to be... especially as far as Randi was concerned.  There was no shielding here because of course Ares knew where to find Randi – she called on him twice before she fell into the state which started your walk.”

“When Gwen and her contingent arrived from the cabin, you were dying.  You did in fact stop breathing for a few moments shortly after they arrived, and in that time....”  She took another deep breath.  “We were not here and the People were still setting up a perimeter – when Randi stopped breathing, Ares was furious.  He saw it as her way of cheating him out of the prize he felt was rightfully his to claim.  So he came back to seek vengeance.  He was determined to take his due.”

“And...?  Get to the point,” Randi growled impatiently.  Athena arched her eyebrow and in any other situation, Randi might have been contrite for her impatience, but not this time.  She was tired and cranky and despite what she had told Gwen, sore from the damage Ares had inflicted her body.  She hadn’t had many reserves left going into this ordeal and this had drained her almost dry.  So Randi just returned Athena’s look and waited.

“And,” Dite broke in with a somber tone, “everyone that was here tried to protect you from him... both of you.  Rosie, Reed and Lacey moved towards you first; they were the closest.  Ares flung them against the far wall.  He did the same to Tiny and Sky when they tried to tackle him.”

“Oh, God... are they all right?” from Gwen.  “He didn’t hurt them too badly, did he?”

Dite shook her head and looked down at the blanket.  “No... a few bruises.  They’ll probably wake up sore and stiff this morning, but nothing a little time with the regen unit can’t cure.”  Silence fell again until Randi broke it impatiently.

“Okay... and?  I mean, ya’ll wouldn’t be acting like somebody died if....”  Gwen gasped and Randi stopped as realization dawned.  “Who died??  Who else was here??” a bit frantically.  Gwen took Randi’s hands in her own and turned her body until she could look directly into Randi’s eyes.  She felt a strange sense of calm and peace envelop her.

“My parents were here, love.  If they did what I asked them, they were here to offer you and the rest of our friends whatever support they could.”

Randi searched Gwen’s eyes, knowing her words for the truth.  Then she turned to the goddesses.  Aphrodite wouldn’t meet her eyes and Artemis’ glance offered sympathy.  Athena extended her hand, and Randi unwound herself from Gwen then knelt down in front of her, clasping their hands together.

“I need to know, sweetheart.  I need to see for myself what Ares did.  Do you want to wait here or come with me?”

“Would you like some privacy to grieve in first or would you like my support?”

Randi reached up one hand and cupped Gwen’s face, marveling at her composure and the tranquility in her expression.  “Even the warrior in me would like you to be there with me to face whatever is waiting for us together.  But what I really want is to make it all go away so this didn’t happen and we, and especially you, don’t have to suffer through the possible loss of your parents.”

Gwen covered Randi’s hand, and turned her head to brush a kiss across her palm.  “Randi, my folks and I talked about this possibility.  They knew the risks... everyone that was involved in this did.  Even without Ares involvement, spirit walks can be dangerous undertakings,” here she smiled wanly.  “The common consensus was that since we were involved, things would probably get complicated.”

“And yet they all stuck around anyway,” Randi whispered.

“Yes, they did.  It was important to them and imperative for us.”  Gwen took a shuddering breath unexpectedly and released it, her voice dropping in pitch and wavering just slightly.  “I don’t want anything to have happened to my parents Randi.  I love them both dearly and I’d like to have them around for the rest of my life.  But I did ask them to stay with you once I left, knowing you would need some support and they were more than willing – they were glad to do it.”


“Shh.... They know what we mean to each other and they knew what was at stake.  They wanted to be a part of this, love.”

“But why?”

“My father continues to be in a lot of pain and it bothers him; this was something he could do despite the pain.  My mother still feels guilt about what happened with... um, with Ben.  She was hoping to be able to start making up for it by helping here.  Randi, I only asked them to stay here with you; they decided to do the rest on their own.”

Gwen turned back to the goddesses who were patiently waiting.  “What did they decide to do anyway?  What happened to my parents?”

Athena answered.  “Ares was completely distracted because of the interference the others caused, and Geoff was able to get to the bed and cover you both just before Ares tried to claim you.  Jill was only a step behind him and Ares physically knocked her across the room.  We arrived bare moments after it happened and we sent him to the far reaches of the earth.  But it was too late.”

Gwen bit her lip and held on to Randi’s hands tightly.  Knowing something was likely wasn’t quite the same thing as having it confirmed.  Randi returned the clasp and met Gwen’s eyes squarely.

“I’m sorry, Little One,” she said, her shoulders slumping.  “I have hurt so many people I care about because of this.  I wouldn’t have had anything happen to Geoff and Jill for the world.”

Gwen smiled sadly.  “Oh, love... don’t do this.  No guilt over this.”  She held up her hand before Randi could speak.  “No, Randi.  This was their decision... their choice.  No matter the outcome, this was what they wanted.  Don’t dishonor them by taking that choice away from them.”

Randi stood then and helped Gwen do the same, then holding hands, they walked to the small couches where Geoff and Jill lay.

Geoff was hooked up to all manner of medical equipment including two full-sized regen units, but it was obvious that there was no practical function from Geoff’s mind or body despite the intrepid efforts of the variety of machines surrounding him.  Jill, on the other hand, appeared to merely be sleeping.  Randi and Gwen looked at Athena for an explanation and she walked to them before she spoke.

“By the time we got here, Geoff was already dead; his soul had passed on.  Almost as though he knew it was safe for him to go.  “But your friends wouldn’t admit defeat, and hooked his body up to these machines, hoping it would do some good.”

“What about my mother?” Gwen asked.  “What happened to her?”

“I healed her as well as I could; the rest is up to her.  I’m sorry, Gwen.  It’s like Ares was deliberately targeting her... them... once he figured out they were going to protect you - like he expected the outcome to turn them against you... or each other.  He purposefully inflicted as much damage to both of them as he could.”

Athena looked at Gwen then, expecting to see sadness in her eyes.  What she found was a fire so bright, she felt scalded.  Gwen held her eyes for a moment, then turned and wrapped herself in Randi’s embrace. 

“Randi?” the word a mere vibration that flowed through Randi’s chest.

“Hmm?” kissing the blonde head tucked beneath her head.

“Before you kick Ares’ ass to kingdom come, I want one good shot at him.  Who knows?  Maybe we’ll have war god on a stick.”

Randi couldn’t help it... she burst into laughter.  She knew it was an emotional release for both of them, feeling Gwen laughing in her arms, but it was also just the least little bit funny.  Not just picturing Ares hoisted on a stick, but the calm manner in which Gwen presented it.  Besides, it chased the tears out of her eyes – tears which returned with fervor when she felt Gwen’s laughter evolve into sobs.

The outburst only lasted a moment before Gwen pulled back just slightly and looked into Randi’s eyes.  Randi wiped the wetness from Gwen’s cheeks and felt the touch reciprocated.  “He died on his own terms, Gwen.  He died as a warrior.”

“I know, love.  He found his peace.  I was crying because I’m gonna miss him.  He was a constant friend during my childhood.  And I’m crying for my mother.  She is gonna miss him even more than I will.  They have been together for so long; I’m not sure how she’s going to do, living without him.  And I was crying for you, beloved – because I know that no matter what I say and no matter what you know to be the truth, somewhere, somehow you’re going to take responsibility for this on your shoulders.  And you shouldn’t have to live with that guilt.”

“Not guilt, love, but responsibility.  You’re right – their participation was their choice, and I won’t dishonor them by taking the choice away from them and feeling guilt.  But I do bear a certain responsibility here, and I own Geoff a debt of honor now.”

Whatever response Gwen might have made was cut off by the soft moan that came from the second couch where Jill was lying.  Immediately, Randi and Gwen knelt beside her and covered her hands with their own.  Then they waited to see if she was going to come to.

Long moments passed in silence while they waited.  Aphrodite and Artemis joined Athena in the small sitting area, taking the seats they had occupied during the night and through the long day while everyone slept.  Though they couldn’t interfere, they could observe, and all three were anxious to see how this part of the saga would end.

Finally, Jill moaned again, shifting her head slightly and grimacing at the pain that lanced through her head at the movement.  She reached for it, only to find herself unable to lift her hands.  She wondered vaguely if the harm Ares had done had paralyzed her in addition to causing her acute pain.  Then she realized there was another sound besides the roaring in her ears and she strained to listen to it, hoping it would give her some insight into what had really happened.

The words made no sense; they were nothing more than so much sound.  But the tone was familiar and warm, and the touch she felt on her face was one she recognized.  Jill forced herself to concentrate, and ever so slowly, she opened her eyes.

And had to give the tiniest smile to the unexpected sight that greeted her.

Randi and Gwen sat in front of her wrapped around one another so tightly, Jill doubted air could pass between them.  It made her want to cry, knowing that whatever she had lost because of Ares, the balance had been restored.  Instead, she smiled at them, and tried to speak.

She was too dry, though and the sound she made was more of a croaked whisper and Dite reached over their shoulders with a cup in her hands.  Gwen smiled up at Aphrodite and accepted the cup.  Randi moved from behind Gwen and slid beneath Jill, gently easing her up into a semi-sitting position so Gwen could help her drink.  After a few swallows, Jill turned her head away and Gwen lowered the cup.  Randi started to move out from behind Jill when a hand on her wrist stopped her.

“Thanks, Randi.  It’s so good to see the two of you right again.”

Randi nodded, but let her eyes drop.  Jill’s glance went to Gwen and she saw the residual tears and the sadness in her eyes.  “Your father’s dead, isn’t he?”

Gwen nodded, and Randi tried to slip out from behind Jill, figuring Jill would blame her for Geoff’s death.  The hand on her wrist tightened and she froze and looked down into Jill’s eyes.  Jill smiled sadly at her.  “No, Randi.  I don’t blame you for Geoff’s death.   It was his choice; we talked about things.  He wanted to die as a warrior, and he did.”  Now she teared up, but she didn’t lose her grip or her tiny smile.  “I am going to miss him, Randi... a lot, and I’ll probably get mad at him for being gone.  But I wouldn’t have denied him the right to be whole again... to be a Sabre again... or Gwen’s father.”

“I wouldn’t have had this happen, Jill... not for anything.”

Jill patted her hands and then added Gwen’s to theirs, watching when Gwen’s and Randi’s fingers twined together as naturally as breathing.  Then she covered their hands with hers.  “I know, Randi.  I’m just glad it was worth it.  It was worth it, wasn’t it?  Everything is all right again?”

Gwen’s smile was reassuring.  “Everything is better than all right, Mama.  Everything is wonderful, fantastic, amazing, incredible....”  Jill chuckled and halted Gwen’s descriptive words mid-stream. 

“I think I get the picture, Gwen, and I’m so glad.  It is nice to see the sparkle in those eyes again, little girl.  I’ve missed it.”

“Thanks, Mama.”

“C’mon, Jill.  Let me get you settled on the bed, and then Gwen and I have some things to take care of together.”  A pause.  “Would you like us to start making arrangements for Geoff or would you like to do it yourself?”

Jill didn’t answer, having fallen back into a light doze.  Gwen covered her up and then extended her hand to Randi.  “C’mon, Stud.  Let’s go get cleaned up.  Then I’d like to say goodbye to my dad before we take him off the machines.”

They walked into the bathroom together and silence fell over the room.


Chapter IV

It was awkward at first, at least for Randi.  She stopped in the middle of the room, hesitant and unsure.  She had spent so long pushing Gwen away and then Gwen had sent her away, that she wasn’t sure how to handle the radical turnaround.  It was all a bit surreal.

Gwen set the water temperature and started to undress, then realized Randi was still frozen in the same spot.  She dropped her shirt in the hamper and crossed to Randi, reaching out cautiously, a little uncertain at Randi’s lack of movement. 

“Randi, love?  Is something wrong, or...?”

Randi shrugged and rubbed the back of her neck.  “I dunno... it’s so – normal.  I don’t know if I remember how to do this... do normal.”

Gwen started to drop her hands, unsure now if Randi would welcome the touch.  Randi reached out and clasped the hands, pulling Gwen closer, then blinked as though she had just realized the Gwen was standing inches from her clad in a sheer, lacy bra.  Her eyes were pulled inexorably to the well-rounded cleavage and she licked her lips unconsciously.

Gwen smiled, suddenly reassured by the lust she felt shiver through Randi’s frame.  Gwen reached for Randi’s face, smiling when Randi’s hands naturally fell to her waist, gently rubbing the sensitive skin there with the pads of her thumbs while her eyes never strayed from Gwen’s breasts.  Gwen cupped Randi’s cheeks and brought Randi’s eyes to meet hers, inhaling sharply at the blue deepened by desire to almost black.

She took one of Randi’s hands and shifted it up to her breast, closing her eyes momentarily when Randi traced just the exposed tops with a light, teasing touch.  Gwen slid one hand into Randi’s hair, lacing her fingers into the locks and tugging gently, until their lips were a hairsbreadth apart.

“I think you’re doing normal just fine there, love.”

Then their lips met and conversation stopped.  Only the sound of water running in the shower brought them back to reality and a smile crossed both faces as they took in their state of near undress.  Randi cleared her throat and smiled crookedly at Gwen.

“I guess I am,” she agreed.  “C’mon,” shedding the rest of her clothes and stripping Gwen of hers before ushering them both into the shower enclosure.  Randi grabbed the soap and started lathering them indiscriminately, hoping to cool the fire raging in her blood.  She felt a little uncomfortable with the burning desire she felt towards Gwen, knowing Geoff was being kept alive only by Lacey’s machines in the very next room.

Gwen turned in Randi’s arms, eyes that only moments before had been darkened in desire were now tear-filled.  She wrapped her arms around Randi waist and squeezed.  Randi returned the embrace, kissing the top of Gwen’s head.

“Is it wrong to feel so much love and desire for you when my father is...?”  Her whispered words turned into silent sobs that Randi could feel.  Her own eyes teared up but she refused to let them fall, instead choosing to focus all her love on the woman in her arms.  After a moment, Gwen stopped crying and pulled back with a watery smile.  “Thank you, Randi.  I love you.”

“I love you too, Gwen... so much.  And no, it’s not wrong; it’s perfectly natural.  Aside from what we just went through together and what we’ve been going through for months, death makes us long for an affirmation of life.  It’s completely normal.  And after what we’ve been through....  But I think first we should go pay our final respects to Geoff and give him the send off to the next world he deserves.  Then what do you say to dinner tonight, maybe some candlelight, soft music, sexy lingerie and just you and me together in this plane?  I think your dad would understand.”

Gwen smiled, thinking of her parents’ relationship, glad Geoff and Jill had always been openly demonstrative about the love between them.  While it had been embarrassing for Gwen as a child, it was something she had come to rely on and even appreciate as an adult.  “I think they both would.”

Randi bit her lip thoughtfully.  “You think we should plan to stay with your mother instead?”

Gwen shook her head.  “No, I think mama is gonna need some time alone to adjust.”  She stopped and blew out a breath, closing her eyes as memories washed over her.  “I remember....”  Her voice dropped to a whisper.  “I remember... all I wanted was to be left alone.  It’s easier to grieve and get angry and cry when there’s no one there to see.  We’ll know when she wants company... she’ll tell us.”

“I’m sorry, Gwen,” feeling that burden of guilt settle squarely on her shoulders again.  She moved to shut off the water and Gwen grabbed her arm.  Randi smiled sadly. She does know me well realizing that Gwen knew she was trying to pull away.  She turned the water off then twisted around to face Gwen, only to find Gwen gazing back at her with complete understanding.

“You know better than that, Randi.  I won’t let you pull away from me and I won’t let you shoulder that guilt again.”

Randi reached around and snagged a towel from the rack, reaching for Gwen and starting to dry her off.  When she was done, she tucked the ends in, letting her touch linger on the soft skin.  Gwen cleared her throat and Randi looked up with a mischievous twinkle in her eyes.

Gwen took the second towel and repaid the favor.  When she was down on her knees drying a long length of leg, she spoke quietly.  “Randi, I want you to understand something – I never, ever want to go through losing you again... I won’t, because I’d never survive it.  But I also want you to know that what happened gave me a deeper appreciation of our life together as well as more sympathy for people that I didn’t have before.  So while I would never have chosen to walk that path, I have learned to find the good in it, love.”

Randi pulled Gwen to her feet, wrapping the towel around herself before pulling Gwen into a tight hug.  “Only you would find good in that, Little One.  Thank you.”

“Anytime, sweetheart.  Now, c’mon.  I need to say goodbye to my daddy, and I want you there with me.”

They stepped from the bathroom and immediately Randi realized that Jill was no longer in the bed, but had moved over to sit beside Geoff on the couch.  Jill was combing her fingers through Geoff’s hair and even as Randi watched, she put her head down on his chest  A quick glance around showed her the goddesses were no longer in the room, at least visibly, and Randi turned away as well to give Jill a modicum of privacy to say her goodbyes in.  She followed Gwen into the closet and they slowly dressed.  Finally, their eyes met and by common unspoken consent they walked out of the closet and into the bedroom.

Jill was back in the bed, the pain on her face written in the tear tracks still visible.  Her eyes were closed and her breathing even though, so Randi decided to leave her alone in her grief for now.  Instead she reached for Gwen’s hands and they walked together to Geoff’s side.

When they reached the couch, Randi released Gwen’s hand to allow her a minute of privacy with her father....

... only to have Gwen keep a firm grasp on her wrist.  She looked at Gwen even as the bard knelt and pulled Randi down beside her.

“Gwen?  Love, I only wanted to....”

“I know, Randi.  But we are one – body, soul and spirit.  And Daddy knows that.  I don’t think he would object to us saying our goodbyes to him as one.”

Randi nodded and resumed her grip on Gwen’s hand, only this time she wrapped an arm around Gwen’s waist before clasping their fingers together.

Gwen reached up with her other hand and grasped Geoff’s, surprised that it still retained a measure of warmth.  “Hi, Daddy,” she said softly.  “It’s Gwen and Randi, Daddy.  We’re together again, Daddy.  It worked... just like it was supposed to.”  She smiled at him wanly.  “Well, maybe not *just* like it was supposed to,” she joked feebly.  “This is *us* we’re talking about, after all.”

Gwen felt Randi’s silent chuckle and laughed a little herself.  She turned to glance at Randi briefly, drinking in the strength of her before returning her attention to Geoff.

“Thank you, Daddy.  I never thought....”  She took a shaky breath.  “Well, I wish you were here to see the fruits of your efforts.  She’s all mine again, Daddy.  Ares has no hold on her anymore, and no hope of ever having any again.”

Gwen shifted slightly and Randi released her hold, knowing instinctively Gwen needed some freedom of movement to finish her goodbye.  Gwen leaned forward and brushed a kiss across Geoff’s cheek.  “Goodbye, Daddy.  I love you, and I’m gonna miss you so much.”  A tear ran down her face and she let it.  “And if you’re not too busy, could you maybe look in on us once in a while?  I’d like to know you were still keeping an eye on your little girl.”

She kissed him again then moved to take her place at Randi’s side.  Then Gwen waited patiently for Randi to speak, hearing her swallow several times before her voice came out as a hoarse whisper.

“I’m sorry, Geoff.  You shouldn’t be lying here, but I will always, *always* be indebted to you for what you did – for Gwen and for me.  If there was any way for me to fix this, I want you to know I would do whatever it took.  I never meant to take you from your family.”  She paused and cleared her throat.  “I’ll take care of your little girl, Geoff... whatever it takes.”

She stared at Gwen for a long moment before turning back to Geoff one final time. “God speed your journey, my friend, and reward you well for your sacrifice.  And um... you might wanna look up my folks when you get to the other side.  I know they would love to meet you.  Ya’ll could probably swap some interesting stories.”

This time it was Gwen who chuckled silently and she leaned over to rest her head on Randi’s shoulder.  “Um, sweetheart?  You do realize that if my father gets together with your folks, we may have to leave eternity just to get a little peace from the ragging they’re gonna do to us?”

Randi bit her lip and nodded.  Then she leaned down to whisper into Gwen’s ear.  “Except we have a hideaway that no one knows about... no one except us, remember?”

Gwen pulled back just slightly to watch Randi’s face for a long moment before comprehension struck.  Her eyes lit, but before the expression could reach her lips, she tucked her head back into the crook of Randi’s neck.  Her lips tickled when they moved to speak.  “We’re going home?”

Randi nodded.  “I think it’s time.”

They were silent for a little while after that, then Randi eased Gwen away from her body.  “Little One?  I think it’s time we let his body join his soul in finding peace.  Do you... do you think we should wake your mom up or...?”

Gwen shook her head.  “No.  She said her goodbyes.  I think she wants us to do it.  I think Daddy would prefer that too.  That way, he really does go as a warrior.”

“That is so important to him?”

“Wouldn’t it be important to you, love?” A beat.  “Randi, my father was a Sabre, just like you.  Well, not just like you because there has never been anyone else even close to being who you are, but he is just like the other Sabres I have met.  Despite his handicaps, he was bred a Sabre.  I think he’d want to be remembered as one.

Randi nodded.  “Then let me do it, love.  He isn’t the first, and I doubt he will be the last, and I will honor the sacrifice he made as a warrior’s gift.”

So saying, she reached up and flipped off the machines that were keeping his body alive.  Then together they watched as the monitors flat lined one by one until the room was left in silence, the wail having been silenced before it could even begin to sound an alarm.

“Goodbye, Geoff.  Thank you.”
“Goodbye, Daddy.  I love you.”

Jill kept her eyes closed but the tears slid down her face as she whispered her last private goodbye to the man she had spent the better part of her life loving and living with.  Then she prayed for sleep to come, just to get a respite from the loneliness she already felt in her heart.


When Randi opened the door, the guards snapped to attention, then they bowed as she and Gwen exited their suite with joined hands and headed for the huge office area she had commandeered that also served as her conference room.  They had tucked Jill in and decided to call everyone else together to let them know what was going on.  Their friends deserved that much, and in honesty, Randi and Gwen felt they deserved more.  But for now, disclosure would have to be enough.

Yuri, who had assumed the job of her personal assistant, snapped to attention as Randi and Gwen crossed the threshold.  He bit his lip to keep from smiling over the obvious change between them.  Though is had only been spoken of in hushed tones, he was aware, as were all who were in the household, of the fractured tension that had been between them – a tension that had obviously been dissolved by whatever had taken place in all the excitement two nights previously.

Yuri bowed his head.  “Empress... Consort....”

“NO.”  Gwen had frozen at the title, and Randi’s word cut through the stillness.  “No, Yuri.  Gwen is many, MANY things, but she is not now nor will she ever be my consort.  Make sure everyone is aware of that before the end of the day.”

“Yes, Empress.”  He turned to Gwen.  “My apologies, Co....”  He gave her a beseeching look, unsure how to address her.

“Gwen is fine, Yuri.”

“But her title is that of Queen.”

“Yes, Empress,” he nodded.  “My queen,” with a bow in Gwen’s direction.  Gwen rolled her eyes and shook her head, slapping Randi lightly on the belly.

“You’re a troublemaker.”

Randi grinned and wrapped her hands around Gwen.  “You’re just now realizing that?  You’re getting slow there, beautiful.  Besides, as you so aptly pointed out, you are my equal, not my lesser and the world needs to know that.  You deserve the respect the title garners you.”

“The only title I want to wear is that of your soulmate, wife and lover.  Everything else is just so much window dressing.”

Randi smirked.  “I suppose it would be useless to point out that you actually named three so-called titles.”

“No, you weren’t paying attention.  Same title, different words.”

Randi was enjoying their banter so much, she opened her mouth to retort when she stopped and thought about what Gwen had said.  “Damn, sweetheart, you’re right.”  She chuckled and kissed Gwen’s nose.  “I love you.”

Gwen smiled.  “I know.  I love you too.”  They stood gazing into one another’s eyes, enjoying the renewed warmth that flowed between them.  A throat clearing nearby brought their attention away from one another and back to the room... and Yuri.

“Congratulations, Empress... my queen.  It is wonderful to see you so happy together again.”

“Thank you, Yuri.  It is wonderful to be so happy again.”  She and Gwen crossed the foyer area arm in arm, stopping only when they reached the door to her office.  “Yuri, please call my staff together.  We have a lot to talk about.”

He motioned to the door, but before he could answer she opened it – then stopped dead when she saw her staff sitting around the large conference table set to one side of the room with coffee cups and Danishes, waiting patiently for her arrival.  When they saw that she and Gwen were together, and how together they were, bright smiles broke out across the room and they cheered.

“Nevermind, Yuri,” Randi threw over her shoulder before she and Gwen entered the room and shut the door behind them.  It didn’t keep the sound of cheering from resonating across the room, nor did it stop the smile on Yuri’s face from growing into a grin.  He scurried to his desk and began to prepare the ‘consort’ memo; he was fairly certain no one wanted to be on the receiving end of Randi’s ire if that slip was made again.

The door closing brought utter stillness to the entire group.  Reed had reached out to Tiny and Rosie before the door even opened, and the only movement was her hands clenching theirs.  Randi slid Gwen around in front of her and wrapped her arms around Gwen’s body, relishing the connection, especially when Gwen linked their hands together as naturally as breathing. 

They stood regarding their friends... friends who had risked everything to make sure things worked out for her and Gwen.  Friends who continued to be there, even knowing things would never be easy where Randi and Gwen were concerned, just because that’s the way things were with them.

“I’m sorry about what happened to Geoff, Gwen,” Tiny said, breaking the silent tableau.  “We all are.  If there had been anything else we could have done....”

“I know, Tiny and I appreciate it.  He died as a warrior and that meant everything to him.” 

“There aren’t words... there’s nothing we can say that could convey....”  Randi bit her lip and stopped speaking.  Gwen squeezed the hands she held.

“Thank you all.  What you did for us is beyond price.”

At Gwen’s words, Reed rose slowly and the rest followed suit, never losing contact with her or each other.  She more than any of them had suffered with Randi and Gwen – first by their joining, then through their rending and now through a bonding so complete, even Sky and Rosie could sense their union with little effort.  Gently she eased her hands from Tiny’s and Rosie’s, sensing their reluctance and hoping she had guessed right.

Reed looked at each of them and nodded slightly.  They released her, though Tiny followed right behind her as she walked from the table to stand two steps from where Randi and Gwen remained near the door.  For a long moment, they simply looked at one another, then Reed reached out a hand towards them.  Gwen hesitated, knowing the pain their bond had always caused the seer before and unwilling to hurt her again.

“Please?” Reed asked, her eyes glowing silver with the power that was flowing between them.  Slowly, Gwen extended her hand and waited for Reed to grasp it.  Randi and the rest watched and waited, fascinated by the drama playing out.

Reed took a step forward and clasped Gwen’s hand firmly.  Then she smiled broadly and raised her eyebrows in question, extending her arms.  Gwen tapped lightly on the hands around her middle and Randi freed her hold on Gwen.  Gwen stepped into Reed’s embrace, hugging the seer with all her might.  Eventually, they pulled away from one another and Gwen cupped Reed’s face in her hands and placed a kiss on either cheek.  “Thank you, Reed,” she whispered.  “What you did....”

“What I did, I did out of love and genuine friendship.  The fact that it was for the greater good was a really nice benefit, but I would do it again for you both alone in a heartbeat.  You changed the world, Gwen, and I’m proud to have been a part of that.”

“Waitaminute.  What the hell is going on here??  Reed, what happened?” Tiny was ultimately the one who dared to voice the question, having been stunned out of his silence at her words.  “Did we finally channel enough strength to you to make your barrier against them impregnable?”

Reed shook her head, letting go of Gwen’s hand and capturing both of Tiny’s instead.  “No.  This is all them.  Somehow, the barrier they have enacted against Ares is also serving to protect me.  It is channeling their aura into something I can manage.  It’s incredible.”

“Wait...” Randi broke in.  “We’re doing this?  How?”

“Yes.  When you healed your relationship during the spirit walk, you were able to strengthen the bond between you to the extent that you are able to keep Ares out.  When you get ready to confront him, you will have to invite him in.  He can’t reach you otherwise.”

“But Reed, she hasn’t had the antidote yet.”

“She doesn’t need it, Gwen.  The millennia’s worth of good karma you have built up together has finally synched up in this lifetime to protect you both.”

“Okay, not that I’m not glad to hear it on several levels, and we’ll certainly have to discuss this in greater detail later, but what does that have to do with you now?  Because you’re not feeling any pain here are you?”  This from Randi.

“No.  The barrier that is keeping Ares out is also keeping the strength of your connection in... just between the two of you.  So while I can see how bright your auras are and I can sense how strong your bond is, all the feelings associated with it are completely yours.”

“That’s amazing,” Gwen said.  “I’m so glad, Reed.”

Whatever she might have answered was lost when Randi stepped forward and took Reed in her arms for a timeless moment, simply rocking them back and forth.  No words were spoken, but none were needed; the embrace itself spoke volumes.  When they separated, Randi smiled at Reed and spoke simply.  “Thank you, Reed.”

The softly spoken words were the impetus the rest needed move forward and claim hugs of their own, and Randi and Gwen were happy to comply.  For a while, the only sounds in the room were the whisper of cloth, the occasional sniffle of tears and the quiet murmur of voices exchanging condolences and gratitude.  Eventually, the group made its way back to the table, and everyone resumed their seats.  Despite their happiness over the turn of events, there was still work to do, and the sooner they got down to business, the sooner they could be done and go home.  And that was something they were all looking forward to.

“All right,” Randi said as she took her seat, then noticed Gwen was still standing.  “Shit!” she muttered with chagrin, to some serious tittering from her staff.  Randi popped back up immediately and crossed to her desk, pushing her chair from behind it and over to the table. It made quite the statement since she could have easily asked them to move, or taken one of the two empty chairs already at the table.

Even more significant than the use of her personal chair – one she’d had custom made for herself here – was the fact that she put it beside the other chair at the head of the table.  Gwen started to slip into the original chair, only to be stopped by Randi’s hand on her arm.  Gwen looked at Randi with a question in her eyes. 

For answer, Randi held the chair she’d pulled from behind her desk and waited for Gwen to take a seat.  Then she pushed it up to the table next to the chair she’d been seated in and resumed her seat there.  Everyone at the table, including Gwen, was aware of the significance of her actions.  Randi reached over and took Gwen’s hand in hers.

“All right,” Randi said again.  “Now that we’re *all* seated,” with a grin at Gwen.  “I want some ideas on what we can do to solidify the peace.  Gwen and I are ready to go home, but I made a promise two nights ago and we want to do the best we can – BUT – we are not going to do this for very long.  We have other things we want to be doing.  Ruling the world was never in my plans.”


“Gods be damned!!!  *I’ll* be damned!!” Ares screamed at the top of his lungs.  He was storming around in a favored temple, periodically destroying things and causing his priests to go scurrying for cover.  He stomped back and forth as he ranted and raved and the priests had long since learned to stay out of his way.

Ares strode back over to the alcove that held his scrying bowl, the one area of the temple that remained unscathed.  He stopped in front of it, willing there to be more there than just water and cursing virulently when it remained dark.

“You can’t keep me out, Randi.  I’m going to find a way to get to you, and when I do, YOU *WILL* BE MINE!!!”

The priests wisely found somewhere else to be, leaving the war god to his madness.


Randi had not released Gwen’s hand the entire time they had been sitting, and their thumbs gently caressed the soft, inner skin over one another’s pulse points.  Now she looked around the room, meeting everyone’s eyes individually. “These are good ideas... good suggestions, guys.  Thanks.  I think there is a way we can make these ideas work, but it’s gonna take a little time to work everything out.” 

“At least we have time now,” Sky commented.  “I have sent the People back to the village as it appears we no longer need them here to provide a barrier for anyone.”

“How long will this new barrier last?”

Rosie and Reed exchanged glances, then shrugged simultaneously.  “We don’t know, Cam.  This is a totally new area for us.  The barrier is protecting Reed from Randi and Gwen’s energy, but it’s also keeping her from being able to scan more than just the exterior – she can’t get in.  So we’re pretty much stuck with guessing at this point.”

“So what’s the guess?” Brenda asked.  She, Cam and Jess had been part of the barrier effort that protected Gwen and Randi in the palace and she finally had an inkling of what Reed had endured as a seer.  Though she had always considered Reed a friend, she’d never pretended to understand her gift.  Now she had a sympathy that went beyond friendship.  She hoped the guess was in Reed’s favor.

“Well, since Randi and Gwen pushed everyone, friend and foe, out of their space when their auras merged and became one, the assumption is that they have some sort of control.  At least they appear to have the ability to protect themselves until the time comes to confront Ares.”

“When will that be?” Tiny asked, looking at Randi. “Do you know?”

“If we do it on our timetable?  It will be our final objective – the last thing we do before we go home.”

“You have a plan then?”

Gwen nodded and answered this time.  “Yes, we do... for Ares at least.”  Her eyes grew hard and everyone sat back in their chairs in surprise.  Her fury was a surprise even while it was not completely unexpected.  They’d not thought to see it among them, at any rate.  “However,” she continued, softening her expression at their reaction, “if he is able to force the issue sooner, we will deal with him.  This fight will be on *our* terms.”

Silence reigned for a few moments as everyone considered the implications of Gwen’s words.  Finally, Randi cleared her throat to speak again.

“Tiny, please let the staff know that today is a day of mourning for Gwen and I.  We will be having a pyre for Geoff tonight if any of you would like to attend the service.”

“Is there anything we can do?”

“No, thank you, Reed,” Gwen answered.  “Lacey is preparing – him; Randi took care of the arrangements this morning.”

“Actually,” Randi broke in, “if someone could make sure that Tommy and Ella are taken to their room when they turn up and could notify me of their arrival, I would appreciate it.”  She was more than a little curious as to why they hadn’t already been here, but it was one of the many things she and Gwen hadn’t had time to talk about yet.

“We’ll do that,” Reed assured Randi, taking Tiny’s hand.

“I’d like to go sit with Jill a while if that’s all right?” Rosie looked between Randi and Gwen.  Randi turned to Gwen, leaving it up to her.  Gwen stared into Rosie’s eyes for a long moment, seeing an unexpected sympathy and understanding glowing in the back of Rosie’s eyes.  She nodded mutely, and Rosie covered Gwen’s hand with her own in silent comfort.

After a moment, Gwen cleared her throat.  “Thanks again, ya’ll.  We would never have defeated the rebellion and achieved the peace we have without each and every one of you.  And Randi and I certainly wouldn’t be here now without all your support.  There is nothing we could say or do that could ever express our gratitude for your friendship and your devotion to us, but I promise you all we’ll try.”

“Gwen, the fact that ya’ll are together again and Randi is back to normal is thanks enough,” Tiny said, then gave an evil smile, “though normal for her is....”  He cleared his throat when he caught Randi’s glare in his direction and turned his attention back to Gwen.  “But I don’t think anyone would object to a good party and some good music,” with a wicked glance in Randi’s direction, “when things settle down a little bit.”

Randi growled and Gwen chuckled.  “I think we can manage that, Tiny.”

“Good.  Now if you’ll excuse us, I think we all have things we need to do.”  They rose as one and started towards the door, then Tiny turned back to Gwen and Randi who were still sitting together at the head of the table.  “What time tonight?” asked quietly.

“Sunset,” Gwen replied.  “In the garden.”

“We’ll be there.  C’mon, you lot,” Tiny said, capturing Reed’s hand in his and ushering the rest out the door ahead of them.  He looked at Jess who was lagging behind; she gave him the slightest shake of her head and he and Reed left her with Randi and Gwen, closing the door soundly behind them.

Jess looked up at Randi and Gwen, and cleared her throat to speak.  “I’m sorry about your father, Queen Gwen, but I’m glad you’re all right.”

“Jess?  I know we’ve only just met, but you can call me Gwen.  What you’ve done....”

Jess shook her head violently.  “No, I can’t.  As a card-carrying Amazon, you are my queen.  As the wife of the Empress, you are still my queen.  I just wanted to ask your forgiveness.”

Gwen frowned and looked at Randi in consternation squeezing the hand she still held.  Randi shrugged.  She was as lost as Gwen.  They turned back to Jess.

“For what, Jess?  We’ve only just met.”

“Because it’s my fault you were put into danger... my fault Lenore died.   It was my responsibility to let Reed know when the attack was going to take place, and I wasn’t able to.  There was no time, my queen... honestly.  I tried when we arrived in the village, but because of the way the circumstances played out, the attack happened before I was able to reach Reed.”

Jess bowed her head.  “I’m sorry, my queen.  I have no excuse, but I am asking you to forgive me.”

Gwen stood up and released Randi’s hand.  Then she walked the table length to where Jess still sat with her hands clasped together and her head bowed.  Jess didn’t look up when Gwen took the chair beside her.

“Jess?  Jess, I don’t blame you for what happened and neither would Lenore.  Everything happens for a reason, and Lenore would be the first to tell you that.  If you need me to forgive you, I will, but you did your duty, Jess.  There is nothing to forgive you for.”

Jess smiled and looked at Gwen.  “Thank you, my queen.  Empress,” she said, standing and bowing her head briefly towards them before she too made her exit from the room.  Gwen and Randi looked at one another in silence, and Gwen stood and waited for Randi to join her.  When Randi reached her, they took one another’s hands again and headed back to their suite.


Chapter V

Lacey was waiting for them when they arrived and the guards didn’t have time to bow before she had opened the door and was ushering them inside.  Geoff and Jill had both been removed as had Lacey’s equipment.  Randi wondered what the emergency was and then realized Lacey was simply trying to give them a private update so she could continue with the preparation of Geoff’s body.  As a Sabre, he was entitled to certain honors and Lacey had insisted on her right to accord him her very best effort.

Gwen, however, didn’t understand the nuances of protocol Lacey was working under, and was visibly concerned by her behavior.  She looked around frantically, trying to figure out why Lacey was so anxious... until Randi took her hands and waited for Gwen’s attention to focus on her.

“It’s all right, love.  She is simply trying to give us an update so she can get back to Geoff.  Sabres do things a little differently when it comes to burying one of their own.   Lacey’s on a deadline.”

“Of course Sabres do things a little differently when it comes to burying one of their own,” Gwen agreed wryly.  “Sabres do *everything* a little differently... not that I’m complaining on any level right now,” she added with a mischievous smile in Randi’s direction.  Lacey just shook her head.  Despite the lack of time, the two of them were simply too precious together again, and she wasn’t about to discourage or interfere with them.  They had all fought too hard to get them back to this point. 

Gwen turned to Lacey with a look of chagrin.  “Sorry, Lacey.  It’s just....”

“No need to explain, Gwen.  It’s wonderful to see.  BUT... I had Jill moved back to her room and gave her a sedative to help her rest.  She has physically healed from the damage Ares did to her, but she will be recovering from the after effects for another few days.  She’s a tough old broad – her words,” Lacey chuckled, “but she’s got some seriously hard days ahead of her.  Otherwise, there’s not much else I can do for her until and unless she asks for help.”

Gwen reached for Lacey’s hands, feeling Randi slide around behind her to support her.  “Thank you, Lacey.  Thank you for taking such good care of my parents.  Is there anything I can do?”

“Not with the preparations, no.  As for your mother,” Lacey shrugged. “Take your clues from her.  She’ll let you know what she needs from you... and when.  Now, if you’ll excuse me... I still have a few things to do before sunset.   Do you have the service prepared?”

“Yeah, I think so.  And what I’m not sure about, Randi has covered.  Thanks, Lace.”

Lacey squeezed the hands she held before releasing them.  “I’d rather not have to, but I’m glad to be able to do it.”  She turned to Randi.  “The workmen are waiting for your authorization before starting their work.  See you both at sunset.”

Then she disappeared out the door.

Gwen turned in Randi’s arms and put her head down just over Randi’s heartbeat.  She felt the strong arms tighten around her.  She tipped her head back to look into Randi’s eyes without losing the sound of rhythmic thudding.  Randi reached a hand up and tenderly caressed Gwen’s cheek, wondering where the suddenly lost look had come from.


Gwen shook her head and buried her face in Randi’s chest, greedily absorbing the scent that surrounded her.  “I have missed being here in your arms... so much.  This has always been the safest place in the world for me and I am so very glad to be back here...  in my place.  Yet, I feel guilty about being here.”  She didn’t move out of Randi’s embrace though, and Randi realized Gwen was looking for reassurance.

She scooped Gwen into her arms and moved out of the bedroom and into the living area of their suite.  Randi dropped onto the couch there and stretched out, smiling when Gwen automatically shifted until she was curled up in her favorite position half on Randi’s body with her ear centered over Randi’s heart.  Randi ran her hands up and down Gwen’s back and arms, feeling Gwen’s body relax more fully into her own.


“Um hmm,” patting Randi’s chest. 

“Feel better?”

“I can’t help but, being here,” she said softly.  “But....”

Randi’s fingers covered her lips.  “Gwen, don’t you think Geoff would want you to be happy... to know that you were back where you belonged... that his sacrifice was worth the cost?  Your dad knew what he was doing, love, and he did it willingly – for you and for us.  If I can’t dishonor him by taking responsibility for his decision, then you can’t dishonor him by feeling guilt because of it.”

It was silent for a while as Gwen considered Randi’s words, then Randi felt Gwen smile against her.  “You’re pretty smart, you know that?” feeling the surface beneath her face shake with silent laughter.  “Keep reminding me of that, will ya?”

“Of my brilliance?  Absolutely... oof!” sitting up slightly to glare down at twinkling green eyes.  Randi kept up her glare though she couldn’t keep the mischievous sparkle out of her eyes.

“You’re such a goof.  God, I’ve missed that, too,” squeezing Randi around the middle.

“Me too,” returning the hug.  “And I’ll keep reminding you if you keep reminding me.”

“For as long as it takes,” Gwen said with a smile and tilted her head up for a kiss.  It was a leisurely exploration that was as much a reaffirmation as it was about love and passion.  Slowly they pulled back from one another, relishing the renewed warmth and connection between them.  Gwen smiled and watched its answer form on Randi lips.  “You’re really good at that, you know?”

“Umm... yeah.  I’ve got this amazing practice partner.  She rocks.”

Gwen grinned, and tangled her hands in Randi’s hair and brought their lips together again.  This kiss was a little more intense and would have lasted longer if a knock on the door hadn’t separated them.  Gwen’s brow furrowed and Randi smoothed out the lines, even as she called out.

“Come in.”

The workman didn’t blink twice at the position he found the Empress and her Consort... no, her Queen in, remembering the instructions he’d gotten from Yuri.  He figured it wasn’t his business anyway, and besides, if they were happy together, it had to bode well for the rest of the world, right?  So he bowed his head and waited respectfully for Randi’s instructions.

Randi and Gwen exchanged confused glances. Finally Gwen shrugged and spoke.  “Um, can we help you... with something?”

“I await your orders, my Queen.”

“I beg your pardon?”

Now the man looked up.  “I’m sorry.  I was told I needed authorization to begin the rework here.  Was I mistaken?  Should I...?”

“Oh, God... sorry.”  Randi struggled to sit up and Gwen shifted so they could sit up together.  Gwen slid up to the sofa arm and leaned into Randi, wrapping her arm around Randi’s shoulders.  Randi leaned into Gwen and motioned for the man to take a seat.  “You’re Jake, right?”

“Yes, ma’am.  I just need your go ahead, and we’ll get started.”

“Did Yuri give you your instructions?”  Jake nodded.  “Then please... go with my blessing.  But Jake, you need to be done an hour before sunset, so....”

He nodded and nearly ran out of the room.  Randi and Gwen exchanged glances. 

“So what’s he gonna do?”

“Change a few things, but that’s not important now.  However, I am curious to know why Tommy and Ella weren’t here.”  Randi bit her lip.  “Is Tommy still angry at me?”

“Oh, baby... Tommy was never angry at you.  He didn’t understand the violence or your joy in it, but he was never, ever angry at you, love.  He wasn’t here because I asked him to stay away.”  Gwen blew out a breath.  “I didn’t know what we were going to get into, and I didn’t want anything to happen to them... especially Randall.  I wasn’t going to give you that kind of guilt.”

Randi reached up and cupped Gwen’s cheek. “Always looking out for me, huh?”

Gwen covered Randi’s hand with her own.  “Always.  Somebody’s gotta watch your back.”

“Glad I’ve got the best,” Randi confirmed with a smile and then cleared her throat.  “Can I interest you in a picnic?  There’s um... there’s a small wooded area beyond the garden.  It’s nothing like home... nothing like our glade.  But it is cool and shaded and right on the river.”

“What about Tommy and Ella?”

“Reed will see to getting them settled and will advise me when they arrive.  But I think we need a little time apart to process what’s happened and to prepare for tonight.  We can be strong for the family tonight and for the world tomorrow, but for right now, I would really like to be alone with you.”

Gwen nodded, then a knock on the door made her groan softly and drop her head onto Randi’s.  “I thought we were supposed to have the day off,” she muttered.  Randi squeezed her knee and called out for the second time, “Come in.”

Jill stood in the doorway as it slid open, and Randi and Gwen stood to meet her.  “Mama?  I thought you were resting.”

She looked a little dazed and Randi wondered how and why she’d forced herself to function through the sedatives Lacey had given her.  She moved to Jill’s side immediately and put and arm around her waist.

“C’mon, mom,” she said gently.  “Let us tuck you back into bed.  You look wiped and you want to be rested before the service tonight.”  Randi began to lead Jill back toward her suite of rooms with Gwen sliding in on her other side.  “That’s it,” Randi soothed.  “You and Geoff took good care of me and Gwen.  Let us take care of you now.”

The mention of Geoff’s name made Jill stop walking.  “Geoff?  Geoff is why I was coming to see you.  He left you a holo-chip.”  She smiled sadly and allowed Randi and Gwen to continue their escort to her set of rooms.  “He said he made it just in case, but I think he knew he was going to die.  I think he hoped he would.”

Randi and Gwen exchanged horrified glances. Randi wondered how much of Jill’s speech was truth, and how much was based on drug-induced delusion, though she knew that even the delusion had to have some foundation in truth.  But before they could comment, Jill slumped and only Randi’s swift reaction kept her from hitting the floor.

The door slid open at Gwen’s behest and Randi crossed through the small living area into the bedroom.  They wondered briefly where Rosie was, then Gwen straightened the cover on the bed, and Randi gently placed Jill back in the bed.  Carbon merely lifted his head and whined at them, then he gently nuzzled Jill’s neck and face before curling up at her knees.  Gwen covered Jill’s body then they stood together by her bedside for a long moment.  Then Randi took Gwen’s hand in her own and together they walked back into the living room.

“Maybe we should postpone our picnic,” Randi suggested.

“How about if we just move the location?  Instead of the river, what if we just sit in the garden?  I’d like to get outside alone with you for a while, but I don’t want to go too far away from Mama.”

Randi smiled.  “I like that compromise.  Would you like to go to the kitchens and put it together ourselves or would you prefer to call down and have something prepared?”

Gwen gave Randi a look.  “Sweetheart, if I have my way, we’re going to get rid of the staff and do for ourselves like we do at home.  I don’t plan for either of us to be here long enough to get accustomed to being waited on like we rule the world or something.”

Randi snickered.  “Well, my queen, tomorrow you can make any and all changes you think we need to make here.  And we’ll start making plans to get out of here as quickly as we can.  But for now....”  She tugged on the hand she still held.  “C’mon.  Let’s see if we can find the kitchen in the damn place and go outside for a while.”


“God, I am so tired,” Reed said as they left the conference room.  “I’d like to take a vacation now, please and thank you very much.”

Tiny chuckled and wrapped his arms tightly around her.  “Soon, baby.  I promise.  How about some of Rosie’s barbeque for now?  I understand she was heading down to the kitchens to run everyone out and take over.  She told me last night she was over this plastic food they kept trying to feed her.”

Reed laughed.  “Oh, she would have loved eating Sabre rations.”  Then she laughed harder at Tiny’s exaggerated grimace.  “C’mon, big boy.  You and I have a hot date with some really good barbeque.  Maybe then I’ll feel like going back to work.”

“Nah... when Randi declared today a day of mourning, I made it across the board.  Except for essential personnel, everyone has the day off.  We can pick up the work tomorrow; it’s not gonna go anywhere... unfortunately.  At least not for a while.  One day off, more or less, isn’t going to make much difference for us in the long run.”

“I’m sorry for the reason behind it, but I love you.”

Tiny smiled.  “I love you too.  Now c’mon,
 woman... I’m starving and I can hear your stomach growling from here.”

They started down to the kitchen, already able to smell the difference with Rosie in the kitchen.  Then Reed’s Sabre alert went off and she dropped her head on Tiny’s chest.  “Augh!  What happened to my day off??” Then she read the message.  “Oh... never mind.  I like this kind of news.  C’mon.”  She turned and headed in the opposite direction.

“Honey?  Hooooneeey??” Tiny wailed as he scurried to catch up to Reed.  “Reed... what about lunch?”

“I imagine Tommy and Ella might like some lunch as well.”

Tiny’s response was cut off by the vibration of his own alert bracelet.  He looked down and grimaced.


“Someone asking for permission to enter the perimeter.  Someone who isn’t on the clearance list.”  He blew out an exasperated breath.  “Go meet Tommy and Ella. I’ll try to meet ya’ll in the kitchen in a few minutes.  Hopefully this won’t take too long.”

“Who is it, baby?  Why do they want to come in?”

“Um....”  He looked at the information scrolling across his wrist pad.  “Something about an honor guard for Gwen.  The request is coming from someone called Lorac.”

“Let them in, Tiny.  Lorac is the Amazon weapon’s master who was teaching Gwen when we were in the village and she is the temporary regent until Gwen gets back to the Nation.”

“Temporary?  Does she think Gwen is going to return to the Nation to stay?”

“No.  They know she isn’t.  She told them so up front when she accepted the position of queen.  But they are in the process of setting up a new form of government, though I got the distinct impression that they would be perfectly content to remain with a monarchy style if it could be managed... and if they could get Gwen to settle down with them.”

Tiny took a deep breath to speak.  The thought that the Amazons would even think about trying something like that, after all it had taken to get the two of them back together, made him madder than a wet hen... especially knowing what the cost would have been, not only to Randi and Gwen had they failed, but to the rest of the world.  Reed’s hand on his arm caused him to pause.

“They do understand, Tiny... they really do.  It’s just a vain hope, and they know that.  Doesn’t keeping them from hoping, though.  The rest of the world is doing the same thing about Randi remaining Empress, honey, and the truth is, if I thought she’d do it, I’d be wishing for the same thing.  She has a way of making things happen... good things.”

Tiny nodded.  “I know.  I’d already had the same thought.  But you know she’d never go for it.  She never wanted that kind of power.”

“I know – it’s one of the things that makes her so perfect for the job.  Doesn’t hurt that she’s already managed to defeat Ares once of her own free will either.  Her sense of duty and responsibility will keep them both here for a little while, but if they are here for their first anniversary, I’ll be amazed.”

Tiny chuckled and took Reed’s arm, heading them both towards the secured landing area.  “Six more months?!?  Honey, I never realized that you were such an optimist.  If they are here until the equinox, it will be a miracle.  In fact, if they are involved in any part of anything other than themselves by that point, I’ll be shocked.”

“Three months?  You think they will be out of here in three months?”

“No, baby.  I think they will be out of *everything* but each other in three months.  I’ll be surprised if they last here in the palace – here in the capital as Empress and Queen for more than a month.”

Reed blinked at him in astonishment, and Tiny just shook his head at her.

“Reed, why are you surprised at this?  You’ve been around both of them to know that are completely absorbed in one another.”

“But they haven’t been, Tiny.  I know they were; I guess I just need to readjust my thinking.  I’ve been so focused on how they have been and trying to get them back to what they are supposed to be that I’ve sorta forgotten what that means to them and for us.”

“Yeah, you’ve had it more than a little rough lately, haven’t you?”

“Yeah, but it was worth it, Tiny.  What it would have been like had we failed....”  Reed shivered in reflex.

“So what do you see when you look at them now?”

“I can see their bond as a strong, solid wall, but I can’t sense any more than their own feeling of satisfaction and well-being.  I can’t get past the barrier they have protecting themselves, and their bond can’t seem to get past it either.  I have to tell you, it’s nice to be able to be around them without my senses screaming.  I can actually enjoying being friends with them instead of simply enduring it.”

“I’m glad.”

“Me, too.”

At that, Tiny opened the door that led to the shuttle pad and he and Reed split up to meet the waiting occupants of the two newly arrived shuttles.  Reed waved at the waiting Amazons and kept going to greet her arrivals as Randi had asked.

“Tommy!  Ella!” Reed said opening her arms for a hug. 

“Weed!!”  The three adults exchanged glances and burst into laughter at the unexpected address.  Finally, Reed cleared her throat and knelt down to Randall’s level.

“Hi, Randall.  Aren’t you just a cutie?”

“Yes,” Randall replied matter-of-factly.  “Go to Wuv now?”

“Well, I don’t know, Randall.  Randi and Gwen were busy earlier,” easily deducing who he meant, “but I do know that Rosie is in the kitchen and she’s cooking up some barbeque and fried apple pies.”

“Nummmm,” Randall commented.

“Nummmm,” Tommy echoed.

Ella and Reed just laughed.  “C’mon,” Reed gestured with her head.  “Randi asked that I get ya’ll settled in, and Tiny and I really were on our way to lunch with Rosie when I got the alert that ya’ll were here.  I know she’ll be almost as glad to see you as Randi and Gwen will be.”

“Reed, how are they?  And how is Jill?”  Tommy insisted on carrying their luggage and motioned Reed to lead the way.  Ella took Randall’s hand and together they walked beside Reed into the palace.

“Jill is... Jill is still in shock, actually.  She’s been pretty calm about it; Lacey thinks the truth just hasn’t sunk in.  But her reactions seem to me that she almost expected it to happen.  They knew going into that room that there were no guarantees, but....”


Reed shrugged.  “I dunno.  It’s just a feeling, but I really believe she and Geoff were both prepared for this eventuality.  I think they expected... something... to happen, and I honestly believe Geoff hoped that if anything did happen, it would happen to him.  His one desire, barring a total regaining of his mobility, was to die a warrior.  That’s part of what caused him to cover them like he did – it was an instinctive reaction we all had.  He just had stronger motivation than the rest of us... that of both a father and a warrior.  So he died the warrior he wanted to be, protecting his daughter and Randi in the process, insuring their recovery.  So I think Jill is just adjusting to the fact that he’s gone.”

Dumbfounded silence.  “Poor Jill.  Even knowing it’s coming doesn’t make it any easier.”

“I know, and I could be wrong, but I don’t think so.  Painful as it is, I think Jill will have an easier time of it because she and Geoff talked about possibilities and about his desire to be a warrior again.”

“I hope so.  She’s been through so much the past couple years.”  A beat.  “How are Randi and Gwen doing?”

“Randi and Gwen are phenomenal.”

“So everything is all right with them now?”

“Everything is better than all right.  They have... it’s hard to explain, but it’s like their soul has merged.  They have literally become a single soul... a single being.”

A sound made Reed stop walking and she turned to back to see Tommy standing still with the suitcases piled up around him and a look of shock written clearly across his face.  Ella dropped Randall’s hand, rushed to Tommy’s side and took his face in her hands.  “Tommy, sweetheart?  What’s wrong, baby?”

His jaw worked fruitlessly a few times and he stared into space.  It took him a moment to bring his mind back to the present, and he blinked as Ella came into focus.   By that time, Reed and Randall had walked back to where Tommy still stood gobsmacked.

“Tommy?” Reed said softly, taking his chin in her fingertips and turning his face towards her.  “Tommy, what’s wrong?  What did I say?”

“Reed, do you know the Legend of the Soulmates?  Not the stories that Gwen tells but the actual legend about them?”

Reed shook her head.  “I guess not.  I only know anything about them because of the stories I’ve heard... the stories Gwen has shared.”

Tommy nodded.  “That makes sense, I guess.  Gwen has revealed a lot about the soulmates through her stories, but she hasn’t really shared the truth about who and what they are.”  Tommy drew a breath and picked up the luggage, deciding to try a different tack.  “C’mon, take us to our room and I’ll see if I can make sense of this for you.”

They walked in silence for a little while, except for Randall’s chattering.  Finally, they reached the rooms Randi had chosen for them, and Reed led them inside.  Tommy set the cases down and immediately Ella took Randall to the bedroom to unpack.  Tommy gestured for Reed to take a seat and sat at an angle to her.

“Reed, what do you see when you look at Randi and Gwen?  What does your seer’s sense tell you?”

“Now?  Very little.  Their merging has given them a barrier that keeps everything except the most basic, topical scan out.”

“And before?”

“Before – aside from being physically painful for me – they were more... blended, I guess you call them.  One and yet still separate and apart from each other.  Despite their bond, I could still sense both parts of their shared soul.”

“And you don’t sense that now?”

“No.  The little I am able to see shows me one – one heart... one soul.  Is that important?”

Tommy shrugged.  “Depends on how much stock you put into the legend, I guess.”

“Well, you obviously believe in its importance, Tommy.  Why don’t you share it with me and we can go from there?”

Tommy studied Reed for a long moment.  He could easily see the exhaustion in her eyes and the remnants of lingering pain.  Despite the unwritten rule about keeping this story in the family, she deserved to know.  They all did – all those who had risked so much to insure the prophecy was fulfilled.  He nodded his agreement.

“All right,” he said, settling himself more comfortably.  “But you have to understand that this legend has been passed down through both families for untold generations.  It was the only story the warrior side helped preserve.  It was that important.  And though it isn’t forbidden, it has rarely been shared outside the extended family; you’ll understand why when you hear the story.”

Reed sat back and waited for Tommy to tell his tale.


“Hi, Lorac?” Tiny said hesitantly, extending his hand in greeting.  “I’m Tiny, the Empress’ second.  I understand you and your warriors are here to offer an honor guard to the queen?”

“Yes.  May we see the queen?”

Tiny shook his head.  “Not today; she and the Empress are taking the day to mourn and make preparations for the service tonight.  I’m sure she will be glad to meet with you tomorrow.”  Lorac nodded.  It was much as she had expected, especially since Gwen hadn’t contacted them herself about Geoff’s death. 

“How is the queen doing, I mean, with her father’s untimely death?  I got the feeling from the report that we received that it was an unexpected occurrence.”

“May I ask how you found out?  Not that it is wrong that you were notified, but if Gwen didn’t contact you, who is sending you reports about her?”  Tiny saw her hesitation and continued.  “Please, Lorac – Gwen and Randi’s safety is my top priority and if we have a leak I need to know about it.”

“It’s not a leak, per se, Tiny.  We couldn’t in good conscience allow our queen to go off without an escort, and yet Queen Gwen wouldn’t allow us to send anyone with her.  So, Jess agreed to act as our eyes and ears here, so the Nation could keep an eye on our queen.”

Tiny nodded.  “I can understand that, I suppose.  Perhaps, though, you and I could sit down and work out a better agreement between us.  Because if the Empress found out information was going out without her knowledge....”

Lorac chewed her lip and then nodded her agreement.  “I believe we can come to an understanding.”  She offered Tiny her hand again.  “I think we will make formidable allies.”  They shook and then Lorac introduced him to the Amazon traveling with her.

“Let me get you settled and then we can go get some lunch.  Rosie is cooking up barbeque and I, for one, am starving.”

The four Amazons grinned at each other and followed him into the palace.

“I apologize for the accommodations.  Ya’ll were unexpected arrivals, and we are pretty full.  So I’ve had to put you into two rooms.  They are across the hall from each other, but it was the best I could do on short notice.”

“So, how did you get elected to meet us and take care of all this?” Lorac asked as Tiny led them down the short hallway.  “Not that we don’t appreciate it, because we do, but....”

“But you already knew Reed and Jess and I’m not a woman, right?”

Lorac shrugged sheepishly.  “Something like that, yeah.”

“Well, Reed and Jess were both given other assignments this morning, and that didn’t change because you all arrived.  Besides, I really am Randi’s second and protocol demanded that I clear your arrival.”

Lorac smiled.  “I’m glad you did.  It’s always good to find allies and make new friends. And we appreciate the consideration.  I know you didn’t have to let us land or give us a place here, despite who we represent.”  She paused.  “Why did you?”

“Because we’re all on the same side, and I think your being here will be good for Gwen.”

“How is she?  You never did say.”

Tiny shrugged.  “Randi is taking care of her,” as if that said it all.  And as far as the Amazons and Tiny were concerned, apparently it did.


Chapter VI

Though neither Randi nor Gwen had ever been to the kitchen in their short tenure in this place, the emptiness and almost complete silence in the kitchen was unnerving.  Surely there were supposed to be people in this area at all time preparing food for the significant number of people who lived and worked in the palace.  And yet there was only the shuffle of one pair of feet and one lone voice singing quietly when they pushed open to door.

Randi and Gwen exchanged glances, stopping in surprise when they realized Rosie was alone in the kitchen, and she was obviously cooking.  Gwen closed her eyes and just stood there breathing.  Rosie turned around and caught the beatific look on Gwen’s face and the one of absolute adoration on Randi’s as she gazed at Gwen.

“Ahem.”  Her slight throat clearing caused the spell to be broken and Gwen opened her eyes at the same time that Randi turned to look in Rosie’s direction.  “What are ya’ll doing in my kitchen?”

Randi’s eyebrows both shot into her hairline and her expression was on of surprised amazement.  Rosie met Randi’s look with one of her own and a snort.

“Don’t you even try to give me that look.  I have had all the plastic food I can stand.  No wonder you look like you haven’t eaten in months – I’d have stopped eating food if all I was getting was rubber chicken and burnt beef.  My gracious, if that’s what you military folks consider good grub it’s a wonder there hasn’t been a revolt before now.”

“Um, Rosie, not to put a fine point on things, because we will certainly enjoying eating your barbeque and fried pies again, but I thought you were going to sit with Jill.  What made you decide come in here and run everyone else out so you could cook instead?”

“Two things, actually – one, I really am tired of eating <ahem> what the people who were running this place considered edible meals... or at least it seems that way since we moved with Gwen from the village.  Even the Amazons of old had it better than this, and I *saw* those recipes.”  She shuddered and Randi and Gwen bit their lips to keep from chuckling.

“The second,” Rosie continued, growing more serious, “is because Jill asked me for some barbeque.  I figured she wanted to be alone more than anything, but I was happy to do whatever I could to ease her pain.”

Gwen stepped forward and wrapped her arms around Rosie, Squeezing tightly and holding on for a long moment.  “Thank you, Rosie.  You have done so much for us.  We will never, ever be able to repay you.”

Rosie pulled back just enough to cup Gwen’s face in her hands.  “There’ll never be any repayment, Gwen.  What we did, we did out of love for you two and for the greater good.  I’d do it all over again... we all would.  Besides, it’s a really good feeling knowing that we did something that made a difference... to you and to the world.  So thank you for letting me be a part of that.”

“Now,” Rosie continued, stepping back from Gwen and clapping her hands together before stirring the pot bubbling softly on the stove.  “What are ya’ll doing in my kitchen?”

This time Randi did laugh.  “Rosie, don’t you ever go changing, all right?  We just came in to *your* kitchen to get some things for a picnic.  We thought we’d go sit in the garden for a while and just be for a few minutes.”

Rosie nodded soberly, understanding only too well the peace they wanted to find together.  “All right, then... let me put something together for ya’ll,” scurrying around the kitchen collecting items.  In less than two minutes, Rosie had a nice lunch put together and was pushing them out the door.  They looked at her askance.

“Trust me on this, you two.  If you wanna get a little time alone together in the garden, you need to get outta here before folks figure out we’re having barbeque for lunch.  ‘Cause if they find you two in here....”

Randi and Gwen exchanged glances.  “Point taken.  We’re outta here.  Thanks, Rosie.  We’ll be back.”

“Enjoy, you two.  I’ll make sure Jill gets something to eat before the service this evening.”

“Thanks, Rosie.  You’re the best.”

Then they slipped out the back door and down the hallway that led to the garden.  They just missed the contented mob that descended on Rosie’s kitchen.


There really wasn’t any other way to tell this story, so Tommy scrubbed his hands through his hair and blew out a breath, then decided to just start.  “First you need a little background to understand what the legend is based on.  When the soulmates originally found one another millennia ago, they thought their bond was unbreakable.  Not only did they love one another deeply and passionately, but they were best friends who genuinely liked one another.  They never thought anything could come between them – never thought anything could break them apart.”


“But they found out that wasn’t true.  They found out that lies and circumstances and time could come between them and that there were gods and men who would take advantage of their separation and mistrust.  It nearly tore them apart forever.”

Reed nodded.  “That’s about what happened to them this time.”

“Yeah it is.  Except... when it happened to them originally, they were targeted for destruction very much like this time, only there was a complete lack of trust between them that they had to overcome.  And when they came back together, they were able to form an unbreakable bond... something that nothing – not gods, not man, nothing short of death itself – was able to destroy.”

Tommy took another deep breath, not seeing Ella come to the door and lean on the jamb to listen better.  This was a story she hadn’t heard before and she really wanted to.

“Unfortunately, they were unexpectedly separated by a gruesome death, and it took them some time after that to return from eternity back into the karmic circle, and it was upon that return that the legend began.”

“So what’s the legend?” Reed asking, having a very good idea what Tommy was going to say.

“The legend stated that when the soulmates returned for their final trip through the circle, they would suffer again as they had before and that their unbreakable bond would return to protect them from the influences that were so eager to rip them apart.  That barrier would allow them to succeed over those influences.”

“How do you know it hasn’t happened in *each* of their lifetimes?” Ella asked, turning their attention to her.  “I mean, I realize what the prophecy says, but you know as well as I do that there have been lifetimes where those two souls have suffered greatly together.  They’re in the stories Gwen allowed us to read.”  Ella looked at Reed.  “Those are the stories she has never shared publicly.”

Reed nodded.  “I understand.  Gwen and I got to have some interesting talks while we were in the village and she shared bits about her storytelling.  So I know there is a lot that will never see the light of day, and a lot more that gets severely edited before it does.”

“Because never - not once in the stories that have been handed down through Gwen’s line - never once has there ever been a mention of an unbreakable bond or a barrier that could protect them from a god.  And given the bard’s line’s propensity for detail, it would have been recorded.  Besides, the legend was passed through both warrior and bard lineage.  If it had occurred before, both sides would have known.”

Tommy turned back to Reed.  “I’ve shared this with you in confidence.  I hope you will hold it in trust until I can share it with those of you who stood beside them through this whole mess.”  Reed shook her head and Tommy cocked an eyebrow at her.  She patted his knee and held up a hand before he could have a conniption.

“Don’t,” Reed said simply.  “Don’t share this with folks.  Shh,” she cautioned before he could interrupt.  “Hush a minute and listen to me all, right?  I want you to hear what I am saying to you.”  He nodded and Reed took a deep breath to speak again.

“It’s an incredible story, Tommy, and I am inclined to believe it for several reasons I won’t even bother to explain.  But if it’s true, and we think that it is, then it’s really not fair to Randi and Gwen for you to be the one to share it.  Because you *know* what it means.  And honestly, I don’t think it’s fair to those who helped bring them together for it to happen.  That knowledge makes the good they feel they have done become a burden instead.”

“How do you figure?” Ella asked, coming to sit down beside Tommy and taking his hand in hers.

“You’ve spent the last few months living on the fringes of the upheaval Gwen and Randi have been living through, yes?  You know how bad things have been for them.”

Ella nodded.  “I have an idea, yes.”

“Okay, those few of us who have been right near the center of things, especially the last few days – what we did was not only for Randi and Gwen, but also for the greater good.  The world would have been destroyed if Randi and Gwen had not survived.  Now, imagine how you’d feel if you knew that your act of helping preserve the greater good and incidentally, your friends, had been the catalyst to end their karmic cycle.”

Ella’s face scrunched up in pensive thought.  “Ew... I never thought of it that way.  That makes it... that is a horrible feeling.”

Reed agreed.  “It really is.  And even though they could live another fifty years together, that knowledge casts a pall over everything; always in the back of your mind you know that their departure from the circle is imminent.  And it’s saddening because you know that there is no chance of seeing them or the bond that they share, ever again.”

Tommy dropped his head in his hand.  “God, Reed.  I’m so sorry.  I didn’t think of it like that.  I just thought those of you who had struggled so hard to keep them together should know that... well, now I’m not so sure what I intended at this point.  I wonder though....”

“What?” Reed asked, sitting back in her chair and trying to rid herself of the sudden tension that was flowing through her body.

“If they are leaving the karmic circle anyway, why was the outcome of this spirit walk so important?  Whether it is a day, a year or fifty years from now, they will still be gone, not to return.”

“That’s true,” Reed said.  “But if they hadn’t succeeded, had they not rejoined one another and merged to form that unbreakable connection, Ares would have won.  He would have claimed Randi... forever.  Gwen and Randi would never have been reunited – not here or in eternity.  They would have destroyed everything searching for each other.”

“So you’re saying...?”

“I’m saying that they have come full circle and they have earned their eternal rest together.  But I think the decision to share that with folks should be theirs and no one else’s.”

“I agree,” Tommy concurred, “but I don’t know if....”

“I can take the knowledge away from you... from you both... if you’ll trust me.”

Tommy and Ella exchanged a long glance, then turned to Reed and nodded simultaneously.  She held out her hands to Ella, palms up, and waited for her to take them.  Then Reed closed her eyes and let her mind move in Ella’s.  Even as tired as she remained, this wouldn’t take much effort or mental energy – especially compared to her output recently.

It was fairly easy to erase it from Ella’s mind as she had only just found out about it, and when they were done, Ella didn’t even remember Reed’s presence.  A call from Randall caused her to excuse herself and move back into the bedroom.  Then Reed extended her hands to Tommy.

“No pain?” he asked softly, and Reed had to smile in reassurance. 

“No pain.  You won’t even know I’m there.  It will take me a little longer than it did for Ella though.  Your knowledge is old, not recent.  Do you remember when you heard the legend?”

“Eighteen.  It was passed on to each member as they reached adulthood.”

She nodded her understanding then closed her eyes with him as she moved into his mind.  Reed was careful where she went and what she saw, focusing only on finding that one tiny piece of information and removing it as neatly as a surgeon would, leaving nothing behind to mark her presence there.  And it was done.

Reed slid her hands out from under Tommy’s and he opened his eyes slowly. Randall’s excited voice preceded his footsteps and he ran into Tommy’s leg.  “I’m hungry, Pa.”

Tommy leaned down and pulled Randall into his lap.  “You are?  You think we should go see Rosie... get some barbeque?” hugging his son to him. 

“N’apple pies,” Randall said emphatically, drawing a chuckle from the rest.

Reed opened her eyes slowly and slid to the edge of her chair before standing.  Tommy looked at her in concern, noting the strain in her eyes and the tired lines around her mouth.

“Reed?  You all right?”

Reed nodded and stood.  “Yeah.  It’s just been a while since I ate and I’m a little hungry too.”  She held out her hand to Randall.  “Whaddya say, big guy?  Wanna walk to the kitchen with me?”

Randall jumped from Tommy’s lap and grabbed Reed hand, tugging her forward firmly and with purpose.  “YES!”  Tommy and Ella followed at a much slower pace, silently laughing all the way down the hallway.  Some memories were best left alone, but others were simply priceless.


“Wow... something smells *really* good,” Lorac commented as they followed Tiny through the corridors towards the kitchen.

“Yeah, I’m really glad Rosie got tired of plastic food, ‘cause it seems like forever since I had a good home cooked meal.”

“Waitaminute... you mean to tell me the queen has been eating bad food since she came here??”

“Well, let’s just say that what we’ve been having is a step above military rations but well below what most of us are used to.  We had more important things to worry about and we let it slide.  So don’t be surprised when you see her... she’s lost some weight.”

“How much?  Is she in danger?”

“No... no.  She’s all right, but it’s noticeable and I didn’t want you to be upset by the change.  Although, in all fairness, I don’t think it was the food.  I think it was a loss of appetite.”

Lorac nodded.  “I noticed some of that at the village, though at least the food was decent enough that she picked at it.”

“Yeah, that wasn’t a real choice here,” he chuckled, “though I did notice we were suddenly going through a lot more fresh fruit.”  He pushed open the hinged door and the Amazons looked at him in amazement.  “What??” he said with a shrug, motioning them ahead of him.

“This is a very odd house,” Lorac commented as she walked in.  “Hello, Rosie.  It’s good to see you again.”

Rosie crossed from the stove and she and Lorac embraced briefly.  “Come in, Lorac and introduce me.  Lunch is nearly ready.”  Five stomachs growled in tandem and they all looked at one another and blushed.  Rosie just laughed and clapped her hands together.  “That is the highest compliment you can give to a cook.”  She gestured them around the table and moved back towards the stove just as the door swung open again to admit Reed and Randall, then Tommy and Ella.

“Hail!  Hail!  The gang’s all here!”

“Not quite,” Tiny said, having been notified of Sky’s imminent arrival.  “But we will be soon.”  He rose and crossed over to where Reed stood, wrapping an arm around her even as he offered a hand to Tommy, then Ella.  Tiny tousled Randall’s hair and guided them all to the table.

The Amazons had risen and Tommy initiated introductions while never losing contact with Reed.  She returned his embrace, grateful for the added support he was providing her with.  She had never expected the two short mind walks to drain her so badly.  Rosie immediately put down the food she had been carrying and took Reed’s hands in hers.

“Reed?  Are you all right?  You look terribly pale.” 

Ella rose and walked to the stove to finish bringing food to the table, glad when the rest followed her example to give Reed and Rosie the moment they obviously needed.  She had no way of knowing that the Amazons had seen it all before.  So it was easy to make conversation between them when they returned to the table; they were all making an effort.

“So, Lorac, you’re the Amazon regent now, correct?” Tommy asked.  “Are you still the weapons’ master as well?”

“Temporarily, I am the regent and I have a group of advisors of whom Nebula is the chief elder among them,” motioning to the older woman who had taken a seat next to Randall.  “Cheyenne is our weapons’ master in my stead and Coop is here because you never know when a scout will be needed.  Besides, I figured just seeing her smiling face would raise Gwen’s spirits... literally.”  Lenore chuckled at the shocked faces around the table.  “You don’t understand – Coop’s job was to teach the queen to walk through the trees.”

Now the rest of the table winced wryly and chuckled, understanding all too well the challenge that particular skill could present to any of them.  “Can you share with us a little about Amazon life and how it is changing with the unification and Gwen’s return as queen?” Ella asked as she prepared a plate for Randall, who was being remarkably quiet in light of all the strangers suddenly around him.

Lorac nodded and the door opened again, admitting the rest of the Sabre team leaders.  Jess was welcomed by the Amazons with open arms and then moved to make introductions.  It was enough to keep everyone’s attention from Reed, and she was thankful for that.  Once the conversation started, she turned her attention back to Rosie.

“I’m fine, Rosie,” squeezing the hands that she held.  “Just a little tired.  Tommy and Ella brought an unexpected wave of nervous, almost negative energy with them, and it kinda wiped me.”  She didn’t want to lie, but there was no way she was going to share the truth.

“Come and sit down.  A little good food will go a long way towards making you feel better.  And the company and conversation won’t hurt either.”

Reed smiled.  “Rosie, just knowing you did the cooking is making me feel better.”

Tiny’s stomach growled again.  “Me too.  Now let’s eat, woman!  I’m starving!!”

With laughter, they joined the melee at table, and Reed felt some of her strength returning, just being among friends.


Randi took a deep breath as she and Gwen stepped outdoors together, blinking in the bright sunlight.  It was nice to see the sun after the storms of the previous couple days.  Even more, it was the first time in forever they had been alone together in the light of day, and it felt soooooo good... so right.  Finally things were back to the way they were supposed to be, and despite the sadness they both felt over Geoff’s death, they couldn’t help but revel in the completeness they were experiencing again once more.

Gwen reached over and tucked her hand in the crook of Randi’s arm and sighed, squeezing lightly on the muscled arm beneath her grasp.  She closed her eyes and stood still, soaking in the newness and freshness of air and sunshine and holding Randi in place with her light grip.

Randi looked down to find out why Gwen had halted them, then caught her breath at the vision she found standing beside her.  “My God, you’re beautiful!” she whispered reverently.  Gwen opened her eyes slowly and smiled up into Randi’s eyes, then felt her own breathing catch at the love pouring out of Randi’s eyes that made the blue literally glow from within.

“Wow....” Gwen sighed.

Randi blinked.  “What?”

“You are so beautiful, and when you look at me...  I wish you could see what I see when I find you looking at me like that... again.  It is so amazing.”

Randi let the basket slip from her hands, glad the polymer would protect both food and dishes from the drop.  With her now free hand, she cupped Gwen’s face.  “I know what you see, love.  It’s the same thing I see when I find you focused on me.  I’m not really sure what you see when you look at me like that, but your eyes tell me... everything.”

Gwen didn’t answer verbally; instead she let her eyes speak for her.  Then she wound a hand into Randi’s wild, dark hair and pulled her down until their lips met.  And she let her lips do the talking for a long peaceful moment.

They separated slowly, licking their lips in tandem then leaning their foreheads together to simply breathe in one another.  The peace was shattered when their stomachs protested their abuse and distinct lack of sustenance loudly, and they broke into soft laughter.

“Talk about ruining a mood,” Randi muttered as she reached down to retrieve their basket.  “C’mon.”

They walked slowly across the garden, pausing to admire the various flora and fauna that grew throughout.  When they reached the place where the pillars had been placed to receive Geoff’s body for the service, Gwen stopped and looked around.

It was a small open space, surrounded by old, stately trees that shaded it without making it dark.  Along the perimeter of the meadow area beyond the trees, were flowering shrubs and Gwen nodded in approval.  “Daddy would like this.  It’s beautiful and peaceful, so full of life and color and fragrance.”  Randi nodded but didn’t answer, unable to stop the wash of guilt.  Gwen tightened her hold.  “Don’t.”

“You felt that?”

“Yes.  Please don’t.”  Gwen tugged on the arm she still held and they headed into another area of the garden that also had trees but contained wildflowers.  Randi set the basket to one side of the tallest tree and they spread the blanket out together.  Then Randi seated Gwen and handed her the basket and took a seat beside her.

“Sorry.  I didn’t mean to.  I just....”

“I know, love.  We will probably both have some guilt over this for a while.  But ya know what?” accepting a glass of honey mead and passing Randi a full plate.  “I’d be willing to bet you that when Mama gives us the holo-chip Daddy made, it will go a long way to assuaging the guilt both of us feel about what happened.  Because I really do think he made an active choice to save us knowing what the consequences would likely be.  Besides, you know and I know he would have done it even knowing the outcome to have gotten the results we did.”

“That’s true.  And I think Geoff is probably at peace now.  I know he’s walking again and out of pain.”  Randi’s head dropped to her chest and she sighed loudly.  “And with my luck, he has already met my parents and they are planning all sorts of interesting things for our afterlife.”

“Well, warrior babe, I’d have to say you were pretty much dead on the money there.  They are so rocking eternity right now.”

Dark and light heads popped up at the first sound and Gwen looked for the source while Randi focused her eyes on one spot just in front and to one side of where they were sitting and waited patiently.  A huff preceded a fading in of glaring blue eyes followed immediately by pouting lips and the skimpily dressed body of the goddess of love.

“You totally take the fun outta being a goddess sometimes, ya know?”

Randi chuckled.  “Of course.  Why do you think I do it?”

“Bitch,” Dite muttered under her breath, causing a snort of laughter from Gwen, followed immediately by her clapping her hand over her mouth when Randi cut her eyes in Gwen’s direction.

“I beg your pardon?” returning Aphrodite’s glare tenfold.

“Oh, Randi... chill, babe.  It’s just a figure of speech.”

Randi held the expression for a long moment, then gave Dite a crooked grin.  “Whatever.  I had ya going there though.”

“As if,” Dite denied and Randi crooked and eyebrow at her.  “Okay, maybe a little.  Can we get on with the reason I came or is this gonna be a not so gnarly ‘pick on Dite’ visit?”

“Should I remind you who was trying to sneak up on whom in this little scenario?  Hmm?”  Randi was now enjoying a bit of teasing herself, knowing she could fluster Dite so easily by doing so.  Beside her, Gwen was chuckling in silent laughter.

Aphrodite pouted.  “I hate you guys.  You’re so mean to me.  Here I came to let you know how Geoff was doing and you wanna pick on me?  How bogus is that?”  But she couldn’t help but see the renewed strength of their bond and the love that flowed between them again like a rushing river instead of the trickling stream it had been for too long.  She clapped her hands together and squealed.

“Ooooh... ya’ll are just so radically fab together again.  I can’t tell you how happy....  Actually, I can.  It’s why I’m here.”  She closed her eyes and took a deep breath, fanning herself rapidly before opening her eyes to speak.  “Okay... okay... okay... see....”  Dite blew out a breath and took another deep one in an effort to calm herself.  “What happened between ya’ll a couple nights ago was just awesome.  The vibes were delish and they rocked the world... all of it.”

Randi and Gwen exchanged glances, each hoping the other had a clue as to what Aphrodite was talking about.  She realized they weren’t following her and closed her eyes again, centering herself to calm and allowing the more serious side of her demeanor to speak.

“All right... let me see if I can be a little clearer.  The reunion of your souls the other night was a such a powerful phenomenon that was felt on Olympus, throughout the underworld and even to some extent, here on the mortal plane.  That vicious storm...? That was a physical manifestation of what was happening between you.”

Dite nodded when they blinked and looked at one another.  “*Everything*... present and future was riding on the outcome of your spirit walk together.  And when you won....”  She shivered.  “Oooooh man!  It was totally bitchin’!!”

“So what does that have to do with Geoff?”

“His death provided the final impetus to seal your bond, and he knows that.  He couldn’t be happier with how things turned out.  And he is immensely proud of his role in your coming together again.  Though he misses Jill, and will continue to do so until it’s her time to join him, he is content in the afterlife he has now.  He is no longer in pain, he is young and strong again, and he has had the opportunity to meet Bobby and Renee Valiant.  That last has already given him a lot of fun.”

Randi dropped her forehead onto Gwen’s shoulder in a gesture of defeat.  “I am so doomed.”

Dite laughed aloud.  “Nah... it was just like you said it would be.  Your parents received him warmly and welcomed him home.  They are well on their way to becoming real friends beyond the forced acquaintanceship of being in-laws.”

“Already?  We just released his soul from his body this morning.”

“Yes, already.  They have been taking him around, showing him how things work in the afterlife.  It was how he knew ya’ll were feeling guilt for the decision he made to die for you.  He told me, and I quote, ‘Please tell those two that it was my choice... my decision, and if I had to do it all over again, knowing what the outcome would be, I’d do it a hundred times if I had to.’”  Dite scrunched up her forehead in thought.  Then she made a face and continued.  “He said, ‘Live as a warrior, die as a warrior, and if the sacrifice you make is for those you love the most, then it is worth the cost.  Tell Randi I understand a little better what makes her the Sabre she is, but I’m glad my sacrifice was more personal.  It makes it seem like hardly a sacrifice at all.’”

Silence for long moments while Randi and Gwen absorbed the words that Aphrodite shared.  Finally... “Thank you, Aphrodite.”

“Anytime, babes.  We are so rocking up there, but this gave Geoff the last bit of closure he needed.”

“Did he say anything to my mother... leave some sort of message for her?”

Dite shook her head.  “No, Cutie.  He sure didn’t.  He said they had settled everything between them before they ever left their room and came to yours.”

Gwen nodded.  “That makes sense.  And it certainly goes a long way towards explaining Mama’s reaction to everything... or lack thereof.

“Aphrodite, what about Ares??  I know ya’ll sent him away, but I also know better than to think he won’t eventually turn up here again ready for battle.”

Aphrodite bit her lip pensively.  “He’s already tried, but Reed was exactly right with what she said about your bond now.  It has formed a barrier around you two, shielding your souls – your very essence – from his machinations against you.  He cannot get near you now, physically or spiritually, without your conscious permission; even the good guys are blocked from more than a basic read on your well-being,” said with a small smile.

“So you think he’ll quit now, knowing he can’t get in?”

“I wish I could believe that, Gwen, but he’s bet everything he has on this gamble.  He pissed off a lot of deities with his manipulations and intrigues.  And if he loses... he loses big.”

“Couldn’t happen to a nicer guy,” Randi mumbled.  “He’s gonna lose, Dite.  We’re gonna taking him down.”

Dite shrugged.  “I figured as much.  Can’t say I’ll be sorry to see him pay the price for his arrogance.”

“Can’t say I’m sorry to be the one collecting it either.”  Randi cleared her throat and tried to erase the fierceness from her expression.  “Now, would you like to join us for some lunch?  It’s barbeque, and Rosie made plenty.”

“Ask me another time and I will.  I wouldn’t have disturbed ya’ll today if it hadn’t been important.  But you both needed to hear the message from Geoff.”

Gwen held out her hands and took Dite’s in hers.  “Thank you, Dite.  Even though we knew it in our heads, hearing it from you makes it easier to believe in our hearts. Tell Daddy we love him.”

Aphrodite kissed Gwen forehead then squeezed her hands before releasing them.  “He knows, and he’ll be keeping an eye on you two.  ‘Cause that’s just something Daddies seem to do for their daughters.  Ya’ll be good, and I’ll be in touch... later!”

Then she was gone before either of them could answer her, leaving a mess of petals in her wake.  They looked at one another and laughed, scattering the fragrant softness before resuming their meal together.


But in the deep, sinister recesses of Ares’ darkest, most powerful temple, the god of war worked feverishly mixing and measuring, knowing the focus of his fight had to change and that everything was riding on the outcome of his work here


Chapter VII

“This has been nice,” Gwen said as they lay comfortably wrapped around one another half dozing in the warm, early evening air.  Summer meant a late sunset, so they still had several hours before Geoff’s service.  Lacey had come out briefly after Aphrodite had vanished to let Randi know her preparations were complete.  Otherwise, they had been left totally alone.

Randi tightened her hold, simply glad to have Gwen in her arms again.  She couldn’t believe she had let this slip from her grasp for any length of time and it made her cherish the preciousness of it now.  Without thought, Gwen let her hand track upwards from Randi’s torso to gently trace the planes and hollows of her face.  Randi smiled at the renewed intimacy the sensation caused to course through her.

“Yeah,” she agreed softly.  “It really has.  I could do this with you for the rest of our days together and never grow tired of it... never wish for another thing from life.”

Gwen shifted, sitting up enough to lean on one elbow and look down into Randi’s face.  Randi cracked one blue eye open just a slit to return Gwen’s gaze.


“You’re serious, aren’t you?  You’d give everything up again....”

Randi nodded.  “It’s not worth the cost for me to remain a Sabre.  As much a part of me as it is, it’s not nearly as much a part of me as you are.  I can live without the excitement of being a Sabre as long as I have the peace of being with you.”

Gwen cupped Randi’s face and spent a long moment just staring into her eyes.  Then she leaned down and captured Randi’s lips in a long, passionate kiss.  It went on until their hands started to wander and air ran out.  Then Gwen simply transferred her attention to Randi’s jaw line, nibbling up to her ear.  Randi tilted her head, making sure Gwen had plenty of room to work with and felt the bard smile with her movement.

“I love you, Randi.”

“And I love you, Gwen... so much.”  She slapped the ground.  “I can’t believe I nearly lost this.  I can’t believe I nearly let you get away from me.”

Gwen returned her hands to Randi’s face, turning it gently and stroking Randi’s cheeks with her thumbs.  “Randi?  Look at me.”

It took a moment, but finally Randi blinked her eyes open and Gwen’s heart wrenched at the profound sadness she saw there.  “Don’t.  Don’t even think about going there.”


“Do you really think I was going to let you go... especially when we have fought so hard to be together??  Randi, I stayed away because you needed me to, but I was never far away.  And I always, *always* kept an eye on you as much as I could.” Gwen smiled wryly.  “Poor Reed... I think I must have driven her half insane.  We owe them a lot for sticking with us through all of this, you know.”

“I know.  I’m planning to give them all some time off now, before we have to start the last of our work here.  We’ll need their help then.”  Gwen couldn’t stop the grin at Randi’s use of plural pronouns where the two of them were concerned.  That, as much as anything else, marked a fundamental change in Randi’s attitude – before it had always been singular... a solo responsibility. 

“We are, huh?”

“Yeah,” not picking up Gwen’s excitement immediately.  “We’ve got a lot of work to finish in as short a time as we can manage.  I wanna go home.”

Gwen dropped her head onto Randi’s chest and hugged her hard.  Startled, Randi returned the embrace instinctively and kissed the top of the blonde head.  After a few minutes of silence, Gwen relaxed her hold just slightly and she fell into a half-doze to the rhythmic beat of Randi’s heartbeat beneath her ear.


“Sleepin’” she mumbled, then frowned when Randi chuckled soundlessly.  She swatted futilely at the moving surface she was resting on.  “Still, mattress... sleepin’ here.”  Randi’s chuckled became an outright laugh and Gwen couldn’t stop the gasp that the sound caused any more than she could stop the tears from springing to her eyes or the smile from spreading across her lips.

“I love that sound.”

Randi smiled.  “It feels good to be able to do that again.”  She squeezed Gwen’s body gently, reveling in the sensations that caused to ripple through her.  “Gwen?”


“Did you really?  Did you really keep an eye on me?”

“Yep.  I sure did.”

Randi blew out a breath.  “I’m glad.  Even though I didn’t know it then, it’s nice to know you were looking out for me in spite of everything.  I felt....”

“What, love?” 

“I... not abandoned, exactly – especially since I sent you away – but I was so lonely.  Even once you were here again, I was so alone.”

“Why didn’t you tell me you were struggling so hard, sweetheart?  You know I would have done anything I could have to help you.”

“I know.”  Randi shrugged.  “I’m not sure really.  I don’t know if it had something to do with whatever it was I was fighting or it was just warrior pride or.... I dunno.  It was... I’m not sure how to describe it.  It felt like... if I told you, I failed.  I couldn’t protect you if you knew.  It’s...  I dunno,” she said again.  “It doesn’t make much sense if I think about it now, especially trying to explain it.  But it was so clear to me then.  I need you to understand that, Gwen.  I didn’t do anything maliciously.”

“Oh, I know that, Randi.  I’d have kicked your ass pronto if I’d thought otherwise.” A beat.  “I did wonder if you still loved me a time or too, but....”

“I never stopped loving you, sweetheart.  You have to believe that.”

Gwen patted the chest underneath her ear, feeling the rapid beating slow perceptibly with just her tactile reassurance.  “I know, love.  Aphrodite had to remind me once or twice, but in my heart and in my soul, I knew.”

It hurt, knowing Gwen has suffered a loss of faith in her... in them... even briefly, but Randi really couldn’t blame Gwen either – not with what they had been through.  It wasn’t like she had been able to explain things to Gwen... especially her own crisis of faith.  It only served to strengthen her resolve to get them out of the circle.  They deserved whatever peace they could find.

“I’m sorry,” Gwen whispered, bringing Randi’s attention back to the present.  “It hurt me so much to think that, even though I knew better.”

“S’all right, love.  It’s past and we have the rest of our lives to look forward to here.  And that’s just the beginning for us.”  She stuck her hand in her pocket and pulled out the circlet she’d hadn’t let out of her reach since Gwen had closed her hands around it.  “I think you might want this back,” holding up the Soulmate’s ring.

Gwen accepted it with tears in her eyes and met Randi equally wet ones.  “It hurt a lot to take that off.  Never again, love.”  Their lips met for an eternity to seal the promise.

“Never again,” Randi swore.

Gwen didn’t answer verbally, but she tightened her hold on Randi.  For a long while, they watched the effects of the breeze as it danced across the grasses and flowers and trees.  It was a lovely symphony... soothing and relaxing and it caused them both to fall back into a somnolent state.  It was comfortable in the way so many things hadn’t been in a long time.

Eventually, Randi stretched a little beneath Gwen’s body and patted her gently on the back. “Gwen, sweetheart?  C’mon.  Nice as this has been, we need to get back to the palace and prepare for Geoff’s service.”  She waited, then smiled when Gwen clenched her fists and mewed before she stretched and blinked her eyes open.  Gwen tilted her head up to meet Randi’s amused blue eyes gazing back at her affectionately.

“Hey, beautiful.  We need to get up and head back.”  Gwen stretched again and nodded, but settled right back down on Randi’s chest, drawing a smile from the warrior.  She let them remain that way for a few more minutes, then slowly edged into a sitting position, bringing Gwen up with her.  Gwen tilted her head back enough to look at Randi, a distinct frown on her face.

“I was comfortable where I was, ya know,” she complained, but there was a definite twinkle in the back of her green eyes.

“I know,” Randi agreed.  “So was I.  But I’ve got to get into that uniform to pay my final respects to your father and it takes me a few minutes to get into it.  Besides, I have a surprise for you.”

“You do?  What kind of a surprise?”

“A nice surprise, but we have to get up and go back to the palace first.”

“All right,” Gwen grumbled, “but this better be good.”

Randi chuckled and shook her head, standing and bringing Gwen up with her.  Then they gathered up the blanket and the remains of their picnic supplies and headed back through the gardens.

The air was sweet, the heat of the day having pulled the fragrance from the flowers and left it hanging heavily in the garden itself.  Even the light breeze didn’t disperse it too much, although....  Gwen took a deep breath, tasting a particular sweetness on the back of her tongue with the inhalation.  She turned to Randi with a tiny, incredulous smile.


“Um hmm.  They thought I was nuts when I told them I wanted hedges of the stuff.  But I glared at them and they planted it anyway.”  Randi shrugged sheepishly when Gwen laughed at her admission.  “I needed it here... as a sort of promise.  It reminded me of you.”

“Ya know... even though we’re not going to stay here very long, I’m glad you took the time and effort to do this.  This is actually my favorite part of the whole palace.”

“Mine too,” Randi said, maneuvering them back towards the kitchen.  “I was out here a lot while you were gone.  Made me think of better times.”

Gwen didn’t have a response to that, so she merely gripped Randi’s hand more firmly before they crossed the threshold into the palace and then to the kitchen.  There was no one there, which was a little surprising given the time of day, but Randi could see both Ella’s and Rosie’s handiwork left behind.  She made a mental note to thank them later, then put the basket and blanket back where Rosie had taken them from while Gwen grabbed up the few dirty dishes and washed them.  Within a few minutes they were done and headed down the long, twisting corridor to their suite.

The guards snapped to attention at their approach and Randi stopped before entering the room.  “Report,” she commanded quietly. 

“Empress,” the senior non-com said, bowing his head slightly in respect.  “It’s been quiet.  The workmen left about twenty minutes ago and word is that everyone has returned to their rooms to prepare for the service.  We did get a report of some unrest in the rehabilitation compound, but Tiny went over to check things out and we haven’t heard anything since.”

A frown crossed Randi’s features.  “Has he reported back in?”

The guard nodded.  “Yes ma’am.  He is in his quarters.  Shall I summon him?”

Randi nodded.  “Please.  Have him report to me immediately.”

“Aye, sir,” popping off a salute and receiving a snappy one in return.  He reached for his comm unit even as Randi opened the door and guided Gwen inside... until she stopped completely just passed the threshold.  Randi had to ease her forward a couple steps just so she could close the door behind them.  Then she leaned down to catch the stunned look on Gwen’s face.

“You like?”

Gwen nodded mutely while her eyes continued to roam around the brand new room.  Everything had been changed or replaced, except the tile floor.  There was new paint on the walls, new curtains at the windows, new rugs on the floor and new furniture throughout.  And it was all similar to what they had in their home – no more of the garish, vulgar pretentiousness that had been the décor.  Gwen turned to regard Randi with astonishment.

“How...?  Why...?”

A knock on the door saved her from having to answer immediately.  “I’ll answer, I promise; just let me speak to Tiny real quick first, all right?”

Gwen nodded, dropping Randi’s hand to wander around the room, amazed at the changes.  Randi watched her a minute before she turned back to the door and bade the guard to open it.

“Ma’am?  Tiny is here to see you.”

Randi nodded.  “Please, come in, Tiny.”  The chief was dressed casually and Randi could tell he’d dressed rather quickly probably right out of the shower.  She motioned him to a chair and took one herself.  “I’m sorry, Tiny.  If I had known you were in the shower, I would have asked them to wait until you were done.  It wasn’t that critical.”

Tiny smiled.  “Well, I was just stepping out when the message came – it’s why you got bare feet and a tropical print shirt, sir.  It was the first thing I grabbed, though if Reed sees me wandering around in public with this thing on, she’s liable to burn it and kick my ass. “

“She hates it huh?”

“With a passion,” Tiny replied solemnly and cleared his throat.  “Is there something you needed from me, Empress?”

Randi shuddered, but before she could speak, a light touch on her shoulder made her look up into compassionate green eyes.  Without ever breaking contact with Randi, Gwen responded softly.  “Tiny, I know it’s probably against every rule, regulation and protocol the Sabres have, but do you think, at least when it’s just us together... not in public, maybe we could be Randi and Gwen to ya’ll?  We’re not going to have these titles for very long, ya know.”

Tiny smiled, and though they couldn’t see it, they could hear it in his voice.  “As my queen commands, so shall it be.”

They turned to him simultaneously, then they each popped him on the leg.  “Smartass,” they mumbled together.  Tiny burst into delighted laughter.

“God, I have missed you two.  Now,” becoming more serious.  “Was there something you needed, my friend, or did you just want to see what kind of outlandish civilian clothes I have?”

“Actually, I was wondering what you got called over to the rebel compound for.  The guards said there was some sort of unrest?”

Tiny relaxed and gave them a reassuring smile.  “Nothing bad, I promise.  Apparently Gwen has made such a dramatic impact on the folks in rehab over there, that when they found out her father had passed away, they asked for permission to attend the service for him this evening.”

Gwen gasped and Randi covered her hand in support.  “What did you tell them?”

“I explained the venue, told them about the limited space, but I also told them they would be welcome until space ran out, BUT if there was any trouble they would be made to leave.  We will have a large enough military presence there that we will be able to handle any outbreaks of trouble.  I have already handed out instructions to that effect.”

“Are you expecting trouble then?” Gwen asked.  “Tiny, I don’t want Daddy’s service disrupted.  I can’t do that to my mother.”

“No, Gwen... actually, I’m not.  But we believe in being safe instead of sorry.  They were very courteous and understanding about the whole thing.  They just want to show their support.  I suggested they have a candlelight vigil they could all attend after the service was over.  I thought Gwen might possibly stop by for it,” turning his attention to Randi.

Randi nodded.  “I think we could both stop by for something like that,” turning her head to Gwen.  “If you want to, I mean.”

“I’d like that.”

Tiny nodded and rose from his place.  “All right.  I’ll make sure to tell the folks over there.  But now I’ve gotta go get dressed before Reed sees me in this shirt.  I’d hate to lose it.  I got it on my very first shore leave, too many years ago to count now.”  He scooted out the door before either of them could comment.

Gwen held out a hand which Randi accepted with alacrity, pulling a startled Gwen into her lap.  Gwen giggled and wrapped her arms around Randi’s neck, giving and receiving a long hug.  “Well, this certainly wasn’t what I was intending when I offered you my hand... not that I’m complaining,” she added when Randi’s eyebrow arched into her hairline.

“So what do you think of your new boudoir, my queen?”

Gwen swatted at Randi, then tucked her head under Randi’s chin.  “I love it,” she said.  “You knew I would.  I figured out the how... that was Jake, wasn’t it?”  Randi nodded, her eyes twinkling.  “But, honey... why?  I mean....” motioning around her.

“Because you hated it, and honestly, so did I once I saw it through your eyes.  Yuri did what I asked him to – it presented a front I wanted people to see... opulence and power.  But it’s not what we’re about.”  She shrugged.  “Since we do need to stay here a little while longer, I figure we may as well be comfortable in surroundings that don’t make us want to scream for mercy.”

Gwen chuckled.  “Yeah, that about sums up the way I felt in here before.  I wanted to take my staff and start hitting things.  It wasn’t pretty.”

Randi smiled and kissed the top of her head, then they gently stood from the chair.  “C’mon, love.  Let’s get dressed.”

For Gwen it was a lot like déjà vu.  She dressed slowly in the same black suit she had worn to Randi’s memorial service fifteen months previously.  Only this time, Randi was getting dressed beside her and it wasn’t pouring rain outside.

It didn’t take Gwen long... she twisted up her hair and applied minimal make-up before adding earrings, then she slipped into her suit.  Then she sat down on the bed to watch Randi transform into the Empress and Sabre Commandant.

Every movement was precise and not a motion was wasted.  The hair went into a braid with a wry smile as Randi remembered Geoff’s reaction to her leaving it down for Gwen.  Then came the T-shirt and the trousers, then Randi sat down and pulled on the boots, standing again to stomp them into place.  The sound made Gwen smile sadly; it reminded her of the first time she’d heard it – on the night that Randi had kissed her for the first time... when Randi had disappeared from her life for fifteen months.

Randi gazed at the tunic for a long time.  It held a lot of memories – a lifetime of them.  She didn’t even realize Gwen had moved until she felt a hand on her shoulder.  She met Gwen’s eyes and held them even when Gwen slipped the jacket from her hands.

Gwen held it opened and waited patiently for Randi to extend her arms.  Randi stood silent and still for a long moment, the implications weighing heavily on her shoulders.  Gwen folded the tunic over one arm and gently rubbed Randi’s back until she felt Randi relax into her touch.

“C’mon, sweetheart,” opening the jacket again.  “Daddy was always proud when you were a Sabre; he said it was a kinship he was thrilled the two of you shared.”

Randi didn’t answer, but she extended her arms and took the tunic, shrugging it into place.  Then she reached for the buttons, only to have her hands slapped away by Gwen who had circled around in front of her.  She looked down with a raised eyebrow though she couldn’t hide the twinkle in her eyes.

“My privilege,” Gwen assured Randi and Randi let her arms fall back to her sides.  Gwen buttoned the jacket to Randi’s neck, then Randi did the clasp that kept the neck closed.  She slid her sais into her boots and looked at Gwen before picking up the sabre.  She offered it to Gwen who gladly accepted it reverently and wrapped her arms around Randi’s slim waist to fasten it on her uniform.  Then Gwen stood back to appreciate the picture Randi presented, seeing the presence Randi wore like a cloak.  Randi flushed under Gwen’s regard and Gwen blushed in return.

Clearing her throat, Randi broke the tableau and snatched up her gloves, pulling them on then picking up her cover and tucking it under one arm. Then she offered her arm to Gwen, who glanced down at her bare feet. 

“One sec,” she said, before Randi pulled her to a halt.  Gwen tilted her head in question.  “Randi?” 

Randi strode into the closet and picked up Gwen’s shoes, then knelt at Gwen’s feet.  Gwen balanced her hands on Randi’s shoulders as Randi slid the shoes onto her feet then stood.

“I feel a little like Cinderella,” Gwen said softly.

Randi gave her a crooked smile.  “Does that make me Prince Charming?” extending her arm to Gwen again.  Gwen tucked her hand into the crook of Randi’s elbow and smiled up at her as they made their way out the door, picking up an honor guard on their way to Jill’s room.

“I hope not,” Gwen said seriously.  “I married the most beautiful, charming woman in the world, and she’s the Empress.  It’d be a real let down to find out she’d transformed into a male prince.”

Randi blinked, caught completely off-guard by Gwen’s pronouncement, though part of her was rather tickled by it.  In light of the circumstances, though, and in an effort to maintain a solemn air, she merely nodded gravely, then leaned over to whisper in Gwen’s ear.  “I’m fairly certain it would be something of a shock to me as well.”  She kissed her cheek and straightened to knock on Jill’s door.

There was no immediate response, so she knocked again, even as Gwen called out, “Mama?  Can we come in?”  Randi jiggled the door and found it unlocked, so she opened it slowly and stuck her in head around the door, not surprised to feel Gwen’s head rub against her arm.  They looked around, but didn’t see Jill, so Randi motioned to the guard to stay put and she and Gwen entered the room.  It was empty.

Gwen and Randi exchanged glances.  “Why did she go ahead without us?”

Randi shrugged at Gwen’s question, though she had a fairly good idea.  “I dunno, but nothing we can do about it now.  C’mon.  It’s time to honor your father’s sacrifice and send him on his way.”

One of the guards closed the door silently as they couple made their way slowly down the hallway towards the garden door.  Gwen turned to Randi, a frown furrowing her brow.  Randi cocked an eyebrow at her.  “What’s wrong, love?”

There was a long pause and they crossed the threshold into the garden before Gwen spoke.

“Well, I was just thinking... why are we doing this?  You know and I know that Daddy’s spirit is already in the afterlife; Aphrodite told us so.   So why are we going to all the trouble to send him on his way?  He’s already there.”

Randi smiled, glad the guard was discrete and far enough away not to overhear their conversation.  “Sweetheart, you know why... this isn’t for Geoff.  It’s for us - a chance to say goodbye... a chance to celebrate his life and our part in it.”  Randi frowned.  “You already know all this, Gwen.  Where’s this coming from?”

“I dunno.  I just feel out of sorts... like something’s not right.”

Randi pulled them to a sudden halt and the guard reacted instantly, forming a perimeter around them.  “About Geoff’s death?  Gwen, that’s only natural, especially given the circumstances surrounding it.”

“I dunno,” Gwen said again.  “I’m probably just being silly.”

“Nope, you’re never silly.  You’re my queen, remember.”

Gwen snorted and leaned into Randi’s body, relishing the embrace that swaddled her whole being.  “I’m gonna remind you of that some day,” she said with a smile.  “Now let’s go.  I want to talk to my mother... see how she is doing and why she left without us.  I thought we were supposed to walk in as a family.”

“I think she went ahead because of our status, love.  It’s the only reason I can think of for her going off alone without us since she is supposed to be the one who arrives last.”

“Our sta... bu... wh...  Who’s idea was *that*?!?”

Randi held up her hands.  “Not mine!  It was probably Jill’s, but honey, remember that she’s having a rough time right now.  If she says she did it out of some twisted idea of respect, just let it go, all right?  We can make sure she understands the truth about things later.”

“I just wanted to be there for her,” Gwen whispered.  “I know what she is going through.”

Randi wrapped her hands around Gwen’s body and cradled her gently.  “Then you know that sometimes you just do what you have to do to get through the day.  Despite her happiness for us, and I really do think she is happy for us, Jill is having to cope with the knowledge that not only was Geoff *willing* to die for us... he *did* die for us.  On some level – deep down – she resents him and she resents us.  She’s likely to push us away, just like you did.”

Gwen nodded, recalling all too clearly how she’d felt when Randi had died.  “I know.”

“Well, we can only take things one step at a time,” Randi said, releasing Gwen from their hug and taking her hand.  “For now,” she continued, moving them again towards where everyone else was already gathered. “The sun is just touching the horizon.  It’s time.”

There was a path cleared for them and everyone present, except Jill, stood as they approached.  Gwen gripped Randi’s hand tighter as she realized what was going on, but together they made their way to the front.  When they reached the coffin, Randi stood back a step and allowed Gwen a minute alone with her father.  Gwen placed her hands on it and leaned down to whisper briefly, then brushed her lips over the top.  Then she leaned back into Randi’s body absorbing her strength for a long moment before reaching for Randi’s hand once more.

Randi took Gwen over to Jill and seated them next to one another.  Then Randi knelt down in front of Jill in spite of the spotless white trousers she wore.  She didn’t say a word, but took one of Jill’s hands in both of her larger ones.  Jill took her free hand and cupped Randi’s cheek in an oddly comforting manner, lifting her chin enough that Jill could look into the blue eyes nearly hidden by the cover Randi had donned when she and Gwen stepped outdoors.  Then she nodded and directed Randi to the podium with a glance.

Randi rose and took her place on the elevated platform and gestured for everyone to take their seats.  Then she cleared her throat and began speaking quietly.

“My friends, we are gathered here this evening to pay tribute to a man was known and loved by many, as is testified to by the presence of so many gathered her.  I was lucky – not only did I count Geoffrey Goldman as a fine man and a good friend, but I also had the great fortune to call him family. And Geoff died as he lived – a warrior and a hero to those who knew him best and he died protecting those closest to his heart.”

Her words made many wonder, as only those who had been in the room knew the true circumstances surrounding Geoff’s death, but most assumed that she was making a metaphorical reference to his career as much as anything specific.

Randi drew a deep breath.  “So we have gathered to celebrate his life and send him into the next life with our good memories and Godspeed.”  Then she stepped back from the podium to allow those who wanted to share their memories of Geoff the opportunity to do so.  She took her place at the coffin’s head, standing at attention as speaker after speaker rose to pay tribute to their fallen friend and colleague.  Jill listened in amazement as many friends she knew, and so many more she didn’t told of how Geoff had touched their lives in one way or another.

The sun had long since set and twilight was but a memory when Gwen rose to tell her story, sharing bits of her memories of Geoff as a loving father.  When she was done, Randi returned to the podium and without a warm-up, began to sing the song of the People meant to guide his spirit to the next plane.  Those who knew the melody joined her and those who didn’t kept time with their feet and hands.  And the bearers took their positions and committed the casket to the fires while the honor guard saluted.

When the polymer box was fully engulfed in flames, Randi took Gwen’s hand in hers and together they walked over to where Jill still sat, eyes glued to the blaze that surrounded Geoff’s remains.  For a long moment, they thought she was going to ignore them.  Finally, she met their eyes, tears in her own. Randi extended her hand and Jill took it with a watery smile.  Then they headed out of the garden, leading the rest back towards the palace and the planned wake.

They stood with Jill at the door of the ballroom, greeting old and new friends as they arrived.  When the deluge became a trickle, Randi turned to Gwen with a raised eyebrow and she answered with a nod of her head.  Then Gwen turned to Jill.


Jill met her eyes with a sad smile.  “This is amazing, baby girl.  I think your daddy would have been proud to see all the people that came to pay their respects... especially on such short notice.”

Gwen returned the smile with one of her own.  “I know he would have. Mama, Randi and I have to leave for a few minutes, but we’ll be back.  Sky and Rosie said they would stay with you until we do, because we don’t want you to be alone here.  Please, Mama.  It would make us both feel better to know Sky and Rosie were keeping you company until we returned.”

Jill looked into Gwen’s eyes and then Randi’s and nodded her head.  “If it will make you feel better,” she agreed softly.  “Can you give me some time after this is over?  I’d like to talk to both of you.”

“Of course.”

The answers came simultaneously and brought a real smile to Jill’s face.  “All right, then.  You two go take care of whatever business you have.  We’ll be here when you get done, and then we’ll go talk.”

Gwen leaned down and kissed one cheek and Randi the other.  Then with a discrete nod, Sky and Rosie made their way over to stand with Jill and Randi and Gwen left for the rehabilitation compound, accompanied by a small circle of Sabre guards.

Tommy and Ella stood with Tiny and Reed and watched them leave together without drawing undue attention to themselves, though Tiny noted most of the eyes in the room followed them naturally.  It was just the way of things with them.

“Wish I could be there to see this,” Tiny commented wistfully, but he and Randi had agreed it was important for him to stay with Jill.

Tommy smiled.  “You will.  I reconfigured the security monitors.  It is all being recorded.”

Tiny smiled and the four of them circled the room to talk to Jill.  Tiny figured she might like to know what was going on.  He figured she would appreciate the gesture on several levels, but was also confident Gwen would play down her part if they had even bothered to share their reason for leaving.  And he had promised Geoff to look out for all his girls.  This would be a good place to start.


Chapter VIII

"I was surprised to see so many uniforms," Gwen commented as they crossed the grounds towards the rehabilitation compound.  "I mean... I know Daddy was always a part of the military, being a weapons master and all, but it never really occurred to me how much a part of the military he really was.  Seeing all those folks in uniform really brought it home for me... reminded me a lot of your memorial service.  I had never seen so many uniforms in one place before then... even when I was telling stories to the people who were serving."  Gwen shook her head to clear her thoughts.  "It just seems... I dunno – it's a little peculiar for me."

Randi smiled but said nothing, choosing instead to wrap an arm around Gwen's shoulders to guide their steps together.  It was late and it was dark, but Tiny had assured her the rebels were waiting, so they had decided to honor their request.

"You know something else?" Gwen asked softly, though she was content that their guards were more intent on their surroundings than they were in listening to whatever conversation the Empress and Queen were sharing.  If there was one rule Sabres understood very well, it was that of discretion.

"I have tried not to know too much, love.  Every time I think I know something, it just gets me into trouble. However, that notwithstanding," feeling Gwen's silent laughter along her length where they were touching.  "You apparently know something you want to share.  Please... share."

"You're too much sometimes, you know that?"

"That I do most assuredly know, my bard, but I am almost sure that is not what you were gonna say a minute ago."

"You're right... it's not.   What I was going to say was it's a little odd to be surrounded by people like this.  Always before, it's been just us.  You've been able to handle whatever came at us – no question and no hesitation.  What changed?"

Randi sighed.  "I became the Empress, and that entails certain protocols... including an honor guard."

"Does it bother you?"

Randi shrugged and nodded hesitantly.  "Some," she said honestly.  "In some ways, it feels like my skills are being questioned - like I can’t be a warrior anymore.  I think it’s one reason I keep pushing so hard to maintain my level of proficiency... well, that and I couldn’t stand coming home to an empty bed.”  A beat and Gwen stayed silent, though Randi could hear the unasked question pulsing between them.  “Then I couldn’t bear the thought of sharing a bed with you and having you turn away from me anyway.  It was better not to even have that be a possibility.”

Regardless of their escort, Gwen pulled them to a halt.  Immediately, the honor guard spread out even further and turned their backs, keeping their eyes on the area around them.  Gwen took Randi’s hands in hers and waited for the blue eyes to meet hers.

“Randi, I can’t say that it would have been easy – I was so angry at you for pushing me away... for treating me like I was a responsibility instead of your partner....”

“Are you still?” Randi cut in.  “Angry, I mean.”

Gwen shook her head.  “No.  It still hurts me to think what happened between us; it will for a long time, I imagine.  But I understand now and that understanding made the anger sorta disappear; it even made the pain our fighting caused lessen because of the real reason behind it.  But I have to tell you - in hindsight of course - I think no matter how angry we were, our hearts and our bodies would never have accepted it.”

Randi’s brows creased and Gwen reached up with one hand to smooth out the furrows her frown caused.  “Are you saying...?”

“I’m saying that I reached for you every night you weren’t there – here, in the village... it didn’t matter.  Despite everything – despite the hurt and anger and aggravation and any other number of not so nice emotions, I still wanted you beside me, especially when I closed my eyes to try and sleep.  I wanted to be in your arms every night.”  She chuckled and Randi raised an eyebrow in question.  Gwen smirked.  “Look at how our bodies reacted to one another - not just in the dreamscape, but the minute they were put into the same space in this plane.”

“Yeah, that was kinda nice.”

This time Gwen laughed out loud and she wrapped herself around Randi, soaking in the pure joy the embrace created.  They resumed walking towards the compound and their guard reformed around them instantly.  “You’re a master of understatement, did you know that?”

Now Randi laughed.  “Yeah, I’ve heard that a time or two before.”  She paused and Gwen looked up at her expectantly.  “It was fantastic; it always is.”

“Ooo... you sweet talker, you.”

Gwen didn’t see the reaction, but Randi felt the smiles ripple around the small group of guards.  Discretion was their watch word, but sometimes a Sabre just couldn’t help hearing things.  They just knew how and when to keep their eyes and mouths shut.

They reached the compound and realized that every single member of the former rebellion must have been waiting for their arrival.  The courtyard was packed with bodies, each holding a lit candle.  When their entrance was noticed, a small pathway was created that allowed them passage to the center where the rebels had hastily erected a small platform.  Heads nodded in obeisance as they passed through since kneeling in such close quarters with lit candles was not prudent.

A lone woman waited for them there and they mounted the steps to join her while the guard spread out around the stage.  The Sabres were more than a little nervous about the situation, truth be told, but Randi knew there was a matter of trust that needed to be established.  And though it took things to an extreme level, she believed in the goodwill Gwen had wrought here with these people.

When they reached the center of the platform, the woman knelt.  Randi released Gwen’s hand and took the woman’s, urging her gently to stand.  Then Randi turned to face the crowd.  “Thank you all for coming here to show your support in our time of mourning the loss of Gwen’s father.  We appreciate the acknowledgement of my position as Empress and Gwen’s as Queen.  But please, no kneeling, bowing or scraping.  A simple nod of the head will suffice.”

The woman nodded.  “Thank you, Empress.  We weren’t sure of the protocol and decided to err on the side of caution.”

Randi smiled and extended her hand.  “Been there, done that more than once in my life.  And you are...?”

The woman accepted Randi’s hand and returned the smile.  “My name is Billie.  And I was um... selected to greet you both and offer you our sincerest condolences.”  She turned to Gwen.  “We were very sorry to hear about your father, my queen.  He must have been a good man.”

“Thank you, Billie.”  She looked out over the gathered congregation all around them, the lights from the candles lighting the entire courtyard.  “Thank all of you.  You didn’t even know my father, and yet....” raising her arm and waving towards them when words failed her.

“Yes, but we know you, my queen.  And that’s enough for us.”

Randi stood silent, having moved to stand behind Gwen in her customary position of support.  Gwen leaned back into the firm body, absorbing the love and encouragement she could feel flowing from the woman behind her.

“Thank you.  I don’t....”

Billie smiled sadly.  “You don’t have to.  We have... we’d like to offer up a song for the safe passage of his soul.”  Gwen nodded.  “It’s not really traditional anymore, but it was the one song we all knew and could agree on.”  Bobbie turned and focused on a mixed group of people standing to just one side of the stage.

The pipes began playing a hymn that had been old when it was written, and slowly a chorus of voices swelled to echo throughout the courtyard.  Gwen felt the rumble, but it was Randi’s voice she heard joining those of those who had once been enemies as they sang Geoff’s soul to its final rest.  That was the sound that brought tears to her eyes.

When the song was finished, Gwen wiped her eyes and faced the crowd once more.  She didn’t speak, but they cheered anyway.  Gwen waved her appreciation and then Randi escorted her down the stairs.  The crowd parted and took up the hymn once more as they made their way out of the courtyard and back to the palace.

They were silent in their passage, only the quiet whisper of cloth to betray their path.  When they reached the palace entrance, Randi pulled them to a stop.  “Are you all right?  Do you feel up to going back into the wake?”

“I feel... drained, but we need to go back in.  We pretty much promised my mother we’d be back in and it’s not fair to leave her in there to cope alone.”

“She’s not alone, Gwen, but you’re right – family is important, and we’re her family now.  I just don’t want to put you at risk.  You’ve been through so much lately.”

“*We’ve* been through so much lately, love.  I’m just tired.”

“All right, sweetheart.  I can certainly understand that sentiment.  Let’s go circulate at this thing for a few minutes, then we’ll get your mother alone and see what she needs from us.  Then I’m going to tuck you into bed for some much needed rest.”

“I thought we had a date planned for tonight.”

Randi smiled a Gwen and wrapped an arm around her shoulders as the moved towards the ballroom.  The team scattered, spreading out more now that they were back inside the palace.  “We did,” she confirmed, “and any other time I would take advantage of the opportunity to be intimate with you... especially with how long it’s been since we’ve been together in this plane and what we’ve been through to get here.  Please trust it’s not a lack of desire on my part, but my love for you that’s speaking.  You’re exhausted, and honestly... so am I.  I think we’d both be better off waiting until tomorrow.”

“Will you be there to hold me?”

“All night long, Little One.  For the rest of our lives.”

Gwen squeezed Randi with the arm she had wrapped around the warrior’s waist and felt the kiss Randi brushed across the top of her head.

“That will be enough for a start.  Let’s get this done, because you’re right – I am exhausted, and we’ve still got things to do here before we can go home to stay.”  The doors opened for them as if by magic and they reentered the ballroom with as little fanfare as they could manage.

Jill was easy to spot – she was actually holding court of sorts, sharing tales and reminiscences of Geoff with a number of the folks who were in the room.  For the most part, all eyes and ears were on her, and Randi and Gwen were able to sneak over to the buffet table practically unnoticed.  It was nice to be observers, for a change, instead of the focus of attention.

Randi and Gwen walked the length of the tables, picking up bits at random.  Then they moved over to the dais to watch the rest of the activity while still out of the way of the action.  Jill was smiling, though it was a sad expression that didn’t quite reach her eyes.  Still, it was apparent to the two watchers that she was enjoying the opportunity to tell stories about her husband, but also to hear tales from others who had known him – friends both old and new.

As the hour of midnight approached, Tiny began circulating the room, encouraging people to take their leave.  Nothing pressing, but most had been waiting for his cue and with relief, made their way towards Jill to offer final condolences and wish her good night.

Finally, the only people left in the room were those that had been directly involved in the spirit walk and Tommy and Ella.  Lacey, Sky and Rosie were the first to bid her goodnight from their little group, followed immediately by Tommy and Ella since Ella and Rosie had plans to restructure the kitchen.  Their day would start early; they figured they would let Randi in on their plans once they had the details worked out between them.  One less thing she needed to concern herself with but would appreciate being taken care of.

Tiny and Reed wished Jill a good evening, then they approached Randi and Gwen who were just leaving the dais area they were seated on.  Tiny bowed his head and Reed mimicked his action until they both felt Randi’s hand land heavily on their shoulders.

“All right, you two... cut it out.”

“As you say, Empress... my queen.”

Randi’s eyes narrowed.  “Ya know, Tiny... I know where you live.”  Gwen bit her lip to keep from laughing out loud.  Tiny and Reed didn’t show her restraint and chuckled, guffawing when Randi squeezed their shoulders and snorted herself.  “I don’t know why I put up with you two.”

“Because you luuuuuuuuuuv us,” Tiny drawled.

“Uh huh,” Randi agreed in a slow, skeptical tone.  “I love you so much I am sending you away.  I want you out of my hair and on vacation starting tomorrow.  I want you to take a week or two off and go... I dunno.  Go do something that makes you both happy.  Go home and check on the dogs; take a trip somewhere you’ve never been together; see a play; visit a holodeck.  I don’t care.  Just go do something for the two of you... something wild and crazy and completely outrageous.”

“Really?  You’re serious?”

“Yep.  It’s not much, but....  Without the two of you, we never would have defeated Ares... Gwen and I wouldn’t be together anymore,” the last said in a whisper.  “You deserve a lot more, my friends, but a couple weeks is the best I can do for now.  Thank you both.”

Tiny reacted instinctively and gathered Randi in what should have been a crushing hug.  Instead, Randi returned the favor and Tiny heard his spine realign itself in her grip.  He moaned aloud and Randi chuckled in response.

“How do you do that?  Even the Sabre doctors can’t put me back in place like that.”

Randi shrugged.  “I have many skills,” she deadpanned.

Tiny shook his head disgustedly.  “I shoulda seen that one coming.” 

The three women laughed at his apparent repugnance at having given Randi an opening like that.  Jill came up behind Randi and Gwen, putting her arms around their shoulders and poking her head between them.  “So, is this a private party or can anyone join in?” 

Tiny opened his arms and Jill walked into his embrace.  They stood locked together in a hug for a long moment before he released her and she turned to Reed.  They hugged for another long moment before Jill pulled back and took their hands in hers.

“Thank you, both.  You have been such good friends.  I want you to promise to keep in touch.”  Jill couldn’t see the furrow that her words etched into Gwen’s and Randi’s foreheads, but Tiny and Reed could.  So they nodded and bid the rest goodnight, leaving Randi, Gwen and Jill alone in the ballroom aside from the honor guard stationed periodically throughout.  As soon as they moved to leave, the guard formed up around them and escorted them through the hallways to Jill’s room.

“It’s late,” Gwen commented softly as they stopped in front of her door.  “Would you like to wait until tomorrow to talk?  You look tired.”

Jill shook her head and opened the door, ushering them into her room with a wave of her hand.  “No,” she said as she closed the door behind them.  “I’m going home in the morning, so I’d like to talk to you both tonight.”


Jill motioned them to sit, taking a chair for herself and leaning her head against the back.  She closed her eyes in exhaustion and Randi got up to get her some water while Gwen knelt beside the chair and took Jill’s hand in her warmer one.  Randi touched Jill’s shoulder, having removed her gloves with a sense of relief.  It took a moment, but finally Jill blinked her eyes open and offered Randi a small smile as she accepted the glass.

“Thank you, Randi.  Have I mentioned how dashing you look in uniform?  You and Gwen make such a lovely couple anytime, but when you do the formal thing together, you’re simply stunning.”

Randi couldn’t stop the blush that crawled up her face, but she smiled lightly.  “I think you just like the uniform... all the colorful ribbons and sparkly bits.”

Jill chuckled.  “Well, I will admit to having a thing for a man in uniform, but the two of you are something else altogether.  Why do you think Sal is always pestering me to get you into the studio for a new round of pictures?  You’re just two incredibly beautiful women who compliment one another totally.  And when you go formal....”  Jill left the thought hanging, content with the astonishment on the face of *both* her daughters.

“Ahem... well,” Randi said after clearing her throat.  “What can we do for you, Jill?  I’m pretty sure you didn’t bring us in here just to embarrass us – at least not completely.”  She moved an ottoman around to the side of the chair where Gwen was kneeling and seated both of them on it.  Randi wrapped an arm around Gwen’s waist even as Gwen reached for Jill’s hands again.  Jill just looked at them for a long moment before meeting Randi’s eyes directly.

“First, is there a reason you don’t call me Mom anymore, Randi?  I know we’ve had some ups and downs, but I thought.... If I’ve done something....”  She stopped speaking when Randi held up an unsteady hand.

“It’s not you, Ji... mom.  I just didn’t think you’d want to hear that from me after everything.”

Jill captured the shaking hand in one of her own, unconsciously completing a circle between them.  “I need to hear it now more than ever.  I’ve already lost part of my family this week.  Please don’t ask me to give up any more.”

Randi nodded and squeezed her hand, but she didn’t say anything.  Gwen leaned into the warrior and nuzzled her neck before depositing a kiss in her wake.  Then she turned her attention back to her mother.

“Are you sure you need to go home in the morning, Mama?  I mean, you just got here a couple days ago.  We haven’t had much of a chance to visit together.”

Jill looked down at their conjoined hands and sighed deeply before looking up again to meet their gazes.  “I’m sure, baby girl.  Despite the fact that your daddy and I talked about this possibility, I still need a little time alone to process the fact that it is my reality.  You can understand that.”

“All too well,” Gwen agreed.  “I just... I can’t help but be concerned – about you being alone; about how you feel about us now.  I *know* what you’re going through, Mama.  I know about being angry and hurt and resentful.  I don’t want you to resent us... or Daddy.”

Jill shook her head.  “I don’t, Gwen... honestly.  Geoff and I really did talk all this out before we came here and certainly before we offered to help Sky during the spirit walk.  We knew the dangers.”  Jill drew a deep breath and paused, formulating her thoughts.  “Your father would never have quit... never have given up on his own.  But he was miserable, Gwen and in an enormous amount of constant pain.  He was even before he went to help rescue you from Ben; that merely sped up the degeneration.  It would have come to that eventually.”

Randi and Gwen sat quietly, wanting to let Jill finish and fairly confident she wasn’t done.  They were right.  “Randi?  Could you activate the holochip please?” gesturing to the small piece of plastic resting on the table in front of the warrior.

Randi leaned forward and activated the chip and leaned back as it flickered to life.  All three women held their breath as Geoff appeared in front of them.  He wore his Sabre uniform, sitting proudly in his hover chair.  He looked down at his hands and frowned, then made a decision.  He cleared his throat and looked back at the vid cam.

“All right... business first, I guess.  “I, Geoffrey Goldman, being of mostly sound mind and fairly decrepit body, do hereby declare this to be my last will and testament.”  He stopped and flopped back in his chair and propped his head on his fist.

“Hmph,” he snorted.  “That has got to be about the lamest....  All right, let me try this again.  Computer, I’d like to begin recording again,” not realizing he had never stopped recording.  He sat up straight and folded his hands, smiling into the camera this time.

“Hello, my beautiful girls.  If you’re watching this, then I obviously I am no longer alive and cannot relay these words and thoughts to you in person.  However, there is something I want you to understand right off the bat, though – if I have been very lucky in regards to my death, I got to go out as a warrior.  And with any luck at all, I did so protecting those I care about the most.”

Randi paused the recording and turned her attention to Jill.  “He knew something,” she stated flatly.  Jill nodded.

“He thought he did,” she replied simply.  Randi let it rest for the moment, hoping the holo would give her the answers she needed.  She signaled the chip to proceed and Geoff’s hologram came to life before them once more.

“I want you to know, though... no matter what... everything has been my choice.  And despite the pain and the consequences, it has been worth it.  It has *all* been worth it.  Jill understands and on some level, she even agrees with me.  Don’t regret my actions or dishonor my choices.  Make the most of the opportunity you’ve been given.”

“Randi, I’m trusting you with one of the two most precious things my life.  Gwen is now in your care and keeping, Marine.  Don’t misplace my trust.  She needs you, Randi, as much as you need her.  So take care of yourself as well as her.  You need one another.”

“I also need to ask a favor of you, from one Sabre to another.  Jill is strong woman, but she needs someone to be there for her, kinda keep an eye on her.  I know you’d look after her as a daughter, but I am asking you to accept the responsibility as a Sabre.”

This time Jill leaned forward and paused the hologram, then turned to Randi.  “What does that mean, exactly?  I understand the part about keeping an eye on me; that....”  She paused to clear her throat and her voice wavered when she spoke again.  “That was always something of a running joke between us.  But why ask for your word as a Sabre?  I don’t get that at all.”

Randi covered the hand that Gwen still held and looked Jill in the eye.  “Family is an obligation... something you have to do.  Taking responsibility as a Sabre means there is a willingness or a desire to take care of you – to look after you better than family.”

Jill looked into Randi’s eyes and saw the truth there.  She covered Randi’s hand for just a moment, then restarted the chip.  “Thank you,” she whispered as Geoff started speaking once more.

“Gwen, my precious child – I don’t know if I have ever shared with you just how proud I am of the woman you have become.  You’re amazing, and I’m glad to have known you and had some small part in guiding you to becoming the person you are.  I realize I can’t take much credit and neither can your mother; so much of what you have become is simply the culmination of all that you are.  I do know I couldn’t have chosen a better mate for you if I had designed Randi myself.  Take care of one another and love each other long and well.  What you share together is precious and rare and meant to be protected and preserved.  Don’t let anyone or anything take it away from you.”

“Now I will share a little secret with you.  I have had the same dream for several nights running; hence the reason for my recoding this will, such as it is.”

“In these dreams, I am able to walk again without pain or impediment.  I was young and strong... a Sabre once more.  I was fighting an unknown enemy... always unknown, always just beyond my reach.  The fighting was always a little different, but the enemy was the same evil darkness.  The ending was always the same too.  Always it would end with me covering a comrade whose face I couldn’t see – whose presence I wasn’t aware of until then.”

“I think this is someone’s way, whether it be a god or my own subconscious desire or what, but I think this is someone’s way of showing me what is coming... what I need to do to protect my family.  I want you both to know I do this willingly and with both eyes open to the possible consequences.”

He paused and it was apparent to the watchers that he was debating his next words, and when they came, only Jill showed a distinct lack of surprise. 

“To be very honest, girls, I am looking forward to death in a very basic way.  I’m tired... tired of hurting like I do.  I know it’s not going to get better, despite my best efforts.  I can feel it getting worse, even when I seem to be making progress.  Everyday it gets a little bit harder, a little bit worse.  And even though I will cherish every moment I am given, I am looking forward to not hurting anymore.”

“So please don’t mourn for me, girls.  I’m not in pain anymore, and I’m in a much better place.  Besides,” he added with a wicked grin and a twinkle in his eye.  “I’m looking forward to finding Bobby and Renee Valiant and swapping stories with them.  I have a feeling there is all kinds of mischief to be learned about.”  He chuckled and Randi covered her eyes and groaned.

“I am so doomed.”  Her martyred tone added just the levity they needed, and the three of them exchanged glances and burst into laughter.

Geoff had continued speaking, and they had to stop the chip and run the hologram again.  “The bulk of my estate, such as it is, of course goes to me beloved wife, Jill.  We have shared everything together, so most of it already belongs to her anyway.  However, I have a small collection of hardbound, printed books that I collected that I want you to take, Gwen.  It will be something you can give to your child one day,” his blush matching hers.  “Your mama knows where they are.”

“Randi, I do have a few odds and ends in both workshops, things that don’t belong to the military but that you might find... um, interesting.  You’ll know what they are when you see them.  They’re yours – enjoy them.”

He paused and they watched in silence as his brow furrowed in thought.  “You know,” he said looking back towards the vid cam and staring directly at them again.  “I never thought about how to end this ridiculous thing.”  He scratched his chin.  “Be good to one another and love one another long and well.  And remember that I’ll be watching over you all.  I love you.”

He sat still for another moment before his image faded from their sight.

The three of them sat for another moment before Randi leaned back and the spell was broken.  Jill drew a deep breath.  “Well, do you understand now?  More than anything, Geoff wanted you both to understand what he did and why he did it.  He wanted to assure you that it was his choice; it was *our* choice.  And it was worth it.”

“Do you really believe that, Mama?”

“I really do, baby girl.  As much as he loved me and lived for my sake, I knew your Daddy was in excruciating pain – towards the end especially.  I would never, ever hold him to life knowing he was so miserable.  I miss him... I will always miss him, because he was the best part of me for such a long time.  But I will join him again – maybe sooner, maybe later – but until then, I will live without his physical presence, knowing that he is still with me here,” she added, covering her heart.  “And knowing that his sacrifice made a difference.”

Randi stood then, content in the knowledge that Geoff and Jill had indeed talked this through thoroughly and Jill understood as much as one human being could understand the thoughts and motives of another.  And that she was comfortable with the knowledge she held.

Randi extended her hand down to Gwen and waited for her to accept it.  Then she tugged Gwen to her feet and together they turned to Jill.  “How long would you like, Jill... mom?”  At her questioning look, Randi continued.  “How long would you like to grieve in peace before....”

“Oh!  A month perhaps?  I just need to adjust to being alone.  It’s been a very long time since I was.”

“Can we call you?  You know... just to check on you?  I’m gonna worry a lot otherwise,” Gwen commented softly.

Jill smiled sadly.  “How about if I call you?” she compromised.  “Once a week, maybe on Sunday evenings?”

Gwen nodded.  “That would work.”  She took her mother in an embrace and hugged her tightly.  “Thank you, Mama.”

“You’re welcome, baby girl.  I’ve been where you are.  Oh, by the way,” changing the subject before Gwen could feel guilty.  “I know you only loaned him to us to help with Geoff’s therapy,” motioning to the nearly grown puppy now lounging comfortably across the foot of the bed.  Only his ears gave any indication that he was alert.  “Would you like to take him with you?”

The question itself was casual, but Randi could see the importance of her answer in Jill’s eyes.  Almost without consideration, she shook her head.  “No.  He’s yours now.  I think he will be a good friend.”

Jill couldn’t stop the tears from coming to her eyes, though she didn’t let them fall down her cheeks.  “Thank you, Randi.  He already has been.  He is a wonderful confidant.  And he seems to approve of you again – I haven’t noticed him growling at you lately.”

“I have a theory about that.”

Randi’s eyebrow crawled up her forehead as she realized Gwen had spoken the words with her.  Randi grinned at her and Jill smiled in response to their unexpected playfulness.  “Do you now?”  Gwen nodded.  “Well, what is your theory?  You share yours; I’ll share mine.”

“I think he knows that you’re you again.”

Randi blinked and nodded.  “Yeah, that pretty much sums up my thought.”

“Well, while the two of you are summing and thinking, I think I need to get some rest before the night becomes morning.  And I think you need to do the same.  I won’t leave without saying goodbye.  Besides,” she smiled gently.  “Rumor has it that Ella and Rosie have taken over the kitchen and are going to teach the military types here how to *really* cook.  I’m not about to miss that.”

Randi chuckled.  “Yeah, I only *thought* I charge here.  Apparently, whoever rules in the kitchen, really rules the world.  I’m just glad they get along so well.  It could get ugly in there otherwise.”

That visual made Jill laugh.  “Oh, no kidding.  That’s actually a scary thought.”  She took the hand that Randi offered and stood, then accepted and returned their hugs fervently.  Then she accompanied them to the door.

“Goodnight, my children.  Sleep well and in peace.”  Jill brushed a kiss across each of their cheeks and gently pushed them out the door, closing it quietly behind them.

They looked at the closed door a moment longer before exchanging glances and making their way down the corridors back to their suite.  It had been a long day and they wanted nothing more than to end it safely together in one another’s arms.


Chapter IX

It was the soft touch of Gwen tracing her features once again that brought Randi back from her dreams with a smile on her face.  Blinking, she realized it was still dark out and a glance at the clock showed they had only been asleep a little more than three hours.  She frowned and clasped Gwen’s hand in hers.

“Gwen?  Sweetheart, is something wrong?” Randi croaked out drowsily.  “Why aren’t you sleeping?”  And why am I?  When did you start watching over me like this?

Gwen lifted their linked hands to her lips and kissed each knuckle before tucking Randi’s hand into the hand she hadn’t been tracing with and resumed the light touch across Randi’s face.  “Nothing’s wrong, love.  I missed this with you and I just decided to indulge myself for a little while.  I’m sorry I woke you up, though.  That wasn’t my intention.”

Randi smiled lazily and raised their hands to her lips, repeating Gwen’s earlier actions.  “I’m not.  I’ve missed this with you too.  It has always been something very precious to me.”  She closed her eyes again and Gwen resumed her gentle tracing, smiling when Randi hummed in contentment.

For a little while, Gwen was satisfied with running her fingertips over Randi’s face and down her neck.  Gradually, however, she let her touch wander down the torso beneath her, circling firm breasts and tracing well-defined abs before tickling Randi’s navel.  She smiled when the muscles jerked in reaction, then laughed out loud when blue eyes opened and glared at her.

Her laughter stopped rather abruptly when the glare became a smoky glance filled with fiery intent. 

“No more teasing,” Randi growled, rolling them over until she was covering Gwen’s body, gentle touches denying the gruffness of her voice or the surprise of her actions.  “I want more than our dreams, love.  I want reality... here and now.”

For answer, Gwen reached up and threaded her hands into Randi’s hair, pulling her full weight down onto Gwen’s body and their lips into the lightest contact.  It was all the encouragement Randi needed.

Randi let her fingertips trail the length of Gwen’s body, reacquainting herself with the smooth skin and familiar contours that she had only been allowed to touch in her dreams for what seemed like forever.  She was slow and deliberate, holding Gwen’s eyes while tracing across Gwen’s shoulders and down her arms before shifting over to her hips and up her torso.  Randi smiled when Gwen’s breathing hitched and sped up as she reached the soft fullness of Gwen’s breasts.

“I love the way you respond to my voice,” Randi whispered in Gwen’s ear, watching the goosebumps follow in the wake of her words.  Her fingers circled nipples begging for attention, then she cupped Gwen’s breasts in her hands.  “The way you respond to my mouth,” suckling gently and briefly at each breast before kissing a path down the centerline of Gwen’s body, then moving back to capture Gwen’s lips until Gwen was forced to pull away for lack of air.  Randi’s hands stayed in constant motion and Gwen’s back arched when her interest focused on Gwen’s breasts once more.  “The way you respond to my touch,” letting her hands glide along Gwen’s body from shoulders to knees until Gwen was writhing beneath her attentions.

Then there were no more words; only the sounds of the love they shared between them.  It was well past dawn when the awakened the second time that morning.


It was the smell of fresh cinnamon rolls wafting through the air that brought Randi and Gwen to full wakefulness, exchanging chagrined looks when they realized how late it was and how much teasing they were in for.  Then the expression changed to a knowing smile and they let their lips meet for a good morning kiss.

“We’re never gonna hear the end of this, you know... especially if Jill delayed her trip home to say goodbye.”

Gwen stretched against Randi, rubbing their bodies together sensuously.  “Can I be honest here and admit I really don’t care?  Besides, we all worked too damn hard for us to be together again; do you really think anyone is gonna give us a lot of grief about wanting to spend time alone together?”

Randi smirked.  “Probably not, especially if they know what’s good for them.”  She assumed a snooty air and continued.  “I am the Empress, you know.  I could just banish them all to Mars.”

Gwen’s shudder was genuine and she shook her head adamantly.  “No, please.  These people are our friends and I’d like to see them remain that way.”

Randi’s expression turned to one of concern.  “Speaking from personal experience?”  Gwen nodded but didn’t elaborate.  “Will you share it with me some day?”  The blonde head nodded hesitantly and Randi cradled Gwen tenderly in protective arms.  “Whenever you’re ready, love,” hoping it would be soon.  “C’mon.  In the meantime, we should probably take a shower and get to the kitchen before all the cinnamon rolls are gone.”

Gwen’s stomach chose that moment to protest the very idea of going hungry when there were cinnamon rolls to be had.  She tilted her head up at Randi plaintively.  “Are you sure about that shower?  My stomach is asking for immediate action.”

Randi made a huge show of sniffing the air between them, then did the same to Gwen’s body, causing her to twitch in laughter at the teasing, ticklish touches Randi’s effort caused to skitter up her sides.  Finally, Randi pulled away slightly with a rakish grin.

“Well, if you don’t mind going out there smelling of sex and sweat, I’m game.  I didn’t know if you wanted to flaunt the fact.”

Gwen blushed adorably from head to foot as Randi had known she would, but she kept her teasing to a wicked twinkle in her very blue eyes.  Still, Gwen saw it and color suffused her skin once more.  “Hmm, well... when you put it that way....  You wanna join me?”

“Thought you’d never ask.”  They slipped from the bed and walked into the bathroom together, holding hands like the newlyweds they still were.


Lorac bowed her head in acknowledgment when they crossed the threshold into the kitchen and Rosie motioned them over to the buffet where a few cinnamon rolls sat plated in solitary splendor.  Sky poured them each a cup of coffee and offered them a smile, but didn’t comment on the lateness of the hour.  Jill rose from the table where she had been in conversation with Reed and Tiny and took first Gwen then Randi in her arms for a hug.

“I wondered if I was going to get to say goodbye before I left,” chuckling when twin blushes flushed the faces of the two women facing her.  Everyone else might leave it alone, but nothing was sacred to a mother it seemed.  Jill hugged them again.  “I would have waited; it is so good to see... to know....”

“Mush, mush, mush,” Tiny cut in.  “You’re giving me a sugar overload.”

His words cut the awkwardness in the room and laughter followed his pronouncement.  Randi stepped up and smacked the back of his head lightly.

“I know where you live, buddy!  Besides, aren’t you supposed to be on vacation somewhere already?  What are you doing hanging around here?”

“Like I was going to miss fresh cinnamon rolls or pass up the opportunity to rag on you a little bit,” Tiny snorted.  “Being Empress made you daft?”

Randi raised an eyebrow.  “You’re feeling feisty today.”

Tiny laughed aloud in pure joy.  “I feel good.  No... actually, I feel great!  I feel like a burden finally has been lifted, and it feels wonderful.”

Randi clapped him on the shoulder and squeezed.  “I know,” she agreed.  “It really does.  Now, go on and get outta here.  I’m hoping for a quiet week while you’re gone.”

“Does that mean I can borrow the holochip?”

“Sure... which one do you want?”


Randi chuckled.  “Nevermind.  I wouldn’t subject Reed to extremes with you.  C’mon, I think I have what you’re looking for in the office.”  She turned to Gwen and Jill.  “Don’t go anywhere.  I’ll be right back.”

Gwen nodded and brought the remaining cinnamon rolls to the table before sitting down across from Reed.  “So are you excited?”

Reed nodded and conversation at the table turned to their upcoming time away.  And for the first time, Gwen realized that everyone was leaving and by that evening, she and Randi would be alone together for the first time in months.  She couldn’t stop the thrill that ran through her.  In all honesty, she couldn’t wait.


“Are you excited?” Tiny asked Randi as they entered the office.  Yuri just nodded at their waves and turned back to his work.  Tiny closed the door while Randi crossed to her desk, her handprint allowing her access and unlocking the safe built into it.

“About what?  You’re the one going on vacation.”

“Yeah, but by this afternoon, we’re gonna all be out of your hair for a while.  Except for the standard honor guard, you and Gwen will be all alone in this big house.  And don’t think I don’t know how far away that honor guard will be banished while I’m gone either,” smiling wickedly.

Randi snorted.  “Be thankful I won’t be making them leave the grounds completely,” giving him a look.  “In some ways it’s a little insulting that you think I need them.”

“They’re not for you, actually,” Tiny stated emphatically, causing Randi to raise an eyebrow in his direction.  He shrugged.  “They are there for my peace of mind.  I know you could handle yourself, *but* if something *was* to happen, and it could – however unlikely, *I* would be the one that would have to face Gwen.  And on the flip side to that,” before she could interrupt him, “if something was to happen to Gwen that could have been prevented by a little vigilance on my part,” he cleared his throat.  “I gotta be honest, Randi... I don’t think either of us could live with it.”

She held his eyes unblinking for a long moment, acknowledging the truth.  Then she turned her attention back to the chips in the safe.

“Besides,” he added, shrugging again.  “I haven’t done anything but make up a schedule.”

“Come again?  I’m not sure I understand what you’re saying.”

“There is no honor guard unit, Randi.  Everyone who serves does so on their off time as a volunteer.”

Randi jerked her head up so quickly, Tiny heard the vertebra in her neck snap back into alignment with the motion.  He winced reflexively.  Randi didn’t say anything, but proffered her hand to him.  Tiny extended his and she placed the holochip in his palm.

“Go on, Tiny.  You and Reed deserve some time together.  That chip has all the old happy place haunts I could find in the archive.  You can alter each place to be as full or as empty as you want, but I wouldn’t make it empty.  It’s a little spooky.”

She was serious as she said it, but Tiny saw the twinkle in her eye and returned her look with a grin.  “Spooky, huh?  I’ll keep that in mind.  Thanks, boss lady.  We’ll see you in a week or so.”  Tiny waited for Randi to come around to the front side of the desk then took her in his arms for a bone crushing hug.  “Ya’ll try to behave while we’re gone, all right?  I mean I don’t wanna have to come back early to....”

A glare cut him off and he chuckled nervously, backing away from her slowly.  He glanced towards the door quickly, trying not to lose Randi in his peripheral vision.  “Heh, heh.  Time to go!”  And he dashed out the door, squealing.  Randi’s laughter followed him down the hall.


“Are you sure you need to be leaving so soon, Lorac?  You only just arrived, and we haven’t exchanged much more than a hello.”  Despite her eagerness to be alone with Randi, she knew she had a responsibility to these women beyond any friendship they shared.

The regent nodded.  “Yes, my queen.  We only came to pay our respects to your father.  There are still so many things we need to do to make the mountain into a home and the tribes into a single Nation again.  We wouldn’t have come now, if....”

Gwen clasped Lorac’s arm.  “I’m glad you did,” then looked around at the others.  “All of you.  I’ve already spoken to Randi.  As soon as we can get things settled here, we will be out to visit.  I am anxious for the Nation to know her.”

“She is already a legend among our people, Gwen,” Lorac addressed her informally and tilted her head in confusion.

Gwen gave her a gentle smile.  “I know.  I want you to know the woman that she really is.”

Understanding dawned and Lorac returned the smile and nodded.  “We would like that very much.  In the meantime, however, it is time for us to leave.  We will look forward to seeing you again soon.”

With a salute, the Amazon contingent boarded their shuttle and was soon on their way back to the Nation.  Jill came up to stand beside Gwen as they watched the shuttle disappear into the horizon.  “An Amazon queen, hmm?  Things really have come full circle.”

Gwen was silent for a long moment.  “In some ways.”  She turned to Jill.  “I am going to miss you, Mom.”

Jill smiled and wrapped an arm around Gwen’s waist.  “I will miss you too, daughter... both of you.  But it’s good to know you will have one another.  And I’ll be calling you soon, I promise.  I just need a little time to process.”

Gwen nodded, unwilling to let her mind wander into painful memories.  Then Jill’s unexpected laughter pulled her attention in a completely new direction.  Gwen hadn’t laughed when Randi died.  She turned her head in the direction Jill was looking with her hand shading her eyes and broke into laughter as well.

When they had gone to retrieve Jill’s luggage, Carbon had jumped on Randi.  Not maliciously, but with a distinct desire to play; with Geoff dead, he hadn’t had much fun or exercise for a few days and he remembered her scent as that of a playmate.  He had pounced and joyously licked her face, and with a sheepish look and a shrug, Randi and Carbon ran out the door and into the garden.

Now they returned to the landing area, the dog’s tongue lolling out one side if his mouth and Randi looking a little worse for wear.  There was a dirt smudge across one cheek and what looked like a rip in her shirt.  Gwen cocked an eyebrow in her direction.

“Who won?”

About that time the dog dropped down at Jill’s feet and closed his eyes.  Randi sauntered up to wrap Gwen in a sweaty embrace.

“Ew... honey, I love you, but you need a bath.”

Randi leered in her direction.  “That is not what you said this morning.”

Gwen flushed ten shades of red and slapped at Randi’s arms.  “RANDI!!”

Jill laughed.  “That would be my cue, I think.”  She opened her arms and Randi released Gwen so mother and daughter could hug goodbye.  Gwen brushed a kiss across Jill’s cheek as she pulled back.

“Please let us know you got in safely.”

Jill nodded.  “I will.”  Then she turned and opened her arms to Randi, who looked down at her dirty, sweat-covered self.  Jill waved her forward.  “Randi, dirt hasn’t killed me yet.  I don’t think it’s going to happen today.”

Randi smirked and shook her head.  Then she gently cradled Jill for a long moment before stepping back and picking up Jill’s bags, ignoring her exasperated sigh.  She remained stoic even when Jill rolled her eyes and Gwen muffled a chuckle, waiting patiently for Jill to lead the way to her shuttle.  Carbon actually snorted in disgust at the lot of them and flopped on the floor of the vehicle as soon as he made his way inside.  Randi settled Jill’s bags and then she and Gwen stepped back to allow the door to close.  Their last glimpse of her had her blowing a kiss to them, and then she was gone.

They watched the shuttle out of sight arms curled around one another possessively, dirt and sweat forgotten.  Then they turned towards the palace to make the short walk back.

“So, are we all alone yet?” Randi asked.  “Aside from the military and the rebels, of course,” said with the slightest hint of a smile and a hint of melancholy in her voice.  Gwen shook her head, knowing Randi already knew the truth.

“Noooooo,” drawing the word out.  “You know Tommy wouldn’t leave without saying goodbye.  But Sky and Rosie left about the same time that Tiny and Reed did.  Rosie was muttering something about having troops to train and I think Sky was just looking for a bit of peace.”  She cut her eyes in Randi’s direction.  “What did you do to Tiny anyway?  He couldn’t seem to stop chuckling and Reed was smirking when they literally snuck out of here.”

“I glared at him.  He was being a wiseass.”

Gwen rolled her eyes.  “Oh, there’s a big surprise.”

“It wasn’t my fault.”

“Uh huh.”

“What??  It wasn’t.”

“I know, honey,” Gwen said straight-faced with a teasing hint in her voice.  “It never is.  C’mon.  Let’s get you cleaned up and go find Tommy and Ella,” as they reached their room.

“Gweeeeeeeennnnn!!!”  Tommy heard Randi’s whine in his room and he and Ella exchanged glances before they started laughing.


Randi actually had a couple scrapes along her ribs where Carbon’s nails had ripped through her shirt.  But they didn’t hurt much and after Gwen kissed them, they didn’t hurt at all.  They were good; they didn’t dawdle knowing Tommy and Ella were waiting for them.

“Ya know,” Randi said, pulling a fresh shirt over her head.  “I wish we could go home with them.”

Gwen shrugged nonchalantly, though she couldn’t hide the momentary sparkle that flashed in her green eyes.  “Why can’t we?  Why can’t you be Empress there?”

“I wouldn’t be,” Randi answered honestly.  “When we go home, we are going home to live... as Randi and Gwen - not as Empress and Queen or anything else.  I have no self delusions in that regard; and I don’t want that in our home.”

Gwen came up behind her and kissed Randi’s back before resting her head between strong shoulder blades.  “I don’t want that either, love.  But at least we’ll have this place to ourselves for a little while.  Despite everything we have to do, I am looking forward to some time alone with you, Randi.”

Randi grinned.  “Me too,” she replied simply.


They found the Steele family in the kitchen, not that it was a great surprise.  Randall squealed when he saw them walk in and ran straight for Randi.  She scooped him up off the floor and blew raspberries on his belly before lowering him down so he could wrap his body around hers in a hug.  Randall squeezed with all his might and gave Randi a sloppy kiss; then he reached out with one hand towards Gwen.

She grabbed his hand and tickled his palm, grinning when he squealed.  He leaned over and planted a sloppy kiss on Gwen’s nose.  The trio turned towards Randall’s parents who were enjoying the interaction with fond smiles. 

Randall tugged on Randi’s hair.  “Go,” he commanded imperiously, pointing towards his mother.  She arched an eyebrow towards him.

“Excuse me?”

“Pwease, Wuv?  Go Mama.”

“How do you resist that much cuteness?” Tommy asked.

Randi walked to Ella and placed Randall in her arms.  “Apparently, I can’t,” she said sardonically.  Then she crossed to the refrigerator and grabbed a couple bottles of water.  She looked a question at Tommy and Ella, but both shook their heads.

“Maybe you shouldn’t,” Tommy said into the sudden silence as Randall’s attention was suddenly absorbed by a picture book Ella put in front of him.

Randi seated Gwen, then pulled out a chair for herself and dropping into it.  “Huh?  Maybe I shouldn’t what?”

“Maybe you shouldn’t try to resist all that cuteness.”

Randi gave him a frown of complete confusion.  “Tommy, evidence to the contrary, it is too early and I am running on too little sleep for you to be talking in riddles.  I didn’t resist Randall’s cuteness.  I brought him to Ella just like he asked.”

He shook his head.  “No.  Maybe you two should have one of your own.  Someone else whose cuteness you couldn’t resist.”

“NO.”  This from Randi, her tone firm and implacable.

“But....”  Ella put her hand over Tommy’s and shook her head.

“But....” he tried again.

“No, Tommy,” Gwen said kindly.  She bit her lip as she considered her words.  She and Randi didn’t plan to make a general announcement about their decision to leave the circle... at least not this close to the spirit walk that had assured their place in the cycle.  “We are too much of a target in this lifetime.  Ares has made it very personal this time; he wouldn’t hesitate to use our child against us.”  She paused, then continued.  “We already worry about the people who are closest to us; we couldn’t bring a child into the world, knowing....”

Tommy slid his hand out from under Ella’s and covered Gwen’s hand.  “I’m sorry, Gwen.  I didn’t think about it like that.  I didn’t mean to bring up an unpleasant subject – I just... watching you tell stories to the kids, seeing you both with Randall....”

“Tommy, it’s okay.  It’s something we’ve already discussed; we have peace about it.”

Tommy gazed into Gwen’s eyes, then turned his focus to Randi.  This close he could see the truth and realized they really had no desire to have a child together.  He felt a bit of sadness about it; he had secretly hoped they would give Randall a playmate.  He thought they would make extraordinary parents.  A memory tickled the back of his mind, but it was nothing but a shadow.  Shrugging, he let it go and nodded at them both. 

“All right,” he nodded.  “Now that I have managed to butt in yet again,” he started, clearing his throat.  Randi laughed.

“Tommy, that has been one of the few constants in my life.  I would miss it if you didn’t butt in regularly, though we should really work on your timing,” watching his face turn six shades of red.

He scrubbed his face.  “I hate you,” he muttered, causing another round of laughter.  “Anyway,” glaring in Randi’s direction, which was mostly pointless since she returned glare for glare.  He gave up and turned his attention solely to Gwen; that got him a snicker from Randi and Randi a slap on the leg from Gwen.  “When things settle down for you here, but before you come home, can we do a children’s storytelling session here?”

“Absolutely.  I think the kids here would love to be part of something like that.”

“Good.  When you’re ready, let me know and we’ll get a crew up here.  I’ll work on what details I can from Midas.  Do you have an idea on when...?” looking back at Randi.

She shook her head.  “Nothing definite yet.  At least a few weeks.  We have a lot of things to put into place before we can leave here, and Gwen wants to visit the Amazons before when settle at home for good. But I’m gonna push things as fast as I can.”

He looked at her, seeing a lot in her eyes he had never expected to see there.  Despite the walls she still had in place, she was more open to him than she had ever been.  He couldn’t stop the reaction that widened his eyes, but he didn’t say a word about it.  Instead he turned back to Ella.

“Whaddya think, babe?  Time to head home?”

“Yes.”  She looked towards Randi.  “Rosie and I are gonna give your cooks a crash course in good cooking.  No wonder you’ve been so unhappy if that’s what you’ve been stuck eating for the last little while.  We’ll do what we can in the next week or so to make sure your meals are edible.”

“Well, it’s not like Gwen and I can’t fend for ourselves.”

“I’m looking forward to it actually,” Gwen said with a smile.

“So am I,” Randi added softly with an eyebrow wiggle.

Tommy groaned.  “That is definitely our cue to leave.  The mush levels are rising to unbearable proportions in here.”

“I know where you live, buddy,” Randi growled.

Tommy laughed.  “That’s okay; I know where you live too.”

Randi growled again and threw in a glare for good measure, lunging across the table just as he jumped out of her reach.  Randall yelled in excitement, “Go, Pa!!!”

Tommy ran and Randi gave chase.  Gwen, Ella and Randall simply sat back and enjoyed the entertainment, cheering and clapping until Randi and Tommy collapsed back into their chairs.  “More, Pa!  Go!!” Randall screamed.  Ella shook her head in exasperation, chuckling as she rose and took two bottles of water from the fridge and placed them in front of Tommy and Randi.  Tommy was red-faced and winded, and sucked half the bottle down before thanking Ella.  Randi sipped hers and wound an arm around Gwen’s shoulders.

“You’re such a brat.”

“Yeah, but I’m *your* brat.”  Tommy just dropped his head on the table and groaned.

It didn’t take them long to get things squared away; Ella showed Gwen the few treats she’d put together for them, receiving a hug for her efforts.  “Some of these are new recipes, so you’ll have to let me know what you think.”

“I always do.”

Ella grinned.  “I know.  You’re probably the most honest critic I’ve got.”  She looked down at her hands.  “I’ve really missed having ya’ll home.  I’ll be glad when you come home to stay.”

“Me too,” Gwen agreed fervently, just as Tommy and Randall came out of the bathroom.  He immediately ran over to Randi who picked him up and swung him up high before wrapping him in a hug.  “I’m big boy, Wuv!”

“You sure are, love muffin.  You’re growing up so fast,” she added sadly.  “I’m missing so much.”

“Good,” Tommy replied emphatically as he came up beside her just in time to hear her last whispered words.  “Maybe that kind of motivation will bring you home faster.”

“I’m doing the best I can, Tommy,” she growled, carefully expunging her language for Randall’s sake.  Tommy didn’t miss the true anger and upset so clear in her eyes, but before he could apologize, Gwen was beside Randi, gently rubbing her back and glaring at Tommy.  He ignored the burning green eyes and pulled Randi into a grudging hug that Randall was quick to protest.  Tommy shifted, but didn’t release the hug.

“I’m sorry, Randi.  We just miss you and want you to come home.  That’s all.”

She nodded, but didn’t answer.  Instead, Gwen spoke for both of them.  “We’re trying, Tommy.  Please don’t make it harder for us.”

“You’re right.  I’m sorry.”


“Can anyone get in on this hug?” Ella said in an effort to cut the tension she could still feel.  Gwen and Tommy opened their arms and Ella stepped in, making it a true family embrace.  The anxiety level dropped and after a moment, they all stepped back a pace.  “We miss you guys and will be glad to see you come home.  But for now, ya’ll stay safe and keep in touch, all right?”

Randi nodded to Ella’s words.  “Thanks... both of you.  I know it comes from love and caring.”

“And I know better than to push,” Tommy admitted sheepishly.  “Now, c’mon.  We’ve got a shuttle to catch.  And ya’ll have some couple time to catch up on.”  He picked up their bags and motioned them towards the door.  “I am so, SO happy things worked out for the two of you, despite everything else.  Gwen, if you ever need to talk... I still remember what it felt like to lose my mother.”

“Thanks, Tommy.  Just remember that the vid phone works both ways.  We expect to hear from ya’ll regularly as well.  And just as soon as we can, we will come home to stay.  I promise.”

Tommy put the bags in the shuttle, then turned and brushed a kiss across Gwen’s cheek, then Randi’s.  He took a loudly protesting Randall out of her arms and climbed aboard the shuttle to strap him in.  They exchanged a last hug with Ella, then stepped away once more to allow the door to close.  They watched the shuttle out of sight before Gwen turned to Randi with a wicked smile.

“We have the house to ourselves… except for the guards.”

“Actually, we have the inside of the house to ourselves.  The guards have agreed to keep their patrols and posts outside until Tiny and Reed return.  So when we’re not working, we can just be us.”

“Oooh... well, in that case, can I interest you in some decadent Gwen and Randi time?”

“What’d you have in mind?”

“I feel daring.  How about a little skinny dipping now and a little fondue later?”

For answer, Randi turned them back towards the palace, casually tugging her shirt from shorts.  Gwen smiled and did the same to her own.  The guards saw them coming, and decided it was safer to back their outdoor zone up about a dozen feet even though they were not yet aware of Randi and Gwen’s specific plans.  Anything that could be construed as an invasion of privacy now wasn’t worth Randi’s ire later.  When they heard the splash of pool water and the squealing laughter that followed, the guard moved back another five feet.  Better safe than sorry.


Chapter X

“I’m gonna have to kill her, ya know.  I can’t believe she put that in the holodeck program.”

Tiny scratched the back of his head, unwilling to meet Reed’s eyes.  He couldn’t blame her for being furious; the man had been a total jackass.  But he couldn’t let Reed blame Randi for something that wasn’t her fault.

“She didn’t.”

Reed’s head snapped around hard and fast.  Her eyes glowed silver and she glared at Tiny.  “Are you telling me *you* did this?  You programmed that asshole??”

“Well, sorta, but not exactly.  I just left the parameters broad and random.  I’ll be more specific next time.”

It was kind of funny in retrospect, but it had been frustrating while it had been happening.  They had been in one of the theme park places Randi had meticulously researched for the holo-program she had put together for her relaxation, utilizing it for their vacation.  Tiny had taken Randi at her word, and asked the computer to put people into the simulation with them.  He just hadn’t been specific enough in his request.

They had strolled through a half empty park, enjoying the ambiance and the different attractions that were available in the venue they had chosen.  Then they had run into the most obnoxious man either of them had ever encountered... and as Sabres - that was saying a lot.

In preparing for this outing, Tiny had skimmed through Randi’s research so he and Reed could dress appropriately to blend in.  One of the things he found popular was something called pin collecting, and it was here he made his second critical error.  He hadn’t realized how zealous some people were about such a hobby or what lengths they would go to to obtain a rare pin they desired.

He and Reed had been waiting patiently in line when Reed noticed the man behind her staring.  Then he proceeded to beg, plead, cajole, badger and finally threaten her for the pin he wanted.  It was close; she wanted to go Sabre on his ass so badly, but before Reed or Tiny could respond, one of the workers calmly stepped into the line and removed the man.  The rest of the day had gone much more smoothly.

“Next time I’ll be more careful,” Tiny said again, looking properly contrite.

Reed snorted.  “Next time, I’ll do the programming.”


It was quiet in the capital city cottage - more so than Jill had expected it to be, especially since it wasn’t home.  Geoff had never been an overly loud person, but the house without him echoed the silence.  She walked through each room slowly, realizing there was very little in this place she would have to pack.  The Sabres had provided the furnishings, for the most part, and they would also be responsible for cleaning out the workshop she’d had built.  Only the few personal items Gwen had brought down for their comfort would need to go back north with her and those only took a very brief time to pack.   Then she re-boarded the waiting transport and sped off towards home.


Randi rubbed her eyes.  Their day spent in the sun had been a wonderful reprieve, but it had worn her out and she was making up the time now.  She was making progress on her work, but it wasn’t doing a thing for her eyes.  Gwen came up behind her, glasses perched on her nose.  She put her hands on Randi’s shoulders and leaned forward until their faces were almost even.

“How’s it going?”

Randi scrubbed her hands over her face.  “Not bad.  It would probably be going better if my eyes didn’t burn so bad.”  She turned to look at Gwen and met her gaze at very close range.  Randi grinned; she really did like the look of Gwen in glasses.  They just seemed to fit her somehow... especially when she was in bard mode, as she was now.

They had decided to postpone fondue and try to salvage a little of the work day.  It had been pleasant, working together but separately in the same room.  Gwen was actually pleased with her progress; everything she and Randi had been through seemed to have spurred her muse in the ass and she had been writing steadily since they’d come indoors.  But after the third time she’d watched Randi rub her eyes, Gwen had put her journal away and come to stand behind her.

“Maybe you need glasses... or corrective surgery.”

Randi reacted so swiftly Gwen was cradled in her lap before she realized she’d moved.  “No,” she said succinctly, easing the glasses from Gwen’s face and planting a fingertip on her nose.  “I need to stay out of the sun for hours on end; and I need to stop trying to focus on everything but how cute and sexy you look in glasses.”

Gwen’s nose crinkled adorably when she smiled.  “You think I look sexy in glasses?”

“In glasses, in jeans, in silk, in nothing at all... I have yet to find anything you’re *not* sexy in.”

“I think you are sexiest when you smile,” Gwen said, tracing the full lips that creased at her touch.  She let her fingers wander across the planed cheekbones and over the arched eyebrows.  “Especially when it twinkles out of the depths of your eyes.”

Randi couldn’t stop the faint blush or the light twinkle that sparkled when she smiled.  She cleared her throat.  “If I didn’t know any better, my queen,” her fingers tickling a path up Gwen’s ribs, “I’d have to say it seems like you are trying to distract the Empress from her official duties.”

Gwen grinned.  “Depends... is it working?”

“I shouldn’t let it, but ya know, fondue sounds really good right now.”

“Yeah, it does,” Gwen agreed.  “Besides, the work will be here tomorrow.  Maybe I can help.  I’ll bet together we can figure something out.”

“The sooner, the better I’m thinking.  I’m ready for the smell of sea air and the sound of waves and the view from our living room windows.”

Gwen smiled wistfully.  “That sounds wonderful.  There is still so much I want to do in this lifetime, especially since it’s our last.  But for now,” she said with her own twinkle, “how about some fondue?  I’m starving.”

Randi would have answered, but a rumble from both their bellies spoke louder than any comment she could make.  Gwen chuckled and sat up in her lap, then stood and held out her hand. 

“C’mon.  It’s all ready except for the heating part.  The rest of the day is ours, love.”

Gwen started the pot heating while Randi brought the raw food to the small table, thankful she’d had Yuri include a tiny kitchenette in their suite.  Then they sat down next to one another and waited for the oil to get hot.  “Ya know, I knew how precious each day we had together was – I really did, even before we were an us.  It was sort of hard not to; even without knowing our actual history as soulmates, my life as a Sabre made me very conscious of how fragile life is... especially after....”

Gwen nodded when Randi stopped speaking and covered Randi’s hand, stroking her knuckles with a thumb.  She didn’t speak; she couldn’t.  The thought of Randi’s death still brought a lump to her throat but thankfully, she didn’t tear up this time.

“But it’s like I have a heightened awareness about it now.  It’s not like it is at the forefront of every moment, but the feeling is always there at the back of my mind.” 

“Maybe it’s reminding you this is our final trip through the circle and that makes every minute more precious.”

Randi looked down at the heating oil before she looked up to meet Gwen’s eyes.  “Does that bother you, Gwen?  This being our last trip through they karmic cycle, I mean.  That’s twice you’ve mentioned it in the last few minutes.”

“No,” Gwen agreed without hesitation.  “I just... I think it is affecting the way we are thinking... reacting... to things now.  It puts everything in a different perspective and it makes us more aware of life going on around us.”  She paused, then tilted her head, nose crinkled in an adorable smile.  “To be completely honest, I am looking forward to an eternity of peace with you.  I think we’ve earned it.”  Another beat.  “I just don’t want to miss anything while were here either.”

Randi smiled and speared a stuffed mushroom, dipping it and dropping it into the now hot oil.  “Then we’ll have to make sure we do everything we possibly can.”

Gwen chuckled evilly and rubbed her hands together.  “I see some holodeck time in our future.  I still have to experience all those initials, ya know,” reminding Randi of the extreme sports chip she had introduced Gwen to several months prior.  Randi grinned.

“Whenever you’re ready, sweetheart.  And if you get bored in the holosuite, we can always do some traveling as well.”  She waggled her eyebrows.

“Anywhere, sweetheart – as long as I’m with you.”

Randi caught her breath and glowered.  “That’s not fair.”

Green eyes widened and Gwen gave Randi an anxious look. “What’s not fair?” glancing around to find what was amiss.

“You can’t make statements like that when I am not in a position to respond,” motioning to the table and hot oil between them; then jumping when Gwen’s foot rubbed up her bare calf.  Randi glowered when she discovered pure mischief lurking in Gwen’s sultry expression.  “I’m gonna get you for that.”


Randi smiled indulgently, loving the playfulness.  She took Gwen’s hand in hers and rubbed her thumb over smooth knuckles.  “Guaranteed, Little One.”  Gwen covered the hand holding hers and they waited in peaceful silence for their food to cook.


“Did you join the pool?” Ella asked as Tommy opened the door for her when they got home.  Randall spotted Ditto and they rolled together on the floor in playful abandonment.  The look Tommy wore was supposed to be one of beguiling innocence, but a cocked eyebrow from Ella made him grin sheepishly and Tommy nodded in obvious guilt.

“How much and when?

“Twenty and sixteen days.”

Ella laughed.  “Twenty and three weeks.  I figure they will probably spend a week with the Amazons.  Otherwise, I would have gone with two weeks.”

Now Tommy laughed, a sound so surprising, Randall and Ditto stopped playing and looked at him before Randall squealed and joined in.  Ditto made her contribution with a loud series of barks.  Ella just covered her eyes and shook her head.

After a few moments, Tommy’s laughter wound down to chuckles and he looked at Ella just shaking his own head.  “Ya know, it’s really not funny that we’re betting on how long it takes them to give it all up and come home.”

“No, but it is really funny that no one is giving them more than a month – even if you give them time to go to the Amazons like I did.”

Tommy smiled.  “I’ll just be glad to have them home.  I’m looking forward to a little normality.”

Ignoring the obvious smartass remark she could make, Ella smiled and took Tommy’s hand, tugging him to the glass doors that looked out over the water.  “I think they are too,” she finally said.  “And God knows they deserve it.”


Gwen lifted her head and peered into the darkness, trying to figure out what had brought her out of a deep sleep.  Then Randi shifted and Gwen knew what had awakened her.  She frowned then, wondering why she had awakened instead of joining Randi in the dreamscape.  Then Gwen put her hands on either side of Randi’s face and started kissing her lightly over every bit of skin she could reach.  She felt Randi struggling and then Randi called out in her sleep.

“No... NO!”  A pause and a deep breath.  “Gwen, NO!!”  Randi sat up so quickly Gwen nearly bit her lip trying to get her head out of the way, but she managed to maintain her hold on Randi’s face.  So when Randi’s eyes popped open, her first sight was Gwen.  Randi clutched at Gwen’s arms, holding them tightly while catching her breath and letting her eyes roam Gwen’s body to assure herself that everything was all right.

Gwen gently stroked Randi’s face, brushing her hair back from her eyes and combing through it in a relaxing motion.  Randi’s breathing gradually slowed and she closed her eyes and swallowed hard.  She released on of Gwen’s arms and moved a shaking hand up to Gwen’s face, tracing her features with a trembling touch.

“You all right, love?” letting her fingers linger on full lips as they creased into a tender smile.  Gwen captured her hand.

“Isn’t that supposed to be my line?  You scared me.  Everything okay?”

Randi swallowed and nodded.  “It was... strange.”

Gwen waited but when Randi didn’t continue speaking, she shifted them until Randi’s head was cradled against her chest.  Gwen didn’t say anything, but was content to hold her and felt the strong body gradually relax against her.  Only when Randi was completely limp against her did Gwen whisper into Randi’s ear.

“You wanna talk about it, love?”

Randi sighed.  She had spent the minutes relaxing going over in her mind the residual odd images and feelings left from her dreams.  Gwen kept up a soothing touch on Randi’s back and arm and waited.  Randi nuzzled into her neck and took a deep breath.

“It was strange,” she repeated again.  “Like memories... but not.  This hasn’t happened; I’m sure of it.”

“What, sweetheart?  What did you dream?”

“You... and the Amazons... and fighting.  Someone challenged you and you accepted the challenge, I think.  But it was... wrong somehow.  Something was off.”  Her brow scrunched up thoughtfully.

Gwen leaned her cheek on Randi’s head.  “Off how?”

“I dunno.”  She thought a moment.  “Maybe because I wasn’t in the picture?  I’d just like to know where the dream came from... and why.  It was just... too real – like it was actually happening.  Only I had no control of what was going on around me at all.  It’s kinda hard to explain.  It’s mostly just feelings... images.”

“Do you think you can sleep now, sweetie?” brushing a kiss over the top of dark hair.

“Can we stay like this?” content to remain in Gwen’s arms indefinitely.

“If we shift to a more prone position, absolutely.  I’m gonna wake up with an awful crick in the neck otherwise,” Gwen admitted with a small chuckle.  Randi tilted her head back slightly to see the awkward position Gwen was sitting in and realized she wasn’t kidding.  She’d probably end up with a crick in her entire spine.

Randi nodded and pulled away just enough for Gwen to shimmy into a laying position before reclaiming her spot in Gwen’s arms.  She closed her eyes in contentment and her lips creased into a smile.  Gwen hugged her more firmly and whispered into her hair.

“What are you smiling about?”

“The sound of the beat of your heart... it’s like music to me.  I can feel it in my body.  It’s amazing.”

The soundless chuckles earned Gwen a poke in the ribs and a raised head complete with glare from Randi.  The poke made her jump and the glare made her laugh out loud.

“Hmph!” Randi pouted, but she didn’t relinquish her place and in fact snuggled that much closer to Gwen.  Gwen stroked her hands through Randi’s hair and felt Randi relax into her.  She turned her lips into Randi head and whispered.

“I know – why do you think it’s my favorite place in the whole world?”

Randi didn’t answer; she just hugged Gwen tighter and soon the only noise in the room was the solitary sound of their breathing.



The goddess looked up from the screen she had been intently studying and removed her glasses.  Though she knew it completely changed her look and added a dimension of seriousness to her character, the fact was she actually needed them more than she was willing to admit.  She rubbed her eyes and smiled warmly at her visitor.

“Morph, dude!!  Long time, no see, babe.  Whassup?”

Morpheus blinked.  He only very rarely ventured out of his domain and he tended to forget about the peculiar quirks of each member of his family in the interim.  Coming face to face with them again was always disconcerting at first.  Then he smiled at her welcome and took her outstretched hands in his, squeezing them in greeting before releasing them. 

“Hello, Aphrodite.”  His expression became serious.  “Do you have a moment?  I think we might have a problem.”

Dite rubbed her forehead with one hand and let the other wrap around his arm.  “C’mon, Morph.  That so sounds like I’m gonna need a drink.”  She poured two glasses of nectar and motioned to a chair.  “Have seat and tell me what’s up.”

“Someone is interfering in Miranda Valiant’s dreamscape.”

Aphrodite gulped her nectar and got up to refill her glass, bringing the carafe back to sit on the table between them.  “Of course.”  She ran her hand through her curly hair.  “Is it Ares?”

“I think so; I am still doing some checking, but everything points to him.”

Dite and Morpheus exchanged a long gaze before she spoke.  “He’s totally over the edge with her, isn’t he?  He has lost every last bit of his mind.”

Morpheus nodded.  “I’m afraid so.”  He sighed and swallowed half his nectar before he spoke again.  “I will erect barriers to keep him out from now on, but I thought you would like to be aware.  Perhaps you can warn Randi.”

“Oh you bet your sweet ass I will... though she is so majorly pissed with him right now, this may – well, I’m radically glad I’m not gonna be in his shoes when she gets him.”

“You really think she will?  He is a god after all.”

“It won’t matter.  She’s gonna come collecting and he’s gonna have to pay up.”

“She has a plan?”

“She has a plan.”

“Good,” Morpheus said, finishing his nectar and standing.  “He’s gone too far this time.”  He leaned over and brushed a kiss across her cheek, blushing when she returned the affection.  Then he strode out the door and headed back to his own realm.

Aphrodite waited til he was gone, then she screamed, stomped her feet and banged her fists on the table.  After her brief tantrum, she dropped her head on her arms and closed her eyes.  And then there were those days when being a goddess just sucked.

Athena and Artemis came running at the first sound of screaming.   A light touch on her shoulder caused Dite to jump and she glared at Athena before grinning sheepishly.  “Sorry,” she mumbled.

“We heard you scream, Dite.  Are you all right?  Is something wrong?” Artemis asked, looking around for anything amiss.

“I’m cool, babe, but something is so....  Ares is a... he’s... ARGH!!!!” she screamed again.  “If Randi doesn’t totally whip his ass, I just might have to.”

Artemis and Athena exchanged startled glances, then turned back to Aphrodite with extreme concern.  “Would you like to start at the beginning, Dite, or would you like us to start guessing?” Athena asked.  She motioned to the half empty carafe of nectar on the table.  “Is it that bad?”

“Pull up a glass, then you can tell me.”


Randi lay quietly wrapped in Gwen’s arms, gently running her touch from breast to knee.  She had no desire to bring Gwen out of her peaceful sleep state just yet, so she kept her contact light and soothing.  But Randi needed the connection, so she allowed herself the comfort being in Gwen’s arms stroking her flesh brought her.  She thought about the odd dream she’d had the night before.  It bothered in a number of ways.

The reality of something she *knew* was only a dream was disturbing.  It made Randi wonder if it was a premonition or....  It was the ‘or’ that bothered her the most, because in all likelihood that meant Ares was making another effort against her again and this time he was using the Amazons to do it.  The question was could she do anything to stop him before Ares destroyed the Amazon Nation.

“What are you thinking about so hard, love?” Gwen’s sleepy voice burred its way through Randi’s hearing.  She felt the subtle rumble and it made her smile despite her misgivings about everything else.  Randi had never felt as secure in their love as she did at this moment and realized that the feeling was growing stronger with the passage of time.

A hand riffling through her hair brought her back to the present and she shifted just enough to look into green eyes filled with so much love it made her heart ache to see it reflected back at her.  Randi pressed a kiss between the breasts she had been pillowed on.  Then she shifted to capture those lips that were smiling at her just the least little bit and that went on until Gwen wrapped her arms fully around Randi’s body and pulled her down to Gwen’s.

“Good morning,” Randi said softly.  Gwen grinned fully.

“Yes, it certainly is.  Now, what were you thinking about so hard?”

Randi grinned rakishly.  “What makes you think I was thinking hard?  I’m in bed with my beautiful, sexy, naked wife and lover.  I’m not sure I see where thinking would be required.”  Gwen gripped her face and gazed seriously into blue eyes.  Randi sighed and dropped her eyes momentarily before moving her eyes back up to meet Gwen’s.  “I was thinking about my dream.”

Gwen nodded; she’d suspected as much. Truth be told, it had been occupying her thoughts as well.  “And did you come to any conclusions?”

Randi slid to one side of Gwen’s body, allowing her leg to keep Gwen pinned in place and resuming her light stroking touch along Gwen’s torso.  She smiled as she watched goosebumps follow in the wake of her fingertips, but her eyes were serious when they met Gwen’s.

“Not really.  I still don’t know if it’s a dream or a premonition or just a piece of undercooked chicken from last night. I think you should contact the Amazons... ensure we do not need to be there immediately.  If we don’t, I will push through today’s agenda and try to finish up the plans for the new schedule of service we want to implement so we can go out there tomorrow.  If we do need to go today, well, we’ll go and play the rest by ear.”

Gwen smoothed the worry lines that creased Randi’s forehead.  “You’re really worried about this, aren’t you?”

Randi nodded.  “I think it is Ares. I think he’s gonna use the Amazons against me if he can.”

Now it was Gwen’s turn to frown.  “Why?  Why the Amazons?  They are protected by Artemis.”

“No,” Randi shook her head.  “Artemis is their patron, but the goddesses do not protect – at least not like that.  Besides, that would just be added incentive as far as Ares is concerned at this point.  The fact is, with the dissimilation of the rebellion factions, the Amazons are about the only separate warrior society left for Ares to stir to war.”

“But, Randi... the Amazons have been at peace for as long as the world has been.  They were signers of the treaty; they have been players in keeping the peace.  Not like the Sabres, of course, but they have served in the military, participated in....”  Gwen glared when Randi’s fingers covered her mouth.

“Sweetheart, I know all that.  But the fact remains that – one... the Amazons are a naturally warrior society, and the only one that exercises those skills outside the regular military; two... Artemis is their patron and they have sects devoted to Aphrodite and Athena as well; three... you are their queen.  He has lost every other way with me; he has nothing to lose by destroying them trying to insure his success against me.”

“He has lost his mind!”

Randi nodded seriously.  “I really believe he has.  He honestly never expected me to reject him so completely.  I think it pushed him over the edge.”

“Why?  Randi, since our first trip through the karmic circle together, no matter the lifetime, no matter the circumstances, you have never been his.  Why would he think it would be different this time, especially since we were already together and the relationship consummated??  You came back from the dead for me in this lifetime, even before we admitted our love to one another!!!”

“Yes, but he cheated; he stacked the cards completely against me to guarantee his victory.”

Gwen snorted.  “Asshole,” she muttered under her breath, then blushed slightly at Randi’s silent chuckle and shrugged.  “Well, he is.  So what went wrong if everything was in his favor?”

Randi smirked, the sexy kind that gave Gwen tingles up and down her spine.  “You did.”

Blonde brows flew up into Gwen’s hairline so fast, Randi waited for them to fly right off.  “I did?!?  What do you mean, *I did*???”

Randi leaned down and kissed Gwen with fiery passion, possessing her in a way no one else could.  “Before the love, before the sex, before the vows we made to one another, there was always you – in my heart, in my soul, in my mind.  He could never, ever defeat that.  And he could never understand that... never grasp that there was nothing he could offer me that could measure up to what we had together – even when we were just friends.”

“And before we met?”  They didn’t talk about this much and Gwen wasn’t going to let the opportunity pass them by.  She knew there had been other lovers in Randi’s life before she had entered it; she suspected Tiny was one of them and Poppy was another, though she had never asked.  In some ways, she was glad Randi had not been completely alone during the years she had been an active duty Sabre.  On the other hand, she didn’t have green eyes for no reason, and jealousy was an ugly emotion – not only to experience, but to be caught having.

“Before we met?” Randi frowned.  “Before we met, I wasn’t vulnerable.”

Green eyes widened with hurt.  “Are you saying I made you vulnerable??  I made it possible for Ares to lay claim to you??”  Gwen would have pulled away had it not been for the leg holding her in place and the arm that tightened significantly around her waist.

“Shh... just listen, love,” before Gwen could protest.  “Yes, you made me vulnerable because you made me feel; and it was so... wonderful.  Ares couldn’t tap into my passion because it wasn’t there.  I had a few lovers before you came into my life,” acknowledging Gwen’s unspoken question.  “But they were friends... people I trusted enough to find release with.  My heart was not involved; my soul certainly wasn’t.  It wasn’t until I met you that I started to feel.”  A beat.  “I wouldn’t trade that vulnerability for anything, love.  It made me feel.  And that made us invincible.”

That got Randi the grin she had been searching for.  “Really?” Gwen asked shyly.

“Oh yeah,” Randi guaranteed.  “Now c’mon,” she added, rolling away from Gwen and off the bed.  “The sooner we get started, the sooner we can be done.”  She extended a hand which Gwen took with alacrity, sliding from the bed and tugging them both towards the bathroom.

“I’m looking forward to that.”

Randi chuckled.  “I’m looking forward to kicking Ares’ ass.  The look on his face will be satisfying.”

Gwen laughed.  “Your boot print permanently embedded will be even better.”


Ares remained blissfully unaware of their plans; he was too busy celebrating his latest conquest to be monitoring their activity at the moment.  And with any luck, not only would Randi be his very shortly, but he would also spawn an army of immortal warriors created in his image.  He looked down at the woman who shared his bed and laughed, the evil sound echoing throughout the mountain complex the Amazon Nation now called home. 


Chapter XI

“Aphrodite?” Artemis said as she rushed into the room where Aphrodite sat behind her desk working.  Dite pulled the glasses off her face and pinched the bridge of her nose before looking at Artemis with tired eyes.  She motioned to a chair and folded her hands on the desk in a listening pose.

“What’s wrong, Arty, and how can I help?”

Artemis spared a brief moment to be thankful for Dite’s perceptiveness.  This was going to be awkward enough without getting into the squicky details.

“It’s Ares.  He’s completely over the edge.  You said Randi was ready and capable of taking him down?”  She waited for Aphrodite to nod.  “I think she needs to do so now.”


“No, Dite – listen.  Ares is manipulating the Amazons; I think he plans to use them to create a race of warriors in Randi’s image.”

Aphrodite’s eye opened wide and she just look at Artemis for a long moment.  “You mean he is... ew – grody to the max, babe.  I so did not need that visual this morning.”

“Yeah?  Well, imagine how I felt when I figured it out.”

“Wait,” combing her fingers through her disheveled curls.  “Can we start this gnarly conversation over? ‘Cause I am getting a major headache from this.  Whaddya mean – when you figured it out?”

“Can we get Athena in on this?  I would prefer not to have to say it twice.  I think she is....”


Artemis chuckled wryly at Dite’s bellow.  “Of course, that works too.”  Athena popped her head around the corner almost instantly.

“Gods, Dite!  You scared a year’s worth of eternity out of me!  What is so important??”

“Come in and siddown.  We gotta talk.”  Athena looked from Dite to Artemis and back again and sighed.  Without a word, she popped in a bottle of wine and three glasses, then fell into a chair and waited for someone to give her the bad news.



Randi looked up when Gwen’s head came around the door to her office.  She turned away from her computer screen and spun her chair around to face Gwen.  She was gratified when Gwen came around the desk and sat down in her lap.

“So... what’d you find out?” smoothing out the frown lines that were crinkling Gwen’s forehead.  The expression made her guts churn, just a little.

“I’m not sure.  It was very strange.”

Now a frown crossed Randi’s features.  “How so?  Did you speak to Lorac?”

Gwen nodded slowly.  “Yeah, but she was... I dunno – off.  Almost like a pod person or something.”  She blew out a frustrated breath.  “She didn’t act like there was a problem; she was even enthusiastic about our coming out there soon.  Said they were planning a surprise fit for a queen.  It was just weird, but I can’t put my finger on what’s wrong.”

“Do you think it is critical?  Do we need to go out there today?”

Gwen bit her lip pensively and considered the questions seriously.  “No.  I think we need to take care of the rest of the world first.  We’re too close to a resolution and if we truly want to go home and have peace, we need to finish.  But I wouldn’t object to stepping things up and getting out there sooner than we had originally planned either.”

“All right,” Randi said in agreement.  “I think I have a rudimentary workable plan.  We just need to get the details settled and put into place.  You wanna take a look?  With a little luck we’ll have this ready to implement by the time Tiny and Reed get back next week.”

Gwen shifted in Randi’s lap to take a look at the desk screen.  Randi angled the desk a little more to accommodate Gwen’s added height, then sat back and let Gwen read in peace.  Her hands delicately stroked the body within her reach which coincidentally contained a majority of Gwen’s erogenous zones.  Randi wasn’t even conscious of her actions until Gwen grasped her hands lightly and turned pleading eyes to meet Randi’s.

“Whoops!  Sorry,” Randi said sheepishly.

Gwen smiled and stole a quick kiss.  “I wouldn’t mind except it’s very distracting.  You make it very difficult to concentrate.”

Randi stood, lifting Gwen to her feet at the same time.  “Tell ya what... I’ll go find some of the guys who are around and go do some sparring.  Then you can read in peace; don’t look at me like that.  If I stay, I’m just gonna keep distracting you and we both know it’s the truth.”

Gwen smiled sheepishly and nodded.  “Yeah, but it doesn’t mean I won’t miss you while you’re gone.”

Randi’s turn to steal a kiss, only hers was by no means quick.  “I love you,” she finally said when they separated on an uneven breath.  “I’ll be back to pick you up for lunch.  Then we can start working on the details.”

Gwen nodded.  “Be careful, Empress.  Don’t beat up on the troops too much, all right?  I have plans for you tonight and they don’t involve you being black and blue or too tired and sore to move properly.”  Randi arched an eyebrow, but her eyes twinkled mischievously.  Then she jumped unexpectedly when Gwen smacked her firmly on the butt.  “Go on and get outta here, love.  I know you wanna go play with the boys and I’ll get done faster if you do.  Just don’t run them too ragged.”

“No promises,” Randi quipped and with another swift kiss, she was out the door and Gwen sat down at the desk to continue her reading.  She liked what she had been able to take in so far; the idea certainly had merit and she could easily see it working for everyone if they could just work out a way to implement it properly.  She started making notes as ideas occurred to her and soon Gwen was completely immersed in her work.

Meanwhile, Randi had no lack of volunteers once word got around of her presence in the rec room.  No one could resist the challenge, especially once Randi made it clear she was taking all comers.  Soon the room was filled with the sounds of hand to hand combat and the thud of bodies as they hit the mats... one by one.

It was the growling of her stomach that pulled Gwen’s attention off the computer screen and focused it on the clock.  Her eyebrows shot into her hairline.  Surely Randi wasn’t still sparring; it had been hours.  Gwen rolled her eyes, knowing the truth.  She locked the computer and lowered the desk back down to a flat position.  Then she got up and strode out of the room, intent on finding her wayward soulmate.  First, she had to make a stop by their suite.


Sabres were scattered across the room in various states of disrepair discussing form and technique as Randi sparred with yet another of their number.   But when Gwen opened the door and crossed the room towards Randi, silence followed in her wake.  A number of Sabres grinned.  They had heard from their Amazon mates about Gwen’s prowess with the staff, and several of them had seen the bard in action here in the compound.  At the very least, it would be entertaining.

The Sabre facing off against Randi was distracted by the silence and hesitated, giving Randi the chance to drop him to the mat.  Then she looked up and understood the reason for the quiet that now draped the room and gave Gwen a chagrined smile.  Randi had been having such a good time sparring, she hadn’t realized how late it had gotten.

“Oh shit!” she muttered, but not low enough not to be heard by the troops, causing a ripple of grins to race around the room.  “Guess playtime is over, boys and girls.  I promised to take Gwen to lunch, so if you’ll excuse us....”

“Not so fast there, Stud.  Get your staff.”


“C’mon, Empress.  You made me wait for lunch; I think you owe me a round of sparring.”

Randi cocked an eyebrow and her blue eyes twinkled in pure fun.  “Oh you do, huh?  You think I owe you?”  She held out a hand and momentarily her staff was placed in it.  Gwen nodded and backed up a pace, trying to clear space for their match.  “Then by all means, my queen,” twirling her staff into a ready position and giving Gwen an evil smile, “let’s spar.”

The sound of wood clashing solidly together was loud and echoed in the otherwise silent room.  The Sabres watched in awe as the staves met and separated in motions so smooth and rhythmic they could almost be classified as a dance. 

Gwen and Randi smiled ferally at one another.  Though they were both quite serious about their skills, this was something they took great joy in sharing with one another and both of them had missed this time together.  The hits increased in speed until they were merely a blur; the Sabres just blinked at the furious action they were privileged to witness.

For long moments the battle went back and forth between them, neither woman gaining or losing ground to the other.  Finally, as if someone gave an invisible signal, they wound up with a flourish, staves crossed inched from their faces.

Their breathing was increased but not harsh and for a few stunned seconds, it was the only sound in the room.  Then the Sabres started to cheer.  When Randi leaned forward and captured Gwen’s lips, they whooped.  Gwen blushed.  Randi just grinned like a Cheshire cat.

“Right, then...” Randi said as the sound died down.  “*Now* if you’ll excuse us....”  A chuckle went around the room and they made a path so Randi and Gwen could leave the rec room together.  A trail of Sabres followed them out, then went their own ways to get back to their duty stations.


“Did you have fun?” Gwen asked as they made their way to their rooms.  Gwen wanted to put her staff away and Randi was dying for a quick shower.  Gwen squealed, closed her eyes and held on tightly when without warning, Randi picked her up and spun them both around in a circle.  When they stopped spinning, Gwen opened her eyes and stared down into sparkling, bright blue orbs.  She couldn’t help the smile that crossed her lips or crinkled her nose.

“*I* had a blast!!  I’ve missed that... especially with you.  How ‘bout you... did you have fun?”

Gwen squeezed her arms tightly around Randi’s neck and licked the drop of sweat that was dangling on the tip of Randi’s nose before depositing a kiss in its place.  “I,” she said, resting her forehead on Randi’s and forcing their eyes to cross.  “I had a wonderful time today, *and* I think I may have figured out some of the kinks in the plan.”

“Oh?” Randi said as she pulled back enough to actually see Gwen’s face.  She was suddenly serious and very interested in the conversation.  “Do tell.”

“Uh uh... not until we get something to eat.  Otherwise I will starve to death before I get food.”

“That bad?”

“No, but it’s gonna take more than two minutes to explain, and I’m hungry.  C’mon, love.  Put me down so we can get done and get back to work.”  Randi squinted at Gwen, then turned and resumed her stroll to their quarters.  Gwen instinctively held on tighter.  She drew a deep breath to protest, but a single, pleading glance in her direction made Gwen simply tuck her head into Randi neck for the remainder of the short trip to their room.  Randi smiled and pressed a kiss to Gwen’s head.


A short time later, they were once more clean, fed and back in Randi’s office.  This time they were sitting side by side at the desk as Randi read through the proposal with Gwen’s comments and modifications.  They were good and Randi turned and smiled at Gwen who slipped her glasses off her face and refocused her eyes on Randi’s.

“What?” self-consciously setting her glasses on the closest flat surface.

“These are good ideas, Gwen.  I think they will streamline things for everyone... especially me.  Now I just need to write a program to make it all work together.  Making the mix random is good and I think three to six month tours per station are a great idea.  It won’t get everyone exposure to everyone and everything, but it should be enough that people start recognizing similarities.”

“Are you gonna extend service times... go to five years instead of two?”

“Yeah, I think we need to.  Maybe eventually mankind will be smart enough to survive without a military, but for now I think it is still necessary.  I’ll make sure there are back-ups and fail-safes in place, but the fact is mankind is either gonna have to grow up and be responsible for each other and this planet, or they are going to end up destroying everything.”

“Does it bother you, love... walking away, I mean?  We’ve been doing this for a long time, Randi – lifetimes.  And it took us a few tries to get it right.  Can we just walk away without regrets?”  She paused and took a deep breath.  “I know I keep asking; I just want you to be sure that giving up the chance to rule the world isn’t something you’ll be sorry for later.”

Randi took Gwen’s hand.  “No, sweetheart; it really doesn’t bother me.  I’ve thought about this a lot.”  She blew out a deep breath and looked down at their clasped hands.  “We’ve done all we can do, Gwen.  We’ve arrived at a crux in human history – a pivotal point where the choices made will affect the way humanity will live... or die... together.  We’ve given them every opportunity to choose wisely.”  Now she looked back up and met Gwen’s eyes.  “But unless we want this responsibility for eternity, we have to let mankind make the choice and live with the consequences.  It should be easier for humanity once Ares is out of the way, even if we have been his main focus for a while.  And speaking very selfishly – I’m tired.  I don’t wanna do this anymore.  I think we’ve earned our rest.”  She smiled.  “Besides, I have all I want in the palm of my hand,” lifting their joined hands to her lips and kissing them.

Gwen couldn’t stop the blush, but she returned the kiss with a possessive squeeze of the fingers entangled with hers.  “I just don’t want you to regret....”

“No regrets, Gwen – not about this anyway... especially if we can make this program work like I think we can.  Let me get started on this program; the sooner I get it done the sooner we can get a team together to work the bugs out while we go visit the Amazons.”

Gwen nodded.  “I’ve got some writing to do.”

“You wanna work in here with me?”

A brilliant smile was her answer.  “Let me go get my journal.”


“Are they coming?”

“Not yet.  I told her we were planning a surprise for her, but I indicated it wasn’t ready yet so there wasn’t a need for them to rush out here yet.”

“Good, that will give me a chance to try to make a few more immortal Amazon babies.”

Lorac smiled slyly.  “Well, I know of a few Amazons that are hoping the first try doesn’t take.  They’d like another go with the god of war.”

Ares smirked.  “Only a few?”

“Yeah – not all of us are into men, but not all of us are strictly into women either.”  She frowned.  “Of course, I haven’t heard anyone complaining.”  That struck her as very strange; there were a number of Amazons who had no desire to be with a man and yet they had been as anxious as the rest to sleep with Ares.  Then there were those that didn’t want children, and yet they too had been eager for Ares to give them a child.  Something was wrong with this picture; then Ares trailed a hand up the inside of her thigh and the thoughts went to the wayside.

“What about you, Lorac?”

“As many times as you want, Ares,” then her mind was lost in the passion and bloodlust she felt coursing through her veins.  Nothing else mattered besides the touch of his hands and lips on her body.  Ares smiled cruelly.  The domination he felt over these women was almost enough to make him forget his need to own Miranda Valiant... almost.


Rosie had gone home, glad for the chance to check on her barbeque stand and found that her daughter was very happy running the small roadside restaurant.  It was a little surprising; Rosie had never expected her to be so enthusiastic about it, but she was glad to see it.  It meant she could take a little time off.  After everything that had happened recently, Rosie felt the need for a bit of a break to rejuvenate body and spirit.  The last few weeks had been completely draining – to the point that even her daughter mentioned it and shooed her out of the kitchen.  Rosie had laughed and went into the private area of the restaurant, glad beyond words for a child like she had and a chance to rest.

She woke up with a bit of a start; her dreams had been... disturbing... and Rosie looked around trying to orient herself.  Something had woken her up, but what?  There was no one in the room with her and the rest of the house sounded just as quiet.  She closed her eyes and searched her feelings, not able to find the cause for her sudden waking, only knowing that something was off.  The question was – what?  And how did it affect her?


“Oh my GOD!  Who in the hell came up with that harebrained idea?” Tiny asked as he collapsed on the ground at the bottom of the hill after he literally fell out of the plastic bubble.  “Damn, I think I’m gonna puke.”

Reed snickered though truthfully, she wasn’t feeling much better.  “You’re the one that wanted to try zorbing, honey.”

“Never again,” Tiny mumbled as he focused on breathing to keep the contents of his stomach where they belonged.  “I hope they found an appropriate death for whoever decided that was a good idea.  I can’t believe Randi put something that sickening on a holochip that is supposed to be for fun.”

“I dunno, baby – remember those... what were those things we rode?  The roller coasters?  Some of those were more than a little disorienting.”

He cracked an eye open to look at her.  “You think this is a plot by Randi to get us for something?”

Reed chuckled gingerly, not wanting to disturb her equilibrium too much.  “No... I think she just has a twisted idea of what fun is.  I think we need to research everything else on that chip, though.  I don’t think either one of us can handle anymore surprises like that one.”

“I think we need to give the holodeck a rest and take a time out in the real world.”  Tiny waited for a response from Reed, and when he didn’t get one, he turned his head slowly to face her.  Her eyes were closed and her breathing slow and deep and he realized she was meditating.  She reached for his hand almost unconsciously and he extended his own without thought.

They lay there in silence for a few minutes and Tiny felt his stomach settle.  Without warning, Reed clenched his hand almost painfully and he wondered what had caused that reaction.  He rolled over carefully, unwilling to risk upsetting his stomach again.

“Reed?  Honey, you all right?”

It took a few more minutes of deep breathing before Reed answered and then it was so soft Tiny had to strain to hear it.  “I dunno – I feel a little off kilter.”

“From the zorbing or...?”  Tiny zoomed in on the problem immediately; Reed would have already mentioned if her imbalance was related to their holodeck activities.  He suspected this feeling was from something else entirely.

“I don’t think so.  It was a weird ripple.”  She shrugged.  “It’s getting better.”

“Is it Randi and Gwen?  Do we need to cut our vacation short?”

“I don’t know; I don’t think so,” she said again with only the slightest hesitation.  “Besides, you know and I know Randi will kick both our asses if we go back early for no explainable reason.  Maybe we should call them later though – check in.”

“Sweetheart, neither Randi nor Gwen would ever discount your feelings.  You know that – they better than anyone else on Earth understand and respect your feelings... well, except maybe me,” he added with a crooked smile.  She returned the look gratefully.  “I think we should head back for the capital,” he continued, sitting up slowly.  “We could always tell them we need a break from our vacation; personally, I think it’s killing me.”

Reed chuckled again and eased up into a sitting position.  “Me too,” she agreed.  “And after today, I think I have the bruises to prove it.  C’mon,” she said, standing up and offering him a hand.  Tiny took it and kissed it, then pushed himself upright.

“Computer, holodeck off,” feeling better with the disappearance of the zorbing ball.  “C’mon, honey.  Let’s go and see what kind of trouble we can find.  Knowing Randi and Gwen, it shouldn’t be hard and it should be interesting.”

Reed smirked and followed Tiny out of the holosuite.  “It always is.”


Jill walked around the house slowly.  She had expected to feel lonely and bereft here, but instead she felt Geoff’s presence like a tangible thing – a warm blanket that wrapped her in his love.  It made her smile.

There were so many memories here... so many pieces of their lives together were contained in the walls of this home.  A knock on the door interrupted her musing and Carbon barked; Jill frowned.  She wasn’t expecting anyone and she had thought to have a bit of time to adjust to being alone here before friends and neighbors came to call.

When she got to the door, she leaned her forehead on it and took a deep breath, hushing the barking dog with a motion.  Then she opened the door to the young Sabre who had made regular visits to Geoff’s workshop, especially as Geoff’s health had deteriorated and they had spent more and more time in the capital city.

“Hello, Matt.”

“Hello, Mrs. Goldman.  I apologize for my poor timing, but we need to sweep Geoff’s workshop as soon as possible and I wanted to make arrangements that would suit you best.”

Jill was a little put off, but she nodded.  The sooner he was done, the sooner she would be left in peace.  And he was a polite young man; she didn’t blame him for wanting to do his duty as quickly as he could manage.

“What would be best for you, Matt?”

“No ma’am,” he replied quietly.  “I meant what I said.  Geoff was an extraordinary man and a good friend.  I volunteered for the assignment because I am the most qualified and could do it without infringing on your privacy too much.  I didn’t realize I was going to be sent here so quickly.”

“It’s all right, Matt.  Come in, please.”

He shook his head.  “No, thank you, ma’am.  If you could just tell me when the best time was for you, and if you would prefer for me to take care of things alone or if you want a full team in here.”  He paused at the confusion in her eyes.  “If I bring in a full team, there will be about a half dozen of us and it will take less than a day... probably two to three hours at the most.  If I do it alone, it will take me at least two or three days.”

Jill thought about it a moment.  “I think I’d rather you do it by yourself, Matt.  Geoff was proprietary about his work and you were the one he chose to share that with.  I respect that; you understand his work and know the value of what he was doing.  You still have the code to the workshop, yes?” Matt nodded.  “All right.  You can get started whenever you want to in the morning.  I’d appreciate it if you let me know when you are done.”

“Yes ma’am.  Again, I’m sorry to have had to bother you about this....”

Jill held up a hand.  “It’s all right, Matt.  I may not get all the ins and outs of the Sabres, but I have learned enough to know there is a reason for their expediency.  You do what you need to do, Matt.”

“Thank you, Mrs. Goldman.  Goodnight.”

“Goodnight,” she replied, closing the door behind him.  Then she looked around the house and she and Carbon headed for the study where their pictures and holo-memories were waiting for her to go through them.  It was going to be a good night for remembering.


Randi stretched and grimaced as the bones in her spine realigned themselves in a cacophony of popping sounds.  It made Gwen look up from her journal with concern. 

“You all right there, love?  That sounded ugly.”

Randi shifted her shoulders to loosen them a little more and smiled in Gwen’s direction.  “Yeah... just a little sore from sitting in the same position without moving for so long.  I know better – I just got caught up in what I was doing.”  She stood up slowly and crossed to the small sofa set against the nearest wall, climbing over the back and sliding in behind Gwen until she was wrapped around her bard.  Randi was gratified when Gwen closed the journal and set it aside, then leaned back into her body with a sigh of relief.  “How’s the writing coming?”

Gwen angled her head and brushed a kiss on Randi’s jaw line.  “Well enough.  I’m writing down what I remember from our time in the dreamscape together – from our spirit walk.”

Randi’s eyes widened though she knew Gwen couldn’t see the reaction.  “Wow!  That’s um... that’s some pretty intense stuff.”

Gwen nodded.  “Pretty personal too.  But since I’m the only one who will see it....  And I don’t want to forget.”

“You think you would... forget, I mean?”

“Not the big stuff, no, but I wanted to get the details down while they were still fresh.  I want to remember how things felt and smiled and sounded; the look in your eyes when you saw your reflection in my mirror.  Seeing you as both warrior and woman and our reunion of both body and soul.  I don’t want to forget any of it – even the parts that hurt.”

Randi held on a little tighter and smiled when Gwen tangled their fingers together.  “I’m glad you’re writing it down, love.  Even if it’s just for us, I’m glad we’ll have it to remember.”  They sat in silence for a little while before Randi spoke again.  “You know, when we get back from the Amazons and before we go home, we need to go back to the village and talk to Sky.”

“Okay... why?”

“So they can make us part of the tribe – if you want to, of course.  They did invite us and we finished our spirit walk....”

“... even if it wasn’t exactly the way that Sky expected it to be,” Gwen said with a chuckle.

Randi echoed the sentiment silently, though Gwen felt the vibrations against her back.  “Yeah, I’m sure we’ll hear about our unorthodox method for taking a spirit walk for some time to come.  But we still need to decide what, if anything, we want to share about that, because you know eventually someone is gonna ask.” 

Gwen sighed.  “Personally, I don’t see the need to share any of the details with anyone.  It is very intense and very personal, and I would like to keep it that way.  Am I being selfish?”

“Nope, not as far as I’m concerned.  I feel the same way.  There really isn’t a reason for anyone to know the details of what we went through together.  They know we survived; that will have to be sufficient.  The rest is for us alone.”

Another short silence which Gwen broke.  “So how’s your work coming?”

Randi nodded.  “Pretty good.  I’m satisfied we’re on the right track.”

“How do you think people are gonna react?”

Randi shrugged.  “I dunno; right now I just wanna make it work.  We can worry about the reactions when they happen.  But we’re not gonna stay here – I’m not gonna be Empress forever.”

“I’m glad,” Gwen said simply.  “I like having Randi all to myself.”  She leaned back as Randi bent down and their lips met for a timeless moment before separating.  “C’mon,” Gwen said as she pulled back slightly.  “We’ve been at this for a while.  Let’s take a break and go get something to eat.”

“That sounds like a good idea.  Steak and eggs?”

“Yeah... then maybe we could take a little trip in the holodeck?”

“Sure, where ya wanna go?” pushing Gwen off the couch and standing up behind her.

“I dunno.  Let’s go see what we have to choose from; I know there are still a lot of things on those chips we haven’t tried yet.”

“All right... anything but zorbing.  Just reading about that makes me sick.”

“That bad?” as they made their way out of the office and to the kitchen.

“Yeah... that bad.  I’d rather shoot myself.”

Gwen’s eyes widened.  “Oooookay – note to self... no zorbing.”  Then they walked into the kitchen and they started preparing their dinner.


Chapter XII

“Tiny?  What are you doing back here already?  Couldn’t stay away?” Yuri joked as Tiny and Reed waited for him to open the gate.  All codes had to be verified from inside before activation was allowed.  Tiny just shook his head when he realized that Yuri was on duty that evening.  It was just the way his karma had gone since he’d started this vacation.

“Vacation was killing me, Yuri.  You gonna open the gate and let us in?”

“Yes, come on up.  I’m in the office.”

“Where are Randi and Gwen?”

The Empress and the queen have retired to their quarters for the evening.”

Tiny laughed.  “Randi hears you referring to her like that, she may just unretire to kick your ass, ya know.”

Yuri giggled.  “It would be worth it.”

Tiny scowled.  “Why?  Is something wrong?  We’ve only been gone for three days.”

“Oh no!  She and Gwen sparred together today - *after* the Empress took on better than half the unit in hand to hand combat.  It was something of a spectacle... all the way around.  The queen is quite impressive – can hold her own with the Empress with a staff.”

“I missed this?!?  Tell me someone got vid of this.”

“Yeah,” Reed chimed in.  “I wanna see this.”

Yuri chuckled again.  “Well, come on up.  I’ll have it waiting for you by the time you get in here.”

Reed and Tiny turned to look at one another when Yuri disappeared from the screen.  “I can’t believe we missed that,” Tiny said with a whine in his voice. “I can’t believe that did something like that while we were gone!!  We shoulda been here for that!”

Reed couldn’t help it; she laughed.  Tiny glared at her, then gave her a sheepish grin.

“All right, all right,” he conceded as he brought their transport to a halt.  “I know I am being ridiculous.  It just woulda been nice to have been here and experienced it after all the bad we have seen them suffer through.”

“Don’t worry, honey.  I imagine if you ask nicely, Randi will be happy to kick your ass sparring.  And if you ask *really* nice, she might let Gwen do it too.”

Outraged brown eyes met amused gray.  “You’re yanking my chain,” he growled.

“Yep, I sure am,” Reed agreed with a giggle.  “It’s so much fun and you make it so easy.”  They grabbed their bags from the small trunk and headed inside.  “Are we gonna go say hello before we turn in tonight or do you just want to wait until tomorrow?”

“I think we’ll wait unless Yuri has already let them know we’re back.  If they have um... retired for the evening, I’m not sure I wanna interrupt.  You know as well as I do the multitude of possibilities those words cover.”

“Very true,” Reed agreed.  “I’m so glad their shielding is in place.  Life is much more pleasant for me.”

Tiny wrapped an arm around Reed’s shoulders and kissed her temple.  “Me too.  I hated watching you in such misery.  It’s nice to be able to be friends with them and to be able to enjoy it.  C’mon,” pushing the door to the office open and lifting a hand to Yuri in greeting.  “Let’s go see what all the buzz is about with them sparring.  I have a feeling this will be a lot of fun.”

“Oh it was,” Yuri agreed, “and if we’re really lucky, they’ll do it again.”  He extended a hand to each of them and then frowned.  “Wow, your vacation really did beat you up, didn’t it?” examining the odd bruises that covered each of them.  “You want to share?”

“Let’s see the vid feed first, then we’ll tell you about the holodeck vacation from hell that nearly killed us.”  Yuri’s eyebrows almost popped off his forehead and then he motioned them to a chair.  Given their battered appearance, he couldn’t wait to hear the details.


“That was... incredible,” Gwen said as she slipped the helmet off her head.  “I never thought I could fly like a bird.  Being connected to you while I was doing it was a great bonus.”

Randi dropped her helmet, and loosened the straps that held them together.  She was a little surprised when Gwen immediately stepped away from her.  Randi shimmied out of the straps and buckles only to find Gwen suddenly wrapped around her like an octopus.

“Well, hello there,” Randi said with a rakish grin, tightening her hold and feel Gwen’s spine pop back into place.  “Fancy meeting you here.”

“Ugh,” Gwen groaned and let her head flop forward into Randi shoulder.  “God, that feels good.  HEY!” she squealed and straightened.  “Whaddya do that for?” glaring at Randi who smirked, then snared her lips in a long, passionate kiss.  Randi caressed the spot on Gwen’s ass she had just pinched and felt Gwen melt into her touch and embrace.  “Hmm... what was I saying?”

Randi grinned.  “You were saying we needed to get out of here and go to bed.”

Gwen giggled.  “Did I say that?  I don’t remember saying that.”

“Computer... door,” Randi called out as she carried Gwen out of the holosuite and back into their rooms.  “Do you really want to argue about it?” kissing the full lips on a level with her own again.

“What I want to do,” Gwen growled when they separated for air, “is to tie you up and have my way with you for the rest of the night.”

Randi’s eyes widened and she swallowed hard at the pure desire in Gwen’s voice and the lust that burned hotly in her green eyes.  “All right,” she agreed numbly, then found herself drowning in new sensations when Gwen began to make good on her desires.  They never even heard the comm unit buzz for their attention, and Yuri wasn’t about to find out why.  He knew they were alone together – and that was reason enough to let them be.


“Are you okay, sweetheart?” Gwen asked, gently stroking all the bare skin she could reach on Randi’s body.  “I wasn’t too rough?”

Randi stretched slowly, making sure she rubbed up against Gwen before she turned them and spooned up behind her.  “I am wonderful, thank you.  And you were incredible.”

“You’re sure?”  Randi felt the heat of Gwen’s blush and eased up on her elbow enough to look down into Gwen’s face.  She ran the backs of her fingers along Gwen’s cheek until those green eyes turned in her direction.  Then Randi smiled as Gwen captured her hand.

“I’m sure,” she answered seriously.  “I trust you, Gwen... completely.  And to know that you share your trust with me – to feel comfortable enough to take charge and express your needs and desires....  I never thought I’d feel like this – never thought I’d be so willing to surrender.”

Gwen didn’t answer verbally.  Instead she pulled the hand she held to her lips and kissed it, then placed their joined hands between her breasts with a smile.  Randi brushed her lips over Gwen’s cheeks and pulled the smaller body into her own more firmly.  Then both closed their eyes and settled into a blissful sleep.


The dream returned with a vengeance and Randi was sitting up breathing hard before Gwen even blinked her eyes opened.  But she held on to Randi tightly even in her sleep and slowly Randi’s heartbeat slowed as she felt the surety of Gwen’s love surrounding her.

When she caught her breath, she looked down into sleepy green eyes filled with concern.  She cupped the blonde head and kissed the top of it.  Gwen tightened her hold.  “You all right, love?”

Randi nodded.  “Yeah... just that dream again.  I think... I dunno - it’s never been the gods’ style to hide behind dreams where I’m concerned, but it’s almost like they are trying to send me a message.”

“Unless it’s not them.”


“Well,” Gwen said, blinking the sleep out of her eyes.  “What if it isn’t the goddesses?  You know and I know that if they had something to say, they’d do so face to face at this point.”  Randi slowly nodded her agreement.  “So what if it is someone else trying to get your attention?  Or what if it is accidental?”

“Accidental how?” Randi asked with a frown.  Gwen bit her lip, not wanting to put her thoughts into words just yet.  “You think it’s Ares?  He’s up to something that is giving me these weird dreams?”

“I think it’s possible.”

“But why give me dreams?  Why give me any warning as to what he’s doing?’

“I doubt he’s doing it on purpose.”  Gwen sighed.  “I do think we need to go to the Amazons – today.  Whatever is causing this – they are obviously involved.  We’re not going to make any more progress here if we’re sitting here trying to figure out what is happening there.”

“What about your surprise?”

Gwen’s answer was interrupted by a shower of sparkles and rose petals as three goddesses coalesced into solid form around them.  Randi frowned and pulled the sheets up to cover her and Gwen’s nakedness.  Then she noticed the seriousness of the goddesses’ expressions and pulled the covers up over their heads as they fell back into the mattress.

“We need to talk,” Aphrodite said in all seriousness.  Randi and Gwen groaned, knowing they weren’t going to want to hear what was coming.

“Can ya’ll give us a few minutes to get a shower and get some clothes on?”

Athena was herding them out of the bedroom before Aphrodite could formulate a response.  Gwen chuckled soundlessly and Randi waited until she heard the door snick closed, then threw the covers off of them and rolled off the bed.

“C’mon, love.  I have a feeling it’s fixing to be a long, LONG day.”


Breakfast was on the table when Randi and Gwen stepped into the main room.  They exchanged glances and took their seats, not surprised when the three goddesses took seats beside them.  Randi looked at each of them and picked up her fork, digging into the food they had provided.

“All right,” she said once she had swallowed.  “Spill it.”

Now that the time had come, the goddesses looked at one another, each hoping the other would speak up first.  Randi glowered and growled.   Gwen laid a calming hand on the tense forearm and pinned them with a stare. 

“Let me tell you what we have figured out and then ya’ll can fill in the blanks, all right?”  The three nodded simultaneously and Gwen took a swallow of juice before she spoke again.  “Ares is making what is probably at this point a last ditch effort at reclaiming lost glory or some such similar bullshit, thinking he will be able to persuade, cajole or otherwise bribe Randi into joining him in his quest for world domination.  And in some twisted sense of warped justice, he is somehow planning to use the Amazon Nation to do carry out his plan.  Are we close?”

They nodded, relieved Randi and Gwen had already figure out the crux of the problem, even if they didn’t have all the disgusting details yet.  Artemis closed her eyes and licked her lips nervously before opening them and beginning to speak.

“Ares has given the Amazons the serum he gave to you, Randi, only he was more successful with them than he was with you.  He has turned them into his warriors.”  She clenched her hands together tightly and covered her lips, frowning intensely.  Athena, knowing how hard this was for Artemis particularly, picked up the thread.

“It gets worse, of course.  Not only has he managed to secure the loyalty of the Amazon Nation by the use of drugs, Ares is also intent on creating a race of immortal warriors in his own image.  And he is using the women of the Nation to do it... willingly, I might add, because of the drugs.”

“Are you telling me Ares is impregnating the Amazon Nation??”

“He is trying to.  Fortunately, he doesn’t seem to know and they either don’t remember or don’t really want him to know despite everything that they cannot get pregnant on a whim like that anymore.” 

Randi nodded.  When laws had been put into place limiting children to one per family unit, scientists had worked night and day to insure a way to stop the cycles of female ovulation and male sperm production, and they were wildly successful – to the point it had been almost impossible to reverse at first and mankind had nearly succeeded in becoming extinct.  Eventually, though, they worked all the kinks out and it became easier to restart the reproductive process of those who wanted to have children.

In the case of the Amazons, however, things were a little different.  Many, though not all, of the women of the Nation were not inclined to seek a male partner for mating or reproductive purposes.  Instead, the decision was made to give that jurisdiction to Artemis.  That way she could bless a union and insure that mothers were given strong, healthy daughters to insure the continuance of the Nation.

What Ares didn’t know, and what no one had shared with him, was the fact that because of that decision by the Amazon Council many years before and the rituals they had performed, only Artemis could unlock the womb to allow the one who had been chosen to bear the child to receive the gift of life and blessing from the child’s other mother... or in some cases, the child’s father.

“So you can even block...?”

“Yes.  Usually when a couple decides to have a child together, they come to the temple to seek my blessing.  In the course of the ritual ceremony, I open the womb and they make love in the hopes of creating a child.  It doesn’t always work the first time, and sometimes they forget that the ritual has to be observed each and every time they want to try for a child.”

“Sounds like an awful lot of work and effort for a child – especially when the science is in place to allow two women or two men to create a child between them without such a struggle.”

“Yes, I know, and it is, but when the covenant was made between me and the Nation, it was the best of all possible options.  Now it may be the only thing keeping Ares from impregnating my warriors and creating an immortal race of his own.”

“How did you discover it... about Ares, I mean?”

“We set up a system to notify me when a couple was preparing to have a child, and it was also programmed to alert me if they had tried and failed and were copulating again.  Sometimes in the midst of lovemaking a partner would remember and call out for a blessing.  It helped if I was prepared for that eventuality, as it happened more often than not.  So when I started getting hits on the board from absolutely everyone, including those who had adamantly insisted they had no interest in childbirth or anything that went along with pregnancy, I was immediately alarmed, and rightly so.  I went searching for answers, and they led me here.”

“And what is it you would like for us to do?” Randi asked, pushing her empty plate back and taking a large sip of coffee.

“We’d like you to force Ares’ hand, once and for all,” Athena answered firmly.  “Dite told us you have a plan to defeat him.”

“We do,” Randi affirmed.  “But there are a couple things we’ll need to make this work.”

“Anything we can do, warrior babe.  I think we are all ready for a radical break from all his crap.  He has gone way off the deep end this time.  He wasn’t this bad when you went through the karmic cycle the first time; I totally think each subsequent lifetime has pushed him just a little closer to the edge until he finally fell over into madness.”

Athena nodded.  “I am inclined to agree.  I’ve never seen him so obsessed with you... with owning your soul, and that is saying so much, all things considered.  He’s always been quite – passionate – where you are concerned.”

“Randi, what are your conditions?  What do you need from us?”

“I need for the gods to be willing to strip Ares of his powers and immortality when I challenge him and to stand behind his punishment when I defeat him.”

“And you’re sure you will be able to... defeat Ares, I mean?” Athena asked.  “Even without his powers, Ares will still have the knowledge and strength of his godhood behind him.  He knows your weaknesses and he will try to take advantage of that.”

Randi smiled, a feral expression that didn’t actually reach her eyes.  “I’m counting on it.”

Aphrodite nodded.  “There are a radical number of gods from around the globe that are totally in your corner already.”  She snickered.  “Some of them would absolutely surprise you, given the gnarly history your soul has with most of the gods throughout your lifetimes.”  Then she sobered.  “Ares has finally crossed a line none of us are willing to accept.  This could have totally destroyed... everything.”

“All right, but I want to be sure.  We’re not gonna get a second chance at this.  I won’t need one as long as the gods can agree to stand together on this.”

“Gwen,” Artemis cut in abruptly.  “Did you study all the historical texts Lenore gave you?”

“Yes,” Gwen answered with a nod and a frown.  “I’m pretty sure I did.”

“Did you read one on shamanism and what later became known as Wiccans within the Nation?”

The nod was emphatic this time.  “Yes, I remember that one clearly because we spent more than one night discussing it... fascinating stuff.  That is where the priestesses come from, isn’t it?”

“Yes; I would like you to talk to Rosie before you go.  I think there are things from that sect of the Nation that you especially, Gwen, will be able to use.”

“No moon howling, right?” Gwen asked skeptically.  “I read about that in the archives, ya know.”

Artemis couldn’t stop the chuckle that bubbled up at Gwen’s obvious scorn.  “Um,” she said, clearing her throat and straightening her expression.  “No... no moon howling.  But there are some things you can do that will help the Amazons accept the antidote they will need to free them from Ares influence.  And there should be a way to mask your approach from a god.”

“All right... I’ll call her before we leave.”

“Yeah... I’ve got to get in touch with Tiny and bring him up to speed on things.  I hate to drag him off vacation, but....  What??” she asked when Dite started shaking her head.

“They’re so not on vacation anymore, babe.  They came back here to chill last night... something about zorbing?” watching Randi’s face take on a distinct tinge of green.  “Yeah, that was about the way Tiny looked when he started telling that other gnarly dude about the wicked bruises he had.”

“I wonder why Yuri didn’t let me know.” 

Dite cleared her throat and had the grace to blush.  “He tried; you were, um... tied up at the time.”

Randi and Gwen exchanged knowing glances.  Sheer determination kept the blush from suffusing Randi’s face, but Gwen wasn’t quick enough to get hers completely under control and Randi smiled at the delicate color that spread over Gwen’s neck and face.  Personally, she thought it look quite charming on Gwen, but she didn’t mention it.  She had no desire to further embarrass Gwen than she already was by drawing attention to it.  Instead, she turned her focus to Dite.

“So what will ya’ll be doing in the meantime?”

“Whatever we can, which unfortunately isn’t very much,” Athena replied.  “We will have the antidote ready for you to give them and we will be lining up the gods who will stand behind you when you challenge him – do you know when that might be, by the way?”

Randi shook her head.  “Sooner rather than later I expect.  I will set something up with Tiny that will allow a worldwide broadcast from the Amazon Nation.  If I were to guess, though, I’d say within the next seventy-two hours, depending on the situation we find at the mountain.”

“All right,” Athena nodded.  “We will get things taken care of on our end.  I know Zeus will strip Ares’ powers without hesitation when Ares agrees to your challenge; he has more to lose than the rest of us do.”  At their questioning looks, Athena sighed and continued.  “If Ares had been able to gain control of the world, the rest of us would have faded greatly, but we would not have died.  We would just sort of... be.  But Zeus – he would have died.  Ares would have destroyed him to ensure he and not Zeus remained the reigning king of the gods.”


“Yeah,” Dite chimed in.  “That about covered it for us too.  So we’ll get jamming and you babes let us know what’s shaking as soon as you’re set.  We’ll be keeping an eye and ear out for your signal.  Toodles.”  The three shimmered out before Randi or Gwen could answer.  The two of them blinked at one another for a moment before moving towards the kitchenette.

“I’m gonna go call Rosie.”

“Right,” Randi nodded.  “I’ll be with Tiny if you wanna come join us when you get done.”

“All right.  I’ll be right behind you; hopefully this won’t take very long.”

Randi grinned.  “Talking to Rosie or visiting the Amazons?”

Gwen returned the smile wryly.  “Both, honestly.  Don’t get me wrong.  I enjoy talking to Rosie, but I hate to interrupt her vacation.  God knows she and Reed definitely earned some time away from us.”

“And the Amazons?”

Gwen blew out a breath.  “I don’t like it, but it has to be done.  Randi, they’re good people and I hate that Ares is using them for his own purposes.”  She was glaring.  “They deserve better and so do we.”

“They’ll get it, sweetheart, and so will we.  We have way too many things left to enjoy together in this lifetime to let anyone or anything ruin it.  Now, c’mon.  The sooner we get started....”

“... the sooner we get started.”  Randi’s brow wrinkled in a frown.

“I thought it was supposed to be finished.”

“For everyone else in the world maybe,” Gwen replied impishly.  “For us, the sooner we get started on the work, the sooner we’ll get started on the living.”

“Good point,” Randi agreed with a quick peck on Gwen’s lips.  “So let’s go... hustle!”  Gwen popped Randi on the ass then scampered back to the bedroom laughing. Randi let her go and shook her head.  “Paybacks, Gwen... there are always paybacks.”

Gwen stuck her head out the door.  “I know – I’m counting on it.”

Randi left and headed to her office, knowing when a strategic retreat was in order.  There would be plenty of time for teasing later.  First, she needed to talk to Tiny.  There were things that needed to be taken care of while they were gone.


“So why didn’t you use the regen unit, Tiny?” Lacey asked as she looked him over carefully.  “It wouldn’t have taken but a few minutes to fix these bruises.”

Reed chuckled while Tiny put his shirt back on. “We wanted Randi to see we really were getting beaten up on vacation first.  That way she knows we weren’t making up a reason to come home.  Why are you still here anyway?  Weren’t you supposed to get some vacation time as well?”

Before Lacey could respond to Reed’s question, a knock sounded on the door and Tiny crossed the room to find Randi leaning against the doorjamb.  An eyebrow arched gracefully when she took in his battered appearance.  “Is this the reason you came back early?” motioning to his bruised body.

Tiny smiled wryly and motioned her in.  “Pretty much.  Vacation was killing us; Sabre duty was easier on my body that some of those <ahem> fun things you had on that chip.”

Randi scratched the side of her face and gave him a sheepish look.  “Yeah, I probably should have told you to research some of it before you tried it.  Even I don’t do zorbing.”

Tiny glared.  “Uh huh. Now you tell me,” punching her shoulder, then shaking out his hand.  “Damn, Randi... what the hell have you been doing lately.  That hurt!”  He dropped into a chair.

She smirked at him.  “You try keeping up with Gwen.”

“Yeah, don’t think that isn’t the very first thing we heard about when we got back last night.  I can’t believe I missed that!”

“He’s been moaning about it all morning,” Reed chimed in, rolling her eyes and shaking her head.  Randi snorted and took the arm of the couch as her perch. 

“Don’t worry, Tiny.  I imagine it’ll happen on a regular basis from now on.  Being Empress means everyone wants to spar with me... especially the queen.”

“Nah... she was sparring with you long before you were the Empress.  Your being Empress just means the rest of us get a chance to watch you spar with someone who might actually be able to kick your butt.  At the very least, she holds her own... God, that was incredible!”

This time Randi laughed.  She wasn’t about to share with him *how* incredible.  Instead she said, “Yeah, she has a natural flair for it.  She always has had.  She was my very best student.”


“She’s my equal, Tiny.  With the staff, she can hold her own against me or anyone else.”

“Even Ares’ warriors?” this from Lacey.

“Especially Ares’ warriors,” Randi corrected.  “The motivation is different, and she has something they cannot defeat now.  How goes the research?”

“We’re done; it hasn’t been tested in battle yet, but we think we have developed a serum that will protect a person against vulnerability to Ares’ loyalty drug.  We cultivated it from the antidote and have tested it every other way we know how.”

“When does widespread manufacturing begin and how long before it will be ready for distribution?  And do we know how long it takes to become effective and how long it lasts?”

“As soon as you give the order; twenty-four hours after that; that we’re not sure of, but our best reasonable guess is within four hours – it is made to speed through the bloodstream; and that is entirely unknown to us, though preliminary reports have put it as permanent.”

“Really?  That is exceptional.  Excellent work, my friend.”

“Thank you, Empre... Randi,” Lacey corrected herself seeing the glowering look she was getting.  “My team has been working on this round the clock since we started looking for an antidote for you.  We figure it is only a matter of time until Ares tried to use it on a more widespread scale once he realizes you are completely beyond his reach.  The only question is why he hasn’t before.”

“Well, I can’t answer your question – yet – BUT... he has tried to introduce this on a more widespread scale.”  Randi blew out a breath and the rest assumed listening positions, understanding this was a mission brief.  “Gwen and I are heading out shortly to the Amazon Nation.  We suspected, and the goddesses have confirmed, that Ares has moved in and is currently controlling the population with some sort of drug.  We are assuming at this point it is the same loyalty drug he has been using on warriors for a while.  We don’t know how far gone they are at this point; I know it was a much subtler, more gradual process for me than it appears to be for them.”

“How serious is it?”

“Serious.  Though we haven’t seen symptoms like mine, they have allowed Ares to become a part of the tribe.  He’s trying to create a race of immortal warriors in his own image by impregnating as many Amazons as he can.  Fortunately, he seems to be unaware of the safeguards that were put in place for population control, and as of yet, no one has seen fit to enlighten him.  The consensus, however, is that he has slipped over the edge into madness.”

“Randi, you and Gwen can’t go out there alone.  Amazon Nation or not, world domination not withstanding, the fact is Ares is fascinated with *you*.  You’re the one he wants.  You can’t just waltz in there and give that to him.”

“Tiny, I’m the one thing he can’t have.  What Gwen and I have between us assures us of that.  He couldn’t have me before – he certainly can’t have me now.  Besides, I’ll be taking a team to sit in reserve and wait for my orders once we have a better grasp on the situation.  But....” hesitating, knowing he wasn’t going to like what was coming.  “I need you to stay here.”

“WHAT???” jumping up from his seat.  “You can’t be SERIOUS!!!  Why the HELL would you leave me out of something this important, Randi??  Haven’t I earned the right to be at your side??”  The explosion was hot and fast and Randi let it run until it burned out.  Reed and Lacey remained silent, knowing this was between Randi and Tiny and hoping it could be resolved quickly.  He fell back into his chair with a conspicuous lack of grace.

Randi looked him squarely in the eyes, willing him to see the honest sincerity in hers.  “Tiny, other than Gwen, there is no one – NO ONE, not even Tommy – who I trust to watch my back like I trust you.  But I have to have Gwen with me on this and I need someone I trust with my life to assume the responsibilities I am leaving here.  Tiny, given what it has cost to get us to this point, I can’t chance leaving to take care of Ares if you’re not here taking care of the rest of the world.”

He glared at her for a long moment, then sighed.  “You don’t fight fair,” he grumbled.

“No,” Randi admitted.  “But I do fight with honor and I fight to win.  I wouldn’t ask if it wasn’t important, Tiny.”

Tiny sighed again.  “I know.  And it bites – I just want you to know that.  Only for you,” he added.

“I know, my friend, and I appreciate it more that you can know.  Trust me, Tiny.  I understand your frustration better than anyone else in the world.  But on the plus side, we have managed to get the framework for the new government figured out.  Even most of the details have been taken care of; it’s pretty much a matter of putting the programs into place.  Let me tap the members of the Sabre team so they can start their mission prep, then I will show you what we’ve gotten done and what is left to do.  With a little luck, we will all be able to go home.  I want to live like a normal person for a change.”

Tiny snorted and stood, unable to resist the perfect set-up and wanting a quick getaway.  “Don’t you need to *be* a normal person first?” he joked, snatching the door open....

... only to run right into Gwen’s raised fist poised to knock.  He fell back flat on his ass.  When he looked up, Randi stood over him, hands on hips and a sardonic expression on her face, complete with raised eyebrow.  He cut his eyes over at Gwen whose posture mirrored Randi’s, except her expression was questioning.  Tiny covered his face. 

“Someone shoot me now, please.”  This got laughter from all quarters and a hand up from Randi.

“You’ll get yours,” she promised with a purr.

“Yeah,” he snarked, “but at least I’ll still be normal.”

Now all four women howled, even Gwen who had missed the beginning of the exchange.  “Never in a million years, baby,” Reed assured him.  “Never in a million years.”  His pout only made things worse.


Chapter XIII

“This is incredible, Randi.  You’ve managed to pull all the ideas together and make it work.”

“In theory, anyway,” she replied dryly to Tiny’s enthusiasm.  “We haven’t tried to put it into practice yet.”

“Yes, but I think people will work to make it work... especially now that there is a better perception of what peace really requires.  Learning about one another can... working together with those that you think are different from you... can only help foster understanding, right?”

“I hope so, Tiny.  I just want peace.”

“Well, the immunizations should help that.”  A beat.  “Randi?” Tiny queried, still focused on the plans in front of him.  “Why now? I mean,” going on quickly at the look of confusion on her face.  “Ares developed this serum a long time ago to ensure the loyalty of the warriors who swore an oath to him.  Why did Ares finally decide to go looking for warriors now?  And why go to the Amazons – he knows they are protected by Artemis.  Why didn’t he take advantage of any of the rebel forces before they were defeated?”

Gwen cleared her throat softly, drawing their attention to her.  She removed her glasses, chewing absently on the earpiece for a moment before speaking.  “I think I might know; I’ve been doing some research on that since we learned about the Amazons and I talked to Rosie this morning.”

“You mean there’s a reason besides Ares has finally lost his mind?” Randi asked sardonically.

“I’m not so sure he has,” Gwen replied seriously.  The certainty on her face made Randi move from where she stood behind Tiny at her desk to sit on the arm of the couch where Gwen had ensconced herself with her journal and small computer.  Tiny remained still and silent.

“What makes you say that, love?  Even the goddesses think he’s nuts.”

Gwen nodded.  “Yes, but what if that is what he wants everyone to believe?  Give me a minute.... I want you to think about this,” she added, running her hands through her hair and closing her eyes.  Randi slid down off the arm to sit beside Gwen, scooting her over by wiggling her hips until Gwen sighed in exasperation and shifted over.  “Comfortable?” she asked with more than a hint of sarcasm.

“Yep,” Randi confirmed with a cheeky grin, putting her head in Gwen’s lap and flinging her long legs over the end of the couch. “Continue, please.”

Gwen gave Randi another look before closing her eyes again and letting her fingers idly riffle through the soft, dark hair spread over her lap.  Then she took a deep breath and started to speak in a low voice. 

“The story goes that when Ares first lost your soul to me... when we chose each other over redemption and you laid down your sword... he decided to ensure the loyalties of those warriors who had dedicated their lives to him and those he had made his Chosen.  His priests worked for years – lifetimes, even – searching for the perfect formula, because even though he found one to bind his warriors, your soul still eluded him.  And you were the prize he wanted.”

“Through every lifetime we passed through, he tested and tried to capture your soul... make it his for the claiming.  Sometimes he missed us completely and those were lifetimes we had a measure of peace.  The times he separated us by torture and death were painful, but we never lost our claim on one another.  And he had no chance to assert his right to your soul.  It was already mine.”

“But this lifetime - I think he recognized your vulnerability this lifetime and took advantage of it.  Ares kept me from acknowledging my feelings for you and you died without admitting your love for me – we hadn’t claimed one another and he had the perfect chance to finally make you his.”

“But none of this explains....”

“Shh,” Gwen reprimanded Randi, covering her lips with her fingertips.  Randi kissed them, twitching her lips a little to tickle.  Gwen chuckled soundlessly and pinched Randi’s lips lightly.  Tiny watched, fascinated.  They seemed to have forgotten he was in the room.  “I’m getting there.”

“Unfortunately for Ares, Aphrodite had been watching us very closely – waiting... hoping that we would figure things out for ourselves before it was too late.  When she saw you say goodbye, she realized you knew the truth of your heart and that’s the reason she caught your soul at the last possible second.  I think she knew the consequences of leaving you vulnerable then; I think she knew how devastating it would be – not just for us, but for everyone.  That’s why we got our second chance.”

“The trouble was, Ares had seen his opportunity and decided to take it.  I think he knew he would never get a better chance – so he had Ben come after me when our love was still new and uncertain... before everything was publicly acknowledged between us.  I don’t think he knew what we had shared privately; I think Dite kept as much from him as she could and in all fairness he was so busy stirring up the different rebel factions, keeping them busy and always on the verge of war, he missed things.”

“However, when he took my memories and made us just friends again, Ares preyed upon every one of your secret fears.  Ares had finally perfected the serum... or so he thought... so he had Ben implant it.  Except Ben’s delivery method was less than direct and it allowed your body to resist it almost from the beginning – but Ares didn’t know that.  He had created the poison to be very slow moving.  He wanted the transformation to happen so gradually, no one would notice until it was too late.”

Gwen opened her eyes to meet the blue ones she knew were gazing at her in such devotion.  “It might have worked,” she continued in a whisper, “except we had exchanged private promises long before spoke them aloud in front of anyone else.  We had already cemented our commitment to one another.  As it was, you were struggling with the heightened lust for blood and fighting Ares’ serum had produced in your system.”

Randi’s eyes dropped, effectively closing her glance from Gwen’s... until Gwen tapped her chin.  “Sweetheart, I know you have a... if not love, a distinct joy in fighting.  You’re a warrior, love.  You always have been and you have always enjoyed a good fight.  I don’t think less of you for it – it’s what makes you the one I love... in every lifetime.”

She held those deep blue pools for another long moment before she was satisfied Randi believed her words.  The kiss on her fingers made her clear her throat prior to speaking again.  “Um... there were enough ‘dark episodes’ – things you had no conscious recollection of - to convince Ares he was on the right track... that you would soon be his for the claiming.  I believe this success is what convinced him not to try that stuff on the rebel forces... one of them, anyway.”

“I’m not sure I follow your thinking, Gwen,” Tiny spoke for the first time in her narrative.  She started just slightly; she had literally forgotten her audience in focusing on telling her story to Randi.  Gwen blinked and turned her gaze to Tiny.

“Well, to begin with, the rebels have always been fighters... not soldiers and certainly not warriors.  Their sole purpose was to allow him to stir things up so he could watch true warriors – the Black Sabres and especially Randi – to fight and kill and destroy.  When Randi... died,” she said with a shuddering breath, the memory still painful even now.  Gwen glanced down when Randi’s long fingers clasped her and just held them.  She took another breath and turned back to Tiny, though she refused to release the hold she had on Randi’s hand.

“When Randi died,” she said again with almost no hesitation, “Ares was devastated; his obsession with her soul has been complete for centuries and he figured he had lost his opportunity to claim her in this lifetime.  Remember that for the year she was gone, everything in the rebellion seemed in disarray – there was no leadership to speak of, including direction from Ares.  Only when Randi came back to life did he take notice of the rebellion, but only as a means to an end.  He knew if he could get Randi under his control, *she* would make warriors of the rebels and the Sabres would be as likely to follow her as not, given what she had already done for mankind.  And they would all accept the serum and swear loyalty to him with no real effort on his part.  All he had to do was let her lead the Sabres and defeat the rebels, and then together Ares and Randi would create a real army of warriors and rule the world.  But first there was the little problem of me that needed to be disposed of.”

“Randi could never bring herself to do me any physical harm, and she was still fighting with herself over being a warrior with this enhanced love of fighting and killing.  So she sent me away to where I would be safe from her.  All it accomplished was to make us both miserable, but Ares saw it as proof of his success.  With me gone, even though I wasn’t dead like he would certainly have preferred, he would be able to move in and finally claim that which he thought was his – Randi’s soul.  Imagine his surprise when she told him no.”

“I don’t need to imagine,” Tiny responded quietly.  “I saw it happen.  He was furious.”

“Exactly – he was furious.  Not distraught or out of his mind or lost and confused – he was furious... angry beyond belief.  And he saw this as my fault – for coming between him and his prize once again... never mind that Randi’s soul had rejected him on her own all those millennia ago.  No, this was my fault.  And what better way to seek revenge on me than to enslave the people who for no other reason than heritage and ancient tradition had made me their queen?”

“I think, however, this is where he screwed up, and if I am right in my thinking, his mistake will work in our favor.”

Randi butted Gwen gently in the belly with her head.  “Tell me what you’re thinking.”

“You already have a good idea, don’t you?”

“Uh huh... but I wanna see if we are thinking alike.”

“Will one or the other of you mind sharing this thinking aloud so that those of us who are not in the loop yet can catch up, please?” Tiny said with severe exasperation. 

Randi and Gwen exchanged glances; then Randi nodded her head slightly and Gwen resumed speaking.  “The serum that Ares had developed for his warriors was supposed to be administered after the swearing of allegiance to him.  The Amazons, if I understood correctly, did not swear this oath; they were in fact given the potion to secure their loyalty.”  She felt Randi nod her agreement against her stomach and caught the contented smile on her face when she looked down.

“And this is significant?”

“I think so, Tiny.  It means we can administer the antidote without permission.”

“Why didn’t we do that for Randi?”

“Hers was different.  Her change was so slow and so insidious, that sort of shock to her system would have killed her.  The Amazons literally changed overnight.  Besides being done against their wishes and desires, it hasn’t really had a chance to take root yet.  That’s why we need to get out there immediately.  We want to keep it from doing so.”

“All right... no wonder you picked an all female team,” he muttered.  “No reason to give them any more reason to fight.”

“Yeah,” Randi agreed, sitting up and swinging her legs over the edge of the couch.  “I think our going in there will precipitate enough excuse for that.”  Gwen’s brows furrowed and Randi reached out a casual hand to smooth them away.  “It’s the nature of the beast, love.  They’re warriors; they’re gonna be spoiling for a fight.”

“I don’t like it.”

“I wouldn’t expect you to.  Doesn’t change anything though.  But who knows... maybe we’ll get lucky.”

Gwen snorted.  “And maybe those pigs will really start flying, but I’m not gonna hold my breath.”

Randi chuckled silently and turned back to Tiny.  “Do you have enough to get started?”

He nodded.  “I will be plenty busy while you’re gone.  Doc Litzer is gonna set up the immunizations for everyone in the compound; then we’ll start on the rest of the military and move on to the civilian population.  As for the rest, I will start putting things in place.  It should be ready for implementation by the time you get back from the Amazons.”

“You think you’ll be done that quickly?”

“No,” Tiny replied honestly.  “I think you will be there that long.”

“I will call for reinforcements before that much times passes.  But I don’t think it will.  Even while they were infected with the serum, I wouldn’t have to fight all of them – only a few.  Once the strongest warriors and Ares were defeated, the rest would fall in line.  But once the antidote is administered, I should only need to defeat Ares and the few who will hold a grudge for what happened to them and want to take a shot at me for it.”

“Why would you assume that?”

“Which part?”

“Any of it; seems to me you’re making a lot of assumptions.”

Randi frowned.  “Not really.  A lot of it is based on experience and the rest on the knowledge human nature.  You know this stuff, Tiny; we do it all the time as Sabres.  What’s wrong with you that you’ve got doubts about it all of a sudden?”

Finally Tiny smiled.  “Just checking, Randi.  You’ve been a little of out it lately, ya know; I wanted to be sure you had that core of confidence still before you go out there without me to watch your back.”

Don’t worry, Tiny,” Gwen said in a soft voice.  “I’ve got her back this time, and I won’t let you down.”

“I know you won’t Gwen; I saw that sparring workout ya’ll had yesterday.  I wouldn’t go up against you with a staff.”

“Really?” she asked shyly with a blush.

“And get my ass kicked twice??  Um... yeah – really.  You’re the best I’ve seen, bar none.”  He smiled when her eyes widened and cut in Randi’s direction.  “Yeah, even her.  In a staff battle, I’d bet on you.  You’ve got an advantage... you learned from the best and then got better.  You’re built for it, and you seem to have a knack for it.”

“Thanks, Tiny,” she muttered, scratching the back of her neck with a bit of embarrassment.  It really wasn’t something she or Randi talked about much.  They just enjoyed it as a chance to share another aspect of their lives together.  She smiled when Randi wrapped her arms around her middle and moved her hands to cover them.

“He’s right, ya know,” Randi whispered in Gwen’s ear.  “You really are the best.  I’m glad you’ll be watching my back out there.”

“I’m glad you’ll be watching mine.”

Tiny cleared his throat self-consciously, trying to remind them he was in the room.  Randi looked at his embarrassed expression and laughed aloud; Gwen chuckled a little more quietly.  Tiny shrugged sheepishly then grinned.  “All right, you two.  Get outta here and go meet the rest of the team so I can get some real work done.” 

“We’ll be in touch, Tiny,” Randi said as she and Gwen moved towards the door.  “This isn’t a black op.  So you’ll be in the loop.”

“Thanks, boss.  I appreciate it.  Is Reed taking care of your ride out?”

“Yep.  She’s flying Gwen and me in.  Shibata is flying the second shuttle with the team.  I wasn’t sure about having Reed fly us, all things considered, but she insisted. Said she had come this far, she wanted to see things through to the end.”

Tiny nodded as though he had expected as much, which of course he had.  “All right with you if I check them out... maybe stoke them up a little bit?”

Randi grinned.  She would have been disappointed if he hadn’t made the offer and told him as much.  “The team should be done getting their immunizations.  Come join us for lunch and the mission brief when you’re done with your check.  We’re gonna pull out of here right after that.”  Then she and Gwen were out the door and headed back to their quarters to prepare.


“Matt?  This is Tiny.  Look. I’m sorry to bother you since I know you didn’t get settled til early this morning, but I’m a little short for time at the moment.  How was Mrs. Goldman?”

“She seemed all right, Chief.  We didn’t interact much, but when we did, she was peaceful... quiet.”

Tiny nodded at the screen.  He could see the exhaustion in Matt’s eyes and pushed forward to the reason he had called.  “Good.  Now, did you clean out the workshop?  Did you find the stuff Geoff told me about – the new weapons and protection devices?”

“Yes, Chief.  But they are all prototypes – there is only one of everything he was working on and some of them aren’t complete.”

Tiny sighed.  He had expected the answer, but hoped for better.  “All right... meet me at the landing area in ten minutes.  We need to prep the Sabre shuttle with as many tactical advantages as we can give her... just in case.”

“And the Empress’s?”

“No.  She is going in as a ruler and an invited guest of the queen.  Anything on that shuttle will be by her doing, although I am going to make some strong recommendations.  None of the new stuff though.  Since they will be flying in to the mountain, I don’t wanna give the Amazons any kind of an excuse for a fight.  And obvious weaponry like that would be so easy for them to pick on.”

“Gotcha, Chief.  Let me throw on some clothes and grab the stuff and I’ll meet you there.”  Then they broke the connection and Tiny snatched up his pack.  He had work to do and not much time to do it in.


“Hi, Mama.  How are you?”

“I’m a little tired, baby girl.  How are you?” Jill asked.  In truth, Jill could easily see that despite the lingering sadness Gwen felt over the loss of her father, she was whole again.  And that gave Gwen a measure of peace that brought comfort to Jill’s heart.  Gwen kept the smile off her face, but she couldn’t hide the contentment in her eyes.

“We’re good, Mama, but we have to go to the Amazon Nation for a few days.  I wanted to let you know in case you tried calling here while we were gone.”

Jill’s brows furrowed.  “Problems?”

“Yeah,” she said honestly.  “It’s time to take care of Ares, once and for all.”

Jill bit her tongue.  She’d known it was coming, but she hadn’t expected it to be so soon.  Instead she nodded affirmatively.  “All right.  You two take care of yourselves.  Don’t let anything happen to one another.  I want to visit with you both when you get back.”

Gwen nodded.  “Love you, Mama.”

“Love you too, Gwen.  Pass the same on to Randi.”

“I will.  See you in a few days,” cutting the connection.

Jill looked down at Carbon once the screen went dark.  “Well, boy... guess we’re on our own for a few more days.  What say we go shopping?”  Carbon tilted his head, tongue lolling comically in question before he answered her with a sharp bark of approval.  He led the way to the door and waited for Jill to gather her things, then together they headed out into the warm summer day.


Packing hadn’t been the chore either of them had expected.  The most exciting part had been when each of them had pulled out their respective ceremonial leathers and exchanged wordless glances, then broken into gales of laughter at the similar expressions they wore.  Otherwise it had been a quick process – Randi’s dress uniform was always ready and Gwen had a number of formals to choose from.  By mutual consent, though, they left those.  This trip wasn’t about formal occasions or celebrating; this trip was about wrapping up the last of their loose ends.

When they were finished, they hefted their bags and made their way to the kitchen to meet the rest of the team.  Halfway there, the scent wafting from that direction caught their attention and they knew that Rosie had arrived.  Randi looked at Gwen.

“Did you know she was coming back?”

“She didn’t say, but I’m not surprised.  I think the only reason she left was because everyone expected her to.  She probably feels like Tiny and Reed and Lacey do – this is something they started that they want to see through to the end.”

“We’re gonna have to think of something really nice to do for everyone when the dust finally settles.”

Gwen smiled.  “We will... even if it is just to give them a break from us,” pushing the door to the kitchen open and laughing when they were greeted as though they were attending a hen party with a group of girlfriends and not headed out to confront the god of war.

Lunch was a rowdy, boisterous affair; all the women chose for this particular mission were well-acquainted and teased one another mercilessly like the friends they were.  Outwardly, they were confident... in themselves and in Randi, and it showed in their comfort level now.  When Tiny came in, he was greeted with enthusiasm, and Gwen took the opportunity to corner Rosie.

“That was great, Rosie.  But you didn’t need to come back to cook for us, you know.  You were supposed to take a break... go home... I dunno, relax, maybe?”

Rosie chuckled and took Gwen’s plate from her hands, trading her for a huge slice of chocolate cake.  Gwen’s eyes grew wide and round and she couldn’t stop the smile that crossed her face.  “Well, seeing that look would have been worth the trip back,” Rosie teased.  “But the truth was I only went home to check on my place and see how my daughter was getting along.  I had no intention of staying there... not until this business is finished.  Besides, I felt the ripple; I was on my way back anyway.”


“It’s kind of hard to explain; let’s just say I knew something was wrong somewhere.  It was very odd because I have never really felt anything like that before.  Maybe it comes from all the bonding and linking we’ve had between us recently – I don’t know.  But I did know I needed to be here - so here I am.  I hope Randi will let me travel out there with you.”

“Hey, how come she rates chocolate cake?” Randi asked.  “You’d think being Empress would get me a few perks like this!” with a mock glare and hands on her hips.  Gwen smacked her in the belly and tried to move around her.

“Knock it off, drama queen!  We’ve got work to do... ACK!”  The last a squeal added when Randi relieved her of her piece of cake.  The commotion caught everyone’s attention and they laughed when Gwen started chasing Randi around the table; then Randi stopped running and held the cake above her head so Gwen couldn’t reach. 

“I’m gonna have to hurt you, ya know,” wrapping herself around Randi’s body and proceeding to try to climb up her body to reach her cake.  But the rest felt their hidden tensions melt and relax.  Tiny, knowing what Randi was doing, just smiled and enjoyed the rare glimpse into their private lives.  Meanwhile, Gwen had managed to scale up Randi’s body far enough that she was forced to sit down in self-preservation.

Once Gwen had reclaimed her cake, Randi patted her side and Gwen stood up long enough for Randi to rise before resuming her seat.  Then Randi cleared her throat to speak and the atmosphere in the room settled down into something serious and subdued.

“All right, ladies.  Let’s settle down and get to work.  I’m ready to take my bride and go home.  Tiny?”

“Matt brought the things he found in Geoff’s workshop and we added them to the second shuttle’s gear pack.  Unfortunately, most of them are prototypes – single use items.  However, there are a number of new little gadgets for ya’ll to use if you need them.  I’ve downloaded the specs into your personal units; you’ll find most of them are self-explanatory.”

“We are hoping not to need most of the gear.  You will be posing as my honor guard.  The plan is for this group to help dispense the antidote to the Amazons and to be available to keep the peace if it comes to that, but I am hoping it doesn’t.  I’m hoping that it will be an in and out mission; that between the antidote and Ares’ defeat, we’ll be able to walk in, take care of business and leave.  If not....”

“If not,” Brenda cut in, “we’ll take care of business, just like we always have.”

Randi nodded.  “Make sure you take care of distributing the antidote first.  Then anything that happens after that will be legitimate.”

“You expect there to be trouble?” from Jess.

Randi grinned wryly.  “Let’s just say I know better than to not expect trouble, especially where the Amazons are concerned.  And unless Ares’ little potion makes it possible for them to forget everything that has happened to them under the influence of that drug, they are going to be furious and looking for someone to blame.  I’ll be the natural target for that rage.”

“Or I will,” Gwen broke in quietly.  “I am their queen, Randi.”

“Sweetheart, they challenge you, they challenge me.”

“You think I can’t handle any challenge they offer me, Randi?  You said I was the best,” Gwen’s hurt was clear, but her eyes were steady and unflinching on Randi’s.  The rest of the room remained silent watching the tableaux play out in front of them.

“It’s a fight to the death, love,” came Randi’s soft rejoinder.  “If it was simply a fight, Gwen, I’d let you handle it in a heartbeat.  But I would never, ever expect you to fight – not to the death; I wouldn’t want you to.”  She swallowed hard.  “I couldn’t stand to watch.”  They were so focused on one another neither of them noticed when the room cleared.

“You don’t think I’d lose, do you?”

“No, I don’t, and that would change something fundamental about the person you are.”  She paused and Gwen waited, feeling Randi had more she wanted to say.  “Do you remember how you felt when I died?  How your soul was so empty your muse deserted you?”

Gwen swallowed and nodded.  “Yes,” she whispered.

“Killing - taking another person’s life… even in combat... even if they deserve to die for whatever heinous crime they have committed – it kills something inside of you.  And nothing – no amount of confession or contrition or retribution or redemption – nothing can change that.  That part of your soul is gone... forever.  I can’t watch you lose that, Gwen... not when there is something I can do to prevent it.  I’ve done it before, love.  It’s not going to take anything else away from me.”

Gwen smiled sadly and cupped Randi’s cheek with her hand.  “That’s not true, Randi, and we both know it.  I know how every death affects you; I’ve seen it.  But I would never ask you watch that happen to me; somehow, I think that would be worse than letting you fight for me... and as hard as it is for me to do that, I couldn’t bear to watch your soul die like that.  Because it would, wouldn’t it?”

“Yeah.  You couldn’t watch when I was dispensing justice to the rebels, and seeing what that did to you nearly killed me.  I....”

“Shh,” Gwen finally said, covering Randi’s lips with her fingertips and feeling them tremble beneath her touch.  “I understand, love.  If a challenge like that comes, you will champion in my stead.”

“Thank you, Gwen.”

Gwen removed her fingers and replaced them with her lips for a timeless moment.  “It is my right and my privilege to take care of you, Randi, even when that care is sometimes beyond my scope.  Now c’mon, Empress.  We’ve got Amazon business to take care of and god of war justice to dispense to.”

“Then can we go home?”

“Then we can go home.”

For the first time, Randi looked up and noticed they were alone.  “Hey, where did everybody go?”

Gwen chuckled.  “I think we chased them off with the mush factor.”

Now Randi chuckled.  “Too bad we don’t have time to take advantage of it.  Of course you know we’re gonna be in for some serious teasing.”

“Who in their right mind would tease the Empress of the World and her Queen Consort?”

“Sweetheart, no Sabre has ever, EVER claimed to be in their right mind.  We’re just lucky most of them will be on that second shuttle.”

“I don’t suppose they will forget.”

“Not even if they were infected with Ares’ serum.”

Gwen blushed, but gave her an impish grin.  “Well, maybe we’ll just have to give them something else to talk about,” she said, slipping out of Randi’s arms and picking up her bag as she headed out the door.  Randi froze, looking gobsmacked by the ideas Gwen’s words put into her mind for a moment before she shook her head to clear it, snatched up her own bag and followed Gwen out the door.

“Hey... wait for me!  What did you mean by that??  GWEN!!!!!” lengthening her stride to catch up.  It was obviously going to be quite an interesting experience having Gwen as part of her Sabre life.  Randi couldn’t stop the grin that formed when she dropped an arm around Gwen’s shoulders and felt the reciprocal warmth around her waist.  Time to go to work.


Chapter XIV

Gwen blinked when they reached the waiting shuttles.  Someone had been busy – both shuttles had been emblazoned with... well, in honesty, Gwen wasn’t sure what they were, having never actually seen the design before.  She looked at Randi whose face remained stoic, but Gwen could see the twinkle lurking in the clear depths of those blue eyes.  She raised an eyebrow in question.

On both shuttles was the most intricate design Gwen had ever seen and she realized with sudden insight that there was something strangely familiar about what she was looking at.  She tilted her head as the answer tickled her mind just out of reach.

The tribal black bird was obvious in its connotations – that definitely represented Randi and her affiliation with the People as Raven Hawk.  But there was more to it and Gwen wasn’t able to quite put her finger on it.  She squinted and it allowed her to focus on the markings that made up the bird.  Her eyes widened when she realized there were distinct symbols that made up the markings – symbols she recognized as personal to her and Randi.

The Sabre emblem was the first thing she recognized; it made up a large part of the bird and its wingspan.  But it was the other images intertwined that Gwen knew were not part of the Sabre badge that drew her attention – her name had been woven into the Sabre emblem.  She found a labrys and the character for the female intertwined amongst the markings.  There was also the sigil for the Amazon Queen and the crest of the Empress as well as insignia for warrior and bard, strength, wisdom and courage.  There were a couple others she didn’t readily recognize, but Gwen had a sneaking suspicion Randi wouldn’t mind sharing.

“Did you design this?”

“Um hmm.  I, um... I had plenty of time while you were gone.”  Her voice was quiet and she shrugged negligibly.  “I wasn’t sleeping much; this helped me pass the time and gave me a way for us to still be a part of one another.”

Gwen walked closer to it, running her fingers lightly over the painted design.  “It’s incredible.  Will you explain all the symbolism to me?”

“Absolutely,” Randi answered with a big grin.  “I brought the roughs and notes; I knew once you saw the design you’d want to know the story behind it.”  Randi motioned Gwen ahead of her into the shuttle.  Rosie was seated up front in the cockpit beside Reed who was doing her final preflight checks.  She took a seat on the couch, pleased when Gwen plopped down in her lap.  “Hello there.  Something I can help you with?”

“Nope, just trying to get comfortable.”

“Uh huh.  I think you’re just trying to cause a scandal.”

“Pfft!” Gwen scoffed.  “In front of Rosie and Reed?”  Her laughter was contagious and Reed and Rosie worked hard to keep from laughing out loud.  “Sweetheart, I’m not willing to do in public what it would take to scandalize these two.”  She kissed Randi chastely and slid from her lap.  “Now show me.”  Randi passed over the paper drawing she’d made; Gwen could see the erasure marks.  Then she passed over her small handheld computer that held all her notes.  Reed’s eyes widened when she realized what Gwen actually had in her hand.

“Reed,” Rosie whispered, putting a concerned hand on her arm.  “Are you all right?”

Reed cleared her throat and nodded her head, turning her attention back to her prep work.  “Yeah, I am, Rosie.  It’s just nice to see those two so together again.”  She wasn’t going to explain to Rosie the significance of what Gwen was holding.  Reed figured Rosie knew what she meant without sharing classified details.

Rosie chuckled quietly, not wanting to disturb Gwen and Randi whose heads were now bent together over the small device talking in low tones.  Then she sobered.  “Reed, did you feel the ripple yesterday... like something odd in the forces of nature were shifting around you?”

Reed blinked and nodded.  “Yeah,” she drawled.  “That’s a good way to describe it.  You think it has something to do with this?” meaning the Amazon situation.

“I hope so.  I sure don’t want any more crises if we can avoid them.”

“Amen to that, sister!  Let’s get the party started.”  She contacted Shibata and soon they were lifting off, heading to wrap up one of their last few loose ends.  Randi and Gwen didn’t even notice.


“You know something,” Gwen commented unexpectedly into the silence.  Randi set aside her mission brief and gave Gwen her full attention, cocking an eyebrow in question.  “This design would make a great tattoo,” motioning to the hand drawn design.   

Randi couldn’t help it – her jaw dropped.  “Ex... excuse me?” she stuttered.

Gwen looked up from the paper she held to Randi’s flabbergasted expression and frowned.  “What?” she asked seriously.  “This design is incredible and it’s all about us.  I think it would make a fabulous tattoo.”

“It would,” Randi concurred immediately.  “But I never expected to hear something like that from you, Gwen.  You cringed when you found out about the nipple piercings, and that was a one-shot, single needle operation – took about ten minutes from start to finish.  A genuine tat like that involves a number of needles and depending on where it’s placed and how big it is, a minimum of five hours... probably more.”  Societal advancements aside, some things were still done the old-fashioned way – tattoos being one of those.  It was looked on as a coming of age and those who were serious about them disdained any other form of application citing the finished product made the pain bearable and in some cases, even welcome.  Gwen swallowed hard as the implications of what Randi was saying sunk in.  Then she nodded her head determinedly.

“I’d like to get this one done.  I like what it represents; I like what it says... about us.”

Randi smiled - a smile that reached the depths of her eyes.  “All right.  When we get finished here with the Amazons, I’ll give Ahmed a call.  He does the most incredible body art; he’s the one who did the one on my shoulder blade – the one I did for my mom and dad.”

Gwen’s eyes lit up.  “Really?  That’s amazing; he did such fine detail on that.”  They had talked about the reason for and meaning behind the art, but not about the artist; she hadn’t realized he was so close.  “Could we go see him work?”

“Sure, love.  Whatever makes you feel comfortable.”  And then a shuddering in the air around them brought them back to the present and Randi looked towards the cockpit with a frown on her face.  “What the hell is going on?  Are they firing on us?”

“Um... I think they are supposed to be guiding us in.  We are obviously unexpected... and mostly unwelcome, it appears.”

Gwen was out off the couch and in the cockpit almost before Randi could react.  “Give me a visual, Reed and put me on audio.  NOW, please.”

Reed didn’t blink at the authority that rang through Gwen’s tone, but Rosie watched in fascination as Gwen transformed before her eyes into the Amazon Queen.  It was subtle, but the changes were there and they were apparent.

“Do not veer from your instructed flight path,” the voice was droning when Gwen cut in decisively.

“Amazons, this is Queen Gwen.  I know you have been made aware by the honor guard who is traveling with me that we are approaching the Nation in a royal shuttle with the Empress.  You will cease and desist all aggression towards us immediately and move that greeting party back ahead of us to the mountain.  Is that understood??”  The Amazon facing the screen hesitated and Gwen got right into the screen.  “I said, do you understand?”

“Yes, my queen,” turning and giving the order.  The fighters instantly shot ahead of the two shuttles.

“I expect the senior staff waiting at the landing pad when I arrive.”

“Yes, my queen,” came the voice again, but Gwen had already moved away from the screen.  Randi just watched Gwen walk back towards her, enjoying the visual.  Green eyes sparked fire and nostrils flared while she clenched her fists regularly.

“Wow!” Randi breathed and gave Gwen a sexy grin.  “That was amazing.”

Almost automatically in response, Gwen relaxed and cocked her head at Randi.  “What was?”

“Watching you become the Amazon Queen.”

Gwen dropped down beside Randi and leaned her head on her shoulder, gratified when Randi’s arm wrapped around her.  “I’m not sure I understand what you mean,” her tone honestly puzzled.

Randi pulled back just slightly and looked at Gwen incredulously; then she realized that Gwen’s confusion was genuine.  “Gwen, until last night, though you’ve never been particularly shy about your wants and needs when we’re together, you’ve never been aggressive either.  And you’ve certainly never barked orders like a Sabre commander,” the last added with a teasing grin.

Gwen smiled briefly then chewed her bottom lip in thought.  “I don’t feel any different, but I’ve never been in this sort of authoritative position before either.  Maybe it’s just because I’m really good at playing a part.  It is what I do as a bard after all.”

“Not always, love.  You tell your best stories when you’re just being Gwen.  Maybe it has something to do with our merging?” Randi continued without giving Gwen a chance to catch her breath over her casual words.  Then they were landing and that thought was pushed to the wayside for the foreseeable future.  It was time to focus on the Amazons.


“My lord, are you sure about this?  We are not prepared for their arrival yet.”

Ares shrugged.  “It doesn’t matter, Lorac.  Let them come... settle in for a few days.  We can afford for them to be here.  There’s no way they can stop us and when all is said and done... well, I will rule the world and you will be my chosen warriors.  So invite them in and show them Amazon hospitality.  I think your Queen and the Empress deserve that much respect, don’t you?”

Lorac nodded hesitantly.  Ares grinned.  “Good girl,” he said condescendingly.  “Now run along and go meet your queen,” said with a sneer.  “I believe she demanded your presence in the landing pad when she arrived, so chop, chop.  Don’t want to keep her waiting, do you?”

Lorac nodded again and walked haltingly out of the room to make her way down to the landing area.  Ares watched the closed door for long moments before turning back to the monitors.  He stroked his beard thoughtfully, missing his scrying bowl but thankful for the ability to watch his immediate surroundings, especially with Randi’s imminent arrival.  He smiled again – this time coldly and maliciously.

“What are you playing at, Randi?  Why are you here?”


“You ready?” Randi asked Gwen as Reed completed her post flight shutdown.  The Sabres on the second shuttle had their instructions and had scattered to attend to their various duties as soon as the shuttle was settled on the pad.  Half of them would assume positions around Randi and Gwen when they disembarked from their shuttle, forming the first honor guard.  The rest gathered the gear and luggage, a majority of which was the bags carrying the antidote.  Lacey was going to lead that group and would start distributing the medicine immediately... as soon as they were escorted to their rooms.

Lacey led her squad off first, moving over to the side and waiting for the other team to descend and form an honor guard for Randi and Gwen.  Jess stepped up and rapped lightly on the shuttle door, then moved back and waited for it to open.  Then the entire room froze and stood staring.

The Sabres were all decked out in black fatigues – standard issue uniforms for this sort of mission.  Even Rosie had been outfitted to look like part of the unit.  Randi and Gwen had been similarly clothed when they had entered the shuttle.  So it was quite a surprise to the Sabres, but not one of them twitched.  The Amazons, however, were gobsmacked.

Gwen stood on the cusp of the shuttle - her bearing regal, her expression stern – looking every bit the Amazon Queen of legend.  The leathers were a rich, red-brown color, soft like suede and decorated with gold filigree.  The halter top enhanced the fullness of her breasts and showed off the muscularity of her toned abs.  The short skirt flared softly around full hips and highlighted the evident strength of her legs.  Even the boots did nothing to hide their sculpted physique.

A long cape hung off one shoulder, the pelt dark and thick.  To everyone looking, it gave her the appearance of being surrounded by Randi – a fact given credence to by the formidable presence standing behind Gwen and to her right.

Randi’s leathers were a little more conservative but did not take away from the impressive figure she cut.  The trousers were dark – sleek and smooth and form-fitting, outlining each individual muscle precisely.  Her top tied off neatly under her rib cage, allowing for a good look at the six pack stomach and the chiseled arms and back. 

Without ceremony, Reed stepped up behind Randi and draped a long, red-blonde cloak over on shoulder and it became readily apparent to everyone exactly what statement was being made by the two women.  When Reed stepped back, Randi extended her arm and Gwen took it as they walked off the shuttle together.

The honor guard remained standing, but the rest of the women, Sabre and Amazon alike, knelt as they emerged from the shuttle.  Almost immediately, Randi released the Sabres from obeisance.   Gwen, however, allowed the Amazons to remain in their kneeling position for another full minute before she commanded them to stand.

“Welcome, my queen,” Lorac said softly.  “You are unexpected, but most welcome.”

“Really?  Then why were we being fired upon?”  She held up her hand when Lorac drew breath to speak.    “Don’t bother to lie to me, Lorac.  You knew who we were and there will be punishment meted out for such blatant treason.  You will escort us to our quarters, then we will adjourn to the conference room to discuss this.  Am I understood?”

“Yes, my queen.”  Lorac lowered hr eyes so Gwen could not see the rage she felt.  She couldn’t wait until this interloper got what was coming to her.  Then the Amazons would finally be able to take their rightful place as the warrior guardians of the world order.

“Good... let’s go.”

“By your command,” motioning Gwen and Randi towards the elevator.  Gwen shuddered when the door closed behind them, her mind going back to her forced separation from Randi at Ben’s hand.  Randi responded to her silent terror by wrapping a strong arm around Gwen’s shoulders and brushing a kiss on her hair.  Gwen looked up in reaction, feeling the horror fade in the light of Randi’s love shining back at her from those very blue eyes.

Lorac watched unabashedly – something wasn’t right.  This was not what she expected from these two – not what Ares had told her would happen.  They were supposed to be cold and distant with one another.  Gwen was standing between Randi and greatness... between the Amazons and their destiny.  But her eyes told Lorac that Gwen was right where Randi wanted her to be... by her side.  So what was really going on?  Why would Ares lie?  He was committed to them, and they to him... right?

The elevator stopped and Lorac stepped off first, holding the door open and waiting for both Randi and Gwen to exit before gesturing down the hallway towards the executive suite.  They’d had to scramble to get it ready, though fortunately, they had been working on it before Gwen’s surprise arrival.  The honor guard formed around them and the remainder of the unit walked off a second elevator immediately behind them.  Then they followed Lorac into the suite.

Large as the room was, it was crowded with sixteen people and their gear and luggage.  Still, this was where they would maintain a headquarters of sorts.  Without a word, the honor guard took places around the room and the rest spread out, negligently removing surveillance equipment with ease.  Randi’s expression didn’t change, but Gwen’s grew darker and Lorac became increasingly uncomfortable and embarrassed.  When Shibata nodded the all clear, they put the gathered equipment into a pile and started to demolish it piece by piece.

Meanwhile, Lacey clapped Lorac around the neck and led her to a seat at the small conference table.  Lorac slapped at her hand and scowled.  “What the hell did you just poke me with?”

Lacey smiled.  “Give it a few minutes.  I imagine you’ll be able to figure it out for yourself.”  As a precaution, Lacey dragged an empty basin over beside Lorac, then sat down and waited.  Randi wandered around the room, checking things out and giving whispered instructions to the Sabres.  All but three left in the room – one destroying the spy paraphernalia, one that stayed guard at the door and Lacey.  The rest moved out into the hall to claim and clear the rooms on either side and across the hall.  Then they moved to the conference room to clear it of bugs as well.  The waiting Amazons were not happy with their actions, but they did nothing to stop it either.

Gwen walked over to the screen that served as a window and focused on something beyond the picture.  Randi walked to stand behind her – not touching, but close enough to let Gwen feel the strength of her presence.  Gwen didn’t speak, but stepped back into Randi’s body, smiling when Randi turned it into an embrace.  Then the sound of retching made her flinch just slightly and she curled into Randi’s arms.  Randi leaned forward and started singing softly into Gwen’s ear.  Very quickly, it became the only sound either of them was aware of.

Lacey watched them even as she offered comfort to Lorac.  It was as though, now that they had finally come together again, nothing could touch them.  And she realized what a great thing that was as so much depended on that very reality, Lacey wiped Lorac’s face carefully and offered her a bottle of water to rinse her mouth.  She realized that Lorac’s focus was on Randi and Gwen as well and looked back in their direction for a moment before turning back to Lorac.

“You all right?” handing her some mint and dropping a ginger tablet into her water.

Lorac blinked and brought Lacey’s face back into focus, cradling her head and eating the mint.  “Ow... what happened?  What did you give me?”  Lorac groaned and covered her face.  “Oh Artemis... tell me that what I am remembering is a bad dream.”

“What do you remember?”  Gwen’s voice was cool but not hateful.  Lorac looked up and saw the reserve in a face that had been much more open to her only days previously.  Her eyes closed and she dropped to one knee in deference.

“My queen,” she whispered, her voice once again filled with respect.  “My apologies, your majesty.  I’m not sure....”

“Lorac, what do you remember?”

“Ares,” she replied softly.  “He came... he made promises... said he would restore the Nation to greatness.”  She swallowed hard, not wanting to throw up again.  “He has... he has been impregnating us.  We are to be the mothers of his immortal army.” She couldn’t stop the retching this time.  Gwen picked up the cloth Lacey had been using to wipe Lorac’s face and knelt down, wiping the back of her neck.  Lorac looked up with bloodshot eyes.


“Why what, my friend?”

Lorac sipped her ginger water, gratefully feeling it settle her stomach.  “Why us?  Why this?  HOW this??  And why are you...?”

Gwen took a seat on the floor and motioned Lorac to do the same.  She was peripherally aware of Randi and Lacey moving to take seats nearby, but she kept her attention on Lorac.  “We believe Ares chose the Amazons for a number of reasons.  Frankly, the Amazons are the most viable choice for readily trained warriors and the fact that he can use it as a ‘screw you’ to me and Artemis and the Nation just makes it sweeter for him.”

“The good news is no one has gotten pregnant and we have the antidote for the loyalty drug he administered to the Nation to ensure Amazon cooperation.  The bad news... the bad news is you have to physically dispel what amounts to poison in your system.”  Her voice dropped.  “And you will remember everything.”

Lorac covered her eyes with her hands.  “Oh God!”

“I’m sorry, Lorac.  I would have prevented this if I had known.”

“How did he do this??  How did he dispense a drug to commit us to him without our knowledge?  I thought a warrior had to swear allegiance first.”

“They’re supposed to,” Randi broke in.  “That is the reason we can distribute the antidote without your knowledge.  You didn’t choose loyalty to Ares – you can’t be forced to remain that way.  The antidote gives you the right to choose; if you swear allegiance to Ares now, it will be by your choice.  If you make that choice then, the antidote will only work if you allow it to.  Otherwise, it will kill you.”

“Is there enough antidote for everyone?”

“For the entire Nation with some left over,” Gwen said with a tender smile.  “The bad thing is we have to administer it directly.  The good thing is, it doesn’t take too long once we get it into your system.  And as we cleanse Amazons, we can recruit them to help us spread it to the rest.  First though,” Gwen said and slapped her hands on her thighs and accepting Randi’s help to stand, “I think we need to go take care of the rest of the senior staff.  Once we have them, the rest should be much easier.”

“My queen,” Lorac asked as she stood shakily to her feet.  “What are we going to do about Ares?  He’s here... now... and probably more than a little frustrated about the fact that you have eliminated the only means he had for observing you here.”

Randi grinned, her smile so cold everyone in the room felt the temperature drop.  “You leave Ares to me,” she said ferally.  “I intend to take care of him once and for all.”

Lorac looked between Randi and Gwen.  “You knew when you came?”

“Yes.  It’s why we came early.  This will be done on our terms,” Gwen said as she gestured Lorac to lead the way out of the suite.  Randi touched her wrist and four Sabres met them as they crossed into the hallway.  Then Lorac slowly led the way to the opposite end of the corridor where the executive conference room was now full of Amazon elders and council members.

They stood in a semi-circle around it while Lacey made sure she, Lorac, Randi and Gwen were well-supplied with antidote for the Amazons that were waiting inside the conference room.  They didn’t want to be caught short as these were the most critical members of the society.  Once they were treated, they would be able to distribute the drug more quickly and effectively.  Lorac was still a little shaky, but assured Lacey she was good to go as she accepted the pouch and nodded her understanding of the delivery method.

Before she keyed open the solid wood door, Lorac turned to look squarely at Gwen.  “My queen, how can you be so sure no one is pregnant by Ares?  Surely as a god he is not impotent, and we are very aware of when we can conceive.  His timing was perfect.”

“His timing may have been, but your petitioning wasn’t,” Gwen replied gently.  “No one asked for dispensation from Artemis.  The safeguards that were put into place for population control were not removed, and even Ares doesn’t have the power to break a covenant between Artemis and her chosen people.  He may not have been shooting blanks, but he was shooting into a void.”

Lorac chuckled wryly.  “The Nation gets a shot at him, he will be lucky to ever shoot again.”  Then she turned and opened the door before Randi or Gwen could respond verbally, though neither of them could prevent the snickering that escaped their lips. 

The Amazons in the room rose as a single body, though more out of habit than any sort of perceived courtesy.  The resentment was entirely too clear in everyone’s expression.  Lorac stepped into the room first, followed by Gwen and Randi together, and they felt the temperature drop further at the unspoken statement that equality made to the Amazons.  Here, Randi was only seen as a consort, and it was presumption on her part to be seen as equal to the queen in any regard.

Nevertheless, there was little they could do about it until Gwen was made to see the error of her ways as Ares had promised them she would, so they bore it stoically.  The Sabres brought up the rear and the four who were functioning as guards took up a watchful post in each of the room’s four corners.  Lacey kept close beside Randi and Gwen, waiting and watching.

“Be seated, please.”

The Amazons hesitated, then resumed their seats, folding their hands on the table and waiting for Gwen to speak.  Instead, she put her hand on the back of Nebula’s neck, holding it there and meeting her eyes.  The anger in Nebula’s eyes melted before Gwen’s direct gaze and became a look of confusion.  Gwen nodded in understanding and removed her hand, grabbing another vial from her pouch before moving to the next Amazon.

It was easier than they had reasonably expected it to be – mostly because their actions were completely unexpected.  And by the time the Amazons had figured out something was going on, the first of them were already scurrying for the executive restroom – retching and puking the poison out of their systems in great, gasping waves.

It was quiet in the room otherwise, the only sound being that of more than a dozen women hurling their guts out.  Lorac, still queasy from her own experience, took the seat that had been left vacant for her and laid her head carefully on the table.  Lacey, Randi and Gwen did their best to make the women comfortable, though there really wasn’t much they could do aside from a cold cloth and adding ginger to the water sitting at each place at the table.

Slowly the sounds of people being sick lessened and one by one the Amazons made their way carefully to the long table, not willing to do anything that would disturb the precious balance they had managed to achieve.  Each of them sipped at the ginger water Lacey had prepared for them, feeling its settling effects almost immediately and groaning in both relief and mortification.

“My queen,” Nebula said softly, wincing at the raw soreness of her throat.  “What just happened here?”

So once more, Gwen explained to the Amazons what had happened to them at Ares’ hand and what steps had been taken to correct his machinations.  There was a long moment when they were torn between fury and the desire to be sick again.  Then cold, hard reason took hold and a grim determination settled over the gathered women and turned their focus towards recovering the Amazon Nation.

“What are we going to do about Ares?  He is entrenched here, and it is going to take us several days minimum to get this antidote out to the people without arousing his suspicions... especially given how drained it leaves a body.  God, this sucks.”  Lorac paused and blew out a short breath.  “We don’t want to arouse his suspicions, do we?”

“What instructions did he give you regarding us?”

Randi’s tone left no doubt in anyone’s mind who was in command at the moment, but Lorac’s eyes shifted from Randi to Gwen, waiting for the queen’s indulgence before turning back to answer Randi.  She reached out and twined their fingers together, wanting everyone to understand the truth between them. Randi’s facial expression didn’t change at all, but Gwen could feel the joy running through her body.  She motioned to Lacey.

Lorac nodded slowly, not wanting her head to fall off from any sudden movement.  She jumped when Lacey came up beside her, but tilted her head when she realized her intention.  “Thank you,” she murmured gratefully.

“I’m sorry you had to wait, but we wanted to be sure the poison was purged before....”

Lorac nodded a little more firmly now that the anti-nausea medicine was speeding through her system.  “Oh, I agree.  I would prefer not to have to suffer through this a second time because the first didn’t take completely.  I feel like someone parked a transport on my head.”  She rubbed the back of her neck, easing the knots from it, then turned her attention back to Randi and Gwen who sat waiting patiently for her to answer Randi’s query.

“Oh... um, sorry.  Ares instructed us to fire at you, but not hit you.  It was like it was a game to him.  He was laughing until Queen Gwen appeared on the screen.  Then he muttered something and instructed us to comply.  He told me we could spare a few days to lull you into a sense of security before we made our move.”

“What is your move?”

Lorac shook her head.  “He never shared the details.  He told me that Gwen was standing between Randi and greatness and through us, he was going to help you reclaim your destiny.  Then we would recapture our standing as the preeminent warriors in the world.  Other than that, I do not know what he had planned for either of you... or for us.”

The room fell silent as Randi and Gwen contemplated Lorac’s words.  There were just too many possibilities and Randi didn’t like leaving that kind of thing to chance.  She turned to Gwen and the two of them held a wordless conversation between them for a very long moment.  Then Randi nodded her head and looked back to the gathered women waiting patiently for her to say something.

“All right... it’s going to drive him nuts that he cannot spy on us here and if he wants to lull us into a sense of security, he’s either gonna remain in the dark about our activities except for what ya’ll report to him or he will go back to his scrying bowl on Olympus.  Either way, we can use the circumstance to our advantage.”


“Well, it depends on what he does.  If ya’ll can convince him things are still status quo, I think he will stay hidden out here – that would be my preference.  He is cut off here, except for what comes in from the outside.  He can’t go get information unless he physically leaves, and I think he will have a hard time doing that with me here.”

“So how does that work in our favor?”  Gradually, the Amazons were returning to normal as Lacey medicated them, and despite the exhaustion plainly marking their faces, they were obviously finding a sense of purpose.

Gwen smiled.  “It means we’ll get to yank his chain a little before we kick his ass,” and each of the Amazons in the room knew exactly which ‘we’ was going to be doing the ass kicking.  They exchanged smiles.  That was something they would take particular joy in watching.  First, though, they were going to have a bit of fun tweaking Ares.  They sat back to wait for Randi and Gwen to fill them in on what they had planned.


Chapter XV

“Where have you been??  What took so long??  How could you let them removed the surveillance equipment??”  Ares took a long look at Lorac’s pale features.  “What’s wrong with you?”  He threw himself into the couch as she eased her body into the matching chair and propped her head on her hands, covering her eyes.

“Ares, please.  My head hurts.”

“Oh, baby... why didn’t you just day so?”  He stood and walked behind her, dropping his hands on her shoulders.  Lorac tensed to keep from flinching and Ares assumed it was from the stress of having Gwen and Randi around days before they were ready for them.  He kneaded gently and Lorac found herself relaxing despite herself.  Ares smiled.  Penchant for war or not, there was something ultimately satisfying in taking victory this way as well.

After a few minutes, however, his impatient curiosity reared its head again and he began questioning Lorac again, though he was a little gentler in his queries this time.  “So did you spend all this time with your queen and her consort?”

“Yes... damn bossy bitch!” she grumbled.  “She just doesn’t know when to shut up; kept going on and on and on.”  Lorac smirked.  “She was more than a little angry about being shot at.”

Ares snorted.  “She’ll get over it soon enough.  Then she’ll be just another little concubine in my little harem here.”  He chuckled.  “However, tomorrow will be soon enough to start her conversion.  What else happened?  Surely she did not rant and rave for four hours about being shot at – even a bard has to shut up and breathe at some point.”

“Not her,” Lorac said with a grunt. “But the first hour or so was spent removing all the observation gear.  They went right to it... like they expected it to be there.  And they found it all – even stuff I didn’t know was there.”

Ares nodded his head sagely.  “I should have expected as much; Randi is without a doubt one of the best warriors I have ever seen.  I should have anticipated her lack of trust here in an environment not of her own creation.”  He blew out a frustrated breath.  “You and the rest will need to be extra vigilant.  I want to know what is going on with them at all times... or as much as you can manage.  Randi especially will not tolerate the scrutiny.”

Lorac reached up and patted his hands and Ares resumed his place on the couch.  “All right – so what are their plans?  They had to have shown up early for a reason.”

Lorac shrugged.  “They didn’t really share.  Basically all we got for our trouble was a real good ass chewing.  I know they plan to go out tomorrow and walk around the city.”

Ares chortled.  “Oh, they’re just itching to feel the love, aren’t they?”  He rubbed his beard.  “Well, just keep an eye on them and let me know if you find anything out.  We’ll move our timetable up as much as possible to accommodate their early arrival.  What’s going on tonight?  Are you hosting a dinner party welcoming the queen?”

“No,” Lorac said, shaking her head.  “She and her consort both made it clear our presence would not be welcomed by them for the remainder of the evening.  It was suggested the tomorrow night might be a better choice... after they had a chance to get out among the Nation.”

“All right,” he agreed again.  “That should be fine.  It’s not like the Amazons will tell them about me, will they?”

“What will you do in the meantime?” Lorac asked.  “It’s not like you want them to know you are here yet.  Will you stay here in hiding or are you going to go back to Olympus until the time is right?”

Ares considered her words.  “I’ll stay here,” he said after due deliberation.  “Randi really can’t sense me and they are going to be much too busy fighting the resentment around here to notice me at any rate.  I can’t do anything else until this is taken care of.  Besides, I want to watch things fall apart for them once and for all and this will give me a front row seat.”

Lorac nodded and stood.  “Okay.  Now, if you’ll excuse me....”  She forced herself not to jerk away when Ares caught her wrist in his grasp.  “Ares, please... I really don’t feel well.”  Truth, as far as it went.  “I don’t know if it is the stress of dealing with Randi and Gwen while they were being completely nasty and unreasonable or if they brought some sort of virus with them from wherever or what.  But all I want to do right now is go to bed and sleep for the next sixteen hours.”  Again, the truth.

Ares looked at Lorac more closely and noted that not only was she pale, but her eyes were bloodshot and had deep, dark circles under them.  He let go of her wrist and nodded his approval.  “I think that is a good idea.  It won’t do to have you out of commission when the time comes.  Go get some rest.  I have some things to check on myself.”

Lorac put on a concerned face.  “You won’t get caught?”

“No,” he said with a chuckle.  “No one has even ventured close to the area that I am using yet.  I’ll be safe enough for the next few days.  Now go.  You have work to do tomorrow and you need to be rested up for it.”

He watched her walk into her bedroom and close the door before he shimmered and disappeared without flash, leaving no trace of his passage.


The water was warm and fragrant and Gwen leaned back in perfect contentment against Randi’s chest.  The candles were their only source of light, but it seemed to fit in the old-fashioned bathroom.  Besides, it was romantic and comfortable in a way they hadn’t shared in a while and both were entirely happy to remain where they were.

“So what do you think?” Gwen asked as she stirred the bubbles floating lazily in front of her, then trembled when Randi’s teasing touch caused goosebumps to trail up her skin.  She leaned down enough to put her mouth even with Gwen’s ear, nipping the lobe before breathing her whisper.


Gwen closed her eyes.  “You’re making it nearly impossible to think.”  The vibration rumbling through Randi’s chest made Gwen open her eyes a slit – just enough so that Randi could see the green glare.  She dropped a kiss at the juncture of Gwen’s neck and shoulder, delighting in the reciprocal shiver she received in response.

“I have been told that thinking is way overrated.”

“So is talking sometimes, but it still has to be done once in a while,” letting her fingers trail up and down Randi’s smooth, soft thighs.  Randi’s legs had always intrigued her; they were so feminine to the touch and yet the whipcord muscle just beneath the surface was all power and strength.  Gwen jumped when Randi’s teeth closed over her jugular and she let her tongue lave the spot before sucking lightly.

“Ya know,” Randi commented conversationally, though her voice was low and husky.  She examined the well-placed hickey she had just created, kissing it and setting her hands free to wander over Gwen’s torso.  “If you want to talk, you shouldn’t tease me.”

“Who’s teasing who?” the last word coming out as a whimper when Randi’s touch became a little more insistent.

“Still wanna talk?”

Gwen didn’t answer verbally; her body spoke for her... loud and clear.


The water was considerably cooler when they finally got out, wrapping one another carefully in long robes and towel drying their hair before moving back into the bedroom.  Then they donned comfortable clothing, knowing the Sabres who were not sleeping now for a later guard shift would be joining them soon for dinner.  Gwen’s eyes twinkled as she buttoned up the silk top, knowing Randi’s eyes were firmly fastened on her.

“Is it safe to try and talk now?” keeping the bed between them.  She laughed softly at the blush that colored Randi’s face a light pink.  Randi’s head snapped up, gauging Gwen’s loving expression before shrugging sheepishly.

“I can’t help it,” she said softly.  “I know technically we’re still newlyweds, but after everything that’s happened, I feel like we’re starting new again.  And given how long I have loved you....”  She shrugged again and focused her gaze on the floor.  “It just reinforces things so much... makes everything between us so intense for me.  You can tell me to shut up any time here.”

Gwen had moved so silently that Randi’s first clue she was close was the touch of Gwen’s fingertips on her face.  “Why would I do that, sweetheart?  I love it when you talk to me, Randi – you have a very beautiful soul.”

Randi gave Gwen a crooked grin.  “Is that why you married me?  For my beautiful soul?”

“Your beautiful soul,” placing a kiss on one side of Randi’s mouth.  “Your beautiful mind,” kissing the other side.  “Your beautiful body,” capturing the full lips passionately for a long moment.  “I like the whole beautiful package.”

Randi let her hands drop to Gwen’s waist, stepping closer and let them slide down around Gwen’s butt.  “Ya do, huh?” leaning down....

... only to snap her head back up when a pounding sounded on the solid door that stood closed between the bedroom and the living area.  She glared and as if in response to the look, Reed’s muffled voice came through the thick wood.

“You two can fool around later.  Let’s go... I’m starving!!!”

Randi and Gwen swapped glances, then Randi engulfed Gwen in a hard, tight hug, letting the embrace last for so long that Reed felt the need to bang on the door again.  Randi growled and picked Gwen up before striding towards the door.  Gwen had enough presence of mind to wrap her arms and legs securely around Randi’s body just before Randi let go of her with one arm and jerked the door open.

Everything in the living room ground to a dead halt and the silence was palpable as every single eye turned in Randi and Gwen’s direction.  Randi glared in Reed’s direction.  “Is there a reason you need us here to begin the meal?”

Reed glared back at her, returning stare for stare – comfortable that she could get away with it... especially since not only could she feel the giddy happiness emanating from both of them, but also from the twinkle she could see lurking in the back of bright blue eyes.

“Yeah... it’s your turn to say grace,” came the drolly delivered comment.  “We can’t eat til you say ‘amen’.”

“AMEN,” Randi snarled, causing a ripple of laughter to skitter around the room before it broke out into waves.  The Sabres began moving again, taking their seats around the table.  Randi looked down at the tapping on her chest and got lost in the green gaze reflecting so much devotion.  Then Gwen blinked and smiled shyly, crinkling up her nose in reflex.  Randi returned the look without thought of effort, then scowled.  “You want something?” she mock growled.

“Um... you wanna let me down?”

“Not really, no,” Randi answered with painful honesty.  “But I suppose I should so my team doesn’t hurt themselves trying to ignore us, huh?” looking around the table at the women who were studiously focused on their food while making quiet conversation.  Gwen followed her gaze and chuckled soundlessly, sliding down Randi’s body when Randi released her.

“C’mon, Empress.  I’m starving and something smells really good.”

Reed laughed, hearing Gwen’s comment.  “Yeah, between Rosie and Shibata, eating on this mission will a treat.”

Gwen turned from filling her plate and looked at Randi.  “Meals are usually bad?”  She didn’t miss the shudders or grimaces that went around the table.

“Trail rations,” Randi mumbled.  There was a muted groan from several of the women, but Reed and Jess chuckled softly behind wide grins.  Gwen’s head swiveled around and pinned them with a questioning look.

“Of course, some of us carried more than just trail rations, didn’t we, Randi?”  Randi just glowered at both of them before turning her attention back to her meal.  This time Jess laughed aloud, choking when Randi put her fingers in her ears.  Reed just howled; Gwen gave a smiling sigh and took one of Randi’s hands in her own and held on with loving exasperation.

“What??  Are they going to tell me you carried edible underwear or something equally scandalous?”

Now the entire table hooted and clapped.  Randi’s eyes grew round and horrified.  “No!  You know I don’t like that stuff!” watching the red suffuse Gwen’s face.  Gwen cleared her throat awkwardly, but kept her attention on Randi, whose expression was now one of chagrin for what she had revealed.  The rest of the group continued to chortle, enjoying the byplay they were witnessing.

“Right,” Gwen agreed.  “I know all kinds of fun and fascinating things about you.  What do you think anyone here is going to tell me that is going to come as a great surprise?”

“I don’t think that’s the problem, Gwen,” Reed offered with a smile.  “You see,” garnering everyone’s attention and watching Randi’s expression become sheepish.  “Randi had a weakness for chocolate, as I’m sure you’re very well aware of.  She is especially enamored of those little, miniature chocolate bars.  And when we went out on missions, she always, ALWAYS carried a supply with her.”  Reed paused and shared a knowing smile with Randi, who shrugged and motioned for her to continue.

“Those of us who were already Sabres at the time,” smirking in Randi’s direction, “and were assigned to the training unit as instructors remember when Randi was still a babe in arms... so to speak...”  She looked directly at Gwen.  “First you have to understand that while a Sabre is in training, every training mission is carefully monitored by the non-com in charge.  Her very first training mission, the sarge went to check through her bags.  She had everything she was supposed to... and a single bag of miniature chocolates.”

“Well, the sergeant decided to make an example of her and took them out of her gear, intent on making a point.”

Gwen turned her attention back to Randi, a devilish gleam sparkling in her green eyes.  “You didn’t.”

“You bet I did,” arms crossed and chin jutting out defiantly.  “Took him down and wrapped him up like he was a novice.  Not once... not twice... but three times.”

“Gwen... she kicked his ass.  And she made her point.  It really did take her knocking him down three times before Nyugen understood that Randi wasn’t gonna let him kick her around regardless of his rank.  The few of us that witnessed it were under strict orders not to reveal anything, including anything about her secret chocolate stash.  As long as it remained unofficial, Randi could carry her chocolate; no one would be the wiser.”

“The only problem was Randi shared with some of us,” Jess cut in.  “Oh... not about Nyugen; none of us had heard that story before,” glancing around the table at the others who shook their heads negatively.  “But she did share her chocolate sparingly... and some of us figured out to bring our own.”

“Did Nyugen continue to give you problems after that?”

“Nope,” Randi said, going back to her dinner.  “He learned and actually took the time to make me better.  We became friends.”

Gwen’s eyebrows went into her hairline.  “Really?”

“Yep.”  Gwen was sure no one else noticed, but Randi’s tone indicated there was more than friendship between them.  Gwen swallowed hard, trying to rid herself of the wash of jealously she felt.  Instead, she focused her attention on her meal once more.

“I still miss him sometimes,” Reed offered.  “He was the best kind of Sabre.”

“He was,” Randi agreed softly.  Gwen forcibly put her jealousy aside and covered Randi’s hand.

“What happened to him?”

“He saved my life,” Randi said after a long moment of silence.  “Said it was payment for an old debt.”

“Empress...” swallowing when Randi’s head snapped in her direction; “Commandant....”  Ariel stopped speaking when Randi cleared her throat.

“All right, ladies... my name is Randi.  This is just like it would be if we were on a mission together.  You will need to use the titles until we get the Amazons turned around, but honestly, I don’t want to hear them otherwise.  Please.”

The Sabres nodded and Rosie chose that moment to speak up.  “So, Randi... do you think Ares will buy Lorac’s story?”  She set a large chocolate cake in the center of the table and Gwen got up to retrieve the milk and some glasses.  When Jess saw what Gwen was bringing, she moved to grab enough glasses for everyone while the rest moved swiftly to clear the table. The interlude gave Randi a chance to formulate her answer.  When everyone was seated again, Randi spoke.

“I do think Ares will believe Lorac... for several reasons.  The most important is he really has no reason not to.  He is too busy right now either trying to figure out why I am here early or how he can get some sort of surveillance equipment in here to find out what is going on.  I have already sent for another two teams to join us tomorrow.”  She pinched the bridge of her nose.

“Secondly, he is convinced that he is gonna win.  He really believes I am going to call him to join me.  And lastly, he doesn’t know that we are all already immune to that crap he’s given the Amazons.  By the time he figures it out, we will have restored the women here to their normal lives.  However,” she added in all seriousness, “I do not want anyone eating or drinking from the Amazon supply until Shibata and Jess have cleared it.  And if you get cut or poked... anything you would consider an invasive injury, have Lacey check it immediately.”

“Why?” Rosie asked reasonably.  “If he doesn’t know we’re immune....”

”Because this... me... I have become an obsession for him.  Despite his supreme confidence in himself, at this point I think he is paranoid enough to ‘tweak’ his formula... just to ensure that success one more time.”  She shrugged.  “I know it sounds contradictory, but Ares has made less and less sense lately.  I suspect this quest of his made have genuinely driven him mad and I am too much of an unknown variable for him to just assume anything will work like he expected it to at this point.  I would just prefer to err on the side of caution.”  She paused and looked at Gwen, her voice growing quieter.  “Enough people have died for us – we don’t want to lose anyone else.”

“As long as neither one of you do anything stupid,” Shibata said firmly.

“No worries there,” Gwen replied.  “We made a deal about that.  We plan to be celebrating anniversaries together for a very long time to come.”

“Great,” Reed said dryly, trying to lighten the mood.  “Does this mean I can have chocolate cake now?”

Randi turned outraged blue eyes in her direction.  “Do you like living dangerously or something?”

Reed blinked, truly perplexed by the question.  “Excuse me?”

“Do you like living dangerously or something?” Randi repeated slowly.  “Did we not just have a discussion about how seriously I take my chocolate, and then you sit there and think I am going to share this ‘Death by Chocolate’ cake??”

Suddenly Reed realized Randi was teasing, showing a playful side they had never seen from her as a Sabre.  She glanced between Randi and Gwen, able to see the bond between them even with their shielding in place, and she couldn’t stop the tears from forming.  Randi raised an eyebrow, knowing instinctively that Reed’s tears were real and had nothing to do with her teasing.  Unexpectedly, Jess broke in with a grin.

“Well, boss,” she drawled in a bantering tone.  “We figured since you had Gwen now, you wouldn’t need chocolate anymore... or at least there would be enough chocolate for everyone to have a share.”

Randi’s eyebrows shot up, but she bit her bottom lip to keep from smiling.  Gwen couldn’t stop the blush, but she didn’t try to contain her laughter.  She reached over and covered Randi’s hand with her own, clearing her throat when Randi focused her powerful attention in Gwen’s direction.

“I hate to admit it, but she’s got a point,” Randi admitted and hands reached for the small plates, then froze when Randi held up her free hand.  “*However*,” she continued gruffly.  “How can I be sure that my good nature is not being taken advantage of?”  She kept her eyes locked with Gwen’s.  “What’s in it for me to be nice?”

Gwen smirked, a confident, sexy look that she knew Randi loved on her and one she wore well.  “Don’t you worry, Marine.  You take good care of your team; I’ll take good care of you.  It’ll be worth any sacrifice you have to make here.”

Blue eyes widened comically.  Randi could not believe Gwen had been so forward in front of people who were, to her anyway, mostly strangers.  The cheers and catcalls just made it seem all the more unreal.  Then she realized Gwen could see Reed’s distress and was giving them a chance to get away without drawing attention to her.  Randi stood and pushed the cake to the center of the table.  She extended her hand to Gwen, who took it and rose smoothly to her feet.

“Save me a piece,” she instructed, her eyes never leaving Gwen’s.  “Let’s go negotiate terms for this sacrifice I’m making,” and they left without a backwards glance behind them, closing the door firmly when they crossed into their bedroom.

“Wow!” Shibata muttered.  “Where can I find something like what they have?  I can hardly keep a man in my life long enough to find out his name, much less....” waving her hand in Randi and Gwen’s general direction.  “Surely everyone is entitled to that sort of connection at some point in their life.”

Rosie chortled sadly and shook her head.  “Shibata, in a perfect world, everyone would be entitled to find love with their soul’s other half.  But this world is far from perfect and there is no entitlement to love, much less anything else.  Most of us do find love and companionship and we consider ourselves blessed... which we are.  They are two of the most special feelings one human being can share with another.”  She paused and drew a deep breath, helping herself to a slice of cake.

“But to find and hold on to what Randi and Gwen have... it is very, very rare to find – much less keep.  It cost them dearly to find one another initially and they have suffered greatly through their lifetimes to hang on to what they have.”

“Do you know the whole story, Rosie?” Jess asked.  Rosie shook her head slowly as she chewed.

“No... only bits and pieces.  I’ve seen the Amazon scrolls, but they only give part of the original story.  Gwen has told small parts of unrecorded stories from that first lifetime... but it was enough to show that their lives together were plagued with hardship and conflict.  Like now, they were happiest together and they did have some wonderful experiences, but they also endured tremendously.  Don’t think their happiness does not come without great sacrifice and price.”

Jess and Reed both nodded their agreement.  Shibata shook her head and focused on her cake, chewing several mouthfuls slowly.  The rest ate quietly, content to listen and learn from the ongoing conversation.  Shibata picked up her milk and drained it.  Only then did she turn her attention back to Rosie who was slowly finishing her own milk.

“So are you saying we shouldn’t want what they have?  That what they share isn’t worth the price they pay to be together??”

“Oh no, child... not at all.  What they have together is an amazing thing, and if everyone could find the same, the world would be a much nicer, much happier place.  And I’m sure Randi and Gwen would pay any price asked of them short of separation to have and maintain the soul bond that they do – they HAVE paid every price asked of them, and they would both tell you it was worth it... because what they know together is beyond price.”  She sighed.

“What I am trying to make you see, Shibata, is two-fold.  First, you should always love with an open heart and an open mind – you never know when love will cross your path, but if you are so busy searching for a soulmate, you will miss the love that is right in front of you.  Don’t discount love simply because it is not a soul bond or what you think a soul bond should be.  Love with abandon... you will be much happier for it.”

“And secondly?”

“Secondly, every happiness in life comes with a price – that is just the way of things.  There is balance in all things, but balance does not make life fair.  Don’t expect a free ride, especially in matters of the heart; it won’t happen and you will forever be disappointed.”

“Were you ever disappointed, Rosie?” Reed asked, cocking her head in inquiry.

“As a kid?  Yeah, several times.  I was so sure I was in love, and it always broke my heart to find out I wasn’t.”  She chuckled.  “Of course, the broken heart only lasted until the next boy came along.”  She stopped and her eyes grew thoughtful.  “That all changed the day I met Stephen.”

“Love at first sight?”

“Oh no,” she snorted through her laughter.  “Mutual antagonism.  We were ready to kill each other.”  Now the rest laughed along with her.  Finally Ariel recovered enough to speak.


“Yeah,” Jess cut in.  “And what happened?”

“Well, we met at a protest of sorts... on opposite sides, naturally. He wanted more open land; I was in favor of planting more trees.  Now I know that sounds rather tame... especially compared to what you have been through as Sabres and what we have all been through recently.  But the environment and the best way to protect its resources was something we were both equally passionate about, and we butted heads over a number of environmental issues in the beginning.”

“So what happened?” Shibata asked this time.

“We talked to each other.  It took months, but we eventually realized that we were fighting for the same things – we just saw the big picture a little differently.  Talking brought into focus the things we disagreed on, but it also highlighted the many things we saw eye to eye about.  And that gave us a basis for friendship and from the friendship, love grew.”  Rosie drew a shuddering breath.  “We had sixteen wonderful years together before he died.”  A beat.  “I still miss him.  But ya know something – the loneliness I feel now because he is gone is worth it to me because of what we had together while he was alive.”

“Were you soulmates?”

“No,” Rosie said honestly.  “But we were good friends and we were very much in love with one another.  We were a good match, as my mother used to say.”

“You’re lucky,” Jess said wryly.  “My mother has never been fond of Chase.  Thinks he is too much of a playboy to ever settle down and be serious about our relationship.”

“Um... my mother still isn’t sure what to make of Tiny,” Reed contributed.  “She likes him well enough, but it offends her sensibilities that we are not married, even though we have been in a committed relationship for the better part of eight years.”

Lacey laughed.  “My mother loves Nicky so much, I think I have been replaced as the favorite daughter.  Once in a while it works in my favor, but when they gang up on me....”

“At least you didn’t have to explain to your mom why you would like to date the enemy,” Brenda said, referring to the ex-rebel she had very recently become friendly with.  “My mother still has not forgiven me for just wanting to become friends with Jamal... not after all the shit we went through to rid the world of, in her words – his kind.”

“I don’t think my mother would care if my significant other was a rebel, a hermaphrodite or an alien species.  She just wants me to bring someone home,” Shibata complained.

“So does mine,” piped up half a dozen others, then they broke out in laughter.  When they finally stopped, Rosie wiped her eyes and fanned her face, trying to compose herself enough to speak.

“I realize this is serious business and I know there is a lot of work to be done.  But I have to honestly say that I am enjoying this.  Getting to know you girls has been a real treat for me.”

“For all of us, Rosie,” Reed confirmed.  “This mission is so different from many we have been on.  Despite the gravity of the situation, it is nice to be able to just kick back and have a little time for girl talk.  We don’t get to do that nearly enough.”

“Almost never,” Brenda confirmed.  “Since we’ve always had mixed teams, the guys never wanna listen to it, and usually, there is precious little time to sit around and just share like this.”

“Maybe we should make an effort to try a little more often, once this is all over,” from Lacey.

“I like that idea.”
“Sounds good.”
“Great idea.”
“Good plan!”

Several answers and nods of approval went around the room and it brought smiles to everyone’s faces to feel the enthusiasm they shared.  Several of them had privately wondered how things would change for them with all the transformation taking place throughout the world.  It was gratifying to know they were all interested in maintaining the friendships they had formed despite the alterations and adaptations that were changing the world and their place in it.  Now all that remained was to see how life would change for them.

“Well, now that we have the future decided,” Reed remarked with a grin that was echoes around her, “I think we need to break this party up.”  Groans followed her pronouncement but everyone shifted to begin preparing for the night.  “I know,” she pacified, “but this is a mission and we still have work to do.  Brenda, Ariel and Shibata have first watch correct?”

They nodded. “All right.  Wake the next watch in four hours.  Lacey is off watch rotation until we get the Amazons taken care of.  The rest of you know your assignments.  Anyone have any questions?”  Silence was her answer.  “Good.  Let’s pack it in.”

They moved swiftly and silently, separating and heading to their rooms.  The three remaining hefted their weapons, and after a brief discussion, split up.  Brenda stood watch near the bedroom door; Ariel took the darkened corner in the kitchen that allowed her a view of the entire suite without being seen; and Shibata took the outside corridor.  Then they settled in to watch as quiet settled around an uneasy Amazon Nation.


Chapter XVI

The night passed quietly... though that was not unexpected.  Lorac had assured them that the Amazons wouldn’t cause any problems – at least not at first.  Ares had given instructions that Randi and her entourage were to be left alone... given time to settle in before the Amazons made their move.  So the watchers observed in silence; the only shift was the changing of the guard at the darkest part of the night.  And even that was done in complete silence.  It would have been unnerving, given the amount of animosity they could feel, had it not been for their knowledge of the truth.  So they were happy to simply keep watch in the night.  Action would come soon enough.


Gwen dropped Randi’s hand and moved to the far side of the bed, smiling when the door was closed firmly and locked with a distinctive snick.  She stretched out on the bed and crossed her ankles, tucking her hands behind her head.  Randi turned and took in the picture she made with a predatory smile on her face. 

“Now, about that negotiation....”

Gwen smirked.  “Well, let me hear your terms and we can go from there.”

“My terms?” Randi said as she strutted across the room, dropping onto the empty side of the bed and rolling onto her side.  “My terms,” she repeated, running a finger up her ribs and watching Gwen squirm and bite her lip to keep from giggling.  “Well, I want it all.”

Gwen caught Randi’s fingers in one hand and rolled over to face Randi.  “Well, at least you’re right up front about it.  What if we’re not prepared to give you everything?”

Randi made a show of looking around the room.  “We?  Who exactly is we?”  She paused and cocked an eyebrow at Gwen.  “I thought the deal was I take care of them... you take care of me.”

“Yeeeeesssssss,” Gwen drawled.  “But....”

“No ‘buts’.  Negotiations over,” Randi declared firmly.  “I. Want. It. All,” tugging Gwen into her embrace.  Gwen rolled over with a smile, wrapping her arms around Randi’s neck and nudging her closer, until she could lean her forehead on Randi's. 

"All that I have, all that I am is yours."

"That is so not fair.  I thought I was going to get a fight out of this."

Gwen giggled and curled her body into Randi's, sighing when Randi surrounded her with warmth and love in an all encompassing embrace.  "You just want hot make-up sex," Gwen teased and nuzzled into Randi's neck with abandon.  Randi chuckled at the sensation and squeezed Gwen tighter.

"I would never turn down hot make-up sex... even if we weren't fighting.  I love sharing that with you," she added firmly, turning them until she was spooned behind Gwen.  Randi gently caressed the bare belly her hand was resting on, feeling the goosebumps trail her touch.  "But I like this a lot too," she confided.  "Just being close to you is wonderful for me... I didn't realize how much until you were gone.  I'm not gonna miss an opportunity to do this whenever I can ever again.  Life's too short for those kinds of regrets."

"Life's too short for any regrets, love."

"Um... except for the ones I'm gonna give to Ares."

"Well, as soon as we give the Amazons the antidote, the rest should be a piece of cake.  He has no idea what he's started."

"No, but he will have when we get finished.  Just imagine how the Amazons will feel.  But we can worry about that later."  Randi reached down and pulled the cover up over them.  "Let's get some sleep.  I have the feeling tomorrow is going to be a long, ugly day."

"You think someone will challenge?"

"I think there are a few who would like to see me lose... no matter what instruction they were given.  And I wouldn't put it past some of them to try tomorrow, regardless."

"Just another day in paradise.  I'm glad we've got each other's backs."

"Me too, sweetheart."


Dawn came, but there was no sunrise to be seen deep in the belly of the mountain.  Instead, the Sabres functioned by their inner sense of timing and some really reliable, synchronized watches.  They all met for breakfast as planned, though there was really nothing for them to report.

"I'd rather they had tried something," Brenda groused.  "This waiting is making me nuts."

"Don't worry, Bren," Randi said with a smile as she and Gwen exited their bedroom together.  "I have a feeling there may be some action today... regardless of the orders the Amazons have been given.  There is a great deal of resentment against me from certain members of the Nation.  I can't see them passing up an opportunity like that, especially with the power and fury of Ares' warrior tonic burning through their blood."

"They are gonna be in for quite the surprise then, aren't they?" Gwen smirked.  "They have no real clue what they are dealing with."

"No, they really don't.  I have a feeling after today they will have much better understanding of just exactly who and what their queen actually is."  The Sabres whooped and cheered.  They had seen Gwen in action against Randi; they were looking forward to Gwen kicking a little Amazon ass.

"Please tell me you will leave a little for us, my queen," Brenda whined. 

Gwen laughed and so did Randi, causing a ripple effect of laughter to run around the room.  Gwen took a seat and began filling her plate.  Randi sat down beside her and did the same.  They exchanged glances and Randi shrugged and nodded, motioning to Gwen and indicating her willingness to follow her lead.  Gwen swallowed and looked back at Brenda. 

"I promise, Brenda, if it turns into a free-for-all, there will be plenty of action for everyone."

"And if it doesn't?  Wait... I'm not trying to start something with the Amazons, as much as I would love a good fight.  But I want to know what the protocol here is."  She looked at Gwen, then Randi.  Randi didn't move; she merely kept eating, sending her message subtly.  Brenda turned back to Gwen, understanding that Randi was sincere in her desire to follow Gwen's lead in Amazon matters.

"If it doesn't, I will handle it.  I would prefer not to, but I have no qualms about showing the Amazons that I can lead by arms if necessary."

Brenda blinked.  She clearly remembered how passive Gwen had been before, but she'd also seen her hold her own against Randi in sparring.  The determination in the gaze that met hers was firm and clear and Brenda acquiesced with a nod.  "By your command, my queen."

"Thank you, Brenda," knowing the scout would understand what she was saying without Gwen needing to spell it out.  Gwen finished eating and her plate was removed from in front of her before she could move.  She looked up at Randi, who held their empty plates with a twinkle in her eyes.  Gwen grinned back at her.  "Ya know," she said cheekily, "A woman could get used to this kind of service."

"For all the rest of your life, sweetheart."  She leaned down to whisper softly in Gwen's ear.  "We can negotiate terms for eternity later."

Gwen wiggled her eyebrows.  "I like negotiations with you.  I can't lose."

"All right, you two... break it up.  I can't even hear you and I'm getting a sugar rush from the vibes you're giving off.  I'm gonna get diabetes at this rate," Reed complained.

Randi growled, then glared at Reed who met her expression with a Cheshire grin of her own.  "I'm gonna give you something in a minute."

"Randi... no offense, but try it with someone who doesn't know better, all right?  I am enjoying this; I can't help it.  And I plan on enjoying it for some time to come.  However," she conceded to Randi privately as they walked slowly together into the kitchen, "I'll try to contain my enthusiasm.  I don't want you to be uncomfortable around me or self-conscious about the fact that you're finally happy and complete.  I want you to be as excited about this as I am."

"I am, Reed... honestly.  But...."

"But you're a very private person and I am making you nuts... especially here and now, when you’re expected to step up and be our leader – Empress and Commandant."

"Something like that, yeah.  It’s a little different in the privacy of the kitchen at the compound or at your place or at home."

Reed nodded her understanding.  “I’m sorry.”

“Don’t worry about it,” Randi said casually as she shrugged. 

“Thanks, Randi.  I’ll try to remember ....”  Reed would have said more, but Gwen walked into the kitchen area then and looked at both of them questioningly.

“Everything all right?”

Reed crossed the space and put a hand on Gwen’s shoulder.  “Everything is great,” exchanging a look with Randi.  “Now let me go make up an escort and go see what the Amazon Nation is up to.  Today is gonna be a good day, I think.”  She walked out and Gwen watched her go, waiting until the Sabres were involved in their discussion before she approached Randi.

“You all right, sweetheart?”

Randi nodded slowly.  “Yeah... mostly.  I just feel a little overexposed around Reed now – like she knows something she shouldn’t.”

Gwen walked around until she was standing in front of Randi and took chilled hands in her own warmer ones.  She chafed them gently, and eventually blue eyes met hers.  “Randi, Reed probably knows you better than anyone else in the world now... except me, of course.  I don’t think she holds that knowledge lightly.  Remember, she was in pain because of us; I think her reaction now is due to the release from it.”

“I know,” Randi readily agreed.  “And I really don’t blame her for being excited or relieved or happy or whatever.  I just don’t like being the focus of it.  It makes me uncomfortable... especially since she does know so much about us both now.”

“You want me to talk to her?”

Randi smiled.  “No, love.  I already did.  She promised to try and contain herself a little more around me, but thanks for looking out for me.”  She brushed a light kiss across Gwen’s lips, pulling away before she could deepen it.  “Now, c’mon, your majesty.  Let’s go impress your subjects.”  She tugged gently on the hands still holding hers and smiled back when Gwen grinned up at her.  “What?”

“You’re gonna be with me, right, Empress?”

The eyebrow cocked at the title, but she didn’t lose her smile as she drawled, “Yeeeeeessssss.”

Gwen loosened one hand from Randi’s and double snapped her fingers.  “No problem, then.  You make a lasting impression all by yourself.”  Randi laughed and wrapped Gwen up in a hug.  Then they headed out of the kitchen into the living area where the Sabres were geared up for escort duty. 

Gwen blinked and gasped in surprise.  She had expected them to be armed; she had not expected them to be dressed as Amazons.  She looked up at Randi.  “Wow,” she breathed.  Randi laughed and the Sabre Amazons stood a little straighter at her words.  Then Gwen cleared her throat and they dropped to a knee in respect.  She looked at Randi in alarm.  Randi just motioned with her hands and stepped back a pace to stand behind the Amazon Queen instead of beside her.

“Rise, my friends,” Gwen said softly.  When they stood, Jess stood at the forefront and bowed her head again.

“We await your command, my queen.”

“Are you all really...?”  She motioned to their garb.  They all smiled and nodded.  Jess chuckled aloud.

“Yes, my queen.  Thanks to your consort, all Sabre women spend some time in Amazon training... enough to earn their card.  That makes us all real Amazons and you our queen, above and beyond your relationship with Randi as the queen of the world.”

Gwen wrinkled her nose and leaned her head back into Randi’s shoulder.  “Okay, I don’t like the way that sounds either.  We are gonna have to work on that whole title thing sometime soon.”

Randi rolled her eyes and planted a kiss on Gwen’s nose.  “Keep it up, bard.  You’ll wind up with some ridiculous designation like love slave.  And I don’t think either of us would live that down.”

The Sabres did admirably – none of them even cracked a smile.  Gwen blushed and giggled at the outlandish conversation.  No wonder Reed feels the need to tease.  We’re being outrageously sappy.  She cleared her throat again and tried to affect a more serious demeanor.  “Good point.  We can figure something out later.  For now....”  She motioned to the door.  “Ladies, let’s go see what sort of trouble we can find.”


Rosie watched as the Sabre Amazons formed an escort around Gwen and Randi.  It was fascinating.  They created a cup that allowed Gwen and Randi to walk freely in the front of the entourage but still enabled them to cover them completely if the need arose.  But seeing the determined glint in Gwen’s eyes, Rosie didn’t think they’d get the chance.

They left slowly in reverse order so the guard was in place when Gwen and Randi stepped into the hallway.  Rosie’s gaze followed them down the corridor until they turned out of sight.  Then she turned back to Lacey who was in her doctor garb finishing the prep work she needed to do on the supplies in her medkit.  Rosie crossed the room and hefted the backpack she’d volunteered to carry.  Lacey looked up at her with a smile.

“Thanks, Rosie.  You sure about this?  I don’t think it’s gonna be nearly as exciting as what will probably happen where Gwen and Randi are.”

“Good,” Rosie said with a smile.  “I could use a little peace... though we both know that no matter where they are, whatever happens will reach us sooner rather than later.”

Lacey laughed.  “That is so true.  There hasn’t been a dull moment since they got together – though come to think of it, things weren’t particularly calm before Gwen became part of Randi’s life.”

“Really?  You must have some interesting stories.”  They headed out the door in the opposite direction.  They were going to check on the Amazons who had been given the antidote the previous day.  With a little luck, they would be up and ready to help distribute the next batch to the younger Amazon leaders.  If not, at least Lacey would be able to help speed their recovery.

“I do, but I’ve gotten the distinct impression Randi is really uncomfortable with people knowing things she hasn’t shared with them.  God knows she is probably the least forthcoming individual I have ever met when it comes to her personal life, but I can’t help but respect her decision.  Even if she wasn’t my friend, she is still my boss.”

“I wouldn’t ask you to share anything personal about Randi, Lacey.  I’ve seen her reactions lately as well....”  She hesitated, then decided against airing her thoughts aloud.  “No, I was thinking more about things that happened before - when you were out on missions.  Surely it wasn’t all work and killing and death.”

Lacey smiled wryly.  “No, it wasn’t,” her smile fell, “though it was never easy, even on the occasions when we got down time together.”

“Tell me.”

Her words were compelling as was the expression on her face and the tone of her voice.  Lacey stared into her eyes for a long moment, measure the person she saw Rosie to be against the weight of what a Sabre carried as lifelong baggage.  Satisfied with what she found, Lacey nodded and started speaking in a hushed voice, and the two slowly made their way down the corridor towards the Amazons’ quarters using the map they had memorized once Lorac had provided them with it.


“Ella, it’s Jill.  Do you have a few minutes to talk?”

Ella blinked as Jill’s visage popped up on the vid screen in her kitchen.  Only a few people were cleared to come right into her kitchen phone and when she saw Jill’s haggard expression, Ella was glad Jill was one of them.  She wiped her hands on a towel and came around the counter to lean against it, giving the other woman a smile. 

“Absolutely,” she said as she took a seat on the barstool behind her.  “Tommy is at work and Randall is at school for a while longer.  What can I do to help?”  Jill was silent for so long Ella rose from the stool and moved closer to the screen.  “Jill?  Talk to me, hon.  How are you doing?”

Jill bit her lip, then took a deep breath.  “Sorry,” she said smiling through her tears.  “I was just a little lonely and wanted to talk to a friend.  I didn’t realize just seeing a familiar face would make me lose it so easily.” 

“Is there something I can do to help?”  Jill hesitated and Ella pressed forward.  “What do you need, Jill?”

She blew out a breath and bit her lip again before she spoke.  “I can’t ask Gwen or Randi to come up here right now... I asked them for some space to sort things out by myself first.  Besides, I know they are up to their eyeballs trying to sort out the rest of the world so they can just go home and live.”

“Jill, would you like me to come up there for a few days?  Maybe help you clean out a closet or two?”

Jill gave Ella a watery smile.  “Would you mind?  I promise I wouldn’t keep you very long.”

“I wouldn’t have made the offer otherwise.  I’ll even go one better if you’re willing; I’ll bring my mother with me.  I think you would like her and she could use another friend.  After being off-world for so long, she’s having to re-establish her circle of friends here.  Besides,” Ella confided, “she is great at cleaning out closets.”

“That would be nice, Ella.  Thanks.  A lot of my friends here aren’t sure how to act now and I don’t know what to tell them.  I want them to be normal, but I don’t feel normal anymore.  Anyway, it’ll be good to have you and your mom here.  You just can’t have too many friends.”

“That is so true.  Let me go make a few arrangements and call my mother, then I’ll call you back and let you know when we’ll be there, all right?”

“Thanks, Ella.  I appreciate it.  Are you sure Tommy won’t mind?”

“Yeah.  I got a husband who’s one in a billion.  I’ll call you back shortly.”

“I’ll be here,” Jill said, but this time the smile on her face was genuine.


It was still early, but most of the Amazon Nation was already up and working.  That made the silence that followed the queen and her entourage more than a little unnerving.  Although half the women were already outside working, those who remained watched the group with sullen, brooding expressions.  Still, Gwen was content to walk around in silence, knowing she and the women who were accompanying her were more than able to take care of themselves and handle any threat that was presented to them, though it didn’t lessen the stress that was settling in her shoulders.

As word spread of their presence, more and more women came in from their assigned tasks outdoors to stand and stare as Gwen and Randi slowly made their way through the complex.  No one hindered their subtle investigation, but the hostility throughout the compound was palpable.

Despite the obvious antagonism, the Amazons had been busy remaking and remodeling the mountain complex into a viable, living, workable community.  Gwen was pleased with the improvements that had been made so far.  Obviously, the Amazons were determined to make this new home as comfortable and contemporary as possible. 

They had managed to nicely combine tradition and technology, and Gwen nodded and smiled in approval.  Once they got this little problem solved, the Amazons would be able to settle in nicely.  She felt Randi stiffen behind her seconds before she heard Corky’s obnoxious voice.

“Well, well, well... if it isn’t our illustrious queen and her Amazon wannabes.”  Corky folded her arms over chest and chuckled when the Sabre Amazons stood straighter and pinned her with glowering stares.  “Oh, that was good; did you all practice that to be able to do it together?”  She turned her attention to Randi and laughed out loud.  Then she turned to the Amazons who were watching her display with fascination.

“This is priceless... the Empress of the World deferring to the Queen of the Amazons – or is that hiding behind her cute little skirt?  Damn, Blondie, you must be hotter than I thought.  May have to try it once....”

Whatever she had been about to say was lost in a groan of pain when Gwen’s staff met her collarbone with a bone-crunching sound, forcing Corky to drop to her knees.

“You know,” Gwen said conversationally as she leaned against her staff once more.  “I don’t consider myself to be an overly aggressive person, but if I hear you talk about the Empress or me or these warriors like that one more time, I will personally rip your tongue out of your mouth.”  She smiled sweetly at Corky’s shocked expression.  “I don’t expect much from the Nation, Corky; I don’t have much to offer in return.  But I don’t think asking for the same respect you’d afford to any of your other sisters is unreasonable.  Do we understand one another?”

Corky gazed at her for a long moment.  “Yes,” she hissed.  “But when I heal, I am going to challenge you for the throne.  You don’t deserve to be our queen.”

“You go right on down to the medical facility and get that fixed.  It should only take the regen unit a few hours to make you better than new.  Then you come back and find me and you can have your little challenge.  But I want you to be very clear on something – when I kick your ass, Randi will get to decide your punishment... because I won’t kill you.”

“All right, on one condition.  When I win, I’m not gonna kill you either – you have to become my consort instead of hers.”

It wasn’t visible, even to the Sabres that surrounded them, but Gwen felt Randi flinch behind her and reached a hand back and pulled her forward until they were standing side by side once more.  Randi’s arm shifted to drape across Gwen’s back to clutch her hip possessively.  Gwen leaned into Randi’s body and wrapped herself around it.

“No problem, Corky.  With that kind of incentive, I won’t lose.”

Corky growled.  “Bitch!  We’ll just see about that!”  Then she struggled to her feet and headed for the elevator to take her down to the medical level.  Gwen leaned her head back to look up into Randi’s eyes.

“I could use some fresh air.  Would you like to go outside with me?”

“Lead on, my queen.  I am but your humble servant.”  Then she glared when Gwen poked her in the side.  Only full control of her reflexes kept her from flinching and squealing.  It didn’t stop Gwen from laughing though.  Then she took Randi’s hand in hers and together they headed for the fields outside the mountain stronghold.

It was beautiful in the daylight and they took a long moment to appreciate the breeze and sunshine.  They glanced at the neat, orderly rows of vegetation that had been planted.  Then Randi tugged on Gwen’s hand.  “C’mon.  I wanna see the wildflowers.”


“Thank you, Lacey.  I feel much better after a good night’s sleep, but I appreciate you checking on me like this.”  Lorac’s words said one thing, her tone of voice another and her eyes something else again.  Lacey got the unspoken message and nodded, realizing Ares would definitely be listening in to everything that went on in this room.  She stood to her feet.

“I’m glad I could help.  I do think you should get outside for a bit if you can manage it.  The fresh air could only help.”

Now it was Lorac’s turn to nod, conveying her understanding of what was not being said.  “I will.  I have duties outside anyway and now would be just as good a time to take care of them as any.  It must have just been a twenty-four hour virus or maybe something I ate.”

“Maybe,” Lacey agreed casually.  “Have you heard of any other outbreaks among the women here or was yours an isolated incident?”

Lorac stood and took Lacey’s arm and the three women headed towards the door.  “Actually, now that you mention it, it might be a good idea to check on the council – in case it’s a virus.  I met with them yesterday.”  She paused, making it seem as though she was reluctant to ask the next question.  “Would you mind terribly checking on them?  I am already late meeting the queen,” said with a sneering twist.  “I would count it as a personal favor.”  The last grated out like it was causing her pain to ask.

Lacey shrugged.  “I can, though given the hostility level around here....”

“Yeah, well....  There’s a lot going on here you don’t understand, but if the council feels as bad as I felt yesterday, they’d make a deal with the devil himself to feel better.”

“I’ll try not to take that personally.”

This time Lorac shrugged.  “I need to get going,” opening the door and ushering Rosie and Lacey through before closing it behind herself and locking it with the old-fashioned key it required.  Lacey turned and passed her several vials.

“Are you sure about this, Lorac?  It could be dangerous if Ares finds out,” in a low tone.

“It would be if I thought he would come out of hiding for the next few days, but he made it clear he was going to stay secluded long enough to give the queen and the empress time to settle in comfortably before making his next move.  By the time he does, I am counting on Randi kicking his ass.  But to be honest with you, I’d do it even if he did find out.  After what he has done to us....”

Lacey squeezed her shoulder.  “Well, hopefully nothing unexpected will happen while Randi and Gwen are scouting out the Nation, but with those two....”  She let the thought trail off and both Lorac and Rosie chuckled.  “Yeah, well... we can always hope.”  Then they went their separate ways, Lacey and Rosie continuing on to check on the other council members while Lorac headed for the outdoors, taking the scenic route along the way in hopes of inoculating a few of her sisters unaware along the way.


“It really is nice here,” Gwen said as she closed her eyes and breathed in the world around her.  The sunshine was warm and the flowers fragrant and despite the tensions among the Amazons currently, she was glad she and Randi had come to this place.  She opened her eyes to find Randi’s eyes on her with an intensity that made her blood race.  Fortunately, the Sabres had spread out to keep watch once they had arrived in the meadow and no one was left to witness the passion in Randi’s eyes except Gwen. 

When Gwen responded in kind, the look in Randi’s eyes melted into something akin to utter devotion, though her words answered Gwen’s.  “Yeah, it is.  I’m glad they kept this part natural.”

“Yeah, we talked about it awhile, but we all wanted to leave as much of the land in its natural state as possible.  The area here is just too nice to destroy; the plan is to cultivate only what is necessary for living and leave the rest.”

“I think that’s a good plan.”  Randi blew out a breath and stepped up behind Gwen, laying her hands on her shoulders.  “Are you all right?  I know it was really uncomfortable in there.”

Gwen shrugged.  “I’m fine.  We knew they were going to be hostile; I was prepared for it.  Besides, you are beside me and we have the finest of the Black Sabres backing us up.”

“And Corky?”

“We figured someone was going to be aggressive enough to challenge.  She was the most likely candidate.  There has always been a grudge between you two and she’s like a dog with a well-gnawed bone.  She is using me to get to you.”  Gwen laughed and turned in Randi’s arms so they were face to face.  “Too bad she did nothing but give me the best reason to win.”

Randi grinned, then she sobered.  “Are you sure you want to handle the challenge, love?”

“You don’t think I can?” asked with a hint of hurt in her tone and in her eyes.

“I *know* you can, Gwen,” letting her hands drop to Gwen’s waist.  “You can hold your own against me.”  Randi paused.  “I... I just... I’ve always been the warrior.  It’s hard to watch you become that.”

“I’m not, sweetheart.  I’m still the bard... still the peacemaker.  This is not about being a warrior, because despite her words, she’s not challenging me as Queen of the Amazons.  It isn’t a challenge to the death.  This is about protecting what is mine because she is coming after me to hurt you.  And I won’t let her do that.”

“Always looking out for me, hmm?”

Gwen reached up and gently traced the familiar features above her.  “Always, Stud.”

“All right.  Just remember who your champion is if and when the time comes.”

“No problem there,” Gwen assured Randi with a leer.  “She fills my dreams.”

“Does she now?”

“Yep, but any more discussion about her is gonna have to wait.  Lorac is headed this way,” Gwen commented, seeing Jess’ signal.

Randi huffed.  “Always something.  I can’t wait to go home.”

“Me either, sweetheart.”  Then Lorac was within hearing distance and they turned together to watch her approach, pleased to see a look of satisfaction on her face, though her body language was at odds with her expression.  Maybe there was finally good news on this front.


Chapter XVII

She walked up to them, stopping short as though in anger or disdain.  Until all the Amazons had been inoculated, it was safer to keep up appearances.  No reason to give anything away before it was necessary, and that was always a possibility as long as some were under Ares’ control.  Thanks to the Sabres’ vigilance, no one could get close enough to be able to see her expression, and any surveillance equipment was useless.  Still, Lorac’s body language said she was only talking to Gwen with great reluctance and more than a little anger.

Randi automatically assumed a position of defense in front of Gwen, watching as Lorac’s fists flexed open and closed.  A touch on her back caused her to step aside, but only so far as to allow Gwen to come up beside her.  Her posture and attitude were still threatening and intimidating to anyway observing them from a distance.  Close-up, however, was a different story.

Lorac kept the smile off her face, but the twinkle in her eyes wouldn’t be denied.  “My queen, it truly is good to have you here.  How are you?”

What Gwen wanted to do was to lean back into Randi’s body.  What she did was raise a finger and point at Lorac forcefully, not quite poking but coming very close.  Her brows were furrowed together and her mouth was pulled into a grim line, but her eyes sparkled with good humor.

“We are wonderful, Lorac.  Thank you for asking.  How are you?  And how is the rest of the council doing this morning?  We weren’t sure what sort of punch that antidote was going to have since ya’ll were already under the influence of the virus.”

Lorac grimaced genuinely.  “Well, it was bad enough for Ares to leave me alone to sleep off the ‘illness’ I had last night.  Fortunately, a good night’s sleep went a long way in clearing away the feelings of nausea.  Lacey was checking on the others after we parted ways.”  Her face grew indisputably angry.  “But when I think about what Ares did – to me and the rest of the Nation....”  She clenched her fists hard and shook them at her sides.

Randi deliberately moved in front of Gwen.  “Hold onto your anger, Lorac.  It won’t be much longer.”  A poke in her back caused Randi to turn enough to see Gwen glaring at her.

“Was that necessary?”

“Yes,” Randi said starkly, “and completely instinctive.”  Gwen held her fierce expression another minute before moving back up to stand beside Randi again.  Lorac couldn’t help the smile and she hoped if anyone was watching them they would mistake it as gloating at the sudden tension between Randi and Gwen.

“How is distribution going?”

“Slowly, as expected.  I got several of the warrior leaders on my way out and Lacey was going to instruct the rest of the council on who each of them needed to target.  And we should be able to do another round after lunch and a third after the evening meal.”

“Just be careful.  We don’t want to put anyone in excessive danger.”

“Not a problem, my queen.  Even if we have watchers....”

“We do,” Randi confirmed.  “We have had since we stepped outside.  Hence the reason the rest of the group made a perimeter sweep and why they are still out there keeping everyone a safe distance from us.  The Amazons can’t counter the Sabres tech abilities.”

“Was there anything to find?  We haven’t set up surveillance out here yet.”

“Nothing we couldn’t handle.”  She glanced discretely at the nearest tree for a brief moment.  “They can still see, but no one can hear us... not even the Sabres.  All they can see is body language.”

“Good – then all they will be able to report back to Ares is that I am still angry at your unwelcome presence here.”  Without warning, Lorac lifted a hand to Gwen, only to find it caught in a bone-crushing grip as Randi forced her to the ground face down.  She grunted when Randi knelt on her with one knee.  “Um, Randi,” wheezing from the pain and distinct lack of air she felt, “do you think you could lighten up just a little?  You’re really hurting me.”

Randi looked up to see Jess coming at full speed and bent down to hiss in Lorac’s ear.  “What the fuck did you think you were doing?” asked as she pulled back slightly without seeming to. 

“I wanted it to seem real,” nearly falling over when Randi jerked her into a standing position.  She staggered, trying to keep her feet under her.  “Ares would have expected something like that; he knew how angry I was before you got here.”

“Treat her like a prisoner for now,” Randi instructed Jess as she arrived on the scene, “but don’t hurt her.  Take her to our quarters and wait for us there.”  Jess’ eyebrows rose to her hairline, but she merely acknowledged the directive with a succinct nod of her head.  Randi turned to Lorac.  “Next time you feel the need to try something like that, you might want to warn us first.  I could make it a little less painful for you.”

Lorac nodded and winced when the cuffs were slipped on her wrists.  “I’ll keep that in mind, Consort, but I hope the need never arises again.”  Jess yanked on her arm and Lorac made a token effort to resist; the arrival of Shibata put a quick end to that and slowly the trio made their way back inside the mountain complex.  Only then did Randi turn to an unmoving Gwen.

The green eyes were swirling with a myriad of emotions.  Randi reached out slowly, waiting for Gwen’s gaze to track to her.  After a few moments, Gwen blinked and her focus sharpened; she let out a long-held breath.

“You all right?” Randi asked quietly, enveloping Gwen in her arms.

Gwen sighed again and nodded her head against Randi’s chest, squeezing the firm body beneath her return the embrace fervently.  “Yeah,” she finally said after a moment’s silence.  “That was just unexpected... and scary.”

“I know.  I told her not to try it again without a little warning.  She’d prefer there not be a next time.”

“So would I,” Gwen said honestly, “though I do understand her reasoning behind it.”

“Hopefully, it will keep Ares off the scent for another day or two.  That is all we need to convert a majority of the Nation; another round of antidote will be distributed this evening.”  Randi bent slightly and scooped a surprised Gwen into her arms.  Gwen didn’t protest but snuggled deeper into the embrace, brushing a kiss across the base of Randi’s neck that left tingles behind in its wake.  Randi caught her breath at the sensation and looked down at Gwen with her eyebrow arched in question.  Gwen grinned back at her devilishly.

“I figured I should take advantage of the situation.”

“Troublemaker,” Randi muttered under her breath.  Randi looked around at the Sabres who had moved the perimeter in at Jess’ signal as soon as Lorac had taken a swing at Gwen.  They faced outward, searching for indications of more trouble.  When she felt Randi’s glance, Reed turned and shook her head.  Randi nodded.  Reed gave the command and immediately the Sabres reformed the detail around the queen and Empress and they headed back towards the mountain.  Gwen looked up at Randi.

“You wanna let me down now, Stud?”


Gwen waited but when nothing more was forthcoming her brow furrowed.  “Um... okay.  Why not?” thinking it was odd for Randi to be making such a public display of affection after what had happened earlier between her and Reed.

“Because, sweetheart, we are playing a part.  We want the Amazons to underestimate you.  Word will get back to Ares and he will underestimate you as well.”

“And that’s a good thing?”

“That is a great thing.  One of the first rules of being a Sabre is to never let the enemy know your strengths.”

“Guess what I did to Corky kinda put a crimp in that, huh?”

Randi smiled.  “Maybe, but it was worth it to see the look on her face.  Besides, I’ll bet word’s already spread about your need to be carried back in.  Corky will be dancing in the infirmary, thinking what you did to her earlier was a fluke.”

“So this is all just for show?”

“A little bit for show – mostly because I like having you here.”

“Yeah, but I’m no lightweight, sweetheart and we still have quite a ways to go to get back to our quarters.  How about you put me down and let me walk now?  I know it’s a strain, love.”  Her voice lowered significantly.  “I can see it in your pulse and feel it in your breathing.”  Randi pouted.  Gwen bit her bottom lip to keep from laughing.  “It’s all right, Stud.  I won’t tell.”

Randi slowed, acknowledging the truth in Gwen’s words.  The Sabres around them slowed as well and broadened their circle around Gwen and Randi to allow them a bit of privacy.  Gwen slid out of Randi’s arms and let Randi’s hands on her waist steady her on her feet.

“All right?”

“Yep,” taking Randi’s hand.  “C’mon.  It’ll be lunchtime soon and I want to talk to Lorac a little more before Corky shows up to challenge me again.”

“Yeah, we should probably fortify you before you have to kick her ass,” Randi smirked.

Gwen squeezed her hand.  “You’re suddenly enjoying this, aren’t you?  Why?”

Randi shrugged.  “I decided I may as well.  You won’t let me fight this fight for you, so I am going to do the next best thing and watch you beat the snot out of her.”

Gwen laughed and leaned into Randi’s body, dropping her hand to wrap an arm firmly around her waist.  Randi encircled Gwen’s shoulders and they continued on toward the mountain.


“You’re sure about this?”

“I saw it with my own eyes, my lord.  Her consort took Lorac down to the ground, then picked the queen up and started carrying her back.”

“And Lorac was taken...?”

“... to their quarters.  Speculation is the Empress will decide her punishment – not the queen – given that the Empress is the one who stopped the attack.  Not that I blame Lorac for finally taking a swing; the queen seemed to be pushing her pretty hard for a while.”

“Seemed to be?”

“Yes, my lord.  We couldn’t hear anything, and we could only observe from a distance.  Her honor guard somehow disabled our listening devices and insured we couldn’t get close enough for anything else.”

Ares pinched his lower lip between his finger and thumb and turned his back to the Amazon who waited patiently.  What game are you playing at, Randi?  He spun on his heel to pin the first Amazon in place with his eyes.  “And you’re sure she attacked Corky first... without provocation?”

“Oh, she provoked her all right.  But the queen was the first to use physical aggression.”

“Well, well, well – so the little queen isn’t as peaceful as she’d like to pretend to be.  I can use that.”  He nodded to himself.  “If she has that much anger in her, perhaps I can twist it to my advantage.”  He held out his hand, palm up and open.  “You know what to do with this.  Make sure it happens before her bout with Corky.”

“And if it doesn’t?”

“If it doesn’t,” Ares said calmly, though the edge in his voice was clear, “then give it to Corky.  I’m sure she can manage it,” waving a hand in dismissal at them.  When they didn’t make a move to leave immediately, Ares barked at them, grinning broadly when they jumped before scurrying away.  Then he chuckled and rubbed his hands together.  Though not at all like he had expected, things were finally becoming interesting.


There was quite a gathering near their room when Gwen and Randi finally made their way into the compound and down to their quarters.  Apparently word had spread rather rapidly over what had taken place out in the meadow, and many were anxious to learn the outcome of Lorac’s fate.  Gwen realized that many of the ones waiting for word were elders – those who had already been given the antidote.  With a word from her, the Sabres separated the throng, hustling the council to one side and moving the rest to a safe distance from the room.

“The council will join us in my chambers for the sentencing of Regent Lorac for crimes against the throne.  The rest of you disperse and return to your duties.”  When no one made a move to leave at her words, Gwen spoke again.  “Now.”

Randi stepped up beside her to reinforce the order.  “Do it.  Or as Empress, I will have you all summarily executed.”  She felt Gwen’s breath catch in her chest, but Randi didn’t turn around to acknowledge it.  She kept her eyes focused on the Amazons who tried to return glare for glare.  Instead, they found it necessary to drop their eyes from her fiery gaze and they wandered slowly back down the corridor muttering and mumbling among themselves.

“Show the council inside and make them comfortable, please,” Gwen instructed the Sabre unit.  “And call the rest of the team together unless they are currently sleeping.  I want everyone to be a part of this briefing.”  Reed nodded and the rest of the Sabres followed her lead, opening the door and waiting for Gwen and Randi to enter the room once Jess confirmed their identities.  Randi growled in frustration.  The mountain fortress was nice enough, and very secure, but the technology definitely left a lot to be desired.  Gwen took her arm and firmly guided the two of them into the privacy of their bedroom.  Randi raised her eyebrows when Gwen closed the door behind them.

“Are you sure we have time for this, Gwen?”

“Nice thing about being the queen – I can take whatever time I need.”  She crossed her arms over her chest and glowered at Randi.  “Would you like to tell me exactly what you thought you were doing out there a minute ago?”

“Excuse me?”

“’As Empress, I will have you all summarily executed’?  Randi, what were you thinking?”  Though her eyes were still angry, her voice conveyed more than a hint of sadness.

“I was thinking I would show them that the Empress stood behind the Amazon Queen!”

Gwen uncrossed her arms and cupped Randi’s face in her hands.  “Sweetheart, they know.  *I* know.  You don’t have to threaten my Amazons with execution.  C’mon, love... don’t get spooked now.  He is not going to win.  I won’t let him... and neither will you.  The truth is – we’ve already won; he just won’t admit it yet.  You don’t have to do anything more than stand by my side here.  That’s enough.”

Randi bit her lips pensively and shook her head.  “I know all this.  Why am I reacting?”

“Nerves,” Gwen answered succinctly.  “Happens to the best of us,” said with a twinkle in her eye.

“Oh it does?” Randi replied with a tiny grin.

“Oh yeah.  And it’s the worst when you’re a rookie performer.”

“Rookie performer?”

“Uh huh.  But don’t worry... you’ll get used to it.  Now c’mon,” before Randi could open her mouth to retort.  “Let’s see how things are going.  We should be able to give the council another round of antidote to distribute.  At this rate, we’ll be done ahead of schedule.”

“Good – because I am ready to smell the ocean and we still have to go back to the capital before we can go home.”

They opened the door silently and stood together watching the council and the Sabres talking quietly while they waited for Randi and Gwen to come back out of their bedroom.  Reed noticed them first and her glance in their direction broke the tableau.  Silence reigned in the room and everyone rose to their feet when Randi and Gwen moved out of the doorway and into the living area.  Gwen motioned them to their seats before sitting, then waited expectantly.

Randi crossed behind Gwen and moved to stand out of the limelight in a corner where she could watch everything without being the focus of attention. Gwen looked back at her with a smile before turning to Lorac.  She placed a hand on her shoulder.

“Are you all right, Lorac?  You took us by surprise.”

“I’m fine, my queen.  I’m sorry I couldn’t warn you, but I wanted it to seem real.”

Gwen chuckled.  “Did it seem real enough to you, Lorac?”

“Oooh, yes,” drawing more chuckles from around the room.  "Though I have to admit I’m glad your consort has such amazing self-control.  I got the distinct feeling I would have been bleeding otherwise.”

“Probably,” Gwen agreed matter-of-factly.  “She tends to be a little protective where I’m concerned.”

“No, really?” one of the council members called out drolly.  “We never would have guessed.”  That elicited another round of laughter throughout the room and the atmosphere relaxed even further.  Gwen exchanged a loving, amused look with Randi, then clapped her hands together to bring everyone’s attention back to her.

“All right then... where are we with the distribution?  How are things going?”

Dalia exchanged a look with Lacey and stood to speak.  “Things are progressing well, my queen.  We have managed to distribute all the antidote Lacey provided us with this morning so a number of our warriors are now suffering from those lovely aftereffects.  However, we are all recovered, thankfully,” making her face grimace in distaste.  “So the good news is that the aftereffects don’t seem to last but about twenty-four hours... maybe a little less.”

Gwen nodded.  “Excellent, though I am sorry about the aftereffects.  We didn’t expect them to be so severe.  It didn’t affect any of us that strongly.”

“Probably because it was a preventative measure for us, my queen, and not a cure,” Lacey provided.  “The Amazons here were already infected.  So it’s taking a little longer for them to recover, but it’s also not unexpected.  I factored in some recovery time when I was working on the figures for the distribution timetable.”

“So are we on schedule?”

“No, but it was set up to be flexible, so we’re not off schedule either.”

Gwen blinked and shook her head.  “Well... good.  And we’re sure that Ares doesn’t suspect anything?”

“As sure as we can be, my queen,” Nairobi replied.  “He hasn’t left his hideaway yet.”

“Do you know where his hideaway is?”  Randi spoke quietly from her corner, but the entire room heard the edge in her voice.  Nairobi looked and Gwen who just sighed and nodded.

“Yes, Chosen... mostly.”


Nairobi nodded.  “We know he staked out some space in the lower levels, but none of us have ever been done there past his security.”

“Whoa,” Randi said, holding up a hand and pushing away from the wall with her shoulder.  “He has his own security??  You’ve allowed him to simply move in and settle down like he owned the place??”

Gwen moved to stand beside her.  She didn’t say a word, but caught Randi’s eyes wither own and everyone except Reed and Lacey watched with amazement when Randi visibly calmed with only a look and a touch from Gwen.  Randi took a deep breath and smiled gently at Gwen.  Then she looked back at the assembly, pinning Lorac with her gaze.

“So what happened?  How did he get in and established here?”

“Not like you think, but easier than you can imagine.”

“Tell me.”

“He didn’t come to us as Ares or as a god.  He came to us a sick, delusional man.  By the time we knew who he was, it was too late.  We had been infected and just didn’t care.  We wanted him here as Ares... as the god of war.  He promised we would be strong again – that we would assume our rightful place in history.  And it sounded so good.”  Lorac shook her head.  “I know it is just so much bullshit now, but that drug....”

Randi blew out breath.  “So why did he set up security?  Wasn’t the whole point to um... be accessible to the Nation?”

“Oh no.  We were accessible to him, not the other way around.  He made it clear that he needed a place that was estrogen free.”

“It’s not completely estrogen free,” Dania stated firmly.  “I saw a couple of Amazons coming out if there earlier.”

Nairobi’s eyebrows went up to her forehead.  “Really?  Well, that explains a lot.”  At Gwen’s questioning expression, she continued.  “According to Lorac, he is unable to scry here – there is something about the construction of this place that distorts that particular power.  The only way he can monitor things is to have a direct link... like a vid feed.  And yet he has always been aware of everything that goes on here.  It only makes sense that he has an informer or two.”

“No wonder we found so much low-tech shit in here.  What a moron,” Randi muttered and turned away to walk back to her chosen corner.  Gwen chuckled under her breath, her grin drawing the attention of everyone watching.  When she shared, the rest smiled.

“My queen?”  Gwen turned to Mason and her brows jumped.

“Mason?  Aren’t you supposed to be sleeping?”

The Sabre chuckled.  “I was awake... figured I would come and listen to the briefing.”

“All right then... what can I do for you, Mason?”

“Did Corky really challenge you?  Are you really going to fight her?”

“Yes, she did and yes, I am.  Why?  Don’t you think I can take her?”

“Oh no, my queen.  I know you can.  I just want to make sure I am there to see you kick her ass.”

Gwen’s shook her head in amusement and turned to look at Randi who simply smirked back at her.  “Has she annoyed *everyone* in the Nation?”

Nairobi sighed, and the seriousness of her tone caused Gwen to focus her attention on the elder.  “Mostly, yes.  When she lost the princess’ favor, she became angry and bitter.  She moved from tribe to tribe, hoping she would find the satisfaction she was looking for that would make her happy.  But it always seemed just out of her reach and nothing any of us did was enough.”

“She seemed to settle down after her last bout with Randi – the one a couple years ago at the festival.  No, most of us were not there, but we certainly did hear about it, and a number of us saw the feed as well,” in response to Gwen’s unasked question.  “Anyway, after that, Corky seemed to settle down, and if she wasn’t happy, at least she wasn’t making everyone around her miserable.  It was getting progressively better; to the point that she stood up for both of you as queen and consort when the discussion was brought to the Nation.”

“So the serum...?”

“Helped her return to being an asshole again,” Dania said.  “It didn’t take very long.”

“It wouldn’t,” Randi said unexpectedly.  “The poison that Ares uses to bind a warrior brings out their most aggressive tendencies.”

“How did you beat it, Empress?” Nairobi asked.  “Ares assured us you would be one of us in the new world order he was establishing here.  And from the little we know of what took place in Reed’s village, I can only assume that he infected you first and you are the reason we have a vaccine.”

“It took the love and support of a lot of good people, Nairobi, and a spirit walk with my soulmate.”

“And significant strength of will as well, Nairobi.  Don’t let her make you think it was easy.”

“Oh no, my queen.  After wishing I could die for the first twelve hours after I got the antidote, I would never think there was anything easy about recovering from this nasty stuff.”  She shuddered and it was repeated around the room.  “However, I for one am grateful for whatever you went through.  Even though most of us here were too old to be violated by him physically, it didn’t take the craving away.”  Her forehead scrunched up in thought.  “Do you suppose that was added specifically for the Amazons?”

“I dunno,” Lacey commented.  “The whole compound was very strange.  It was very hard to work with.”

“It doesn’t matter,” Lorac cut in.  “He had it; he used it; it worked.  You found an antidote and it worked.  Can we move on to something else, please?”  She stood and crossed to kneel in front of Gwen.  “I am sorry, my queen.  I am ready to accept whatever punishment you see fit to dispense for my act of aggression against you.”  She dropped her head and waited.

Gwen touched her on the top of the head.  “Rise, my friend.  We know why you did what you did and all is forgiven.”

Lorac stood.  “You know the Nation is going to expect some sort of retaliation.”

“No worries.  By the time your ‘punishment’ is an issue in the Nation, the Nation will be back to normal and no one will expect you to be punished.”

“Thank you, my queen.”  Lorac took Gwen’s hands in her colder ones.  “Just be careful when you fight Corky today.  One thing about that stuff Ares gave us – it infused us with a need to win... no matter what the cost.  She won’t fight fair.”

“I’ll keep that in mind.”

“And I’ll keep her in sight.”

Randi’s words made the whole room relax, and their attention turned to what to have for lunch.


“How are you doing, baby?  Things there okay?”

Reed smiled at the vid screen.  No wonder she loved Tiny so much.  He was always looking out for her, even when his plate was full.  She nodded.  “Yeah.  Gwen has a challenge later today, but the distribution is going well.  With luck we are looking at less than a week.  Then we will be returning to the capital.  How are things there?”

“Busy.  But the rebels... sorry, the students are making enormous progress – much better than expected.  Most of them have discovered a real passion for learning.  Everything else is on hold til Randi gets back here to implement the restructuring.  But the groundwork she gave me is being laid and for the most part, it seems to be working.”

“Seems to be?”

“Yeah, it’s not like we can test it fully until Randi gets back.  She’s gonna want to take a look at it before we run it for real.  It’s gonna change everything.”

“I’m glad,” Reed sighed.  “I just wanna go home and raise puppies for a while.”

Tiny smiled.  “I know how you feel, sweetheart.”

Reed lifted her head and turned towards the door separating her room from the conference room where everyone else was gathered.  Tiny raised an eyebrow when he saw her nostrils flare in anticipation.  “Who’s cooking?” knowing from her unconscious clues what was going on.

“Smells like Rosie did the honors again.”

“Do you know how much I hate you right now?” he grumbled.

“I love you too, baby.  We’ll be home soon.”  Reed blew him a kiss and closed the connection before he could respond.  Then she made her way back into the main room of Randi and Gwen’s quarters.  She knew she’d pay for teasing Tiny later, but for now she was going to enjoy Rosie’s cooking.


Chapter XVIII

It was quiet in the room after lunch.  The council had departed with more vials of the serum to spread among the sisters and the Sabres that were not on guard duty had scattered back to their rooms or out into the population.  Reed and Jess had moved Lorac to their room, leaving Randi and Gwen alone in solitary splendor.

"You know what I would like to do?" Gwen asked as she sat down next to Randi.  She leaned into her body and smiled when Randi's arm came down around her shoulders almost automatically.  Gwen snuggled a little deeper into the embrace and patted Randi on the belly.

"Dance a gavotte and a jig?" Randi said, causing a ripple of laughter to explode from Gwen's lips.

"Um, no," Gwen finally said when her laughter died down.  "Where did that come from anyway?"

Randi blinked and shook her head.  "Dunno... it was something I saw a long time ago... sort of absurd like this whole situation has become.  Besides, you're a very graceful dancer; you could probably do either with very little trouble."

"Maybe, but if I'm gonna dance, I'd rather dance with you."

Randi smiled – the rare full kind that Gwen knew meant she'd hit the mark.  She leaned slightly and brushed a kiss over Gwen's temple.  "That still doesn't tell me what you'd like to do."

"I'd like to go tell stories.  The kids weren't infected the same way everyone else was.  I'd like to see if I can undo some of the damage Ares did without making them suffer through the antidote.  Besides, I miss being a bard, and we have been so busy lately, I haven't really had a chance to do much storytelling.  I'd like to try."

Abruptly, Randi stood to her feet, taking Gwen's hand and pulling her up along with her.  "All right.  Let's go find the kids."

Gwen grinned and wrapped her fingers more tightly around Randi's.  "There was a large group of them in the nursery area earlier.  You think they're still there?"

Randi glanced at the time.  "Probably.  Let me grab a contingent...."  She broke off when a grimace passed over Gwen's face.  "I'll keep them in the background, love, but they still have to be a presence... at least for a little while longer."

"Even around the kids?"

"Especially around the kids.  It would be seen as a weakness if we don't."

Gwen sighed, knowing it to be the truth.  "All right.  As long as they stay in the background."

"They will.  They'll be glad to just for the excuse to go along and listen to your stories."  Randi stroked her cheek gently, chasing the blush that followed her words.

"Yes, well...." clearing her throat gently.  "C'mon then.  Let's gather up the big children so I can go tell stories to the little ones."

Randi chuckled and led them out into the corridor, gathering up Sabres as she went.


The space was filled to a standing room only capacity – a surprising fact to Gwen given the amount of animosity that was still prevalent throughout the members of the Nation who had yet to be inoculated... especially since half the people gathered in the room  were adults.   But Gwen put all that aside and focused her considerable concentration on the children.  They were genuinely happy to see her and it showed in their smiles and hugs as they welcomed her.

She took a seat at the front of the room on the floor and the kids rushed to gather around her.  The Sabres scattered throughout, some sitting among the children; the rest threaded between the Amazons or leaning up against the wall.  Randi stood behind Gwen against the wall, smiling tightly when Gwen leaned back into her legs.    Then Gwen started talking, and the room fell silent to listen.

She told an old story – one about the original soulmates she and Randi had been once upon a time when she had first been the Queen of the Amazons.  Not so different from this experience, and yet nothing like what their life was like now.  It wasn't a story that was written in the scrolls and everyone paid close attention as Gwen's words flowed over them.  It was a lighter tale, filled with humor and mishap that kept them all in stitches.

As she drew to a close, everyone clapped in appreciation of her skill and the children begged for a second tale.  Only Corky's presence in the doorway put a halt to any effort and cast a pall over the entire company.

"Aw... now ain't this just too special?  She can't lead warriors, so she hangs out with the babies.  Figures," she snorted in derision.  "Let's go, queenie.  It's time for me to kick your ass."

So fast no one even saw her move, Randi caught Corky by the ear and twisted so hard it brought the big Amazon to her knees.  Corky clawed at Randi, but the fire in the blue eyes burned hot and Randi pinched the hand holding hers between the thumb and forefinger, smiling with grim satisfaction when Corky stilled all movement.

"I believe the queen asked you just this morning for a little common courtesy and simple respect.  Now either you can figure out how to give that to her, or I am going to take you down like the dog you are – challenge be hanged.  You got me?"

Corky stared defiantly at Randi with hatred blazing from her eyes.  Then Randi twisted a little more and pinched a little harder and Corky's eyes dropped to the ground.  "Yeah," she finally ground out.  "I gotcha."  She swallowed hard and turned her attention back to Gwen.  "I am hereby challenging you, Queen Gwen of the Amazon Nation for the right to rule.  Challenge will commence in one hour in the center of the village meadow."  She looked back at Randi.  "All right?"

"Now get out," Randi growled.  "I'll take care of your discipline when this is over," throwing Corky away from her and not blinking when she fell on her ass.  Corky glared up Randi for a long moment, then stood and sneered.

"You won't get the chance, Empress.  When I get done, she will be mine."

To her surprise, Randi just laughed.  "Corky, you couldn't handle her.  Now get out," she reiterated, "before I show these nice kids what happens to stupid Amazons who think they are better than they really are."

Corky snarled and glared again, but she couldn't break the amusement in Randi's face.  Without another word, she turned and stomped out of the nursery as everyone's eyes followed her progress.  Randi moved to stand beside Gwen who had risen as soon as Corky had made an appearance.  Gwen rubbed a hand over Randi's back, her gentle touch settling the tension she could feel singing throughout Randi's body.  Her attention was distracted by a jerk on her pants' leg.   She looked down to find a young girl smiling up at her impishly.

"My queen?"

"Yes, little one?  What is it?"

"Will you tell us a story about a queen and her champion?"

Gwen's grin grew exponentially, and the twinkle in her eyes lit up the room.  "I think I could come up with something."  Cheers rang throughout the room, even from the Amazons who had been hostile before. 


As the hour for the challenge approached, Gwen wound her story down to renewed cheering and applause.  The tale she had shared with them was true, though unknown to the Amazons, it came from the journals and not Randi and Gwen's current lives.  Randi recognized it and worked hard to keep the blush off her face as all eyes turned in her direction when the champion prevailed and knelt before the queen to receive her due reward.

"That is a wonderful story, your majesty," one of the older Amazons commented.  "Is it true?"

"As a matter of fact, it is," Gwen supplied.  "But now it is time for me to go be the champion."

"Why?  Isn't that *her* job?" sneering and pointing at Randi.  She didn't react – just kept her arms folded across her chest and waited.

"It would be," Gwen answered honestly, "if this was about defending the throne.  But Corky is not challenging me for the throne.  She is challenging me because she doesn't like Randi... not as my choice of consort nor for any other reason.  She has made this personal and I am personally going to answer her as I will anyone who threatens my home.  Now if you'll excuse me...."

A word from Randi and the Sabres cleared a straight path to the door and Gwen walked through.  She felt the pinprick at her neck and clapped her hand to it, swiveling her head to discover what had happened.  Randi was at her side instantly.

"What's wrong?"

"I dunno; it felt like something bit me."

"Gwen, there are no bugs in this facility."

"I know."

"Let me see your neck, sweetheart."

The Amazon who had been derisive only moments before cackled.  "There is nothing you can do, Consort... it's too late.  She belongs to Ares now."

Randi didn't even move.  Shibata had the woman down on the ground before she could say anything else.  The children stood stock still, watching the unfolding drama.  Randi scooped Gwen into her arms and walked swiftly out the door without a backwards glance.  Jess herded the youngsters out of the nursery while the rest of the Sabres began inoculating the adults without hesitation or compassion.  They didn't set out to deliberately injure, but they took no care to keep from bruising either.  And soon there were a number of previously belligerent Amazons tossing their cookies as fast as they could get somewhere to do so.

Meanwhile, as quickly as they were done, most of the Sabres headed back towards the queen's quarters to await the outcome of her poisoning.  This was a most unexpected turn of events.


Gwen could feel the burning flowing through her veins, waking every nerve ending she had and standing them straight up on end.  She snuggled deeper into Randi's neck, knowing instinctively she was the only sane hold Gwen had left in the world.

Randi strode into their quarters, past a surprised Rosie and directly into their room, shutting the door firmly behind her.  She sat on the bed and lay back, then rolled over until Gwen was tucked completely beneath her body.  Randi waited for Gwen to open her eyes and see her, then she ducked her head and captured her lips in a passionate, possessive kiss.

Gwen resisted at first, but Randi persisted until she felt Gwen relax into the kiss and start responding.  She let her arms wrap completely around Gwen and swallow Gwen in her embrace.  Time stopped for both of them as the kiss went on, tongues dueling fiercely for dominance and hands gently tracing bodies.  Slowly Randi pulled back from Gwen and smiled down into now unfocused, darkened green eyes.

"He doesn't get to win, Gwen.  That burning... that feeling belongs to us.  Use it to your advantage, but don't let it control you."

Gwen blinked.  "This is how you felt?  All that time - *this* is how you felt?"

Randi shook her head.  "No... mine was different.  Mine was based on hatred.  This is based on lust."

"It's amazing," Gwen breathed.  "No wonder they didn't care what he did once they were infected."  She reached up to smooth the lines off Randi's forehead.  "Funny thing though," she said looking up from between her lashes.  "I have no desire to do anything with or for him unless it involves me kicking him in the nuts.  But the things I want to do with you right now...."  She let her words trail off and tenderly began to trace the features she had come to cherish more than anything else in the world.

Randi closed her eyes and enjoyed the sensations, knowing they didn't have much time, but just not caring.  Nothing and no one was more important than this – right here, right now.  Everything else could just go hang for all she cared.

Suddenly Gwen pulled back.  "We have somewhere to be right now, so I am going to hold this thought for when we get back.  After that, all bets are off for you for the rest of the night."  She took Randi's hand and rose from the bed, then turned in her arms.  "One kiss for the road," she demanded.

It was long and languorous and took her breath away.  When they finally separated for air, Randi leered at Gwen who promptly licked her lips.  Randi's nostrils flared in response and Gwen smirked.  "More for that later, Stud.  For now, it will be sufficient motivation to get this over with in a hurry."

"Well, if you need added incentive, there is plenty more for you where that came from."

She led Randi to the bedroom door and together they stepped out into a living area filled with waiting Sabres.  "Let's go, ladies.  I have lots of things to do, so let's get to it because most of them are far more important than dealing with PMSing Amazons today."

"Ooh... it is gonna suck to be Corky," Brenda commented to her nearest companions.  Reed just held on to Rosie tightly and concentrated on her breathing, hoping to survive the latest influx of energy between them.


Corky was waiting in the center of the village meadow surrounded by every Amazon who was able to be there when Gwen and Randi arrived with a small contingent of Sabre guards.  To her surprise, not all of them were standing behind her and there was not nearly the support for her challenge that she expected.  She was committed at this point, however and strutted around cockily trying to convey an air of nonchalance.

The Amazons let Gwen through and formed a circle around the two combatants.  Randi stepped up beside them to referee and Corky balked.

"I don't think so.  I want a neutral observer to umpire this challenge."

"And I want to string you up by your thumbs and flay you alive.  But I haven't done that yet, so you're just going to have to deal with me as the referee of this bout.  Otherwise, you can concede defeat and I will move on to determining your punishment."  Randi grinned evilly.  "Your choice."

"No real choice there.  Fine... whatever.  It's not like I'm not going to win.  Then you won't be an issue anymore."

"Move to your corner," Randi said calmly and she nodded to the Sabres who immediately stepped between Corky and Gwen.  Randi turned her attention to Gwen whose eyes were blazing with aggression and anger.  Randi cupped Gwen's face in her hands.

"Focus," Randi breathed.  "Let it work for you."

Gwen wrapped her hands into Randi's dark hair and savagely pulled her down into a fierce, claiming kiss.  There was nothing gentle about it; it was about domination and power.  Randi let it go on for a long moment before she took control and transformed it into love and desire.  She smiled when Gwen melted against her and kept it up until Gwen pulled back to breathe.  Then Randi smiled.

"Now go kick her ass... we have business to finish."

Gwen stepped back from Randi and the Sabres took that as their cue to move from between the two opponents.  The Amazons widened the circle to allow them to become a part of it, then all attention turned to Randi.

"Here ye all who are gathered here – this is a challenge for the Amazon throne, but it is not a challenge to the death.  Special conditions have been set for the dispensation of judgment once the victor of this contest has been determined."  She turned to Gwen.  "As challenged, you have the right to choose your weapon, my queen."

"I choose the staff."

Randi turned to Corky.  "The weapon of choice is the staff.  Opponents, choose your weapons and retreat to your corners."  She waited until they followed her instructions, then resumed speaking.  "When I drop my arms, the contest will commence and will not end until a winner has been established.  That will be decided by one woman's inability to continue fighting – either by surrender or debilitating injury as determined by myself as the referee."  Randi paused and looked between Gwen and Corky.  "Are these conditions understood and accepted by both parties?"  Both heads nodded, though Corky was much slower to acknowledge her words.

Randi spent a long moment staring at Gwen before turning back to look at Corky and dropping her arms.  "Begin," she said softly, and the fight was on.

They circled one another first, neither of them making a move to engage the other.  Suddenly, Gwen stopped and planted one in of her staff on the ground.  Corky halted, but didn't drop her staff from its defensive position.

"Ya know, we could do this all day.  But I have far more interesting things I would rather be doing.  So can we pick up the pace a little?"

"You that anxious to give me a tumble there, your majesty?  We could just skip the foreplay this fight is and get right down to business.  Tell your consort over there she's now an ex and we'll go get it on."

Corky didn't even see her shift, but without warning her staff was flying across the circle and out of the enclosure.  Gwen stood back and waited for someone to pass the weapon back to Corky.  Corky took it slowly and moved back into position.  Then she went on the offensive, twirling and slashing at Gwen who simply wasn't where Corky expected her to be.  A look in her green eyes and Corky realized Gwen was playing games with her and that made her mad.

She pulled back for an overhead move that she always used to overpower her smaller opponents.  The comical look on Corky's face when Gwen blocked and held her staff in place made Gwen smile.  "Please, Corky – do you really think you can defeat me?  Randi taught me everything I know and she is the one I learned to defend against."

Corky growled and stepped back a pace to rethink her strategy.  Gwen waited, then blinked rapidly when her eyes started to burn from the powder Corky had just released from an unseen compartment on her staff.  Gwen heard the staff coming towards her and raised her own to stop it – only to hear it stopped by the clap of wood on bare skin.

"What the hell??" Corky snarled.  "This between me and her – there were no rules about...."  This time the sound Gwen heard was that of skin against skin as Randi slapped Corky so hard her hand made an instant imprint on Corky's cheek.

"Give me a reason," Randi ground out from between clenched teeth.  "Just one."

"Step away from her, Randi.  This is my fight and I intend to finish it."

Randi turned slightly to look at Gwen.  Her eyes were red and there were obvious tracks where the tears had streamed down her face in an effort to relieve the burning.  But otherwise there was no sign of distress... only determination.  She nodded in answer to the unspoken question in Randi's expression.  Randi twisted back around to face Corky.

"Please," she said softly enough only Corky could hear her.  "Be stupid."  Then she released Corky's staff and stepped from between the two.

Corky wasn't ready for Gwen to go on the offensive.  Legend had it that this Amazon queen never had and never would.  It came as a very unpleasant surprise to Corky to find out that this one not only did, but she knew what she was doing.

She felt the first blast to her ribs as a sharp pain accompanied by bright lights.  Then she heard the bone in her arm snap a second before the pain made her knees crumple.  The last thing Corky felt was the searing pain in her head before the bright lights faded and everything went black.

There was dead silence from everyone when Corky fell over in a fetal position unconscious.  No one had expected the violence and savagery they had just seen come from their reputedly peaceful and bardically inclined queen.  Without a hint of remorse, Gwen directed two of the Amazons she knew had already been vaccinated to gather Corky up and deliver her immediately to the infirmary.   The Sabres she nodded to, knowing they would inoculate as many of the remaining Amazons gathered together as they could manage.  Then she took Randi's hand in her own and walked calmly out of the circle, heading back towards the mountain.

No one made a move to follow them, which made the Sabres' job easier... until the women started reacting to the serum.  Fortunately, there were enough that had already suffered through the aftereffects of the antidote who knew what to expect and the rest just put it down to reaction since Gwen's explosion had left many feeling more than a little queasy.

That delay, since even those who had not been inoculated stayed back to help their stricken sisters, gave Gwen and Randi plenty of time to reach their quarters unhindered.  Only the Sabres who stood guard at the door saw them and Mason looked around for the remainder of the guard contingent.  She didn't have a chance to ask either Gwen or Randi where the Sabre guard was as they walked into their room and shut the door behind them immediately.    She and Iroque exchanged glances and shrugs and returned to watching the corridor.

Gwen went through the living area of their quarters, bypassing Reed and Rosie without a word of acknowledgment.  Randi glanced in their direction but a motion from Reed sent her into the bedroom behind Gwen without hesitation.  She would check on them later, but for now, Gwen was her priority.

Gwen was already in the bathroom by the time Randi entered and closed the door.  Randi heard the retching and quickly crossed to her side.  Gwen pulled away, or tried to, but Randi wouldn't let her and held on to Gwen tightly until she finished throwing up.  Then Randi wrapped Gwen in her embrace and wiped her face.

"Feel better?" after a long silence.

Gwen nodded.  "Sort of, but mostly I feel disoriented and drained."  She stood slowly and grabbed her toothbrush.  Randi stood behind her and held onto her waist while Gwen brushed and rinsed.  When she was done, she leaned back into Randi's body.  Randi reached down and scooped Gwen into her arms without objection and moved them back into the bedroom.

When Randi lowered Gwen onto the bed, Gwen held onto Randi and drew her down on top of her, savoring her weight.  Knowing instinctively what Gwen needed and would never articulate in her current state, Randi captured Gwen's lips and rolled them over, letting Gwen take the lead.

Gwen immediately assumed control of the kiss, turning voracious in her need and desire.  Randi remained submissive, responding to the need but not trying to control.  As quickly as she had claimed dominance, Gwen released Randi's lips and buried her face into Randi's neck.  Randi wrapped her up tighter until Gwen was completely surrounded.

"I feel like I am coming out of my skin.  I want to devour you and I want to cry; I want you to protect me and I want to kill Corky – I could have very easily.  The worst part is – I don't feel bad for what I did to her and part of me thinks I should.  Hold me, Randi... hold me tight and don't let go.  I don't want to lose myself in this feeling.  I hate the way it feels."

"I gotcha, baby.  I gotcha.  You just hang on to me and I'll guide you all the way home."

There was silence for a few minutes while Gwen absorbed the warmth and the words Randi was offering her.  Then she pulled back just slightly to look into bright blue eyes that stared back at her with loving concern.

"This is what you felt like, isn't it?  All those months, this was burning through your veins."

"Yep," came the matter of fact answer.  "That is why I haven't called Lacey for the antidote for you."

"You want me to suffer like you did?"  The fury in her eyes was sexy as hell and Randi didn't resist the urge to address it with love.  She knew the minute Gwen lost her anger because she felt the change in her kiss.  Then the embrace became passionate again and Randi just lay back and let it happen.  Slowly, Gwen pulled back and glared down at Randi.

"No," answering the question.  "I didn't want you to die, and we don't know what the antidote will do to you and me.  I know we can get through this together – we've already done it once.  We *are* the antidote... as far as each other are concerned."

"So you don't feel like you're going crazy now?"

Randi gave her a teasing grin.  "No more than I have ever felt when you're around," mock-pouting when Gwen swatted at her.  Then her expression turned serious.  "I still have my moments – you've seen that.  But our spirit walk together got rid of the burning.  So we can defeat this."

"With another spirit walk?"  Gwen bit her lip.  "Randi, I don't think I can do that again so soon."

"No, love.  No more spirit walks.  I don't think I could go through that again ever," unable to stop the small shudder that passed through her frame at the thought.  "We can use the bond we formed there to bring your burning under control... to give you the power to direct your feelings into whatever outlet you feel most comfortable expressing them."

"You're sure?"

"As sure as I can be about anything.  I would never knowingly expose you to danger."

Gwen nodded and patted Randi's chest before laying her head back over Randi's heart.  "I know, sweetheart.  I didn't mean to imply you would.  I'm just scared.  I hate feeling totally out of control like this."  A beat.  "Is this the way the Amazons felt?"

Randi shrugged.  "I dunno, but I don't think so – given the way they've all described it so far.  I think the bond we formed is making what should have been simple warrior aggressiveness look for other outlets besides war and fighting.  For me it was different because I had already learned to channel most of that years ago, so the only war I was fighting was with myself."

Gwen nodded.  "That is exactly how I feel – like I am fighting with myself, being pulled in directions I don't understand or have any control over."

"Close your eyes."

Gwen tilted her head up to find Randi's blue gaze focused intently on her.  She studied them for a long moment, then, having found the answers she needed, closed her eyes and curled her body deeper into Randi, coveting the strength and warm she found there.

"Good girl," Randi encouraged.  "Now I want you to focus that considerable will you possess when you are storytelling.  Whatever calming and meditation techniques you use to put yourself into the zone, find it now and harness it.  Once you have that, the control will be there and we can work through the lust that is running rampant in your system.  Defeating that will be easy, and once that is done, Ares won't be able to touch you again – you will be immune."

Gwen nodded but didn't speak, centering herself as though she was going to do the bard thing.  Slowly she felt her heartbeat settle and her rage calm and she gradually opened her eyes to find herself in the dell in her dreams.


"I'm right here, love," stepping from behind the oak.  "I figured you would come here.  I did the same thing."

"So what do we do now?"

"We go to sleep.  It will give the anger a chance to cool and when we wake up, only the lust and passion will be left.  And I think we can figure things out from there."

Gwen smiled.  "I think so too.  Will you hold me here?"

"For as long as you need me to, sweetheart."

"Then Ares has no chance.  Goodnight, Stud."

"Goodnight, my queen."


"Are you sure you infected her?"

"Yes, my lord.  I saw it hit and I witnessed the burning in her eyes as well."

"Then why hasn't she called for me?  No one can resist the binding once the burning starts."

"I only know what I saw, my lord.  We gave her the potion just as you instructed.  She defeated Corky with no difficulty, even when Corky tried to cheat to win.  Once the bout was over, she and the Empress returned to the mountain.  No one has seen or heard from them since."

"All right... get out."

"My lord... there is one more thing."

Ares sighed.  "What is it?"

"There is a sickness going around.  It seems most of the Nation has caught it.  Is there something you can do to keep it from spreading?  It is making the sisters violently ill.  I think it was brought in by the queen and her entourage – they seem to be immune, but it didn't start until after they arrived."

Ares nodded, pinching his lip thoughtfully.  "I'll look into it.  Now is not a good time for the warriors to be getting sick.  For now, make sure you and the rest who have not been infected by them stay very clear of them.  We cannot afford any complications.  See to it."

The woman nodded and bowed low before scampering out of his presence.  Ares sat brooding for a long moment before coming to a decision, shimmering out if his hideaway to find Lorac.  He needed some real answers.


Chapter XIX

"How are you holding up, Reed?" Rosie asked once the bedroom door was closed behind Randi and Gwen.  She'd felt the shudder run through the seer's body and winced in sympathy at the look of pain that crossed Reed's face.

"My God, I'd forgotten how much that hurts," gritting her teeth.  "I hope they get the wonkiness worked out soon.  I liked the shielding they had in place before."

"Can you see what is wrong?"

"Ares' binding potion has changed the balance.  They still have their bond, but the shielding is skewed enough to let that energy through.  Fortunately, I don't think it will take them long to fix it, but my God in the meantime."

"You realize they are probably gonna make love...."

Reed covered her eyes with one hand.  "Yes.  I imagine that is what it will take to seal it completely.  I need to get out of here before they do that.  Just the thought of it sets my hair on end."  They rose in tandem and headed towards the door, reaching it just as the rest of the contingent started to enter.  Rosie just shook her head.

"They need to be left alone for a while."  The Sabres turned to Reed as a single unit and she nodded. 

"Set up an outer perimeter to keep the Nation out of this area and let's move our meeting space outdoors for the rest of the day."  Her face crumpled in pain again.  "Those of you not on immediate duty, join me and Rosie out side.  The rest of you I'll expect to hear from at regular intervals.  We'll rotate in and out every two hours.  I know that makes for short shifts, but I don't want anyone in one place too long.  Things will be coming to a head pretty fast now, I expect."  Reed winced again and started moving down the corridor.

Reed nodded at Jess who assumed command and started handing out orders. Without a word, Lacey took up her post on Reed's other side and together, she and Rosie ushered Reed outside.  The rest scrambled into their new assigned position.

"You all right?" Lacey asked under her breath.  Reed nodded but the look on her face told another story altogether.  "I'll see if we can set up a circle for you to help block them until they get their shielding back in place."  Lacey grinned at the surprised look on Reed's face.  "Yeah, I can feel it too, though it isn't painful for me – just weird."

The Sabres were quick to respond to the new arrangement and shortly they were seated in the meadow once more supporting Reed and she raised her barriers into place once more.  There was little else for them to do but wait until she was stable.

After a bit, Reed opened her eyes and released a shuddering breath.  "Thanks, guys," she said quietly.  "Where are we at?"

"The first shift is ready to rotate inside.  We haven't heard anything from Gwen and Randi since we came out here and now a majority of the Nation is down because of the antidote.  The rest seem to have gone underground.  And Corky is going to recover, but I sincerely doubt she will ever challenge anyone or anything ever again.  She will be given the serum as soon as she is physically able to handle it.  Seemed kinds hateful to make her sick as miserable as she already was."

Reed nodded.  "Thanks, Jess.  Good job, guys.  Has anyone contacted Tiny?"

Lacey shook her head.  "We figured you would prefer to do that personally.  Besides, we didn't want to freak him out and you know if he saw me or Jess especially he would have."

"Can someone set up a comm unit out here, please?  I want to keep him in the loop as much as possible since he is stuck in the capital holding everything else together."  She turned to Rosie whose exhaustion was clearly written in her face.  "Thank you, Rosie.  I don't know what I would have done without you here."

Rosie smile wanly at her.  "Wait til you get my bill."  Her words drew soft chuckles from the surrounding Sabres.  "I think you girls are gonna be on your own for dinner tonight though.  I feel like I could sleep for a week."

Reed's grin was drained, but the intent was clear.  "Me too.  Do yourself a favor though – don't let Randi give you any hologram adventures for your vacation when this is over."  She shook her head.  "I thought she was trying to kill us until I found out she had warned Tiny away from what he programmed in."

"He couldn't resist, huh?"

"Of course not.  He is a red-blooded man and a Sabre to boot.  Nothing he can't do... but I bet he listens to her the next time she warns him away from something."

Shanti laughed.  "C'mon Reed.  You know better.  We're as bad as the guys are when it comes to resisting anything that we think is a challenge."

"Yeah, well the most challenging thing I want in my future is to find patterns in the stars."

"I hear that."  Then the first shift of Sabres headed out to relieve their sisters and Reed prepared to contact Tiny.  She had lots to tell him, but mostly she wanted the comfort of the contact... even long distance.


Randi was slow to come up from the deep sleep she was in.  It was warm and comfortable, but there was something tugging her towards wakefulness.  The first thing she felt was Gwen's touch, tracing her face as she had always done since Randi's return from the dead – except for during their estrangement.  It made Randi smile in her sleep and she absorbed the love she felt flowing from Gwen.

Then the touch changed and became both sensual and sexual in nature.  Randi struggled to open her eyes, then found it easier to keep them closed when Gwen's lips covered hers and her tongue asked for immediate entrance into Randi's mouth.  Only when Randi pulled back slightly to catch her breath did she open her eyes, and in doing so realized she had passed from the dreamscape back into the real world and there....

There, Randi was buck naked and spread eagle on the bed.  She wondered briefly how Gwen had managed all that without waking her.  Then her attention was demanded by Gwen's insistent touch as her mouth and hands claimed Randi's body and the love in her eyes reclaimed her soul once more.


Neither woman was aware of how much time had passed; only the feelings of being exhausted and satiated registered in either consciousness.  But it was satisfying and neither of them had any desire to escape the lassitude they felt lying cuddled up together.

Randi ran her fingertips along Gwen's arm and hip.  Gwen traced up Randi's torso, smiling when she tried not to squirm in the wake of the goosebumps that followed her touch.  Randi returned the favor by sliding her fingers down to Gwen's ribs.  Gwen conceded defeat by turning her touch more sensual than teasing and Randi felt her breath catch in her chest.  She brushed a kiss over Gwen's hair.

"How you doing, love?"

"I think I should be asking you that, Randi.  Are you all right?  I wasn't too rough?"

"I'm fine, Gwen.  In fact, I'm better than fine – I'm wonderful.  Stop worrying about it.  You know I like for you to take charge sometimes.  And I definitely understand the need to work through battle lust."

"Is that what this is... or was?"

"Yep.  How do you feel?"

"Strange," leaning up on an elbow so she could look down into Randi's face.  "I still want you with an almost burning intensity, but it is more what I always feel when I look at you.  Desire with control."

Randi smiled and threaded her hands into Gwen's hair, pulling her down into her lips until they were only a hairsbreadth apart.  "There is something to be said for control," letting Gwen feel the bare movement of her lips and breath.  "However, I don't think now is the time to say it," not giving Gwen a chance to respond before pulling her down completely and capturing her lips.  Then there was no more time for words.


"You sure you're all right, baby?  I can feel the shakiness in your voice."

"I'm fine, Tiny... just tired.  Rosie has been a godsend, and the Sabres have really pulled together for me, even if they don't really understand the phenomenon."  She felt an unexpected warmth flush through her veins and smiled.  "Fortunately, I think Randi and Gwen just found their own healing, so it should be easier now."

"How about everything else?"

Reed shrugged.  "She hasn't issued the challenge yet, but expect her to contact you for worldwide access when they come up for air from this one.  You didn't see her face when that Amazon acknowledged Gwen had been infected.  If she hadn't been so concerned about Gwen, Randi would have killed her with her bare hands."

Tiny frowned.  "I thought she was past that; I thought she defeated the serum he infected her with."

"She did, but she is still really close to the edge with anything that threatens her happiness – namely, Gwen.  She hasn't crossed any lines yet, but Gwen has had to hold her back more than once."

"You don't think Ares can use that lack of control against her?"

"He wishes he could.  It has only made her stronger, Tiny."

"All right," he nodded, accepting her words.  "I'll let Jill and Tommy know what's going on.  Ya'll just be careful."

"You too.  Expect a call from Randi later, all right?  See you soon."  And the screen went dark.  She looked around at the Sabres who had managed to give her a modicum of privacy for her vid call.  "C'mon guys – let's pack it in.  It's safe to go back in now."

"How can you tell?"

"Lots and lots of practice reading the signs," Reed said wryly.  "Trust me – I have learned to know when to stay away from those two.  The pain is excruciating otherwise."  She looked around.  "Make sure those inside know we have shifted our headquarters back to the queen's residence.  And tell them to keep their guard up – if they tried to poison the queen, they are likely to try it with any one of us."

"They already have," Lacey said as they moved back to the complex.  "More than once.  It just didn't work because we were physically inoculated against it.  Gwen's antidote is Randi and the love they share, so it was something she had to work through on a physical level."

The women were silent as they crossed back into the mountain and their wing.  Only when they were safely ensconced in their bug-purged rooms did anyone speak again did Shanti speak up. 

"I almost wish the Commandant and the queen weren't going to defeat Ares."  Shocked expressions met her eyes and finally Iroque voice the question they were all thinking.

"Why the hell not??  Don't you think they, and we all, deserve some peace??"

"Oh, absolutely.  I definitely think he needs to be kicked off the pedestal he seems to think he lives on.  I would just like to be able to take a shot at him, and we all know they won't need anyone but each other to be able to kick his ass."

"Be glad they have each other, Shanti.  You are still very young.  You haven't seen what they have been through in order to be together.  If you think we all owe Ares something for what he was doing with the rebellion. Randi and Gwen owe him a hundredfold beyond that."

Shanti sighed.  "I know that... I really do.  Personally, I am looking forward to experiencing peace for a change. I am just ready to be done with this whole mess and I wouldn't mind being able to contribute to its ending.  I want to go home, settle down, maybe raise some chickens.  Is that so wrong?"

Shibata smiled.  "Not at all.  I think we all want that at some level.  But I am going to miss the adrenaline that comes with combat and dark ops, and I know it.  I think the first thing I am going to do when this is over is look for some sort of substitute activity.  Somehow, I don't think being a peacekeeper is going to have the same sort of allure."

"No, but how nice to be able to choose how and where and why you get an adrenaline rush instead of constantly being in danger and fighting all the time."

There was agreement on that point from all over the room and the Sabres settled down to the various takes that needed to be accomplished before Randi and Gwen made their next appearance among them.


"Is she all right, Tiny?"

"Yes, Mrs. Goldman.  I just wanted you to know so you would be prepared in the unlikely event word got out about it."

"You don't think Gwen would tell me?"  Tiny leveled her a look and she couldn't help the chuckle.  "I know, I know," she said.  "Moms are always supposed to be the last ones to know stuff like this."

"Actually," he said drolly, "Moms aren't supposed to know this sort of stuff at all... especially moms of the queen."  He leaned forward conspiratorially.  "Most queens don't fight like that ya know."

"I know... I'm glad that Randi taught her to take care of herself."

"Yeah, she had absolutely the best teacher if she had to learn."  He paused.  "How are you doing otherwise?"

His kindness brought tears to her eyes but Jill smiled at him through her tears.  "I'm doing all right, Tiny.  Geoff left me some holochips with thoughts and memories on them and I have been going through them slowly."  She chuckled.  "Some of the things he remembers...."  She shook her head.  "I am going to have to show them to Gwen when she and Randi go home.  Do you know when that will be?"

"I wish I did," he said with sincerity.  "None of us get to go home either until everything is in place for them to."

Jill nodded.  "I'll keep my fingers crossed."

Ella spoke up from behind her.  "Tiny, have you told Tommy about this?"

He shook his head.  "He's the next call on my list."

"I'll do it if you don't mind.  I haven't talked to him today."

"All right.  If he has any questions, have him call me.  You have the number here?"  He gave her the codes, just in case and they shut off the connection.  Jill and Ella exchanged looks.

"It is still so weird for me think of Gwen as a queen, much less an Amazon."  She shook her head to clear her thoughts.  "Thank you.  You and your mom have already made such a difference for me, even in just the few days you have been here."

"Have you decided what you're gonna do once you get things sorted?"

"Not yet.  I wanted to talk to Randi and Gwen first, but obviously that's still a few more days away."

"Well, I have some ideas, but I need to talk to Tommy first."

"All right.  I'll leave you to it.  I think your mom was fixing some tea for us a few minutes ago.  You take whatever time you need.  We'll be in the kitchen."

Ella nodded and turned her attention to the vid phone.  Tommy wasn't going to believe this.


"You know, we're gonna have to leave this bed and this room eventually."

"Nope... don't wanna."  Randi chuckled and Gwen slapped at her.  "Bad mattress... bad, bad mattress.  I don't wanna be the queen no more.  I just wanna stay here with you."

Randi bit her lip.  It was hard to argue with that kind of logic.  Still....  "Gwen, sweetheart – I'd much rather stay here with you too, but whether we like it or not, we've got responsibilities outside this bedroom, and the sooner we discharge those, the sooner we can stop being the queen and the empress and go home and back to being just Randi and Gwen."  She felt Gwen smile against her breast.  "What are you smiling at?"

"I love the way that that sounds.  I love the thought of going home and I really love the thought of being just Gwen again."  She tilted her head to look into Randi's eyes.  "Does just Gwen get to be just a bard again?"

"If that is what just Gwen wants to do, then absolutely."

Gwen couldn't stop the laughter that bubbled up.  "We sound completely ridiculous, ya know.  Most people would love to be where we are right now."

Randi sat up just enough for Gwen to get the picture and looked pointedly at their twined, naked bodies before giving Gwen a rakish smirk.  "Oh, I'm sure any number of people would kill to be where we are at this particular moment.  Of course, I'd have to kill them for trying.  Oof - ow!  Whaddya do that for?" glaring down into green eyes glaring back at her.

"You know what I meant."

Randi chuckled.  "Yeah, but I couldn't let that one go by either... 'cause you know it's true."

"Maybe, but they wouldn't envy the true treasure; most people couldn't even begin to understand what we have together.  All they get the 'all-powerful' thing."

"They can have it," Randi replied, wrapping Gwen up in an embrace that was heartily returned.  "I'll keep this."  She sighed.  "But first we really do need to go and do that all-powerful thing."  Gwen echoed her sigh and sat up.

"All right, but I'm only doing so under extreme duress... and because I want to be done with this."  Gwen stood and offered a hand to Randi and pulled her off the bed.  "C'mon... we need to get cleaned up before we go back out there.  They may know what we've been doing in here, but I see no reason to advertise it either."

"Heh heh heh...." Randi chuckled evilly, but she followed Gwen into the bathroom and closed the door securely behind them.


"I hear water running."

Reed and Rosie exchanged wry looks.  "We knew it had to happen sooner or later.  At least we're ready for it now."  Reed looked around the room.  Most of the Sabres had left, moving on to other assignments or catching some sleep to pull a later guard stint.

"And it should be quiet in the Nation at least until sometime tomorrow," Lacey added.  "We've finished inoculating everyone, so a majority of the population is down sick for the next twenty-four hours or so and then we should have a little bit of time for them to recover.  Lorac said she was still really drained this morning."

Rosie shook her head.  "This has been a very surreal experience.  I am looking forward to experiencing this place when things are back to normal."

Laughter followed her words.  "Rosie, this is a nation of women; this *is* normal.  With all that estrogen and a majority of the population cycling at the same time, it's always just a little bit insane – just not usually to quite this extent."

"Besides," Gwen said, walking out of the bedroom towel drying her hair.  "Though no one else would say it, Randi and I are here.  And things are never completely normal with us."

Reed looked at Lacey.  "I'm glad she said that," muttered under her breath.  Lacey nodded.

"Me too."

Gwen couldn't hear their words, but she recognized the expressions on their faces and laughed.  "C'mon guys.  I know you wouldn't say it, but we all know it's true."  They shrugged sheepishly and laughed with her.  Randi stepped out of the bedroom and wondered what the joke was.  Even she had to smile at the truth of Gwen's words when she shared.

"So where are we?" crossing to the kitchen and digging around in the refrigerator.  Gwen joined her and they began to prepare something for dinner.  The rest watched the movement that was so in sync, it was like watching a choreographed dance.

"The Nation has been completely inoculated, so we can move ahead whenever you're ready."

"Recovery time?"

"Twenty-four to forty-eight hours.  Twenty-four for it to work through and out of their systems; forty-eight if you want them to feel like human beings."

"All right then.  I'll issue the challenge tomorrow night," putting a plate down in front of Lacey and Reed while Gwen put one in front of Rosie.  "How is Lorac doing?"

"She's really tired.  The antidote took a lot out of her."

"Can we bring her in to eat with us?  I'd like a chance to talk to her... make sure she's okay."

Reed looked at Randi who nodded before she rose and crossed to an interior door.  She disappeared into the other room, then reappeared a moment later with a dazed looking Lorac.  Gwen walked over to her while Randi prepared another plate.  Then they all sat down to eat.  For a change, it looked like they might manage to have a peaceful, quiet evening.

"How're you feeling, Lorac?"

"Much better, my queen.  The sleep really helped immensely.  How did things go with Corky?"

Gwen looked away and Randi clasped her hand.  Gwen smiled and covered Randi's hand with her own.  "I don't think she or anyone else will challenge my authority or my right to be queen for a very long time to come."

"Even though Corky cheated."

"Excuse me?" Lorac repeated, eyes wide.  "Did you say Corky cheated?"

"She tried to...."

"She did," Randi cut into Gwen's excuse adamantly.  "And she will pay for it... dearly."

That brought a quick halt to that conversation and Reed cleared her throat before changing the subject.  "I'm just glad you fixed the shielding."  She shook her head.  "That leak was an unpleasant surprise."

"For us too," Randi commented.  "Are you all right?  I meant to ask earlier, but...."

"Yeah, Rosie and the Sabres who were off duty at the time helped me set up the barriers I needed until you two got it under control again.  Thank you for that, by the way.  I know you did it so quickly for Gwen, but I appreciated it as well."  Reed grinned.  "Ares sure won't though.  My sight shows your shielding is even stronger and it was impenetrable before."

"I think it will continue to strengthen over time," Rosie said.  "As the relationship grows, so will the bond you share."

Lacey nodded.  "That makes sense."  She turned to Randi.  "So when are going to challenge Ares?"

"Tomorrow.  I want the Nation to be awake and aware for it, as it was.  They deserve that much."

Lorac turned to Gwen.  "Can you let the council know?  They should be able to round up the rest of the Nation on some pretext or other.  No one is going to want to miss this."

"Actually, we thought we'd let you do it."  Reed and Lacey exchanged amused, knowing glances.  Lorac and Rosie simply looked perplexed.

"My queen?"

"Tomorrow morning you're going to call for a meeting of the entire nation.  Not everyone will be able to make it, but a majority will do anything they have to do to be there, just to see for themselves that you are actually all right and unharmed.  Now that the poison is mostly out of their systems, the largest part of them will understand pretty quickly once they see you with their own eyes.  But if they ask, feel free to tell them the truth."

"Thank you, my queen.  I can't tell you how glad I am that this is almost over."  Lorac rubbed her eyes.  "It feels like I am waking up from a long, ugly nightmare, except it hasn't really been that long, has it?"

"In some ways, you are and it doesn't take long for bad to feel like forever," Randi said softly.

"What is going to happen when this is over?  I know you and the queen have no desire to stay here, but I'm not sure how the knowledge of what Ares did to everyone is going to affect the Nation.  I don't want this to destroy us – either as women or as a sovereign nation."

"It won't, Lorac... not if we can do anything about it.  We talked to Lacey and she is assigning a squad of Sabre women who also have all types of medical training to stay here as long as they are needed.  And Rosie has volunteered to stay as well.  She is a priestess of Athena, and she has a lot to do with the fact that Randi and I survived our spirit walk.  Had it not been for her and Reed and Lacey especially...."  Gwen cleared her throat.  "Anyway, you'll be in good hands."

"Thank you, my queen."

"Lorac, even though I can't stay here and truly be your queen, I owe to the Nation to do the best I can for you.  All of you put your faith in me and I feel like I let you down by allowing Ares to do this to you."

"NO!!"  The word echoed around the room as every single woman stated it emphatically as soon as the guilt left Gwen's lips.  Lorac looked at Randi before she spoke.

"No, my queen.  You didn't *allow* this to happen; no one *allowed* this to happen.  No one could have foreseen this – not even the other gods.  You couldn't know he would come here or that we would be fooled by him.  And I'm fairly certain no one would have guessed his revenge would take the form it did.  We're warriors – anyone with half a brain would have expected him to use *that* aspect of the Amazon Nation... not the fact that a majority of us are of breeding age."

"And how does the rest of the Nation feel, Lorac?  Are they gonna blame me for what happened here?  There was a lot of hatred and anger directed my way when we got here."

"No one blames you, Gwen; you and the Empress came as soon as you knew there was a problem.  The anger was something Ares implanted; we all felt it as something tangible.  I remember feeling anger directed specifically at you and wondering why it was there... and then just not caring as the poison took control.  That feeling was one of the first things to disappear after I hurled my guts out."

"So now...?"

"We're going to get through this – we all will.  And then we are going to host the biggest party this nation has ever seen.  We want to hear our queen become a storyteller for us again.  It has been a very, very long since we've had that opportunity."

Gwen smiled through her tears.  "I'd like that.  I've missed that part of my life lately."

"I think the world has," Rosie chimed in. 

"We'll see.  Tommy wants me to do some storytelling for kids and I'd like at least one of those sessions to be here."  Gwen paused thoughtfully.  "I'm looking forward to those actually.  Tommy thinks I tell my stories differently when my audience is just children."

"I'm sure you do, Gwen.  All adults relate differently to kids than they do to other adults.  It's natural."

"You do tell stories differently when you tell them at band practice," Randi said unexpectedly.  "But not for the reasons Tommy thinks you do."

"You know something?"

Randi shrugged.  "I have my suspicions.  But in the meantime," turning back to Lorac, "I think we should definitely plan that party.  It has been a long time since I attended a true Amazon blowout."

Lorac smiled, a genuinely pleased expression on her face.  "I'd like that; we all would.  Once you defeat Ares, we'll do that.  It will definitely be something for us to celebrate.  Any special requests?"

"Yeah... no challenges.  I think we've had enough of that for one trip."

"No problem... anything else?"

"I have one," Gwen said.  "I know it is unheard of for men to be welcome here for any reason outside of brothers in arms, but I would really like it if Randi's band could join us.  It seems like forever since I've heard her sing with them and I've missed it."

Lorac looked at Randi.  "Are you any good?"

"Yes," succinctly, without modesty or embarrassment.  Lorac nodded.

"All right; I'll get it through the council.  You just have to deliver."

"It's been several months since we've practiced together, but if you can convince the council to go with it, we'll bring it home.  In fact," she added after a moment's thought, "if you want to see Gwen at her best, we can set it up like a regular band practice.  Then when we finish, she can do her bard thing for the kids.  I think you'd really enjoy it."

"What the hell," Lorac replied.  "Let's do it.  I'll take care of the council, though I don't think I'll have to hard sell very much.  They're too happy to be rid of Ares and his vile little potion.  Besides, we've heard reports about your singing from some of the sisters who live outside the Nation.  Apparently you are very good; haven't heard anything about the band though."

"You'll like them Lorac... I promise.  They really are good."

"Looking forward to it, then.  And thank you... all of you.  I know we haven't said much, but we really do appreciate all of you rushing out here to put a stop to this.  And I feel better after this; it's good to be looking to the future again.  Ares took that ability from us.  Everything was about the here and now.  It's wonderful to feel like there is a future to look forward to."

"We all feel like we are finally looking to the future," Reed said.  "It really is a unique experience."

Then the talk turned to hopes and plans for the future and Randi and Gwen sat back and listened, glad for the chance to simply relax among friends in a place that had been exceedingly hostile.  Tomorrow would bring new problems and challenges, but today had been a good day.


Chapter XX

The village square inside the mountain was filled to capacity when Lorac slowly made her way through the throng to reach the dais.  Every Amazon who could walk, crawl or otherwise maneuver were waiting to hear why they had been called together.  Rumors had been flying and realization of what Ares had done to them simply fueled the fire.  Lorac didn't have to call for silence once she was standing in front of the Nation; the silence was so complete not even breathing could be heard.

"Sisters, as you can see, rumors of my treason and subsequent punishment have been greatly exaggerated."  She paused, waiting.

"Lorac, what really happened?  What's going on?" 

"Take a seat, ladies.  This is going to take a little while and we may as well be comfortable."  Before she could say anything else, blue sparkles coalesced beside her and Ares stood proudly in all his splendor.

"Well, well....  What do we have here?  I don't recall asking for an assembly.  Don't all of you have things to be doing to prepare for war?  Your queen should be joining our cause soon and we want to be ready when she declares war against the Empress."

"Why exactly would I want to do that, Ares?" Gwen asked as she made her way through the path that had suddenly opened in front of her when the Amazons realized she was among them.  "I am hers body and soul, just as she is mine.  Did you really think you could break our bond and pit us against one another so you could claim her for yourself?"

The look on Ares' face would have been comical if Gwen, and the entire Amazon Nation, had not been furious at what had been done to them.  Then it shifted from shocked dismay to superior outrage.  But before he could open his mouth to say anything, Gwen had marched up onto the dais and began poking him in the chest.

"You got a lot of nerve coming here... thinking you could claim Artemis' chosen people and start a new race of warriors by force and coercion.  And if that wasn't bad enough, you thought you could lay claim to Randi's soul without repercussions."  She poked hard at the last and he winced and took a step back, surprised by her aggressiveness against him.  Something had gone very wrong; he needed to get out of there and find out what Randi had done during the brief time he had been unable to monitor the Nation to cause this.

He knew Artemis didn't care about these women; otherwise she would have done something before now.  Ares smirked.  He would have them back under his thumb again soon enough, and this time, Gwen and Randi would be on his side first.

He glared down at Gwen when she poked him again, reaching for her finger – only to find his hand caught in Randi's.  He looked around and realized he was no longer the only god in the room.  All across the dais stood the entire Pantheon that had stood with Randi and Gwen against him before.  Both outer glare and inner smirk faded.  This could be real trouble for him.

However, Ares was nothing if not cocky and self assured, so he jerked his hand from Randi's grasp.  Then he crossed his arms over his chest and smirked at them.  "Something I can do for you, Empress?  You ready to dump Blondie and admit you need me to help you out with that whole world domination thing you've got going on?"

He didn't even see it coming he was so focused on Randi.  But the rest of the Pantheon just watched in amazed amusement when Gwen stepped between them and pushed Ares back another step.  He tried to move back into Gwen's personal space, but she didn't budge.  She raised her hand to him and he echoed her movement, a fireball forming.  Randi put her hands on Gwen's hips and leaned forward to whisper something in her ear.  Ares couldn't hear the words, but the blush that traveled up Gwen's face and the sly grin that followed infuriated him.  But when Randi slid Gwen out from between them and walked right into his personal space, he grinned cockily.

"You wanna know what you can do for me, Ares?"

"Absolutely, beautiful.  You name it, you got it."

Gotcha, you bastard.  Bout goddamn time this cat and mouse game ended between us.  Randi turned to make sure his words had been heard by the entire Pantheon.  Heads nodded down the line, acknowledging his words and grant her their blessing to proceed.

"Then I want a code duello – between you and me - with conditions I get to set." 

He laughed.  "I don't think so."

"You said *anything*, Ares, in front of all these witnesses and the whole world besides.  Are you saying you're not up to the challenge?"

"You can't be serious; I'm a god – I can meet any challenge you can dish out."

"So you're agreeing to this?"

"What are the conditions?"

"No – either you agree or you don't."

"And if you don't," Zeus spoke up unexpectedly, "you will lose your godhood until such time as a majority of the Pantheon decides you have earned the right to be a god again.  Given your track record, I would imagine you're looking at a millennium, minimum."

"WHAT?!?  You can't do that!!!"

"I can, I have and I will.  You crossed too many lines this time, Ares and we're all agreed on this.  You think the rules don't apply to you anymore.  And quite frankly, you've been riding a dead horse for a long time trying to separate the warrior and the bard.  Time to pay the piper."  Zeus shrugged.  "Besides, you do have a chance to win."

"A chance??"  Ares snorted and shook his head.  "And if I win?  What exactly am I going to get out of this?  Not that you've given me much choice in the matter."

Randi took instant note of his use of the word 'if'.  It made her smile, but she remained silent.  This was between Zeus and Ares at the moment.  It would come back to her soon enough.

"If you win, you get possession of the warrior's soul."

"To keep?"

"To keep... forever."

"And if I...."  He paused to chuckle, his entire appearance one of patent disbelief.  "If I lose?"

"If you lose, you lose any right to the warrior's soul in this lifetime.  And you have to give up your godhood until both she and the bard pass from this life."

Ares looked at Randi, amusement at her audacity and hatred for his predicament fighting for space in his expression.  "You're gonna pay for this for a very long time, warrior."

"So you agree?"

"Yes, just so I can watch your soulmate die from the rending that will happen when I make you mine in front of her eyes."

"Very well," Zeus proclaimed.  "Warrior, name your conditions."

"Ares has to lose his god powers to fight.  Not just have them bound or whatever, but have them completely stripped away.  He has to fight as a mortal, with only the skill he possesses.  This isn't a fight to the death either; I only want to make him yield.”

"You think you can?  Even as a mortal, I have millennia of experience to draw on.  You really think you can defeat me... especially given the stakes that have been set??"

"No, Ares.  I *know* I can.  I'm gonna kick your ass."

Her confidence was unnerving, but he wasn't going to give her that knowledge.  "Name the time and place, baby.  I'll be there with bells on."

"You betcha you will, bro," Dite spoke up as she clasped his wrist.  "Cause you're totally sticking with us until time," motioning to the gods still on the dais.  "You owe us."

"Yeah... whatever," he snarked at her, though he knew better than to pull away from her.  He turned back to Randi.  "So when?"

"Sunset... today.  The sooner this is over with, the sooner Gwen and I can have peace to go home in."

"Fine."  Ares glanced at Zeus.  "Can we go now?"

"Yes, but not to Olympus.  We're going down to your little hideaway here.  That will suffice until this is over."  Then in  blinding flash of light, sparkles and sundry confetti, the entire Pantheon shimmered out of the village square, leaving the Amazons staring in silence at the emptiness they had left behind.  Randi gave a short hand signal and after a mere heartbeat, Reed gave her a nod to let her know the transmission had ended. Then Lorac turned to Randi and Gwen with her eyebrows raised. 

"Well, that was unexpected but very satisfying."

"Not as much as punching him in the nose would have been," Gwen grumbled.

Randi chuckled.  "It will be, sweetheart.  I promise you that," sliding her hands from Gwen's hips around her middle and squeezing.  "Then we can go back to the capital for a few days to wrap things up there before we go home."

"Actually, first you owe us a party," Lorac said with a smile.  "Then you can go home."

The Amazons cheered; Gwen laughed.  Randi cut her eyes towards Gwen.  "I did say that, didn't I?"

"Yes, you sure did.  In fact, you promised them the real deal."

"In that case, I better go make a few calls."

"My queen, before you do...."  One of the Amazons near the front spoke up.  "Would one of you please tell us what exactly just happened here?  I know that whatever Ares did to us to make us... receptive... to his ideas and advances is gone, but I still don't understand what or why or how or just what exactly happened here.  Could you explain it for me... for all of us?"

Gwen nodded.  "Ya'll deserve that much.  Take a seat, guys.  This is going to take a little while."  And it was quite some time later before Gwen finished her tale.  Rosie and the Sabres had long since moved to the community kitchen to prepare lunch for everyone.  By the time Gwen had finished her story, they were ready to serve it.  Rosie caught Randi's eye and with a word, Gwen directed the Nation to start the queue for lunch, making it clear it wasn't optional for anyone.  She wanted these women to feel better and Rosie had cooked specifically with that in mind.  Gwen promised to answer every question she could once lunch was over.

Randi took Reed aside, knowing she had been in contact with Tiny.  She nodded her head at the report she got then excused herself to go make a call to Tommy.  If they were going to do things right for the Amazon Nation, Randi was going to have to set things in motion now and delegate most of the work that would need to get done.  Otherwise, it would be a while before they got back here to celebrate and it wasn't fair to ask these women to wait to celebrate – not considering what they were going to be celebrating.

When Reed brought her dinner, Gwen looked around for Randi.  Then she raised an expressive eyebrow in Reed's direction and waited patiently for Reed to speak.  When she did, Gwen nodded her understanding and asked Reed to make sure there was another plate ready as soon Randi returned.  No way was she going to let anything happen to Randi because she wasn't taking care of herself... especially now.  There was too much at stake and they were so close to being done.


"Hiya, Tommy!"

He smiled.  He couldn't help it.  Once more she was so much like the kid he remembered growing up with and he suddenly realized just how much he had missed her.  "Hey, short stuff!" knowing the greeting would at least get him a look and not being disappointed by her reaction.  "How's it going there?  You coming home soon?"

"I hope so, Tommy... within the next few days.  We're gonna wrap things up here by in the morning and then we have to head back to the capital city for a few days before we can finally come home to stay.  God, I am so ready for that."

"Most people would do anything to be where you are in the world."

Randi snorted.  "That's because most people don't know the shit you have to wade through just to get anything done.  There is not enough of any sort of reward to make this worth it.  I'm glad I've figured out a way to make it work without me, I hope.  We're gonna give it a try at any rate... but that's not why I called."

"So why didja call?  What can I do for you?"

"I need you to make some calls for me – set some stuff up.  Then you and a crew need to hightail it out here with the band.  We're having a party and you're gonna wanna record this one."

"You think so?"

"I know it.  Trust me on this, Tommy."

He nodded.  She didn't often interfere, but he had never regretted it when she had.  Randi's instincts tended to run true, especially where Gwen was concerned.    "All right, Randi.  Tell me what you need and when you need it by and I'll make it happen."  She gave him the details and he nodded again.  "That's easy enough.  Is she gonna be up to it though?  I heard about the challenge."

"She's okay, T.  We're working it out."

"Good... you too?  You're okay?"

"I really am," she said without hesitation.  "For the first time in forever, I feel alive again – complete."

"You make sure it stays that way, all right?  We miss having ya'll here."

"No more than we miss being there," Randi assured him.  "Make sure you bring Ella and Randall when you come out here.  And have the boys bring their kids... just like they would for a regular practice session.  We'll put everyone up here – somewhere.  The Amazons have agreed to it."

"All right.  I'll have to get Ella back from up north. But we'll be there whenever you give the word, ready to go."

"Up north?  Why is she... did she go up to Gwen's folks place?"

"Yeah – Jill called and asked for a little support, and before you even ask – she didn't call ya'll because she knew you were both up to your eyeballs in other commitments.  She is waiting for things to settle down a little for you both first before bothering you.  Those are her words, before you go berserker on my ass.  But to be fair, she does have a point, and Ella and her mom were glad to go up there and help her out."

Randi nodded.  "All right.  You get Ella home so she can come out here and I'll talk to Jill.  Busy or not, she is still family, and I gave Geoff my word as a Sabre to see she was taken care of.  I don't intend to break that promise."

"All right – you go get to yours and I'll get started on mine and we'll meet you there in a few days.  Can I still reach you...?"

"Through Tiny, yes.  The Sabre comm system is the most reliable one in the world.  And I'll let you know as soon as I have exact details."

"I'm glad everything is going so well, Randi.  Lots of love to you and Gwen."

"Lots of love back to ya'll, T.  Later."

"Bye, short stuff," cutting off the transmission before Randi could make a biting comment.

"One of these days," she muttered.  Then she decided to go talk to Gwen before she called Jill.  Randi figured Gwen might want to talk to her mama as well once she knew what was going on.  Besides, Randi knew she needed to eat and get a little rest and the best way to do that was make sure Gwen knew she needed it.  Gwen would assure that Randi got the food and rest she needed and that would give them some time alone in the afternoon to take care of talking to Jill.

Then all that would be left would be to defeat Ares.


“Everything okay?”  Randi had taken her plate from Gwen and sat down beside her, eating quietly.

“Hmm?  Yeah, everything’s fine.  I was just thinking.  Tommy was funny when I told him about this party.  He’s pretty excited about it. He’ll make sure everyone gets here, including a crew to record your performance, though he’s gonna have to bring Ella back from your mom’s house first.”

”What?  Why is Ella at my mother’s house?”

“I thought we would call her once we were done eating and ask.”

“Good plan, but I am not rushing lunch either.  Rosie made fried apple pies for dessert.”

Randi grinned and waggled her eyebrows.  “I like those; I like what those do to you.”

Gwen blushed, but looked up from beneath blonde lashes with an expression of angelic innocence.  “I can’t imagine what you mean.”

“Uh huh... you just keep telling yourself that.  I’ll keep your portion for myself.”

Green eyes went wide and round.  “You wouldn’t....” pouting for good measure.

“I sure would.  What’ll you give me not to?”

The wickedness that glittered out of Gwen’s eyes should have warned Randi before she spoke.  “Maybe you should worry more about what I’m gonna keep away from you if you don’t share with me.”

Blue eyes widened comically.  “You wouldn’t... would you?”

“Try me.” 

“No fair,” Randi complained as she scrambled up to go snag more than two of those pies.  There would be payback for this eventually.  But for now, she had a hungry Amazon queen to appease.  She would deal with the bard later.

“That was pretty slick.”  The comment was whispered and completely unexpected and Gwen jumped when the speaker knelt at her feet with head bowed.  The action caused immediate silence in the room and that reaction caused Randi to move back to Gwen’s side at a very rapid pace – a pace that redoubled again when she realized exactly who and what had created the silence.

She didn’t step between them, but took her place as the queen’s champion and waited for Gwen to make the next move.  To her astonishment, the first thing Gwen did was reach for her hand.  Randi took it and twined their fingers together.  The Nation continued to watch the tableau play out in front of them, curious as to the outcome.

“Speak your piece, Amazon,” Gwen directed after another very long moment of silence.  Corky raised her head but kept her eyes firmly on the ground in front of Gwen’s feet.

“I came to apologize.”  Her words sucked the air out of the room and what had been mere silence became deafening.  “I have no excuse, really.  I... I... I thought I was past this; I mean - I *was* past this... this anger/jealousy thing I had going for so long.  I know I still had work to do, but I was making progress; you can ask anyone here.”

Gwen looked around to see several of the elders and Dalia nodding their agreement.  She let out a sigh and turned to Randi, but anger was still sparking out of her eyes.  Gwen pressed Randi’s hand gently and waited for the blue to track to her, then she smiled and waited, knowing Randi would calm.  Only when she received a reassuring squeeze in return did Gwen turn back to Corky, to find her watching them with undisguised interest.

Gwen cleared her throat.  “So what happened?” asked loudly enough for the entire congregation to hear.  Corky held her eyes this time.

“Ares,” Corky said with bitterness.  “Whatever it was he gave us to make us cooperative, also brought out our most aggressive, warrior-like tendencies.  And he gave us a focus for the burning hostility we felt... which was supposed to be you, my queen.”

“That obviously didn’t take in you, though.”

“No.  Ran... the Em... your consort had been the focus of my rage for so long that my focus naturally gravitated to her. You only became a target as a by-product... a way to get to her and hurt her by hurting you.”  She rubbed her arm unconsciously.  “Of course, that was before I learned the hard way you can kick butt and take names without help from anyone else.”

Gwen couldn’t stop the smirk.  “Yeah... guess who taught me.”

“Figures,” Corky muttered, though her lips were twisted in a wry smile.  “I should have known she’d prepare you to fight your own battles.  It’s what she did for the Nation.”  Corky stopped talking then and the silence lengthened as Gwen considered her words.

“So what exactly are you saying here, Corky?  What do you expect to come from all this?”

Corky shook her head.  “I’m not sure I expected anything.  I just... once that shit was out of my system, I just wanted you to know the whole truth.  I do still have some unresolved issues where your consort is concerned, but I was working through them before this happened,  I wanted you to know that what you heard was coming from old jealousies I haven’t dealt with yet.”

“I see,” Gwen said after a pause.  “I’ll take that into consideration, and so will Randi, when the time comes to pass judgment on you for your actions.  You do agree there needs to be some sort of consequence?”

“Yes, my queen; it was part of the challenge agreement.”

“Very well... you are free to go about your business until such time as I decide otherwise.  However,” she continued before Corky could stand to her feet.  “Please do not be stupid with this chance.  And I would like you to resume your sessions with whoever is helping you work through your problems where Randi is concerned.”

“I will, my queen.  Thank you.”

Gwen nodded and Corky rose and bowed her head again before moving towards the serving line to collect her lunch.  Gwen turned to Randi, who hadn’t moved since assuming her place at Gwen’s side.  They stared at one another for a long moment – until Rosie’s approach broke the tableau.  Without a word she offered Randi more of the fried apple pies she had been collecting when Corky made her appearance.  Randi accepted them with a nod, then she and Gwen clasped hands and headed out of the mess hall without a backwards glance.

It was quiet as they walked back to their quarters; their escort gave them a bit of space, recognizing their need to feel alone.  When they arrived, two took up stations on either side of the door and one each on either end of the hall.  No one accompanied them inside – with the Nation finally inoculated, there really was very little threat to them.  The Sabres kept a small contingent as an honor guard for appearances, but otherwise, security had been completely scaled back.

Randi set the pies on the table and flung herself gracelessly onto the room’s leather couch, bouncing a little before settling into place.  Gwen was a little more dignified about taking a seat, lifting Randi’s head up before sliding into place beneath her and cradling her head in her lap.  Randi butted against her stomach a couple times and Gwen tweaked her nose before she started trailing her fingers through the dark hair.  She felt Randi purr deep in her throat and smiled.

“Well, this is a right proper mess, isn’t it?”

“Hmph!” was Randi’s only response.

“C’mon, Randi... how do you punish someone who was being influenced by the drug Ares administered?  You know yourself how potent it is.  Not everyone is as strong as you are; not everyone can resist the pull of power it offers.”

“Not everyone uses it as an excuse to be an asshole and threaten you either!”

Gwen sighed.  She knew this was going to be an uphill battle.  Randi and Corky did have a long, ugly history together and Corky had done the one thing Randi found unforgivable.

“She didn’t have a chance against me, Randi.  Not only was I trained by the very best, I had motivation she couldn’t possibly understand.  You came back from the dead for me... she can’t even remotely begin to compare to what you make me feel.  In fact, the only thing she made me feel was irritation; Ares’ potion made me feel so out of control, so I can sympathize with her a little.”

“I can’t,” with harsh bluntness.   “There is no excuse for her actions!”  She would have gotten up to pace, but gentle hands held her in place and Gwen started a tracing of Randi’s face that automatically caused her to relax.

“No, on the one hand, there really isn’t, but on the other, it is understandable.  However,” Gwen went on when Randi opened her mouth to retort.  “Her fate is solely in your hands, love.  I promised you both that you would determine her punishment when she lost and she agreed to the terms.  I’m not gonna try and influence you one way or another; I am just asking that you look at it from both sides first.  You offered the rebels a chance.”

“They didn’t make it personal.”

Gwen had no argument for that.  The rebels that had been pardoned *hadn’t* made it personal.  The ones who had been stupid enough to make it personal had died a horrific death.  Gwen had heard the stories though she had not been subjected to witnessing them first-hand.

“All right, sweetheart.  It’s not like you have to decide right this minute.  Good thing, too,” Gwen teased, trying to lighten the atmosphere in the room.  “I thought we were going to call my mom.  I’m curious why she called Ella instead of us.”

“Tommy said something about her not wanting to bother us because we’re so busy with everything else.”  She noted Gwen’s outraged look and nodded.  “I know – I thought the same thing.”  Randi swung her legs down and sat up, not losing tactile contact with Gwen.  Randi grinned when Gwen snuggled up into her, situating herself until she was sprawled in complete comfort over Randi’s body. Then Randi keyed in her comm unit and within seconds was spiraling through the security codes that would put her in touch with Tiny.  After a few moments and a brief greeting, he was connecting them to Jill.

Her image popped up on the large screen and she blinked in surprise when she realized that they really were at the other end of the call.  She smiled at the picture they made together, thanking Geoff again for protecting them.

“Well,” Jill said, “this is a pleasant surprise.  I’d ask how you’re doing, but I think I can see that for myself.  How are things going there?”

“Pretty good, all things considered,” Gwen admitted.  “How are you, mama?”

Jill shrugged.  “I’m getting along.  Your father and I had a very long life in this house.  There are a lot of memories here.”

“Are they good ones, Jill?”

Jill smiled at Randi’s tentative question, wondering why they were back to names again.  “Yeah... mostly they are.  But my goodness, we are serious packrats.  I am finding stuff we’ve had since before we got married,” she shook her head.  “I’m not sure why we kept a lot of it.”

“Mama, do you need us there?” Gwen asked frankly.  “We heard you called Ella to come help you.”

“No, Gwen, no.  You and Randi have far more serious work to take care of than sorting through years’ worth of junk.”


Jill held up her hand to stop their protestations.  “It’s true, and we all know it.  I don’t begrudge that, except as it bothers you.  The world needs something; maybe what you have planned will make it better... make the peace real and lasting this time.  Besides, Ella brought Ruth... her mother.  We’ve been having the best time getting acquainted.”

“Is Ruth leaving with Ella or is she staying with you or are you all going to go home... back to Tommy and Ella’s?”

“We haven’t really discussed it yet.  Ella just talked to Tommy and I know she is headed home in the next day or so, but other than that we haven’t made any plans.  I still have a lot of work to do here before I can make any decisions about anything.”

“Come out here with them,” Randi directed.

“Excuse me?  Randi, I can’t just drop everything....”

“It’s not a permanent move, mama.  We’re going to have a party for the Amazons... a band practice party.  Tommy’s gonna come and record my storytelling time as part of that series he wants to do with me telling just to kids.”

Jill bit her lip – she loved practice.  It had always been good fun.  And she had enjoyed listening to Gwen tell a story from the time she had been a small child.  But was she ready for something like that so soon after Geoff’s death?  He would understand, but would anyone else?

“I’d like to... I just don’t know if I can.”

Randi nodded.  She had expected the answer by the indecision she saw in Jill’s eyes.  “Well, the invitation is open.  Just let us know so we can be sure there is a place for you if you decide to come.  I imagine you would prefer a room of your own just to escape to sometimes.”

“Speaking from experience?” Jill asked with a cheeky grin.

“Yes,” Randi confirmed succinctly.  “Too much estrogen floating around here some days.”

Jill gave her a genuine laugh.  “Thank you, Randi.  I needed that, and I’ll keep the invitation in mind.”

“And you’ll call us if you need anything?” Gwen asked.  “We know we have other responsibilities, mama.  It doesn’t mean you’re not important to us or that we don’t want to be there for you if we can be.”

“I know, Gwen, but honestly, this is easier for me to do without you here right now.  So it’s all good.  But I will try to call you a little more often...” she shook her finger at them.  “Though you can do the same.  Don’t wait until you think something is wrong, all right?”

“All right,” Gwen agreed with a smile.  “We love you, mom.”

“I love you both too.  Now try to behave and not cause any trouble, okay?”

Randi snorted.  “I have never caused trouble a day in my life.”  She finally had to sever the connection herself as neither Gwen nor Jill could manage to do so through their laughter.


Chapter XXI

Despite the less-than-stellar health of the Amazon Nation, they had no problem setting up a temporary arena in the meadow.  So by the time the sun was setting, every single Amazon who could stand, walk or crawl to the meadow was there, waiting for the fight between Randi and Ares to begin.

Surrounded by his family, Ares popped onto the field in a showy flash of blue fire meant to impress his audience.  It was unfortunate for him that he chose the exact moment Randi and Gwen were striding towards the meadow with a full contingent of Sabres dressed as an Amazon honor guard.   They themselves were also in full Amazon garb, decked out as the Queen and Consort Champion they were.

When they arrived in the arena, every Amazon stood to her feet, then knelt in a show of respect.  The Sabres did likewise.  Ares curled his lip in contempt.

“Can we get on with this?” snarling, then turning away with disgust at a look from his father.

Aphrodite bumped elbows with Artemis and Athena. “This is so gnarly,” motioning to the deference being shown to her two favorite mortals.  “But I think I am gonna totally hurl my cookies.”

Athena took her by the arm.  “No, you’re not.  You’re just a little excited.  Take a deep breath and remember we are ALL pulling for Randi.  It’s time he got his, and she is just the soul to do it”

Dite nodded.  “I’m glad Hephie had time to build this though,” holding up the box that would hold Ares’ powers until the contest was over and a winner was declared.  Not even Ares could break into it.  “I don’t want him to cheat.”

“I don’t think Zeus will let him; he was pretty pissed when he found out what had really been going on with them.”  Then their attention was taken by Gwen’s stepping forward to address the Amazon Nation.

“My sisters... my friends... honored guests,” with a nod towards the gods and goddesses which they all, with the exception of Ares returned politely.  “We are gathered together today to bear witness to the final confrontation between Ares, God of War and Miranda Valiant.  This is not a fight to the death – it will last until one of the opponents yields.”

Zeus walked up beside her.  “The conditions have been set and agreed to by both parties as have the consequences for each if they lose.  Ares, step forward.”  He did so grudgingly, mumbling beneath his breath the entire way.  “To make the odds fair, Ares will fight as a mortal human.  The fight will end when someone yields or is completely incapacitated.  Ares, unsheathe your sword.”

The look should have melted Zeus where he stood, but instead he returned it with one of his own.  Ares rolled his eyes and slid the sword from it covering, holding it up in front of him in salute.  Zeus raised his right hand and extended his left for the rest of the Pantheon to join him.  They built a pyramid behind him, focusing their strength as a single unit. 

Slowly, blue light emerged from Ares’ body, flowing trough the sword before forming a ball of light in Zeus’ raised hand.  When the flow ended with an audible pop, Aphrodite stepped forward with the open box.  Zeus placed the orb into the box and shut it firmly and locked it with a distinctive snick.

“Okay, that was really weird,” Ares muttered.  Zeus took the box and then he and the rest took their seats on one side of the makeshift arena and Ares stepped into the middle of the cleared space.  He leered in Gwen’s direction.

“Let’s go, sweetcheeks.  I’ve got a warrior to claim, body and soul.”

Gwen returned his look stare for stare, waiting.  He was the first on to look away.  Then she turned her back to him deliberately and gave Randi her sexiest smirk.  Gwen ran her hands up Randi’s torso and locked them behind her neck, smiling hugely when Randi pulled them together at the hips.  “You ready?”

Randi gave Gwen a cocky grin, charming in its rakish assurance.  “He has no idea how ready I am for this.  He’s not gonna know what hit him.”

Gwen pulled on hand back to tap on Randi’s chest.  “Just don’t be too cocky – he is still strong and he does have millennia of knowledge to draw upon.  I’d rather not have to spend half the night waiting for you to get out of the regen unit; I have much more interesting plans for the evening that don’t include that sort of down time.”

A dark brow arched.  “Oh really?”

“Uh huh,” tangling the free hand through the dark tresses and urging Randi’s head down to meet hers.  “So don’t play with him for too long, but make him hurt.  I want him to remember this for a very long time to come.”

“Til our dying day, love... I promise.”

The kiss went on until Ares cleared his throat and snarked, “You said the match was at sunset.  So either we start fighting in the next thirty seconds or you will be considered forfeit and I will claim my prize.  Make your choice.”

Randi released Gwen’s lips and pushed her gently to stand out of the arena.  Then she stalked right up to Ares and got into his face.  “You want me so badly?  Bring it on, big boy!”

“What weapons?”

“Your choice, as the one challenged.”

Ares look at the table that had been set up with two of every-kind-of-non-shooting-personal-weapon-ever-invented and he couldn’t help but be impressed.  He hadn’t seen some of these things in years and he itched to get his hands on them.  First however, there was the little matter of this challenge.

“These,” he said, holding up his hands.  “Nothing but these for now.  Maybe if you can manage to last a while, we can entertain the masses with the toys.”

“Then remove your sword.”

Ares covered his chest with his hands and his expression became one of mock surprise and feigned anguish.  “I’m hurt.  Don’t you trust me?”

“Not even if you swore on your mother’s life, Ares.  Give it up.”

He frowned but removed the sheath from around his waist and placed it on the table.  “Good enough?”

“Good enough,” stepping into the center of the cleared space.  “Whenever you’re ready.”

Ares walked towards Randi, close but not within touching range – not yet.  He circled around her like a hawk, trying to view her from all sides, but she naturally pivoted with him.  Finally he stood still and gave her a wicked grin.  He held his arms out away from his body.  “C’mon, beautiful.  I’ll give you a free shot.  No strings.”

Randi rolled her eyes and snorted.  “Ares, with you there have always been strings.  It’s just how you do things.”  But before he could formulate a response, she spun, and with a strong, roundhouse kick, sent him flying a good five feet before he landed on his ass.

“So that’s how it’s gonna be, huh?” putting his hand to his lip and pulling it away covered in blood.  “There will be paybacks, you know,” extending his hand and cursing when he remembered he was human and there would be no fireballs.

He jumped to his feet and stalked over to her, shooting his arm out in a straight from the shoulder punch.  She ducked, as he had anticipated and he hit her hard in the gut, causing Randi to double over.  “You can’t beat me, little girl.  Even without my power, I am still the God of War.”  Then he howled and jumped back, gasping and glaring even while he covered his privates.

“Uh huh, and you still have boy parts for me to grab and twist off,” Randi wheezed, slowly straightening.  Ares also stood slowly, wincing at the pull on his groin.  She swung at his chin and he dodged her fist.  He swung against her, but she had already moved out of range.  “This is not about there being a fair fight between us, Ares.  It never has been.  For a Sabre, it’s all about winning.”

“And what about duty and honor?”  Ares caught her leg as Randi kicked out at him again.  He tried to twist it, but she rolled with him, taking them both to the ground unbalanced.

“It was my duty to win, remember?  The honor came from protecting the innocents and making the world a safer place to live.”  They climbed to their feet and regarded one another warily.

“You’re making me cry here, what with all that bleeding-heart liberal crap you’re spouting,” walking slowly and wiping the blood off his lip where he had bitten it again when he fell.  “You didn’t do it for the world and you didn’t do it for the Sabres or Blondie over there or anything else.  You did it because you are a warrior – you’ve always been a warrior, and all warriors need a battle to fight or they just shrivel up and die.”

Ares swung hard and connected with Randi’s jaw, causing her to stagger and step back a pace.  He tried to follow through, but she wasn’t where he had expected her to be and the next thing he felt was a wicked blow to the side of his head and then a punch to the nose that made him see stars he had never seen in the night sky before.

Randi spit out a mouthful of blood and Ares shook his head trying to clear it.  He had never imagined such pain before and he decided there was no way he was going to live with the ability to feel this for the next fifty or sixty years.

“C’mon Ares,” Randi taunted.  “Is that all you got?”

“You think you can handle more?”

Randi grinned at him saucily.  “I’m just getting warmed up here, war god.  I can take anything you can dish out.”

“You think so?  I haven’t even gotten started,” he snarled.  “Choose a weapon,” motioning to the laden table.  Randi reached over and grabbed a staff, then stepped back to allow Ares to do the same.  He frowned at her choice, but picked up the second staff, twirling it to get a feel for it.  Finally he nodded in satisfaction.

Randi didn’t wait for an invitation this time, but went on the offensive immediately.  Ares barely had time to get his staff into a defensive position before Randi swung her staff at his head.  He caught the top, but missed the backswing that nailed him in the ribs.

“Oof,” feeling the air whoosh out of his lungs.  “Bitch!” backing away from her holding his side.  “No more games!!” He swung overhead, using the staff as a club - concentrating on defeating her with sheer brute strength.  Randi read his intention easily, sliding her staff into place and bracing her legs to hold him.

The staff blow seared through them, sending shock waves across both bodies.  Ares’ eyes widened when he realized he wasn’t moving – despite himself, he was impressed.  Then Randi gave him a maddening grin and he got angry.  And he let the anger build and flow through him, utilizing the strength it gave him and pushing her back.  He didn’t appreciate that she was letting push her for her own reasons... until those reasons became clear.

He felt her feet come up and connect with his chest a millisecond before he went flying.  It was quite enlightening when his ass hit the grass.  It was also more than a little painful.  But he scrambled to his feet, spinning the staff at an incredible speed and moving towards Randi with determined steps.

She met him halfway and the blows fell so quickly, they couldn’t be seen – only heard.  SMACK!!  THWACK!!  CRACK!!  WHOOSH!!  THWACK!!  SMACK!!  CRASH!!

There was a brief pause as they backed away from one another, re-evaluating strategies before they moved back together in a tangle of staff work.  Spin, parry, thrust, parry, slash, backslash, thrust, parry, spin.  Over and over in a smooth rhythm like a dance with neither opponent gaining any ground.  Both were sweating hard and breathing heavily.

SMACK!!  Spin, parry. THWACK!!  Parry, thrust, parry. CRACK!!  WHOOSH!! Slash, parry, spin, thrust. THWACK!! Slash, backslash. SMACK!!  Backslash, thrust.  CRASH!!

Finally, completely frustrated by his lack of progress, Ares threw the staff aside and snatched up his sword.  “Time to get serious, warrior.  Come on... let me see what you’re really made of.”  Randi looked at him a moment and Ares rested his sword on his shoulder.  “C’mon.  You know you want to.  It’s always been your weapon of choice.”  Not quite the truth, but not worth quibbling over either.

She didn’t move – not her body or her gaze – from him.  Instead, she waited relaxed until the pommel landed in her outstretched hand.  Only then did she spare a quick glance away from him, knowing he would need a moment to collect his eyes and jaw from the ground.  She and Gwen exchanged a ghost of a wink; then Randi assumed a classic defense position.

“How did you...?”  Ares eyes grew almost black with anger and hatred as it occurred to him just exactly what had happened.  “Gods be damned!!” bellowing.  “You don’t get to have a second!”

“Why not?” Randi taunted as she beckoned him forward with her fingertips.  “There was nothing in the rules agreement that said I couldn’t have Gwen watching my back.  It’s not like we’re double teaming you, Ares.  The fight would be over if we were; she wants to kick your ass as bad as I do.”

“Worse, actually.  Jackass deserves a lot worse than he’s getting,” Gwen muttered, though it was loud enough for those on the field to hear.  The gods actually tittered, especially Ares’ counterparts.

He huffed and puffed so hard, Randi imagined she could actually see steam coming from his ears.  “No!  This is between you and me.”

No one could have said who was more surprised when Gwen stepped between their raised swords, halting his tantrum as surely as water thrown on fire would.  It grew deathly quiet in light of the fury writ clearly across her features.  Even Ares was forced to pay attention, just from sheer force of her presence.  But even through his irritation, there was a tiny kernel of awe for her spirit and complete lack of fear, and that irritated him even more.

“No, Ares.  It’s *not* between you and her – not anymore... and it hasn’t been for a long time.  It’s not about you and the warrior’s soul.  It stopped being about you and her long before she was Miranda Valiant.  But she became an obsession with you – it became all about winning... all about claiming something you thought you deserved.  And when that happened, it became about me too.  Because that soul... *HER* soul... belongs to me, just as mine belongs to her.”

“So you can stand there and try to act all self-righteous in front of the world and make believe her defeat at your hands is something you deserve.  But don’t you dare, for even a minute, think you can do that to me.  I know how long this has been going on; I wrote the stories.  I’ve lived through lifetimes with her while you tried over and over to claim her soul for yourself, even though it hasn’t been yours to claim in millennia.  I’ve been part of the reason she has always defeated you and I always will be.”

“But this time she gets to do more than refuse to play your game... refuse to join you.  This time she gets to physically defeat you, and in doing so, she will accomplish more than you can possibly fathom.  Because with you gone, the world will get a chance... a real chance... to live in peace for a while.  And maybe they can learn how to do it right, so by the time you’re returned to godhood, they will choose peace over conflict.”

“She can’t do that.”  His eyes shifted to Randi’s proud gaze.  “You can’t do that.”

“Oh, I can, and I will,” shifting Gwen to one side and moving to stand within reach of Ares’ sword.  “Who knows – maybe you’ll become a better deity or at least a decent person because of it.  At least you’ll have plenty of down time to think about it.”

Ares snorted arrogantly.  “You really think you can defeat me... beat me at my own game?  Especially with these kind of stakes?!?”  He laughed malevolently.  “I don’t think so.  I am the God of WAR!!”

“... who has completely lost his focus on the big picture.  Maybe you’ll be able to find it again, but in the meantime, the human race will have a chance to grow and evolve without your interference.  Maybe we’ll grow to the next level; or maybe we’ll completely wipe one another off the face of the planet.  But either way, it will be because it was our choice... our decision – and not the machinations of a being who is so goddamn selfish that he has trekked across thousands of years killing and maiming for the singular purpose of claiming something that was never his to begin with.”

He swung, but Randi was ready and their swords met in a clash of steel and sparks.  “You don’t get to choose!” Ares shouted as Randi pushed him away from her.  “It’s my birthright!!”  He swung at her head and she slashed at his arm, drawing first blood and causing him to hiss in pain.

“No, Ares.  It isn’t; it never was,” meeting his next down stroke and pushing him away from her again.  He stumbled as he backed up and decided to rush her.  Then they got down to serious work, exchanging blow for blow with sparks flying.  He saw an opportunity and kicked out, hearing her bones creak and feeling the air rush from her lungs as he made contact.  She went down hard and lay dazed and unmoving.  Eager to capitalize on what he perceived to be a tactical advantage, he hurried to Randi’s side, intent on making her surrender.

He didn’t consider she might be playing possum, and the crack of his knee when her boot heel connected with it was heard across the whole field, as was his keening in agony as he slid to the ground.  No one moved – not even Gwen, who held still at a hidden hand signal from Randi.

Finally, after a long, deep breath, Randi rolled to her side and then pushed her body up gingerly to stand.  She groaned at the pull on her mid-section and a hand automatically went to her side to touch the bruising that had already started forming.  Damnation, that hurts.  Then she took a deep breath and stepped towards Ares, ready to have the fight over and done with.

For his part, Ares lay where he had fallen, mustering his pain and allowing it to course through him so he could harness the power it created.  Then with a scream, he rose up and hurled his sword – but not in the direction anyone expected.


Reed drew a deep breath when Gwen crossed the field to step between Randi and Ares and dress Ares down like a child.  She radiated fury, but beyond that, Reed could feel the pride and possessiveness she felt for Randi flowing from Gwen in waves.  She let it wash over her; it was by far the most pleasant experience she had ever shared from them and Reed relished the strength it lent to her.

“You all right?” Rosie asked, though her eyes never left the field or the interesting tableau that was taking place.

“Yeah.”  She paused.  “Better than all right, actually – this is amazing.”  Rosie turned to look at Reed briefly and Reed returned the glance before they both refocused their gazes on the action.  “For some reason, their shielding is letting me feel the warmth and strength of their bonding, and I have to tell you – it’s really nice.”

“Wonder how long it will last.”

“My feeling their bond?”  Randi went flying and Reed rasped again.  “About that long,” she responded.  “But at least the shielding is still in place.”  A full minute of deliberate, measured breathing while she kept her eyes on the two fallen combatants, then... “Oh shit....”

Silence reigned over the entire congregation when Ares collapsed beneath Randi’s boot.  Then they gasped as one body when Ares screamed and the Sword of War was hurtled through the air, waiting to see if it reached what appeared to be its intended target.


The gods were an odd anomaly – a part and yet not of what was taking place on the field.  The Greek Pantheon had been invited; Ares was a member of their number and as such, responsibility for his judgment and punishment rested in their collective hands.  Only they could remove his godhood... or restore it and so they had come to the challenge as one body, intent for once on seeing justice done.  They had all suffered at his hand or for his actions for years and it was time they got their due from him in return.  It hadn’t taken the three sisters much effort at all to convince their father of the rightness of affording the warrior such an opportunity.

As for the rest... there were a number of other gods in attendance from almost every celebrated religion on the planet.  Some came for the sport – the entertainment value of seeing Ares lessened to mortal status.  Others came to be seen – not willing to miss out on what would likely be the most talked about event to happen to any of them in a thousand years.  Still others came to see that justice was served, though whether they were looking for justice for Randi or Ares or themselves, no one quite knew.

Not that the ‘whys’ particularly mattered to anyone but the individual god.  The fact remained that there were many deities watching the action take place between Randi and Ares.  Some were pulling for the war god, just because the stakes were unimaginable and the thought of having to become mortal was unbearable to them.  The rest, however, they were pulling for Randi.  They had watched the saga between warrior and god for lifetimes and felt it was long past time for Ares to put that particular obsession to rest.

And then there was Aphrodite, Artemis and Athena, who each had a more personal stake in the outcome.  Not in any material sense, but in the wrongs Ares had brought upon their chosen.  Randi was their sword of vengeance and they wanted her to make him suffer at least a little – to make him feel what others, and Randi herself, had felt due to his machinations.  If nothing else, it was hoped that with his defeat at Randi’s hands and the subsequent punishment he would face, Ares would learn to play by the rules the rest of them, however grudgingly, functioned under.

So they watched the action taking place in front of them, amazed at both Randi’s ability to hold her own against a mortal God of War and Ares seeming madness over her.  How had something so obvious escaped their detection for so long – for it was clear his fascination with her had long since become detrimental to him and his ability to function dispassionately in his capacity as a war god.

Randi baited him and he responded, anger clear in the taut lines of his face and the fire in his eyes.  And so the battle raged on, fighting round and round in a clash of fists, staves and swords.

The silence that fell as Randi hit the ground was palpable – so much so that the crunch of Ares’ knee beneath her heel echoed across the field a moment later.  They watched as the two opponents gathered themselves to enter the fray once more, feeling hope when Randi got to her feet first, sure the fight had neared its end.  Surely Ares would be forced to capitulate victory now that he was unable to stand and fight.

No one could imagine how far beyond reason he had actually gone and when he shifted, no one expected his chosen course of action.

The sword flew from his grip as he unleashed a mighty roar, but it did not head for Randi.  Though surprising to some - given the intensity of their fight, it wasn’t astounding to a majority of those who were observing; after all, he had coveted this woman for her lifetime and her soul for lifetimes before that.  Why would he seek to destroy her when he finally had a chance to legitimize his claim on her for all and sundry to see?  And gods knew Randi had opened up the opportunity for him to take out Gwen when she had acknowledged her as her second.

But that was the easy way, and Ares wanted Gwen to suffer – to watch as he claimed Randi for his own forever... as he had watched her do over and over through the millennia since the warrior’s soul had been lost to him.  There would be no quick death by the sword for her.  He has special plans in mind for the bard’s soul, and each and every one of them were slow and painful and something he intended to enjoy to the fullest.

So as though in slow motion, they all watched in shock as the Sword of War flew straight and true towards Aphrodite.  In real time, however, it happened so fast and so accurately, even Athena didn’t have a chance to react before it was done.

Aphrodite didn’t even get a chance to scream.

The sword hit the box Dite held dead center.  When the metal of Hephaestus met itself with such force and velocity, it could not help but collapse.  The tip of the blade destroyed the lock and the box opened when it fell to the ground, knocked free of Aphrodite’s grasp.  And in the blink of an eye, the essence of Ares’ godhood escaped.

He waited with an evil, twisted smirk on his face.  He figured if Randi could loophole the conditions of their agreement to suit her, then he was entitled to do the same.  After all, he had followed it to the letter, fighting her as a mortal without being defeated.  No one had said how long he had to fight as one... only that the fighting would continue till one or the other of the yielded.

Now he waited, knowing his essence would heal him and the godhood would allow him to defeat her with barely a raised hand.  Of course, he would make her suffer first, as payback for the humiliation she had already caused.  Not much – they did have a planet to rule together, after all.  But enough, so she could feel his pain and know who her master truly was.

The essence did indeed hover over him, its blue light filling him with healing warmth and angered strength for a long moment before it moved away from him, leaving him behind with a confused look on his face.

Then it moved over to Gwen, assessing her from a distance before drawing closer to her, intrigued by what it found in her eyes and her heart.  The essence washed over Gwen, filling her with a sense of power.  Randi made a movement towards them both, but a hand from Gwen halted her progress.

But the movement was enough and the light moved away from Gwen to envelope Randi.  She glowed long enough to make everyone look away to save their eyesight.  Ares screamed in fury and frustration, realizing he had become the author of his own defeat.

Randi stood stock still, taking in the sensations and power as it literally flowed through her veins like a heady wine.  Then she turned flaming blue eyes towards Ares and he understood all too clearly she was going to defeat him with his own power.  Fear filled him; for the first time in longer than he could remember, he was honestly afraid.  Not of dying - that was secondary in his thinking.  Instead he was afraid because she would be what he had always wanted... without him.

Lazily she lifted a hand, staring at the sparking blue ball that floated just above it.  She drew back, preparing to lob it toward Ares and end the nonsense once and for all.  Only a touch on her arm made her pause, and Randi looked down into intense green eyes gazing back at her with complete love and trust.

Randi hesitated, her eyes reflecting the passion she felt for Gwen.  She started to reach up her hand to cup Gwen’s face before realizing she still held the fireball in her hand.  Randi stared at it, then turned to Ares who was watching her with undisguised, enthralled with the vision she made despite himself.  The globe grew in intensity and he saw his end in it.

A touch on her arm again brought Randi’s attention back to Gwen and for a long, long moment they spoke without words.  Everything and everyone was forgotten but each other; Randi extinguished the ball and extended her hand to trail along Gwen’s face and thread into her hair.  Gwen let Randi bring them closer together until they were breathing one another’s air.

“I can end this,” Randi whispered against Gwen’s lips.  “I can make it so he can’t hurt anyone else ever again.”

Finally Gwen took the initiative, cupping Randi’s face in both hands, pulling back just enough that their eyes could meet without crossing.  “Randi, love... you already have.  You’ve beaten him at his own game.  But if you kill him, he wins.”

“No, Gwen... I can make you a god.  Then nothing can hurt us again.”

Gwen shook her head, but never let her eyes leave Randi’s.  “No, sweetheart – that’s not who I am, and it’s not who you are.  You only have to make Ares yield, and it’s over.  We can go home.  No more being the Empress, no more queens or consorts, no more gods interfering or Sabre missions; we can be just Randi and Gwen again.”

“Just us... no one else?”

“Just us.”

Randi brushed her lips over Gwen’s briefly, then leaned their foreheads together and closed her eyes.  When she opened them again, Gwen saw the warrior she had always loved at peace and she smiled.  “Hold that thought, love,” Randi whispered.  “I’ll be right back.”

Randi turned away from Gwen and marched to where the gods remained frozen by the astonishing turn of events.  Without a second glance, she retrieved the Sword of War from where it lay, separating it from the box with a strong, firm pull.  The smile she gave the assembled gods was disconcerting, but they recognized her right to act as the new God of War.  Then she strode back to where Ares was still lying, cradling his broken knee.

“Yield to me, Ares.”

“I don’t think so, sweet cheeks.  You want to win, you’re going to have to kill me.”  He grinned evilly.  “And I don’t think you want to live with those consequences.”

Without warning, she sent a bolt of lightening through his entire body, watching dispassionately as he writhed in the throes of agony.  When he finally quit twitching, she took his chin in her fingers and forced him to meet her eyes, and her voice dropped to a whisper that only he could hear.  “Let me explain this to you in very simple terms – you are all that stands between peace for me and Gwen.  Now, either you yield to me, or I will ensure that your life as a human being is a very long one fraught with pain and agony.  I will not allow you the release of death until it is my time to cross over.”

She leaned so close he could feel her breath on his ear and he shivered in reaction that was both arousal and terror.  “You wanna know the best part?  I don’t need to be a god to do that.  If you don’t yield, I will scatter your power to the four winds.  There won’t be a God of War... ever again.”

“You wouldn’t.”

“Try me,” she hissed, backing away far enough for him to read the truth in her eyes for himself.  She raised the sword and gathered her power, causing the blade to glow with the reflection of it.

“You would,” he muttered incredulously.  “You would let all that go... give up all that power... just to be with her.”  His tone was flat, defeated.

“In a fucking heartbeat.”

His shoulders slumped.  “I yield,” he said, his voice a mere whisper.

“Louder, Ares.  The whole world has to hear you.”

Randi stepped back and crossed her arms, waiting.  This victory had been a long time coming and she intended to savor every single moment.

“I, Ares, God of War, YIELD the field of battle to Miranda Valiant!” Ares shouted his voice trembling, though whether it was due to rage, pain or frustration, only he could have said.  And then it didn’t matter, for as soon as the words left his mouth, a cacophony of sound rose around the world as the world cheered Randi’s victory. She didn’t notice; she only had eyes and ears for Gwen.  Gwen rushed into Randi’s arms and the world faded out for a blissful moment while hearts, minds and bodies reconnected in a spinning hug and laughter.

They kept their embrace brief, knowing Randi still had things to wrap up before she and Gwen could go home.  And Randi had determined that when they celebrated *this* victory, no one would be witness to their shared passion but each other.  They had been on the world stage long enough.

Randi turned to the gods who had surrounded Ares to wait for her final dispensation of him; they still did not know what she planned to do with the godhood she had suddenly inherited.  She pinned Zeus with her eyes.  “Let’s get rid this godhood thing.”

He blinked; her words were completely unexpected, but he didn’t question her seriousness.  That could clearly be read in her expression.  “And then?” not knowing what else to ask.

“And then we’ll tie up the last of the loose ends.  It’s time to be done with this.  I wanna go home.”


Chapter XXII

The Sabres had reacted as one body when the power of war electrified Randi, coming to stand behind Gwen in a show of solidarity.  They remained firm, not moving by her command when Gwen went to Randi, but watching with the same fascination as the rest of the world as Gwen tamed the fire burning in Randi’s eyes.  When Ares yielded to Randi, they exchanged amazed looks, but still didn’t move, not having been released from Gwen’s command.  And as long as there was no immediate danger, they were bound to wait until called for.

When the gods moved towards them, however, the Sabres did the same, coming up to stand behind Randi and Gwen even as the gods surrounded the defeated Ares.  No one showed a reaction when Randi turned to Zeus and demanded, “Let’s get rid this godhood thing,” beyond a widening of their eyes.  But it was damned certain there would be talk around the dinner table later.  None of them had ever experienced anything like this before – no one in the world had. 


Randall was enthralled with the action taking place in front of him.  He reached out towards the screen trying to touch his favorite person.  He cheered as she fought, knowing his ‘Wuv’ would triumph.  After all... she was his hero and heroes don’t lose.  When the essence of war encompassed her, he clapped and cheered, proclaiming, “Pretty!”  Ella just let her mouth drop open in complete disbelief and Ditto chimed in her two cents with a loud, staccato bark.

Tommy watched, eyes wide, as the woman he had always considered his little sister became a god.  To say it was disconcerting was an understatement, but he couldn’t take his eyes off the vid screen.  He’d never seen her fight like that – never expected her to be able to hold her own so easily with Ares... even without his powers.  And then to have Randi become the one thing in the world she despised more than any other... well, Tommy wasn’t surprised to hear the words come out of her mouth.  His only surprise came from the lack of venom, more of a resignation in her tone than anything else.

Jill didn’t say anything.  Her gaze was fixed on her daughter, who was the picture of composed happiness locked in Randi’s embrace.  Whatever else had happened, godhood had done nothing to their bond but made it stronger, and seeing it made Jill smile.  Geoff’s sacrifice had been worth it, and that was enough to give her an unexpected measure of peace.


Sky watched, nodding his approval.  It was gratifying to see such a successful culmination of effort.  Though the current events playing out before his eyes were beyond his ability to forecast, even through the vid screen he could see the bond that linked Randi and Gwen together.  He took a small measure of pride in the part he had played towards their healing, and watching Randi stand up and kick Ares’ ass was rewarding on a carnal level – all in all an extremely satisfying day.


“Holy shit!” Tiny muttered to no one in particular as Ares godhood descended on Randi.  The rest of the Sabres gathered around the vid screen echoed his sentiment after their own fashion while all eyes remained locked on the action taking place in the Amazon compound.  Then they watched with amazed eyes the wordless conversation between Randi and Gwen before Randi forced Ares to yield.  None of them could hear the words that were spoken, but the defeat in his posture was unmistakable even before he conceded the field to her.

They cheered when Gwen ran into Randi’s arms.  Then complete silence fell when Randi told Zeus to get rid of her godhood.  Surely they had misunderstood; despite her desire to simply go home and live in peace with Gwen, no one would give up the opportunity to be a god... would they?  She could still go wherever she wanted and live in peace.

Only Tiny immediately understood her motivation and he nodded his approval.  “You go, girl,” he said into all that silence, compelling every eye in the conference room to turn towards him.  He huffed in impatience and rolled his eyes at them.  “C’mon, guys.  None of you are that dense.”

“But Tiny... it’s the ultimate power....”

“No, it isn’t the ultimate power, but it is a power and responsibility Randi has always despised and done her very best to avoid.  She was goaded into becoming the Sabre Commandant and pushed into taking the position of Empress.  And as soon as she recovered herself completely, the minute she escaped from the last of Ares influence, she put into motion plans so she can to resign from it and walk away.”

“I don’t understand that,” Yuri said plaintively.  “Oh, I know she doesn’t want it; I get that.  I was genuinely surprised when she accepted the position of Commandant and then proclaimed herself Empress.  It goes against everything I knew about her before she came back from the dead.”


“But being a god is different.  She has the epitome of power in the palm of her hand and yet she is walking away from it.  Doesn’t she understand the good she could do with it??”

Tiny chuckled.  “I think you are looking at this from the wrong angle, Yuri.  Didn’t you hear what Randi and Gwen said to Ares?  First of all, being a god is not the ultimate power – it never has been.  Randi has held her ultimate power in the palm of her hand and the depths of her heart for a long time and everything she has done has been in an effort to protect that.”

“You’re talking about her love for Gwen, aren’t you, Tiny?” Chase asked.

“Yeah.  The love they share is Randi’s whole world; nothing and no one else comes close.  Being a god would take away from that, and for Randi, that is unacceptable.  Besides, she has done more good for mankind as a mortal than the gods have managed to do in the millennia of their existence.  She has given us a chance to determine our destiny on our own... without any added outside influences stirring things up for us except for those we allow in.  What happens to the human race is now ultimately our responsibility – no gods or religions or differences to blame... just us.”

“Wow,” Yuri said thoughtfully.  “I never thought about it before.  It’s always been us versus the rebels on a quest for peace.”

“Well, now it’s just us on a search to better ourselves and the world we live in.  And that should be everyone’s responsibility... not just hers.  Because of her, we have a fighting chance of making it work.”


Aphrodite held tight to the box she had recovered as she, Athena and Artemis separated from the other gods and moved to stand in front of Randi and Gwen instead.  “Randi, are you sure about this?” Dite asked seriously.  “Giving up your godhood, I mean.  You could make such a difference....”

Gwen held on to Randi when she would have pulled away.  Randi looked down in curiosity, not angry but a little confused by Gwen’s reaction.  She read the unspoken request in the green eyes and touched the backs of her fingers to Gwen’s cheek, yielding the floor to her soulmate with grace and dignity.

Gwen slipped out of the embrace only as far as necessary, feeling Randi’s arms slide around her middle when Gwen moved to stand in front of her.  She leaned back comfortably, relishing the feel of being held safely in Randi’s arms once more.  Nothing in heaven or earth could compare to that and Gwen wanted the goddesses to understand.

“Aphrodite, Randi has already made that difference.  Didn’t you hear what we said to Ares earlier?  This is humanity’s best chance to evolve as a species... to grow for themselves and see what, if anything, they are capable of beyond fighting and dying.  Already most see the similarities instead of the differences, and the rest are being educated as we speak.  There is nothing more Randi could do as a goddess that she has not already accomplished as a mortal.”


“No, Aphrodite,” Athena cut in unexpectedly.  “They are completely right, and we all know the souls of both the warrior and the bard have more than earned the chance to be done with this.  Our time as gods and the parents of humanity has long since passed, and while we will always exist... always be around keeping a watchful eye in things, it is time that mortals determined their own destiny without any interference from us.  They deserve the opportunity to stand or fall on their own.”


“Enough, daughter,” Zeus said, the conversation having attracted his attention.  It had answered his questions, hearing them reaffirm what they had said to Ares.  “Miranda, step forward and we will remove the power of war from you.  And then we will go and give humanity the chance you have earned for them.”  More than one of the lesser gods looked like they wanted to protest, but one look at Ares convinced them all to shut up and agree.  At least they would still be immortals; none of them wanted to suffer Ares’ fate.  He still hadn’t moved from where he had fallen after yielding the field to Randi.

The Pantheon lined up behind Zeus once more, extending their powers to withdraw the power of war from its host again.  Gwen moved to one side, but refused to move completely away from Randi, instead choosing to give Randi something to focus on besides what was happening.  Randi stood still, letting Gwen hold her hands while she gripped the sword and keeping their gazes locked.  She didn’t even notice when the essence emerged from her being and hovered over her before reluctantly following the call of the Pantheon and coming to rest in the bottom of Hephestus’ locked box.

Aphrodite closed the box and this time Zeus locked and sealed it.  Then he took it from Aphrodite, clearing his throat to get Randi’s attention and still having to wait a full minute before she turned her stare in his direction.  The Amazons and the rest of the world were all but forgotten and Zeus slowed time to allow them a bit of privacy to finish the remainder of their business.  Then he extended the box towards Randi and waited for her to accept it.

“This is yours.  Only you can open it... either by will or by your death and the death of your soulmate.  If you open it by will, you will become the God of War and we will not undo that choice.  If you and Gwen die without opening the box, the power will revert to Ares and he will shed his mortality to resume his godhood.”

“And if he dies before I do?”

Zeus spared a glance at his fallen son, guarded by the Sabres and watched by the rest of the gods.  “When his time comes, if it is before yours, I will put his body into stasis until such time as you pass over.  Only then will he be allowed to reclaim his godhood.”

“Very well,” Randi nodded.  “Do you need to know where this will be kept?”

Zeus shook his head.  “No.  The essence will know and it will find you or Ares when it is freed.”

Randi nodded and Zeus turned away from her, headed back towards Ares who lay flat on his back with his good arm covering his eyes.  He couldn’t bend into a fetal position as his cracked knee and sore ribs were on opposite sides of his body and made curling up in any form an uncomfortable prospect at best.

“Zeus?”  He turned back to Randi when she addressed him and waited.  “Why did it choose me?  Despite everything I said to him, Ares was born to godhood.  It’s *his* essence.”

He looked at her for a long moment, then nodded his head in satisfaction at what he found in her.  She would have been a most powerful god... even moreso than he himself was, and Zeus was suddenly grateful for the strength of will that compelled her to turn her back on it and remain mortal.  “My children were born to be gods, yes, but each godhood chose its host.  Ares was most suited to be the God of War.  That essence became his because he was the most capable warrior and for a very long time, he was very good at what he did.  Then you... your soul... came along and he lost his focus.”

“So you’re saying that essence chose me because....”

“... you were the strongest, most capable warrior, yes.”  He looked directly at Gwen who had been watching the conversation quietly but with exceeding interest.  “Though you were a most compelling candidate as well.  Now, if you will excuse me,” motioning towards Ares, “I think we need to find a place to get him settled and heal him.  He should at least start his life as a mortal with a strong body.  What he does after that....”  Zeus shrugged.

“Where will he go when he leaves here?” Gwen asked, looking back and forth between Ares, Zeus and the three goddesses who were still nearby.

Athena stepped closer and nodded to Zeus, who went back to his son’s side.  “We thought we’d leave it up to you.  We could take him back to Olympus, but we didn’t think that was what you had in mind when you demanded his mortality as a condition of the contest.  We all assumed you might want a say in his dispensation.  You did defeat him after all.”

“Personally, I would like to see him live and work as a mortal on this plane for the rest of his natural life... something difficult and challenging to his body, if not his mind.  Maybe a taste of true hard work will make him a better person, even if doesn’t make him a better god.  I don’t have enough faith to think any change on his part would last beyond his regaining his power,” Gwen said bitterly.

“You really think he won’t learn from this?” Artemis asked sadly.

“Yeah, that is exactly what I think,” Gwen answered honestly.  “We have put up with his meddling to varying degrees in every lifetime we have shared for millennia.  I know this for a fact - I have documentation of much of it, and the Amazon library holds some of the earliest texts about our lives together.  I think regaining his godhood will only make us a bigger target for him.  So I’d like to know he at least had to work through this lifetime so we can enjoy some peace.”

“Very well,” Athena accepted her words with a disappointed nod.  “We will make sure he is put somewhere that he will have to work daily for his survival.  At least he will be kept busy enough to afford you both the peace from his machinations you have more than earned.”  She started to walk back to the rest of the gods when she was halted by Gwen’s hand on her arm.  

“Find him a place where he has to work hard and earn his place, but also offers him a chance for friends and companionship.  Even he shouldn’t have to spend the next fifty years alone.”

Before anyone else could speak, Aphrodite rushed in and wrapped Gwen up in a tight hug.  “Oooh, babe!  You so totally rock!  I knew I could count on your radical self to go beyond and give Ares a chance.”

Gwen exchanged confused glances with Randi, whose expression turned to one of amusement when Dite continued to hold on to Gwen for dear life.  Finally, Randi stepped forward to break Aphrodite’s hold and allow Gwen to take a deep breath.  “What was that about?” cutting her eyes to take in the amused countenances of all three goddesses.

“When it was determined that you would be responsible for deciding Ares’ fate, there were those in our number who felt anything you chose would be excessively harsh, given his actions towards you.  Most felt it was your due and that you would be justified in whatever course of action you took.”

“However, we argued that you would show him some bit of mercy; it is just in your nature... part of who you are and have always been.”

“Yeah, it’s just majorly cool to have been proven so right.”

“Oh,” Randi said.  “So now what?”

“Well, first we will take Ares to his new earthly home, and then we will all head back to our various immortal planes of existence.  I imagine this will keep us all quite enthralled with discussion and debate for the next little while.  Nothing this exciting has happened to us in ages.”

Randi chuckled.  Somehow, she didn’t doubt the truth of that statement.  “Well, if ya’ll can manage it between gossip sessions, ya’ll might want to try to come to the party we have scheduled here in a few days.  It promises to be a lot of fun, but um....” looking at Gwen for help.

“We’ll be there, but you won’t recognize us.  Well, you two might, but the rest of the world won’t,” Athena said with a smile.  “You deserve that much.”

“Besides, it’ll be nice to just be one of the girls for a change,” Artemis agreed.

“Yeah, but for now, we’ve gotta jet.  Hair to do, make-up to fix, nails to sharpen... you know how it is.  We’ll be keeping an eye out though; we don’t wanna miss this way rocking par-tay.”

Randi and Gwen just shook their heads and watched as the three goddesses crossed back over to join the rest of the gods.  Finally it dawned on Ares that this was real, and he was going to have to live as a mortal for the next few decades.  He began to fight and struggle.  “NO!!  You can’t do this to me!  I am the God of War!!  You can’t do this!!!!  NOOOOOOO!!!!!”

Zeus restrained Ares with a touch on his arm and his cries turned to whimpers and please for mercy.  The three goddesses turned and gave Randi and Gwen a wave before disappearing in a shower of petals, sparkles and flashing light, accompanied by the rumble of thunder.  Only when the last reverberation had rolled through and the final flash faded did time resume its normal journey and the crowd around them surge with sound and motion.

“What just happened?” Reed asked Rosie.  “Where is Ares?”

“Don’t worry, Reed,” Randi said.  “Everything’s been taken care of.  Are you all right?”  She and Gwen stepped into the ring of Sabres, feeling the circle close, shielding them from the Amazons who were slowly approaching them.  

“Except for the feeling that that I missed something important, I’m great.  When you were healed by the godhood, it healed the rift in your barrier as well.  I kinda miss the warmth I felt before, but I am happier knowing it is in place.”

“I’ll bet,” Randi chuckled.  “C’mon.  We’ve go things to do and a party to plan.”

“Actually, I think we can leave the party planning to the Amazons.  Rumor has it they’re experts.”  This caused Randi and Gwen to break out into serious laughter, from relief as much as from what Reed had said.  The Sabres just watched them with bemusement.

“You have no idea,” Gwen managed to get out.  Randi just wrapped her arm tighter around Gwen’s shoulders and guided them all back towards the mountain.  There was still work to be done and most of it was not here.  But the sooner they got it finished, the sooner they could come back and party with the Amazons one more time.


“How long will you be gone, my queen?” Lorac asked when they had finally reached the sanctuary of their quarters.  Though thrilled with Randi’s defeat of Ares, the Nation was still recovering from the potion he had administered and they were still somewhat subdued as a result.  It would be another day or two before any of them felt up to hosting a party; the events of the day had been very draining - especially given the amount of prep work that had been required of the Nation before the actual fight between Randi and Ares.

So they were looking forward to a day or two of down time to recover before hosting what was sure to be the blowout of a lifetime.

“Probably a week.  Randi has to put the last of her plans in place and we want to stop by the village for a day or two to talk to Sky and the People.  They’ve done so much for us - we were supposed to go by there right after our spirit walk, but things came up.”

Lorac nodded.  That seemed to be true a lot around these two, but things also got fixed when they were around as well.  “Invite the People to come with you as well... all of them.”  She smiled at the astonishment so clearly written in Gwen’s expression.  “I know it is unusual, but we owe them a great debt as well.  Perhaps it is time to start some new traditions.”

Gwen cleared her throat.  “Well, then... why don’t we make this an end of summer bash?”

Lorac nodded her agreement.  “That would give us a couple weeks to get everything together and get the word out to everyone.  Do you think Reed would be willing to stay and be a liaison for us?  Since they are her tribe, she could make a great contribution towards making this successful.”

“I’ll ask her, but I don’t see why not.  I don’t think Randi would mind.”

“Wouldn’t mind what, love?” rubbing the excess water from her hair as she stepped into the room.  The Sabres had given her their traditional congratulations when they reached the fountain, and she had decided a shower would be the quickest way to warm up from the ice cold water they had plunged her into... since her first chosen method was currently unavailable dealing with diplomatic matters.

Gwen’s eyes sparkled brightly when they met equally bright blue ones.  The energy between them was palpable, but her voice was steady when she answered Randi’s question.  “Leaving Reed here for the next couple weeks.  It would help the Amazons prepare and would give her a break from us.”

“That’s not a problem.  I decided to have all the Sabres with us continue their duty here while we were gone anyway.  They are all Amazons, after all.  I figure they will enjoy a bit of light duty after the last few weeks and they can help Lorac with whatever else needs to be done to get the Nation settled.”  She turned her attention to the regent.  “You are close, yes?”

“Yes, Empress... Randi,” she conceded, seeing the glower form on Randi’s face.  “We’re not as far along as we’d hoped to be at this point, but given the mitigating circumstances, I am mostly pleased at the status of our progress.  Having the Sabre Amazons here will make a big difference in what we can accomplish before you and the queen return.”

“Then consider it done.”  Randi turned back to Gwen.  “So when is this shindig?  I figured the Nation might need a little time to recuperate before hosting any sort of big bash, so how long?  I need to let Tommy know when to get the guys together and get out here.”

“Two weeks,” Gwen replied.  “We thought we’d make it an end of summer party.  That will give us time to do what we need to do and everyone else time to make arrangements to get out here.”

Randi smiled her approval.  “I like that.  It means we don’t have to rush either, and yet gives us a deadline I can live with.  All right.  We’ll head out first thing in the morning.  But now we need to go have dinner with the unit and let them know what is going on and then I have a few calls to make.  Lorac, would you like to join us?”

“If it is all the same to you, Emp... Randi, we gave the cooks the night off so that everyone could get a bit of a rest.  I’d like to do the same.  It’s been a stressful few days.”

“Absolutely,” Gwen agreed quickly.  “We won’t leave without saying goodbye.”  Together the three walked out the door and the two Sabres assigned to mobile duty went with them towards the Amazon mess area.  The unit had grown too large to accommodate them all in their quarters and both Gwen and Randi knew the Sabres would have no problem fending for themselves... especially with Rosie present.

Lorac split off from them to return to her own residence and the rest continued on into what had evolved into the main congregating are for the Nation – namely the mess hall.  Surprisingly, from the scents wafting across the area, Rosie hadn’t cooked; instead, they had done a potluck with all of them contributing something to the meal.  When Gwen and Randi were spotted crossing the courtyard area, a cheer went up from the Sabres, and they were welcomed with open arms as old friends.

More than one Amazon observed the group from the shadows, but none of them approached the Sabres, unwilling to disturb the camaraderie so obvious between them.  The Sabres on the other hand were loud and happy, celebrating Randi’s victory for reasons the rest of the world could only try to imagine.  Laughter flowed freely and food was passed back and forth with snarky comments and ribald teasing.

“That was so boss, boss,” Shibata exclaimed.  “The look on his face when he realized he couldn’t beat you was just too sweet!”

“And watching him crumple when you kicked him... man!  That was fabulous!”

“Yeah, we could hear the Amazons behind us... they were loving it.”

“It really was a good show, Randi.  Did you expect it to go like it did?”

Randi swallowed her food and wiped her mouth, then turned and faced Rosie.  “Did I expect to win?  Absolutely.  The rest of it was something of a surprise.”

“What was it like... being a god, I mean.  It was the most interesting thing I have ever seen.”

The table grew completely silent.  Rosie had asked the question all of them had wondered about, but none of them had dared to ask.  Randi cleared her throat and met the eyes of each woman in the unit before she looked at Gwen. 

“It was seductive and powerful... and completely empty.”


“It didn’t offer me anything I didn’t already have, and Gwen was right there to remind me of that fact.”  Gwen lifted her hand to cup Randi’s face and Randi returned the gesture with a look so intense, Mason hesitantly cleared her throat to draw Randi’s attention back to the conversation.

“Was there any temptation to keep the power?”

Dead silence.  “Yes,” Randi replied starkly, turning her eyes back to the table.  “Revenge is a huge motivation... especially the instant you understand the scope of payback you could give to this asshole that has made your life and the lives of so many others miserable.”

“So what happened?”  This from Reed.

“Gwen,” said without hesitation.  “Nothing compares to what we share... not even the power of a god.”

“Aww,” they all chorused together, causing a blush to skitter up Gwen’s face and a smirk to form on Randi’s.

“Moving on...” she added, taking their eyes away from Gwen and refocusing them on her with the official tone.  “I want everyone, not just the med teams, to stay here until we return in two weeks.  You can all contribute to settling the Nation and Lorac would appreciate your presence.  Reed, you’ll be the liaison between the Amazons and the People, as well as the contact point for the Sabres.  Part of your duties will be to coordinate with everyone to help set up this party.”

“The People are coming to the party?  And the Sabres as well?”

“Yes,” Gwen said decisively. “This is going to be a celebration for us.  We want to invite everyone who helped us make it through this last crisis to have a chance to celebrate with us.  We’re heading out tomorrow.  We need to stop in the village to invite the People to the celebration, and then onto the capital to begin implementation of the new integration plans.”

“Do you think that will work?  The integration plans?”

“I think the best way for people to learn tolerance is for them to live and work with people they see as different; to find how similar we really are in the ways that matter most… and how the differences are what make us individuals.  Sabre training reinforced this belief in all of us.  I think the rest of the world needs to catch up.”

“Fortunately, a majority of the world already does think that way.  We just want to make sure it continues once we walk away.  Don’t you want the next generation to have Sabre values?”

“I would like the next generation to not only know, but be able to appreciate peace... without having to do what we did to achieve it.”

“Hear!  Hear!” was heard around the table.

“All right then.  You all know what to do.  If you have questions, go to Lorac.  She has the plans for how things are supposed to be laid out here.  But work together, guys.  The sooner this place is finished, the sooner you can all start rotating home on a more regular basis.  Be able to live normal lives for a change.”

“So... no more Sabres?  No more military?”

“No... there will still be Sabres and a military for the foreseeable future.  But their functions will change and evolve as humanity grows.”

“You really think...?”

“I really think we have to try and hope that humanity has learned enough to survive and flourish.”

“Good enough,” Rosie said unexpectedly.  “There comes a time when a parent has to let their child go to make its own decisions and mistakes.  They hope they have taught their child well and that the child has learned everything that is necessary to be a responsible, successful human being.  Mankind has reached that point and then some.  You and the Sabres have done all you can do, Randi.  It’s time to let the rest of the world start taking responsibility for itself.”  Rosie smiled at the enigmatically.  “The good news is - I think they’re finally ready to do that.”

“The better news is – I am more than ready to let them,” Randi added with a smile.  “Rosie, what would you like to do tomorrow?  You’re welcome to come back with us, or you are welcome to stay here.  Though I feel compelled to warn you that if you stay here, you will more than likely be put to work doing something or other to get ready for the party.”

“I have never been known to pass up an opportunity for a party,” Rosie grinned.  “Besides, I did say I wanted to see what this place would be like under more normal circumstances.  I think this would probably be about as normal as it gets.”

Gwen chuckled.  “Normal has never been a goal of the Amazon Nation.  We take great pride in our uniqueness.  Makes dealing with all that estrogen a little easier to manage.”  That got laughter from around the table.  Even the hidden Amazons had to laugh at the ironic truth in that statement.

“Well, if there is nothing else,” Randi said, rising from her seat and causing a ripple effect around the table as the rest stood in respect.  She would have rolled her eyes, but the behavior had been deeply ingrained and since she had managed to keep them from addressing her by title, she decided to let this little lapse pass without comment.  She extended her hand and Gwen took it immediately.  “Good night, ladies.”  And the two left without further comment until they were out of sight.

Then the Sabre Amazons sat back down to finish their repast with high spirited conversation.  Finally, they had a real future to look forward to.


Chapter XXIII

“That was nice,” Gwen said after the sweat had dried a good while later.  She stretched and pulled Randi’s arm tighter around her naked body, relishing the contact along their joined lengths.  She bit her lip to keep from laughing at the rapidity that statement forced Randi to sit up on one elbow and lean over Gwen, blue eyes pinning green with an intense glare.

“Nice?!  That’s all you have to say – it was NICE?!?”  She flopped back down on her back and covered her eyes with her arm.  “Not even married a year and the magic is gone; the honeymoon’s over.  And here I thought it was some of our most fervent, passionate lovemaking to date.”

Gwen rolled over on top of Randi, settling herself and tweaking the nipple closest to her reach.  That got her a squawk and another glare, but Randi didn’t try to dislodge Gwen; it would have injured Gwen and Randi didn’t want that even if she was surprisingly hurt by Gwen’s comment.  Instead, she closed her eyes and tried to cover them with her arm again; Gwen ducked underneath it, causing Randi to put her in a headlock instead.

“Open your eyes, beautiful.”


”C’mon, Randi... open your eyes for me, love.  Let me see into your soul.”


Gwen frowned.  Something in Randi’s tone made her realize that Randi had genuinely been hurt by her comment, even though they had obviously been having two completely different conversations.  Gwen sat up slightly, taking Randi’s arm from around her neck and brushing a light kiss across the knuckles she held gently in her grasp.  “Sweetheart, open your eyes for me, please?”

Her voice was soft and beseeching and Randi could no more ignore the pleading in her tone than she could stop breathing and live.  Gwen gasped at the hurt she could see in Randi’s pained expression.

“Oh, Stud... I wasn’t talking about our lovemaking.  Hot sex with you is always incredible and making love just adds a depth and intensity that moves it beyond that.  Don’t ever, *ever* think that I don’t appreciate the pricelessness what we share together... in and out of the bedroom.”

“Then what...?”

“I was talking about dinner with the Sabres.  My body was... is still tingling in so many places from your touch, I was trying to calm my still-jangling nerves a little by engaging in a little non-sexual conversation.  You know, give us a little breather before we started again.”  She smiled, then her expression turned wry.  “Bad choice for an opening line, I guess.”

“Yeah, a little.  Of course, I didn’t need to react like that either.”  Randi frowned.  “Sorry.  I’m not really sure where that came from, to tell you the truth.”

“It’s been a very long, very weird day?”

“It’s been a very long, very weird few weeks.”

“You can say that again... and I’m sorry too.  I should have thought about the fact that although we can share our dreamscape, it doesn’t mean you can read my mind or follow my silent thought processes.  Especially since that thought actually did start at how lucky I am to have such a talented, thoughtful lover.”

Randi pulled her hand free from Gwen’s clasp, causing another frown to mar her expression.  Then her face changed to happy satisfaction when Randi proceeded to tenderly run her hands up and down Gwen’s bare back and sides.  Randi laughed when Gwen fell into her body in a boneless heap, purring like a kitten with a belly full of cream.

“Are you laughing at me?” murmured against Randi’s chest.

“No, Little One.  That sound is pure joy.  I love the resonance of your happiness against me.”  She caught Gwen’s astonished look.  “What??  I’m married to a bard.  I’ve learned a few things about expressing myself.”  Then she laughed even harder at Gwen’s look of resignation and chagrin.  “God, I love you.  Don’t you ever go changing on me, all right?”

For her answer, Gwen locked her lips with Randi’s, licking and nipping until she felt Randi surrender beneath the onslaught.  Then Gwen released Randi’s mouth with slow satisfaction. “I love you too,” she said softly, squeezing Randi with all the strength she could muster.

They stayed snuggled up together for a while, gently stroking what skin they could comfortably reach.  Finally, Randi took a deep breath.  “So how did you get from our lovemaking to dinner with the Sabres?  ‘Cause you’re right... I am absolutely not seeing how you got from one to the other.”

“Oh, it was easy,” Gwen replied.  “I was thinking about how wonderful I felt and how lucky I was to have you in my life and that made me wonder if the rest of the world knew how lucky I was and that naturally led me to thinking about the Sabres who definitely know how lucky I am if not in the same way that I know how lucky I am and that turned my thoughts back to the Sabres and dinner and then....”  She stopped speaking and took a breath when Randi covered her mouth lightly.

“Whoa there, sweetheart.  Take a deep breath.  I think I get the picture.”

“And it made sense?”

“Sure.  Just because I can’t read your mind doesn’t mean I can’t follow your thought processes when you share them, ya know.  Ow!  Whaddya do that for?” scowling, unable to rub the spot in question with Gwen still comfortably sprawled on top of her.  Then it didn’t matter so much as Gwen kissed the place she had just bitten then trailed up her neck, making Randi forget the slight pain.  When she reached Randi’s lips, Gwen indulged in a long kiss, smiling as she pulled away.

“You wanna know something?”


“I am so glad we’re leaving tomorrow.  I’ve had about all the excitement I can... mmph?”

“Shh... let’s not jinx it.  I would prefer for things to go smoothly for the next couple weeks so we can go home to stay.”  Gwen’s eyes widened and she nodded her head rapidly in agreement.  “Now, have we had enough of a breather for a while?”

Gwen didn’t speak; her answer was clear in her actions.


“You know the hardest thing about being here?  No sunlight.  I miss being able to look out the bedroom window and watch the sun rising from the comfort of your arms.”

“Well, tomorrow morning we will be in the village, so we can see the sunrise over the mountains.  And in another day or two, we’ll be in the capital city and we can see the sunrise over the trees that surround the house there.  But two weeks from now, we will finally be home for good, and we will spend the rest of our lives together watching the sun rise over the water as we lay in bed together wrapped in each other’s arms.”

Gwen shifted her position to allow her to look into Randi’s eyes.  She smiled, enchanted when the gesture was returned from the depths of Randi’s soul.  “I’m looking forward to that.”

“Well, then,” bending her head just enough to give not-so-chaste kiss.  “Maybe we should get started.  The sooner we go, the sooner we will be home.”

“Wait,” Gwen said when Randi started to get up.  “Can we stay here just another few minutes?” lifting her hand.  “I want....”  Randi smiled again, sweetly this time, and lay back, closing her eyes and pulling Gwen into her body.  Gently Gwen began to trace Randi’s features with trembling fingertips and Randi released a shaky sigh.  “God, I’ve missed this.”

Randi kissed the fingers as they caressed her lips.  “So have I,” she whispered.

It would be a little while before they were ready to leave the Amazon compound.


“I thought they were going to leave first thing,” Lorac commented to the group of Sabres she was standing with.  The rest of the Amazons were spread throughout the complex from Gwen and Randi’s quarters all the way to the landing bay where the regent, Rosie and the Sabres were waiting.  The Sabres didn’t even crack a smile, but Rosie laughed out loud.  Lorac turned to look at her, an eyebrow raised in question.  “What?”

“Oh honey... they may be the queen and her consort – they may be the rulers of the entire world.  But the fact remain that they are first and foremost two people in love who for all intents and purposes are still newlyweds... still honeymooning.  You don’t seriously expect them to keep to a schedule if it’s not official, do you?”

Lorac smirked.  “I guess not.  Gods know I certainly wouldn’t.”

The Sabres might have tittered at the comment, if not for the fact that the doors to the landing area opened at that moment and they all snapped to attention.  Their guard followed them and there were a couple Amazons behind them carrying Randi’s and Gwen’s bags.  Reed could feel the frustration about that rolling from both monarchs in waves and motioned Jess and Iroque to relieve the Amazons of the bags and casually check through them before loading them onto the shuttle.

Lorac waited until they approached, then dropped to one knee with her head bowed and an arm across her chest.  “My queen... consort – it has been our honor to have you here.” 

“Rise, my friend.  There is no need to stand or kneel on ceremony here.”

“As you command, my queen,” rising smoothly to her feet.  “Thank you both for making the Amazon Nation a safe place to live free once more.”

“I am glad we could do something to help, Lorac.  I’m just sorry he brought his fight with me....”

“With us, Randi.  Don’t discount his hatred of me by trying to assume total responsibility for what he did here.  He came here strictly because of me.”

“My queen, the Nation does not blame you for what Ares did.  Only Ares can take responsibility for that and we all have great hope that Artemis will punish him accordingly.”

Reed stepped forward.  “Everything has been seen to, Empress.  The shuttle has been checked and your bags have been stowed.”  Randi nodded, accepting the formality of Reed’s report.  “Nothing was tampered with, sir.  They kept a good watch here.  And Jess cleared your bags.”

“Thank you, Reed.  You and Jess will be in charge of the unit until I return, but your primary function will be as my liaison.”  Reed nodded her acceptance of the order with a bit of relief.  It would give her a little less on-hands responsibility so she could recover from the severe drain the last few days had put on her resources, and Randi knew that.

“Jess,” waiting for the tall redhead to approach the little group, “I am going to put you in charge of the unit with Reed, though they will be your primary responsibility.  In addition, I want you to begin Corky’s rehabilitation program.”


“I want her to learn meditation techniques, logical thinking, strength and endurance, self-control and esteem... whatever you think will make her a better person.  She has to learn to like herself again first before she can become a contributing member of the Amazon Nation once more.”


Randi glared in Jess’ direction.  “Something not clear in my instruction there, Jess?”

“I’m just a little confused, sir, but I’m sure I’ll figure it out.”

Randi silently huffed with impatience but her face was a schooled in a mask of imperturbability.  “What are you confused about, Jess?  It was my right and my responsibility to determine Corky’s punishment for her challenge against Gwen since the fight was not to the death.  Short of taking a whip to her and beating her within an inch of her life, this was the best punishment I could devise.  And this one has a chance of making a difference for her and for the Amazon Nation.”  She turned to Lorac.  “Have Corky brought to me.”  Then she looked back at Jess.  “Now do you understand?”

“Aye, sir.  I’ll do my best.  Am I allowed to utilize...?”

“Whoever and whatever you need, but try to involve the Amazons as much as possible.  I know the elders felt they were making headway with her.”  Corky approached at that moment and fell to one knee with her head down.  Randi was content to let her remain that way while she spoke.

“I have decided on your punishment Corky, but before I pronounce sentence, I want you to understand something.”  Randi paused, then commanded, “Look at me.”  She waited for Corky to focus on her eyes before she continued.  “I want to be crystal clear about this and I want you to see I am not lying to you.”  Corky nodded her understanding, but didn’t speak.  “You get one shot at this... one chance.  And if you screw this up, I will come back here and exact punishment swiftly and painfully.  You got it?”

“Yes ma’am.”

“Very well.  It is therefore my judgment that you become an Amazon apprentice.  You will return to your roots and relearn what it means to be an Amazon.  Some of your training will be traditional; some of it will be more modern.  But you will do whatever task your mentor gives you until such time as she decides you are ready to be brought before the Amazon council.  They will determine if and when your training is complete.  Questions?”

“Yes ma’am... who will be my mentor?”

“Jess will be your primary instructor, but I have given her wide authority to utilize whatever personnel, Amazon and Sabre, she needs to ensure you get the most thorough training we can manage.  Anything else?”

“No ma’am.”

“Very well,” Randi repeated.  She leaned forward so only Corky could hear her.  “Don’t fuck this up, Corky.  You already hurt her once – you won’t get another chance.”

“I understand, Empress.  I know saying I’m sorry doesn’t make it right, but I’m not gonna blow this.”

Randi held her eyes a moment longer, then nodded in satisfaction.  “All right then.  If you ladies will excuse us, we have somewhere to be.  If you need to reach us, Reed will be able to reach us anytime.  Otherwise, we will be back in two weeks.”  The landing bay echoed with clapping and cheers.  She and Gwen waved and climbed into the shuttle, closing the doors as the crowd pressed into the walls.  Randi started the engines and ran through the preflight checks, then with another wave, then flew out of the mountain compound and set off towards Sky’s village.


Randi landed near the small cabin where she and Gwen had spent their honeymoon.  She reached for Gwen’s hand, smiling when Gwen tangled their fingers and then pulled them up to her lips to brush a kiss over Randi’s knuckles.  Randi turned towards her, blinded by the bright smile Gwen wore, her face a picture of supreme happiness.  “What?”

“I have such wonderful memories of this place.”

“Even though the last time you were here....”

Gwen covered Randi’s lips with her free hand.  “Especially because of the last time I was here.  It helped bring you back to me.”

“Well, how would you like to go inside and make some new memories?” 

“Every minute we spend together we’re making new memories, Stud.  But you know and I know that Sky knows we are here and is waiting for us.  But that doesn’t mean we can’t stay here a night or two before we go back to the capital city.  I think Tiny will understand, given everything that has happened recently, if we take a day or two to recover.  Besides, you are the ruler of the world... it’s not like anything can happen without your permission.”

“All right.  We’ll call Tiny and let him know and then we’ll head into town.  We’ll need some supplies anyway, unless we want to eat out of jars or military meal packets.”  Randi made a sour face that caused Gwen to laugh.  Wide blue eyes turned to her aghast.  “Trust me... military rations are nothing to laugh at,” shuddering.  “They are downright scary.”

“Well, then... heaven forbid we get stuck with emergency food while we’re here.  C’mon,” standing and moving towards the exit.  “We might have to clean the place up a bit.  I think Reed, Lacey and I left in a bit of a hurry last time.”  Randi didn’t comment – she knew what was and wasn’t being said.

She pushed the control to open the doors... and froze.  Gwen watched the Sabre mantle fall over Randi’s shoulders and sat quietly, waiting for Randi to finish her assessment of whatever it was that had triggered her Sabre instincts.  Then Gwen felt Randi relax beside her and let out the breath she had unconsciously been holding.

“We’ve got company.  The People are here to greet us.”

“Well let’s not keep them waiting.  Let’s go say hello.”  They snatched up their bags and stepped into the doorway, only to pause at the sight in front of them.

Sky was standing before them in full ceremonial dress, arms raised to the sky and eyes closed.  When Randi and Gwen froze in place, Sky began to chant and dance.  When he was done, he started to pray.  “Great Spirit, we give thanks to you for bringing our missing family home once more.  May they find peace and rest in your arms while they abide here and may they accept your blessing as part of the People.”  Randi and Gwen exchanged glances and waited, assuming they would find out what was going on in Sky’s own good time.  Then he reached out his hands to them.

“Ravenhawk... Little Dove – we are here to welcome you home and to invite you to join the tribe.  You successfully completed your rather unorthodox spirit walk,” his wry look breaking the seriousness of the mood momentarily.  They gave him sheepish smiles in return and he shrugged.  “We’re glad you both came through it and that we were allowed to be an important part of it.”  He looked at them still standing on the threshold of the shuttle.  “Come; let us walk together,” motioning them towards the cabin.

“I hope you don’t mind, but you left here in such a hurry, we took a little time to clean up and stock the place before we locked up behind you.”

“Thank you, Sky.  Ya’ll didn’t have to do that, but we both appreciate it,” Gwen said, patting his arm with her free hand.  The other she kept wrapped in Randi’s.  Sky patted her hand.

“Little Dove... Gwen – whether or not you decide to officially join the tribe or not, we still look at both of you as part of us.  And we take care of our own.”

Randi and Gwen exchanged a long look, communicating silently while Sky watched curiously.  He knew neither of them were seers, but he truly believed they could see what the other was thinking.  Finally, they broke their gaze and turned back towards Sky.  He arched an eyebrow in question.

“We’ll do it.  If you’re sure the People really want us to be a part of them given the amount of trouble we tend to attract, then we’d be honored to become part of the family officially.”

Sky chuckled.  “That just means there will always be someone we can blame when things go wrong... we’ll just make it your fault.”

Randi looked down at Gwen and wrapped an arm around her shoulders.  “Isn’t everything already?”

“Pretty much, sweetheart.  Pretty much.”  Sky laughed out loud.

“So what does joining the tribe entail?”

“Well, you’ve done the spirit walk and you’ve accepted our invitation to join, so all we need to have a naming ceremony and then a feast to celebrate.”

“All right.  When?”

“No time like the present,” Sky said.  He raised his arms again and waved to the woods that surrounded the house.  Immediately, the People began to converge, including several vehicles that drove up the long lane that led to the house.  Randi decided to worry about how they could see the signal later.  First there was a ceremony and a celebration to enjoy.

Despite the warmth of the day, the People built a bonfire.  In the light of day, it didn’t make much of an impression, but by evenings’ end, it would light up the entire party.  They unloaded long tables from the transport vehicles and set them up around the perimeter of the fire, then brought all manner of food and spread it out along the length of the tables until they were groaning under the weight of the numerous dishes.  Randi and Gwen blinked at the rapidity things were happening.

“Were you so sure we would agree?”

Sky smiled.  “Yes.  *This* I foresaw clearly.”

“Well, thank you for asking us anyway,” Randi said with a smile.  “Now is there something we need to do to prepare?”

“You might want to take your bags into your cabin and put on something comfortable.”  Randi looked down at her black fatigue pants and T-shirt, then took in Gwen’s denim clad hips and green silk shirt.

“I am comfortable.  Is this all right?”

“Absolutely.  And in the meantime, everyone else will don their robes.  We will begin whenever you and Gwen return.”  Randi and Gwen exchanged glances, then shrugged and hefted their bags, accepting Sky’s not-so-subtle hint to go away for a few minutes to allow him and the rest of the People to prepare for the coming ceremony.

Randi placed her hand on the security lock, sparing a moment to wonder if Reed and Lacey had left it open in their haste to leave or if there was another explanation for Sky’s ability to bypass the security she had set up for this home.  Then she was opening the door and the scent of cedar caused her mind to wander towards other, happier directions.

Gwen snuggled up right behind her, closing her eyes and inhaling the combined scent of Randi and cedar.  The smell brought a smile to her face and this was what Randi saw when she turned to look down at the warm body cuddling into her side.

“Happy thoughts?”

“Yeah.  I like the smell of you mixed with cedar; lot of wonderful sensations wrapped up in that particular scent.  C’mon... let’s go put our bags down and give them a minute or two to do whatever it is they need to do without us around.  Besides, I could use something to drink.”

The room was sparklingly clean, the floors and windows reflecting an amazing amount of sunlight.  The bed was made with clean linen that added the smell of cotton in the sunshine to the scent of cedar.  Randi took both bags and set them on the bed to empty their contents into the drawers while Gwen stepped behind the kitchen counter.


“What?” Randi said, looking up from putting their things away.  Gwen was so still, Randi crossed to her side immediately, only to chuckle when she discovered the reason for her shock.  “Well, Sky said he saw.  My question is how long did he see for.  We won’t be here long enough to make a dent in all of that fresh food.”

“Maybe we’re not supposed to,” Gwen replied thoughtfully.  “Maybe this is so we can make a contribution to those tables out there – you know, just like we would at any other family gathering.”  She started pulling things out of the refrigerator then chuckled.  “It’s already ready to take out; I just need to unwrap it.”  She snagged drinks for both of them and closed the door.  “Remind me to thank Sky for this.  How long should we stay in here?”

Randi popped the top on her drink and moved back to the bed to finish unloading their bags.  Even if it was only for a night or two, she had come to crave the normalcy of not living out of a suitcase.  She had had more than her share of that during her tenure as a Sabre and savored every opportunity she had to unpack.

“I dunno,” stowing their bags out of sight.  “I figure we can finish our drinks and freshen up a bit, ‘cause I think it may be a long time before we get back in here today.”  They shared wry grins.

“You think they will give the Amazons a run for their money?”

“I think they might try.”

They were quiet again after that, content just to cuddle together on the big bed and sip their drinks.  After a time, Randi shifted to drop a kiss on Gwen’s temple before climbing off the bed.  Then she extended a hand and Gwen took it, grinning when Randi levered her up and off the bed with ease.

“C’mon.  Let’s go see what they’ve got planned for us.”  A quick trip to the bathroom, and they were ready to be inducted into the People’s tribe.

They stepped into the sunshine and were greeted by silence.  The entire tribe sat robed on the far side of the bonfire waiting for them to approach.  When they reached the bonfire, they were stopped by two women who draped robes around their shoulders, then helped them don them completely.  Once they were suitably attired, two men approached them with paint pots in hand.  By Sky’s command, they waited until Randi nodded her permission, then they moved closer and painted tribal markings on both women.  Once that was done, Sky bid them welcome.

“Walk forward, my daughters, and join the People of the Ancestors.”  They did as he asked and knelt on the provided pillows when he directed them to do so, glad to be some distance from the burning conflagration.  The day was hot and their clothing and the fire only made it doubly so.  They both hoped the proceedings would be quick, or this could get uncomfortable.

Sky motioned to four children who carried large sun shades and planted them behind Randi and Gwen.  Then they each leaned forward to brush a kiss on Randi’s and Gwen’s cheeks before sitting crossed-legged on either side of them.  Then Sky took his place behind them and spread his arms wide.

“Brothers and Sisters of the People of the Great Spirit – join me in welcoming the newest members of our tribe... Ravenhawk and Little Dove.  They come to us of their own free will and have completed their spirit walk with great success.”  This got smiles from everyone; they had all been part of the support for that particular journey.  “Now please... bring your gifts of welcome and offer your blessings to them... quickly,” he added with a sparkle in his eye and a smile on his lips.  “The sooner we finish with the ceremony part of this, the sooner we can get to the celebrating.”

“And the sooner we can get into cooler clothing,” said in an aside to Randi and Gwen.  Their expressions didn’t change, but he felt their relief anyway.  The people however, cheered at his audible words.  Any reason for celebrating was a good one, but this one was especially gratifying.  They all felt they had helped to earn this victory.

So they formed a single line and brought their small gifts that they handed to the children on either side of Gwen and Randi.  Then the People placed their hands on Randi’s and Gwen’s heads and prayed briefly, offering each of them a blessing before moving on.  Randi and Gwen thanked each person before allowing them to continue – a little atypical of a normal ceremony, but the People let it pass.  The gesture made them all smile.

When everyone had offered their blessing, they were in a large circle around the still blazing bonfire.  The children, all of them, gathered up the gifts and moved them to the one empty table and sat down to await the ending of the ceremony. 

Sky walked around to stand in front of Randi and Gwen, extending his hands to help them rise.  They did so with nary a groan, though both were silently thankful for the plush pillows they had been kneeling on.  Sky leaned forward conspiratorially.  “We learned the hard way not to kneel on the hard ground.  Young knees don’t like it any better than old ones do; the old ones just complain faster.”

He led them into the circle, then returned to where he had been standing during the blessing ceremony.  He retrieved the pipe and prepared it quickly, lighting it from a small stick at the edge of the bonfire.  Then he headed back towards Randi and Gwen.

“Randi?  Um, we don’t smoke.”

“Puff out.”

“Puff out?” Gwen muttered.  Then Sky passed the pipe to her and there was no more time for questions or explanations.  Even puffing out, Gwen still choked a little.  So she passed it on to Randi and around the circle it went.

When it came back to Gwen and Randi, Sky nodded at them.  “Once more, please, so that the circle will be complete.”  They did as he asked, then passed the pipe back to him, watching him draw deeply before knocking the remaining ash into the fire.

“My friends, let us welcome our two newest members – Ravenhawk and Little Dove.”  The crowd responded with whoops and cheers.  “And now,” Sky continued when the noise had settled down, “It’s time to eat, drink and dance.”  The crowd cheered again, and Sky motioned Randi and Gwen to lead the way to the tables.  It was time for the People to share fellowship and fun with two that had come to mean so much to so many.


Chapter XXIV

The sun had been down for several hours and the bonfire burned down to embers when Gwen stood up to speak.  Randi stood behind her, arms wrapped around her middle possessively and her chin resting on Gwen’s shoulder.  Her eyes were half-closed in contentment and the People smiled at the picture of completeness and happiness they presented.

Gwen took one of Randi’s hands and tangled their fingers together.  Then she smiled at everyone still gathered around the fire.  “We just wanted to take a minute to say thank you to all of you.  You’ve made us feel so welcome... such a part of the family here.  And for what you did during our spirit walk....”  She trailed off, not sure what else to say about that.  After a moment’s silence, Gwen swallowed and continued.  “However, today was amazing.”  She chuckled self-consciously.  “Dancing was a lot of fun, but I think I’ll leave the singing to Randi.”  The rest joined in her light laughter.

“What I’m trying to say is - we appreciate ya’ll very much.”  Cheers rang out into the night, and then as if by some unseen signal, the entire tribe rose and quickly began packing things up.  Very shortly, the only sign that there had ever been anyone there was the trampled grasses and the ring of stones that contained the pile of sand covering the cooling embers.

“What just happened here?”  Randi was still wrapped around Gwen as they looked around their now deserted homestead.  “Saying thank you made them leave?”

“I think that was their indicator that we had accepted our new place in the tribe.  I guess that is what they were waiting for.”

Randi straightened and looked around the deserted darkness again slowly.  “Well, all righty then,” she drawled.  “Guess we’ll tell them about the Amazons’ invitation tomorrow.”  Then she dropped an arm around Gwen’s shoulders and headed them towards the cabin.  “What do you say to a shower to wash off the paint and sweat?”

“I say lead the way, Stud.  I’m looking forward to sharing that bed with you again.”

Their shower was quick; it had been a long day and they were both worn out.  They climbed into bed and snuggled up in the middle, releasing dual sighs simultaneously.  Then they caught one another’s eyes and burst into giggles.

“Okay, that was just too sappy for words.”

“And I think we are both exhausted.”  Randi smiled when Gwen tucked her head under her chin and nodded.

“I know I am,” Gwen murmured.  “Today was great, but I feel like I have been going forever.”

Randi smiled and kissed the blonde head and gave Gwen an extra squeeze.  “In a lot of ways, we have.  Or at least for so long it seems like forever.  But at least we are finally close to the end of this chapter and when this is done, there won’t be any more responsibilities or obligations for at least a little while.”

“Yes, there will be, but this time, they belong to all of us... and not just you.”

“At least all of humanity finally wants to accept some responsibility.”  The only sound that greeting this statement was Gwen’s soft snores as she drifted off to sleep.  Randi pressed another kiss to the top of Gwen’s head, then closed her eyes and fell asleep to the deep, even breaths of air that blew across her chest.


Morning came softly, the gray sky shrouding the sunlight behind heavy, dark clouds.  Randi opened her eyes and blinked, frowning in confusion for a moment before Gwen tightened her hold and murmured before resettling herself into deeper sleep.  Randi exhaled slowly and relaxed as thunder rumbled at the edge of her hearing.  Then she felt Gwen tense in her sleep and immediately recognized the reaction.  Randi allowed her hand to stroke lazily up Gwen’s arm and back, waiting for her to loosen her grip a little.

It was so gradual that it had only just become evident when the next clap sounded just a little closer and Gwen tensed in her sleep again.  Randi closed her eyes as a wave of sadness washed over her.  Gwen had never recovered her love for storms and still reacted badly to them, even in her sleep.  Randi shifted their bodies until she surrounded Gwen as much as physically possible.  Then she resumed her stroking of Gwen’s smooth skin, humming lightly in her ear.

The thunder grew louder and closer, but Gwen started to relax in spite of the impending storm.  She couldn’t hear the rolling sound above the beauty of Randi’s music, and she couldn’t feel the rumbling with Randi’s caresses trailing goosebumps up her skin.

Gradually, Gwen opened her eyes, blinking sleepily at the bright blue that hovered above hers.  She smiled and lifted a hand to Randi’s face.  “What a beautiful way to wake up.  You were singing to me, weren’t you?”

“Um hmm.”  She closed her eyes as Gwen’s fingers began their tender tracing of her facial features.  “I wanted you to relax and feel safe.”  A frown creased Gwen’s forehead, but the subsequent rumble of thunder clicked her mouth shut before she could begin to form the question.  Her fingers hesitated, but to her credit, they didn’t clench, and after only the briefest moment’s pause did they resume their journey over Randi’s soft skin.

“I do feel safe here, Randi.  This is the safest place in the world... it always has been for me.”

Randi smiled and kissed the fingers that had just tickled her lips.  “For me too,” she confessed.  “Nothing has ever been able to touch me as long as I was in your arms.”

“Well, in that case, maybe we should just never leave,” wrapping her arms around Randi’s neck. Gwen didn’t even flinch when the thunder clapped over the house again, and the storm was nothing more than a memory by the time either of them realized it.  Gwen chuckled when it finally occurred to her, and Randi raised her head up from Gwen’s belly and cocked a lazy eyebrow in question.

“I was just thinking about your method for making me appreciate the beauty of storms again.  I could become addicted to them again quickly at this rate.”

“Good,” Randi said with surprising firmness.  “I miss dancing in the rain with you, and I have a secret fantasy that involves you, me, our dell and a warm summer rain.”  Gwen could stop the flaring of her nostrils and Randi rose up and stole a kiss before slipping from the bed.  “Now, c’mon.  We need to get to town and finish up our business here so we can go to the capital tomorrow and finish up there.  I have a surprise for you.”

“A surprise?  What sort of surprise?”

“Well, if I tell ya, it wouldn’t really be much of a surprise, would it?”


Randi just laughed.  “You’ll like it; I promise.  It’s something you asked me about not too long ago.”

Gwen cast her gaze inward, mentally reviewing the conversations she and Randi had shared recently.  Most of them had to do with them going home, but she didn’t think that was it exactly.  When they went home, it was going to be to stay.  But there was something... niggling at the back of her mind.  She could almost taste it.  “Give me a hint?” taking the juice Randi handed her with a smile.  “Thanks.”

“I am fulfilling a wish.”

“Well, duh!” came the saucy reply complete with smirk. “But I want a hint!”  She jumped and squealed when Randi popped her on the ass with the towel in her hands.  “Why you....”

Randi waved her forward. “Come and get me, Little One.  I’ve given you all the hints you’re getting.”  She slowly backed towards the front door, heedless of her nakedness.  “You’re gonna have to figure the rest out for yourself.”

Gwen jumped, but Randi was already gone from the cabin, running towards the stream.  Gwen leaned against the doorjamb and just watched her run.  Randi’s joy was apparent and Gwen smiled at the joy it brought her.  About halfway across the meadow she stopped without warning and turned, rushing back towards Gwen.  It didn’t alarm her, though her eyes did grow considerably rounder when it didn’t look as though Randi was going to slow down before she plowed over Gwen.  Instead, she reached out when Randi extended her hand and let Randi pulled them both towards the river.

Gwen tried to slow them down a little as they neared the edge of the water, but Randi pulled Gwen into her arms... and leaped.






Twin gasps followed the emergence of Randi’s and Gwen’s heads above the water.  Gwen smacked Randi on the arm and glared at her, then started rubbing the same spot when Randi pouted at her. 

“Whaddya do that for?”  Gwen’s eyebrows went into her hairline.

“Excuse me?!  I’m not the one who jumped into the middle of this freezing cold river.”  She frowned and narrowed her eyes at Randi.  “This wasn’t the wish fulfillment, was it?”

“No, though I did promise you we would come back in the summer and swim.  I don’t remember it being quite so cold though,” muttering the last part under her breath.  Gwen heard her, however, and moved around to kiss the strong back.

“You probably did this after working hard all day on the cabin, didn’t you?”  The dark head nodded.  “You think you might have been just a little sweatier than you were having just woken up?”

“Yeah,” Randi conceded grudgingly.

“So can we go back to the cabin now and take a hot shower before I turn into an icicle?”  Randi turned and realized immediately that Gwen wasn’t joking.  She could see the faintest tinge of blue around her lips.  Randi reached out her hand and took Gwen’s.  Then she led them back up the incline, picking up the towel she had dropped and wrapping it around Gwen’s shoulders.


Gwen smiled.  “Oh, yeah.  Being out of the water and in the sun helps a lot.  What about you?”

“I think the running helped.  I’m not actually cold; just wet.  C’mon... run with me.  Time’s a-wasting and Sky told me yesterday that the inn is serving roast beef for lunch.”

“Far be it from me to stand between you and a good pot roast,” Gwen laughed.  Randi shortened her strides, and together, laughing, they ran back to their cabin.


They were greeted by everyone as they slowly entered the town in the transport.  Most waved an acknowledgment, but a few called out hellos.  Randi and Gwen did their best to return them all before finally pulling up outside the small inn.  “I thought we’d eat and then maybe go see Lance for a bit... maybe take him out for a short ride?  That should give Sky time to get everyone together.”

“Sounds good to me.”  Gwen held the door and followed Randi inside.  They waved to those already seated and Sky came over to greet them.

“We weren’t sure we would see you again after last night.  I thought you needed to get to the capital.”

Randi smiled.  “Another day won’t matter, Sky.  Especially since we haven’t actually done what we came here to do... although last night was a lot of fun.  Thank you for making us part of the tribe.”  She and Gwen took the seats Sky indicated and he pulled out a chair across from them at Randi’s gesture. 

“We were pleased you agreed to join us.  And if either of you ever get to the point where you are comfortable sharing what happened during your spirit walk, we would be honored to transcribe your journey into our archives.”  He held up his hands to stop their protests before they started.  “Sometimes, the experience is too personal to share and the intensity never lessens, but sometimes time and distance make it a little less difficult to reveal those events to others.”  Sky shrugged.  “It is your choice, though; completely up to the two of you.”

"Well, we'll think about it, Sky, but no promises.  What happened to us was very personal and extremely private.  However," she hesitated when a plate of food was placed in front of both her and Gwen. "Thank you," she acknowledged the girl with a smile.  "However," she tried again, "we were hoping you would call everyone together.  I'm sure Reed has already contacted you," Randi paused, waiting for his response and Sky nodded his agreement.  "But we would like to extend the invitation personally."

He motioned for them to eat and they did so with gusto, bringing a smile to his face.  Then they moaned in tandem, and Sky laughed.  "One would think you hadn't eaten in days, but it is nice to know the culinary talents are appreciated."  He smirked; Gwen stuck out her tongue, but Randi continued to enjoy her food.  "Give me a little while to call everyone in, although I would imagine most are expecting a call.  I will tell you that there is great hope here that once everything settles down for the two of you, you will be here a little more regularly."

"We'd like that, Sky," Gwen replied softly.  "We'd like that a lot."

He beamed.  "We will look forward to it then.  It will probably take an hour or so to get everyone here.  Most folks are working."

Randi nodded.  "I figured as much.  We thought we'd go see Lance... take him for a ride."

"Good luck," Sky muttered.  He grimaced at Randi's questioning look.  "He's been a little wild.  Since there's been no one to ride him, he's gone to pasture.  Great for the fillies; there are several of them expecting foals now.  But not so great for anyone trying to catch him."

"Don't you worry about that, Sky.  He'll come when Randi calls."

Sky looked doubtful, but he nodded gamely.  "All right then.  Give me about an hour.  Do either of you need anything else?" gesturing to their empty plates.  Randi shook her head.

"No, thanks, Sky.  Sounds like I need to get to the corral.  This could take a little time."  Randi stood and offered her hand to Gwen who accepted it with alacrity.  "Thanks for lunch, Sky.  We'll be back shortly."  Then they separated and Randi and Gwen headed out towards the barn.

Randi's steps slowed perceptibly, remembering the last time she had made this specific little jaunt – her fury at Sky's insinuations and the destruction of the rogue band of rebels that had killed Nanny that followed.  Gwen tightened her grip on Randi hand and looked at her in concern.

"Sweetheart?  You all right?"

Randi blinked away the sudden tears that had formed in her eyes and looked down at Gwen with a sad smile.  "Yeah," she smiled sadly.  "I was just remembering."  She didn't need to clarify; Gwen understood exactly what she was remembering.  "But at least I *can* remember now."

"You did what had to be done, love.  They would have destroyed this place and everyone here if you hadn't... including me."

"I know.  It's just strange."  She shook her head.  "C'mon.  We've got a horse to ride."

"We've gotta catch him first."

"Nah... I trained him.  He may be pissy about it, but Lance will come when I call him."  Gwen laughed.  They walked behind the barn and to the corral, watching as the stallion ran free in the far field.  Randi whistled and he skidded to a stop, head up and searching for the owner of that distinctive sound.  She whistled again and he answered with a whinny, rearing up and then racing for the side of the corral it was coming from.

Lancelot jerked to a stop a few feet from the fence and just looked at Randi, sides heaving and nostrils flaring.  Then without warning, he ran straight toward the fence, butting Randi in the chest hard enough to knock her flat on her butt in the mud.  Gwen gasped, Randi glared and Lance whinnied again, the sound suspiciously like laughter.  Gwen reached down and offered Randi a hand up.  Randi took it and Gwen pulled her to her feet with ease.

"What the hell was that all about?" Randi asked the horse.  He had backed away from the fence again, and she had the distinct feeling he was playing a game.  Too bad she really wasn't in the mood for wet pants, slick with mud.  He ran towards her again, only this time Randi was ready and she jumped on his back.  The mud on the back of her trousers squished, but after a single wince she ignored it, focusing instead on the twisting body beneath her.

Lance jumped and danced and Randi rode the wave with him.  Gwen watched in awe of the ballet they were creating together.  Finally, after what seemed like forever, Lance slowed and surrendered, settling down to a walk.  Randi pranced him around for a moment more before approaching Gwen.  She extended her arm, surprised when Gwen shook her head no.

“We already know he is not particularly fond of sharing you, especially with me.  Given that he was mad enough to knock you on your butt into the mud, I don’t think we should chance him throwing us off from his back.”  A beat.  “You I trust; him... not so much.”

Lance glided up right into Gwen’s personal space and gently rubbed his face into her chest.  Caught a little by surprise, Gwen allowed the touch, chuckling nervously and scratching him between the ears.  She looked up bashfully through light lashes, noticing instantly the broad, rakish grin Randi sported.


“I don’t think he is angry at you at all.  You tamed him the last time we were here, remember – ‘cause I am betting he certainly does.”  Lancelot whuffled his agreement, warm air moving strands of hair away from Gwen’s face.  Gwen looked the horse in the eye.

“Do you remember me, boy?”  He nodded.  “You promise to behave?”  He nodded again.  Sighing, she nodded back and stepped away from his head... or would have had Lancelot not followed her movement.  This time, Gwen’s laughter was full-bodied and genuine.  “I can’t keep scratching if we’re gonna run, boy.”  Ha nodded his understanding again and backed up a pace so Gwen could have room to mount.  After a bit of finagling and finally climbing on the fence to attain the height she needed, Gwen found herself comfortably ensconced in front of Randi on Lance’s back.  Even the mud was dry so they no longer squished.  Then it really didn’t matter anymore – Randi gave Lancelot the signal to run... and he did so with great abandon.

Gwen squealed and Randi laughed.  Lancelot just kept running.

Sometime later, when they were all good and winded, Randi pulled them to a stop near the barn.  She slid off and reached up her arms to help Gwen down.  Then together they walked him into a stall in the barn and combed and brushed him clean.  After a few words, and a promise to return sooner rather than later, the two headed back to the now crowded inn.

Sky chuckled when he got a good look at Randi.  The mud had dried, leaving interesting patterns on her shirt and pants.  Randi just glared at him and Gwen remained conspicuously silent.  He didn’t comment, choosing instead to motion them indoors.  Silence fell as soon as they crossed the threshold.

“I’m sorry for having to drag ya’ll away from what you were doing today,” Randi started.  “We actually meant to bring this up yesterday and then got a little busy.”  Grins around the room met her words.  They had done good and they knew it.  “But,” Randi continued, regaining their attention, “we wanted to make sure you all knew you were all invited to the Amazon party coming up in two weeks.  It promises to be a real blow out and after last night, I’m pretty sure ya’ll would enjoy it.”

Glances were exchanged around the room and a consensus was reached in silence.  Then Sky crossed to them and nodded.  “We will be there.  I will work out the details with Reed.”

“Excellent,” Randi agreed.  “Now if you will excuse me,” shifting her body slightly.  “I’m gonna go home and get out of these muddy clothes.”

“Will we be seeing you around here after that?”

“Yes,” Gwen said with a smile.  “There are still a lot of things I have to see up here.”  This time the People cheered and Randi and Gwen left with the sound echoing around them.


The sun was just peeking over the mountains when Randi and Gwen headed out for the capital.  It wasn’t that they were in a rush to leave as much as it was they were simply eager to be done.  So shortly after dawn their transport settled on the landing platform on the roof of the capital house with barely a whisper.  The Sabres, having been expecting both Empress and Queen, rushed out to form an honor guard.  Randi and Gwen exchanged amused, annoyed grins, then left the relative peace of the shuttle for the chaos that awaited them.

Tiny was smart, though.  He knew better than to bring more attention to their arrival than necessary, so the only people present were the Sabres that made up the honor guard and those that had immediate or pressing business with Randi.   Fortunately, there weren’t many of those and all of them tended toward finishing up Randi’s last, best project.

He extended his hand up to Gwen and she took it as she stepped out of the transport.  Then Randi handed out their luggage before jumping to the ground beside Gwen.  Gwen smiled at her affectionately.  “Had all the decorum you can stand for awhile?”

“Pretty much, yeah,” wrapping an arm around Gwen’s shoulders and guiding her towards the staircase.  She turned and looked at Tiny.  “You want some help?”

“Nope.  You wanna go to your quarters first or straight to the office?”

“Office.  The sooner we get this done, the sooner we can all move forward.  I imagine everyone is ready for that.”

Tiny smirked.  “I know everyone is looking forward to that party Reed invited us to.”

Randi and Gwen looked at each other and snickered.  “I’ll bet,” they said simultaneously.  Then they headed to Randi’s office, entourage and all. 


Hours later, exhausted yet exhilarated, Randi gave her final approval over the plans she and Gwen had developed and the Sabres surrounding her had finalized.  There were rights and responsibilities and choices that humanity would need to make, but at least the groundwork was laid for them to do all those things.  Randi blew out a deep breath.

“So we’re all set?”

Tiny nodded.  “Worldwide coverage is at your command and discretion.  We can go public any time you’re ready.”

“First thing I want to do is grab something to eat, a shower and some rack time.  Tomorrow, I would like to go through the school here and see for myself how things are progressing.  Then we’ll make a decision, but it will be within the next few days.  There is no need to drag this out and Gwen and I would like to go home for a day or two before we head back to the Amazons if we can manage it.”

The remaining Sabres left at a nod from Tiny and Randi looked at him with a raised eyebrow, waiting for him to explain what had just happened.

“Will you *be* at the Amazons if you *do* go home first?”  Randi looked at Tiny askance and he hastened to explain.  “Randi, we all know you both would rather be there alone together than anywhere else.  It has been a while since you were there together at all.”

“And we gave our word to the Amazons, Tiny,” Gwen replied softly.  “That still means something to us.”

“Oh... God, Gwen.  Of course it does.  Sorry.  That’s not what I meant.  I just... I mean we... you....”  He stopped stuttering when she placed a warm hand on his back and when he looked into her green eyes, he saw understanding.

“It’s all right, Tiny.  We wouldn’t be leaving home to go anywhere for a while if we hadn’t promised.  But we need a couple days at home.  Everywhere we have been lately has been chaotic; someone always needing something from us.  We just need some peace... where it’s just the two of us.  We can get that at home.  Tommy will grumble, but he will also respect it.”

“Sorry,” he repeated.  “I didn’t mean any disrespect.  It’s just... it’s kind of an odd feeling – like an era is coming to a close.”

“It is, Tiny.  In a lot of ways, it already has.”  Randi motioned to the screens that held all their work and her notes.  “This is the new beginning.”

“I know,” he agreed.  “It’s just... we’re trying to figure out where we fit in... you know, now that there really isn’t a need for us.”

“Oh, Tiny... that’s not true.  There will always be a need for peacekeepers.  We’re just shifting the Sabre purpose back to what it was originally intended to be.  All this means is that you and Reed can have a semi-normal life.”

“Why only semi-normal?”

Randi smirked, knowing he would walk right into that.  “Have you thought about who I’m talking about here, Tiny?  I mean really?  You’re never going to be *completely* normal; you haven’t been able to manage that in thirty-eight years, old man.  It’s not in your blood.”

He tried to get angry, but he couldn’t stop the wry smile that crossed his face even while he bit his lips to keep it from happening.  “I hate you, ya know.”

Randi snorted.  “You just hate that I know the truth.”

“Well, there’s that too.”

Randi rose from her seat and extended her hand to Gwen.  “C’mon, sweetheart.  Let’s go see what is cooking in the kitchen and... what?” noticing the look of chagrin on Tiny’s face.

“There is nothing cooking in the kitchen.  Rosie dismissed the cooks when she was here and we’ve been so busy, we didn’t bother to replace them when ya’ll left.  It’s not like we’re not all used to eating rough, and there has been plenty of food for us to choose from.  We’ve just been cooking for ourselves whenever we get around to eating.”

Randi glared, then sighed.  “All right.  We’re gonna go get a shower.  Get all the Sabres who are not on duty or asleep right now into the kitchen in an hour.  We’ll do a potluck.”

Tiny’s eyes widened.  That many people in the kitchen together?  He was going to have to scramble to get anything done in an hour.  He tapped his wrist as he followed Randi and Gwen out of the office, sending out an immediate all call to every Sabre in the palace to meet him in the kitchen in five minutes.  There was a lot of work to do.


“All right; I think this has gone far enough.”  Ares looked around the small cave, then back to the Pantheon that waited behind him.  They had healed him as soon as they had arrived in this place.  The rest of the gods had already returned to their homes; only the Greek gods remained for the final part of Ares’ punishment.  Ares crossed muscled arms over his chest and smirked. 

“Ha. Ha.  Joke’s over.  Now c’mon, Zeus - give me back my power and let me get back to doing my job.”

“This is no joke, Ares.  This is your life now... as it will be for the rest of your mortal existence.  You have everything you need here to survive.  What you make of that survival is up to you.”

Ares extended his arms and spun in a slow circle.  “You REALLY expect me to live in a *cave*... as a mortal... for any length of time??

Zeus shrugged.  “I really don’t care if you stay here or not, Ares.  Your actions have been unconscionable – especially towards the warrior and bard.  This place offers shelter with a hot springs because of the latent volcanic activity, plenty of material for you to create a comfortable environment and is close enough to civilization that you can find companionship if you choose to do so.  We have provided you with tools and supplies to get you started.  What you do after that is strictly up to you.  It is more of mercy than you ever offered.”

“You have GOT to be kidding me.  My job description never covered *mercy*.”

“It never covered obsessive compulsive either, but you seemed to have mastered that pretty well,” Artemis muttered.  “Do you know what kind of damage you did to my Nation?  And unless they ask, I can’t even remove the memories of your atrocities against them.”  To everyone’s surprise, Artemis swung at Ares, catching him unawares and landing a solid blow to his jaw.  He lifted a hand to retaliate, only to remember he had no power... and to find every sibling he had had already conjured their own power against him if he tried anything else.

“So that’s it then?  I’m supposed to just accept this and live like some poor mortal until I die?”

“Or they do, Ares.  They *will* have peace; they have earned it.  Just be glad they decided your fate, brother,” Aphrodite said pointedly.  “If it had been left up to me, you would never have the chance to be the God of War again.”

“I’m going to remember this.”

“I hope you do, Ares.  I hope you learn something from it.”

He would have laughed – he wanted to... just to show them how unaffected he was by their judgment.  Only in the blink of an eye, there was no one left to hear him... and no one to care what he thought.  With a snort of disgust, Ares stomped into the cave that would be his home until his mortality ran out... or theirs did. 

He had no concept how long that would actually be.


Chapter XXV

It had taken the better part of the day just to talk to some of those who had once been part of the rebellion.  Everyone had a story to tell and thanks to convey.  For many of them, this had been the first opportunity to make their own choices.  And for all of them, it was the first time they could clearly see how little their differences were from one another.  That had been the single most instrumental factor in the rehabilitation process. 

That hadn’t been a surprise to Randi – it had been her main goal when she’d put them together to learn how to read and write.  She just how no idea how receptive they would be to it, nor how quickly they would accept their humanity as a whole.  It was gratifying to know that in this - despite the pain it had caused and the roundabout way it had been achieved – this had been right... it had been the right thing to do... for everyone.

So she and Gwen went around the area slowly, being stopped every few feet to listen to someone who had a story to tell or an experience to share.  When lunch came, they ate with the students, only this time it was Gwen who shared a brief tale.  It brought laughter and tears around the mess room and applause when she was finished.

For four days, they went around together, spending time talking and listening and learning.  When they were done, Randi let Tiny know it was time.  She was ready to offer her final address as Empress to the world.

Their room was oddly silent – not uncomfortable... just strange in a way it had never been.  Randi stood still looking at the closet.  There wasn’t much to choose from, all things considered, but she wanted to project the right air for this last public appearance.  Gwen wrapped her arms around Randi’s waist and kissed between her shoulder blades before ducking in front of her.  She looked at the rather meager selection of clothing Randi was staring at so hard and frowned; then she turned back to Randi smoothed out the furrows between Randi’s brows.

“So what about your wardrobe is giving you wrinkles, love?  I’ve never seen you concentrate so hard over what to wear.”

“I was just thinking,” Randi replied distractedly.

Gwen giggled softly and tucked her head under Randi’s chin, squeezing her gently around the middle.  “Yeah, I got that part,” closing her eyes in contentment when Randi returned the embrace fervently.  They stood that way for a long moment before Gwen sighed and spoke again.  “But that doesn’t really answer my question.”  Randi looked down at Gwen in confusion.  “Why are you concentrating so hard on your wardrobe, Stud?”

“Oh... I am trying to decide what message I want to send... how I want people to remember me.”

“Oh,” Gwen said easily.  “I think I could help.”  She looked at Randi expectantly and got the anticipated nod of agreement.  “Do you want to be the Empress?  You have a couple of fabulous gowns here that I would love to see you in,” Gwen said with a mischievous smile.

“No,” came the instant reply.  “I never should have been an ‘empress’ in the first place.  It’s not who I am or who I ever wanted to be.  We can find an occasion or two to celebrate if you’d like to see those gowns in action.”  Randi waggled her eyebrows and Gwen flashed her a winning grin.

“All right, so we have eliminated the ‘empress’ look.  What about the Commandant?” motioning to Randi’s full dress uniform.  “You know how much I adore you in uniform, Randi.  You bring something to it beyond just....”

Again Randi was shaking her head.  “As a regular Sabre, maybe – that is a large part of who I am... who I have been my entire adult life.  But I never considered becoming Commandant until I was maneuvered into it.  I refused to let the powers that be groom me for that position.  Dressing that way now seems like a lie.”

“And you don’t have your regular Sabre dress uniform here, do you?” Gwen asked gently.

“No.  It wasn’t a part I was required to play here.  I was always the Commandant... or the Empress.  Never the gunny sergeant or the security consultant or the drummer in the band.  I never got to just be me.”

Gwen nodded.  That was a very true statement and what had caused all their misery here in the first place.  She put her hands on Randi’s belly and turned her towards the bathroom, giving her a gentle nudge of encouragement.

“Go get your shower, love.  I’ll lay out your clothes and then come join you.”

There was confusion in the blue eyes as they gazed into green, but there was a lot of trust as well.  Randi brushed a quick kiss over Gwen lips and started walking in the direction of the bathroom.  “I’ll start the water heating,” she said with a quirky smile.

“Good. I’ll be quick.”  Then she turned back to the closet and made her selections.  Then she scooted into the bathroom as quickly as propriety allowed – which is to say, she stopped just short of running.

The jeans were her most comfortable pair – well-worn and a little ratty looking.  The white oxford was soft to the touch, though it had been pressed and creased with typical military precision.  Randi looked at them longingly while scrubbing a towel through her hair before turning her attention to Gwen.  Her eyebrows flew into her hairline when she realized Gwen was decked out similarly except for wearing a black shirt.

“You’re sure something this casual will send the message it needs to?”

“Miranda Valiant is delivering the address today, love, and the choice of clothing clearly shows that.  This is not about being the Empress of the world or the Commandant of the military or Amazon Queen or bard extraordinaire.  This is just Randi and just Gwen.  This is who we are when we aren’t playing make believe – except we do have to wear shoes.”

“Damn,” Randi snorted with laughter.  “I could really make a statement if I could go out there barefooted.”

Gwen covered her mouth but she couldn’t stop her shoulders from shaking in laughter.  After a moment she paused to catch her breath.  “We’re already gonna give Tiny a coronary from the lack of pomp and circumstance involved here.”

“Nah,” Randi disagreed with a grin as she buttoned up her shirt.  “Tiny would get it.  He, more than anyone except for you and Tommy, knows how much I totally despise the formality of all this,” motioning around her.  “At least once this is done, we can go home for a few days before we head out to the Amazons again.”

“Will I get my surprise then?  You know... the one you have been giving me hints about?”

“Yep – it’s all set up.  You’ll get it tomorrow.”

“Whoo hoo!” Gwen clapped her hand.  “That means we’ll be sleeping in our bed in our home tonight.”

“Yep,” Randi’s grin was blinding.  “As soon as we are done here, we are heading home.  I already have a shuttle standing by.  Tiny has been briefed and the rest of the Sabres have their orders.  The rest will fall into place.  Now c’mon,” standing up and stomping her jeans into place over her boots.  “Let’s go say goodbye to everyone. I’m ready to see the moonlight on the ocean from our bedroom window.”

Gwen took the proffered hand and side by side they walk out of the room to finish the last business they had to take care of.


Jaws dropped when they entered the huge ballroom.  All around them... everyone... was dressed to the nines in whatever finery they possessed.  To see Randi and Gwen casually stroll comfortably dressed – it was hard to tell the disbelief from the envy.  Tiny smirked; he was surprised and yet, not really.  He just wished Randi had passed the word.  He wouldn’t have minded jeans and a t-shirt himself.

Randi stepped casually to the podium and raised her hands for silence, asking for people to resume their seats.  “Please,” she added with a soft smile.  “I have plans to be walking on the beach tonight, and I have to actually get there first.”  A light chuckle from the crowd followed, but they complied and took their seats.  Randi cleared her throat.

“First, my apologies to those who would rather be watching any other form of entertainment.  I know I kinda took everything over for this, but I felt it was important for everyone to listen, just this once.  I promise to be as brief as possible and not never do this again except under extreme duress.”

“I have come before you tonight to officially resign my positions as both Empress and Sabre Commandant.  I vowed when I accepted the titles that it would only be for as long as was necessary – that I would return to the private sector as soon as peace had been achieved.  With my defeat of Ares, that time has come.  What happens now should be in the hands of everyone.”

“It is time for all of humanity to step forward as one body and take responsibility for the future.  With your permission, as my last act in office, we will put into motion plans to help this world to become a single planet – to get to know one another as people and neighbors instead of enemies and animals.  With Ares gone, we have a real chance for true peace to take root and no one to blame it on but ourselves if it doesn’t.”


Randi looked up, startled.  She hadn’t expected the interruption.  Everyone had remained silent at her request, not even applauding because she had asked them to hold it until the end if they thought the speech merited it.  She blinked, then nodded her head at the youth to continue.

“I’m sorry for interrupting, ma’am, but will there still be a military?”

“Yes, there will, and most of the laws and their subsequent penalties will remain in place as well.  A few of the laws have been revised, but most of the policies and structure will stay the same; the military, on the other hand, will be changing in almost every aspect – from length of commitment and individual tour duration to duty choices, training methods and focus of responsibility.  The idea is that with time, the military will be not only the peacekeepers here on this planet, but that mankind will finally be ready to explore the stars beyond our solar system.”

“All the information and details about what we have worked out will be available for download as soon as this briefing is over.  There’s a place you can send any questions or concerns you might have.  It is a public forum, and each and every one of them will be addressed.  But I think you’ll find that we got all the kinks out, giving everyone the opportunity to make their own choices and shape their own destinies, including offering the chance to once again have more than a single child.”

This time applause broke out spontaneously and Randi let it roll for a moment longer before requesting silence once more.  “As a race, we barely survived the third world war, and the peace that brought the rebellion could have easily decimated mankind.  We won’t survive anymore fighting among ourselves.  What happens to humanity now lies squarely on the shoulders of each and every person in the world – the future is what we make of it... together.”

“Thank you for your time and attention.  Good night.”

Before the first of them could rise, Randi clasped Gwen’s hand in her own once more and they quickly disappeared out the double doors behind them.  Tiny sighed and rolled his eyes, then stepped to the podium to dismiss the crowd.  He more than the rest knew Randi and Gwen would be gone before he could change out of his uniform.  He might as well give them a good head start.

Gwen had to run a little to keep up with Randi’s rapid pace, but it didn’t stop the giggle that bubbled up from her belly.  The snort caused Randi to slow down considerably and turn her head to look at Gwen.


“I was just wondering where the fire was.”

Randi almost blushed but bit her bottom lip instead.  “Sorry.  I know we probably breached every rule of etiquette and tradition leaving like that, but I have really had all of that I can stand for one lifetime.  And despite everything he knows about me... us... to the contrary, Tiny is compelled to follow protocol when he can. So there was undoubtedly some sort of reception planned for afterwards.”

She covered Gwen’s lips before she could draw breath to speak.  “No, I don’t think we should have stayed.  This reinforces the truth that I am no longer Empress... no longer solely responsible.  It also shows that there is still respect for tradition and protocol.”

Right then Gwen’s stomach growled loudly.  “Maybe we should have stayed long enough to eat,” Randi mumbled.  “Ow!” glaring into green eyes that glared right back at her.  Then her eyes twinkled and she kissed Gwen’s nose before opening the door to the roof and guiding Gwen onto the shuttle.  “Good thing I had Yuri put a basket on board and asked Ella to stock the kitchen, huh?”

“I love you,” Gwen confessed.

“Yes,” Randi agreed immodestly as she powered up the craft and headed it towards home.  “But do you love me for my brilliant mind or my sexy body?” she teased, wiggling her eyebrows to great effect.

“Actually,” Gwen recovered quickly, relishing the return of the playful side of her companion, “it was the beautiful soul I can see in your eyes, but the other two definitely don’t hurt your cause any.  Now... home, driver and be quick.  I have needs that require attending.”

Randi’s nostrils flared, but she didn’t say a word.  She merely coaxed a little more speed from the shuttle and let her imagination run wild.

Gwen just grinned.


The house was lit when they arrived and a note propped on the mantle.  But neither of them noticed that at first.  Instead they stood stock still in the foyer, absorbing the sights and scents they had missed.  Nothing had changed and yet everything was different.  No, that wasn’t completely true – everything here still looked and smelled like home.  But they were vastly different people from the young couple who had lived in this place.  Gwen leaned back into the circle of Randi’s arms.

“Finally,” she murmured, delighting in the brush of Randi’s cheek against her own as the warrior leaned forward to nuzzle her neck.  Her thoughts had gone beyond lascivious and now she simply wanted to enjoy the reality involved.

“Finally, what?” asked between kisses along Gwen’s collarbones.  Randi was a little surprised when Gwen pulled away from her touch, only to find herself with an armful of bard when Gwen jumped into her arms and locked her knees around Randi’s waist.  Gwen leaned their foreheads together.

“Finally... we’re home.”

Randi carried them over to the bedroom and crossed the threshold before laying Gwen gently on the mattress beneath them.  Then she stepped away, putting a hand to her lips and walking to the full-length windows and throwing the blinds and windows open, allowing the fresh sea breeze to flow in.  Then she turned back and crawled into the bed beside Gwen and spooned up behind her.

“We are... at last.”

They made love slowly, as though it was the first time all over again.  Their sighs were accompanied by the crash of the waves; the tangy smell of salt and seaweed mingled with the scent of sex.  And when they lay wrapped in one another’s arms, the breeze dried the sweat on their skin.

They watched the moonlight on the waves for a little while, hands idly stroking smooth skin beneath it.  Finally, Randi leaned up on an elbow and kissed Gwen softly before slipping from the bed and picking up her clothes.  Gwen slid into a semi-reclining position and watched with unabashed interest.

“Go somewhere so soon?”

Randi nodded and extended her hand.  “Yeah.  I promised I’d be walking on the beach tonight, and I need something substantial to eat before then.  Yuri didn’t put enough in that basket,” said with only the slightest pout.

Gwen’s grumbling stomach agreed with Randi’s words before Gwen could do so verbally.  Chuckling, she allowed Randi to pull her from the bed, then dressed with reluctance until she saw Randi watching her intently.


Randi walked right into Gwen’s personal space and wrapped her in a big hug.  “I am so damned happy to be here... alone – with you... again.  Nothing will ever be better than this.”

Gwen tangled her hands in Randi’s hair and let her lips graze Randi’s face before reaching her ear.  “No, but now at least we have a lifetime together to work on it.”  Her stomach growled and she pulled back enough to glare at Randi.  “Now, let’s eat.  We still have a few hours of moonlight to enjoy.”

The note was from Tommy and Ella – not surprising in and of itself.  It welcomed them home and let Randi know about the arrangement Tommy had made for the Amazon party.  Only at the end did it get cryptic and Randi refused to explain it.  “You’ll find out tomorrow,” was all she said.

Gwen considered pouting, but she was too happy to pull it off.  Instead, she went into the kitchen and whipped up a couple sandwiches from the ingredients Ella had so thoughtfully provided.  Then she and Randi went out into the warm summer night to reacquaint themselves with home.


Gwen was smiling when she woke up the next morning.  Their walk had taken them around the island and most of it had been spent holding hands in companionable silence.  When they had returned home, they had shared a quick shower before crawling into bed and cuddling around one another, watching the moon move across the sky.  Neither of them had realized when sleep overtook them.

Gwen stretched slowly, trying not to disturb the warm body beneath hers until Randi’s arms tightened around her.  She tilted her head to find sparkling blue twinkling at her.

“Good morning,” she whispered, unwilling to spoil the mood as she reached her hand up to gently trace Randi’s features.  Randi gave her a tremulous smile at the first touch and obediently closed her eyes.  For a few minutes, they stayed that way; then Gwen slid upwards and caught Randi’s lips in a kiss.  Randi reciprocated wholeheartedly until Gwen pulled back for air, then she patted the bard on the ass.

“Good morning,” she replied.  “How did you sleep?”

“Like a baby... better than I have in months.”

“So did I... but ya know something?  If I don’t get up soon and go pee, we are going to have a disaster of epic proportions.”

Gwen laughed, but dutifully slid off Randi’s body so she could scamper to the bathroom.  Gwen slipped into a robe and headed to the kitchen.  She was looking forward to fixing breakfast in her own kitchen once again.  When Randi came out of the bathroom, she was greeted by the scent of fresh coffee and muffins.  Life was good.

It took an hour or so to take care of business, but by late morning, they were on the back of the bike headed somewhere Gwen didn’t readily recognize.  Only when they stopped did she understand that *this* was her surprise and Randi was watching her reaction with a mixture of anticipation and trepidation.  She squealed and hugged Randi from behind.

“Does this mean what I think it does?”

“Depends,” Randi hedged.  “Do you want it to?”

“If Ahmed has the design and he can do it, you bet your sweet bippy I do.”

“I can do the design, Little One.  I started drawing it out as soon as Randi sent it to me.”

Gwen turned to make a smart comment to the man who dared address her so familiarly, and by Randi’s name for her, no less.  Then she got a look at the mountain of a man who leaned casually against the doorjamb; he would have made Tiny look small next to him.

Gwen slid off the bike and walked up to him, extending her hand.  “Hi, my name is Gwen.  And I would really prefer you call me that instead of Little One.”

The man chortled and took her small hand in both of his larger one.  “It is a pleasure to meet you, Gwen.  I am Ahmed.  I did not mean any offence with the nickname, but you have to understand that next to me, *everyone* is a little one.”

“No offence taken, Ahmed; it is just a private name.”

He turned his glance to Randi, her slenderness apparent next to his imposing bulk.  “I like her, my friend.  She has spunk.”  He looked back at Gwen.  “I told her she needed someone with spunk and sparkle, you know.  I’m glad she found you.”

“I’m glad we found each other,” reaching out her free hand to Randi.  “Shall we get this show on the road?”

Ahmed nodded in an almost courtly gesture.  “I await your pleasure,” motioning him into his tattoo parlor.  “We just have to make a few decisions and then we can get started.”  They followed him in and he shut the door behind them.  This was going to take a while.


It was very late by the time they got home and finding a comfortable position to sleep in had proven nearly impossible given the locations of the new tattoos.  But somehow they managed.  Unfortunately, they weren’t nearly ready for their unexpected early morning visitors.

Tommy knocked on the door, not willing to catch them unaware as he had before, especially with Randall in tow.  He keyed in the code and opened the door slowly, noting the silence.  He handed the loaded picnic basket back to Ella, studiously ignoring the knowing look she gave him.  “I’ll be right back,” whispered.

“I told you it was too early for this Tommy.  It’s actually too soon and you know it.  I’m sure they just want a few days alone together.”

“They’ll get a few days, sweetheart.  Hell, they have the entire rest of their lives to be alone together now if they want.  I don’t think having breakfast with us one morning will kill them.  Besides,” watching Ella’s eyes widen a millisecond before Randall screeched...


Tommy shut his eyes and just barely refrained from covering his ears.  “Right behind me, huh?” he asked without turning around.


Randall pulled free from Ella’s hand and jumped into Randi’s arms.  Ella saw her flinch and shift Randall to the right side of her body even as she hugged him tightly.  “Hey buddy!  How ya doing?”

Randall gave her a sloppy kiss.  “Wuv Wuv... wuv Wen – have bre’fas.”

“You brought breakfast, huh?  Well, Gwen’s making coffee.  Ya’ll come on in.”

Tommy tossed Ella a triumphant look then grabbed the basket and headed for the kitchen.  Ella just shook her head and rolled her eyes.  “Sorry, Randi.  I did try.”

Randi leaned forward and kissed Ella’s cheek.  “I’m sure you did.  I’m surprised you got him to wait this long.”

“I threatened to cut him off indefinitely if he came over as soon as ya’ll got home,” Ella confided.  Randi snickered. 

“At least you brought breakfast with you,” Randi said with a grin, pushing her hair back away from her face.

Ella chuckled.  “Coming over this early, I figured it would be best if we didn’t come empty handed.  How did it turn out?”

“Wuv!  Go now!” Randall commanded imperiously, pointing towards the kitchen where Gwen and Tommy were currently laying out the breakfast Ella had prepared.

“Aye aye, sir!” Randi answered with a twinkle in her eye. “Beautifully,” she replied, setting Randall on his feet and gingerly pulling the top of her t-shirt aside.  Ella’s eyes widened.

“Wow!” she agreed.  “But OW!  But it’s magnificent.”

It was the glyph that Gwen had chosen... the blending of the two of them that had been painted onto the private shuttle they had utilized as Empress and Queen. Ahmed had taken the design and colored it blue and green with black to outline and shade and add depth.  The colors twined seamlessly and flowed into one another without interruption and Ella could only marvel at how perfectly suited to both of them the marker was.

Randi eased her shirt back up to her neck, careful not to touch the healing art that now lay healing over her heart.  “Thanks.  We’re both pretty happy with them, though I don’t know if Gwen will ever get another one.”  She cut her eyes in Gwen’s direction before mumbling, “’Cause this thing hurts like a bitch.”

Whatever else she might have said was lost when Gwen turned and smiled, walking over to greet Ella. She hugged her gently, then took Randi’s had in hers and smiled impishly.  “Would ya’ll like to join us for breakfast or are you planning to hang out in the foyer the rest of the day?”

Randi and Ella exchanged glances.  “I think if we want anything, we’d better get over there quick, Randi.  That boy eats like it’s gonna get up off his plate if he takes too long.”  Randi and Gwen laughed.  Ella shook her head.  “You think I’m kidding.”

“Not really,” Randi said as they walked to the table.  “I grew up with this one,” gesturing to Tommy negligently, “remember?”

“Hey!  I resemble that remark,” Tommy protested.  “What are we talking about anyway?”

Their laughter set the tone for the entire rest of the morning.


“So you’ll be joining us in another couple days?” Tommy asked as they cleared the table some time later.  Randall had proven true to Ella’s predictions and Randi and Gwen had simply gaped before realizing if they expected to eat, they needed to do so swiftly.  So the first bit of their meal had been specifically dedicated to eating, and only when their initial hunger had been quenched did their focus turn to fellowship.  Tommy and his family, along with all the band members, were headed out to the Amazon compound later that afternoon.

“No, T... we’ll be there in four days.  We told Lorac two weeks and if we show up early, they’re gonna feel pressured to get things ready early for us.  Besides, we’re looking forward to the time alone.  But the Amazons know to expect you and Reed and Lorac will have places ready for you.”

“Good.  The guys want to get some practice in before you come to practice with them.  I think they are a little intimidated by the whole idea of a ‘practice party’.  But I know they are really looking forward to it as well.  It has been a long time and they’ve missed it – we all have.  And everyone is looking forward to storytelling time,” he added with a significant look at Gwen.

“So am I, T.  It’ll be nice getting back into the routine again.”

“We’ll be all set up for it.  But...” he said, picking up his son and handing him to Randi.  Randall snuggled down into her neck and she kissed the top of his head.  “We need to head out if we are gonna get there this afternoon.  The guys want their first run through tonight and we have to get everything set up first.  Anything special you need us to take?  Your drums are already packed and on the transport.”

“Nope.  You got everything you need to record this?”

Tommy smiled and Ella snorted.  “He better have, considering the amount of stuff we’re hauling.”  Randi and Gwen muffled their laughter while Tommy and Ella exchanged mock glares.  Randall yawned.

“All right.  We’ll see ya’ll in a few days.  Try to stay out of trouble, huh?”

“You too, Tommy.”  And after a round of hugs and kisses, the Steele family departed and the house settled into a pleasant silence.


The next four days were much like a second honeymoon for Randi and Gwen.  They walked around the island hand in hand or rode the bike along well-known paths out to their hidden dell.  They played in the holosuite, trying out new programs.  They spent hours talking and hours in companionable silence just enjoying being alone with one another again.  They made love and relished the renewed strength of their connection in both body and soul.   

And every evening, they spent at least a little time answering questions and concerns about the new form of government that was coming into play with Randi’s defection of her title.  Not nearly as many as either of them had expected, and most of them were thoughtful questions.  Randi was confident when it came up for a public vote, the new measures would be put into place with very little dissent.

The night before they were scheduled to go back to the Amazons, they were curled up together on the couch facing the large life-sized portrait enjoying the ambiance of a small fire.  Randi had one arm wrapped around Gwen’s shoulders while holding hands with the other.  Gwen, for her part, was tucked into the crook of Randi’s neck and arm.

“You know something?”

“I know lots of things,” Gwen answered drowsily.  “Whatcha wanna know?”  Randi couldn’t stop the chuckle that bubbled up at Gwen’s cheeky answer and it got her a glare.  “What was so funny about that?  I do know lots of stuff.  I know I love you; I know you love me.  I know that I could stay here forever.”  She felt Randi tense slightly and heard the heartbeat under her ear skip before speeding up.  She turned concerned eyes to Randi’s and eased her chin around until they met.  “What?”

Randi sighed.  She hadn’t expected this to happen... and she certainly hadn’t thought it would come up for discussion between them so soon.  “You’re gonna think I’m nuts.”

“Sweetheart, I love you – nothing you say is gonna change that.  And I knew you were nuts when I agreed to marry you; how many people do you know that come back from the dead??  I just figured we could be happy ever after nuts together.  Now what is bothering you all of a sudden?”

“I’m not sure I can do this for another fifty or so years.  Not *this*,” motioning between them frantically. “I can’t do without *this* for a minute; we’ve already proven that.  But I’m not sure I can sit around and not be involved in helping shape humanity’s future.  It’s all I’ve ever done – all I’ve known my entire adult life.  I’m not sure I can just put that aside and become some sort of lady of leisure – even one who is married to the Amazon Queen and bard extraordinaire.”  She smiled, trying to soften the blow, but Gwen could see the confusion in her eyes.

“Do you want to remain as Empress?  As Commandant?  What exactly...?”

“NO! No,” a little more softly.  “No,” she reiterated.  “Nothing so public.  I just thought maybe we could return to our roots a little.  Travel around and talk to people; help out where we could.  Like we used to do - only not all the time, not as a way of life. But....”

“I think it’s a great idea, love.  Absolutely wonderful.”

“Really?  You don’t think I’m being selfish and unreasonable?”

“No – I think you’re being quite noble, in point of fact, and I think there is a lot of good we could do if we just let ourselves do it.  Besides, did you really think I would turn down the chance to go anywhere or do anything with you... especially something like this?  I think it is a wonderfully karmic way to end our time on this plane; there is something very circular about it.”

Randi hugged Gwen even tighter to her body.  “I love you... so much.”

Gwen returned the hug fervently.  “I know, sweetheart.  I love you, too.”


Chapter XXVI

Morning found them curled around one another, careful of the still-painful tattoos, though they had at least been able to resume their normal sleeping positions, albeit with a little more care than they normally took.  Gwen woke first, marveling at the difference in Randi’s behavior here in this place.  Her heart beat slower, her muscles were more relaxed – everything about her was more tranquil and at peace. 

Gwen shifted, just enough to tilt her head up to gaze at Randi’s profile.  She reached up her hand, gently caressing the familiar dips and planes of Randi’s face.  They were sharper again, as they had been when Randi returned from the dead.  Gwen felt a wave of sudden relief that they were going to be able to take things at their own pace for a while.  She was going to enjoy spoiling Randi for at least a little while – until Randi decided it was her turn to spoil Gwen for a bit.

Gwen felt Randi shudder just slightly in her sleep, the first indication that Randi was slowly waking up.  Tension returned to her body and Randi stretched her full length against Gwen, then kissed the fingers that traced her lips with such delicate care.

“Morning,” Randi’s voice a scratchy whisper.

“Good morning, love.” Gwen shifted again and kissed Randi thoroughly.  “How’d you sleep?” when they parted.

“I was in your arms, though I missed you in my dreams.”

“Hmm...” Gwen replied thoughtfully.  “I’ve noticed that.  I wonder if that avenue is only open to us if we are under great stress.”

Randi sighed.  “Well if it’s all the same to you, I’d prefer to wait a little while before having enough stress to find out.”

“Best idea I’ve heard in ages, love.  Now, you wanna stay here and cuddle for a little while or go take a shower or maybe get breakfast?”

“Yes,” came the emphatic answer.  “We’re not in any hurry, Little One.  We can do all three and still make it to the Amazons with plenty of time to spare.”  She ran a teasing hand up Gwen’s side, eliciting a squawk, then a giggle.  Then Randi shifted them until she was covering Gwen and nuzzled her neck.  “Any questions?  Complaints? Comments?”

“Only that we have to stop eventually.”

And they did stop eventually – but mostly they stopped because full bladders and grumbling stomachs made staying in bed any long an unviable option.  So they shared a shower and fixed biscuits and gravy together for breakfast.  Then they tidied the house and packed a single bag before locking up the house carefully and heading for the shuttle pad.

“Hey, Randi?” asked as they settled into their respective seats in the cockpit of the craft.  “Do we get to keep this?” motioning around her vaguely.

“Like a parting gift, you mean?  Yeah, I suppose we could.  Or we could have one customized for us.”  Gwen’s eyes widened.


“Yeah – we can talk about it if you want.  We’ve got a little time to kill before we get there.”


Randi laughed.  “I guess we’ll be talking about it.”  Then the shuttle lifted off and they were on their way to the Amazons to party.


“Well, at least there are no guns blazing at us this time.”

“Thank goodness.  I have to admit that it scared me about as much as it pissed me off.  Not a good feeling.”

“Yeah, but I’m not sure what’s coming is going to be any better,” pointing to the streamers and garlands she could see even from this distance.  “I think they are really excited about being able to welcome their queen properly.”

Gwen patted Randi’s arm and Randi grasped her hand. “Don’t discount your own welcome, Stud.  I’m pretty sure the entire Nation is in awe of you... and completely envious of me.”

“We are not getting into that debate.”


“We can discuss it later, sweetheart.  Right now your subjects are waiting to greet you.”  And they were – lined up in the hanger row by row and out the door along both sides of the hall.  Gwen stepped from the shuttle with Randi just slightly behind her... until Gwen pulled her forward so they were standing together.  “I just thought....”

“Don’t,” Gwen pleaded.  “I want you beside me.”  Then Lorac made a step in front of the ranks and knelt, causing every Amazon in the room to do the same.

“Welcome back, my queen.  It is good to see you here again.”

“Thank you, Lorac.  Rise, my friends.  There is no need to stand on ceremony.  We are here to party.”

“Then come... everything is prepared.”  Lorac rose smoothly to her feet and the rest followed her example.  An entire squad stepped forward and popped off a sharp salute to Randi, which she returned automatically.

“Welcome back, gunny,” Reed said, restoring Randi to the rank she was most comfortable with.  “Orders?” re-establishing Randi’s authority with a single word and pointing out to the squad and everyone else present where she stood with the Sabres, regardless of her resignation.

Gwen took Randi’s arm as a matter of course and felt her relax beneath her touch.  Gwen squeezed almost imperceptibly, giving Randi her unwavering support, no matter what.  Randi expelled a breath and turned to give Gwen a smile.  There was nothing better than this, and they both knew it.

“How ‘bout we get this party started?”

Reed grinned.  “Best damned idea I have heard in a while.”  She turned to the squad.  “You heard the boss, ladies... both of them.  Let’s move out.”

As one body, the Amazons cheered, their war cries echoing throughout the mountain.  The men and women who were not members of the Nation were already out in the meadow, having been left alone by the Amazons sometime before.  Now they looked around at one another in surprise at the sound, then grinned as realization dawned.

“Randi and Gwen are here,” Tommy said gleefully.  “Guess we’ll be starting this party soon.”

Sure enough, the Amazons soon emerged from the mountain in droves, and setting up moved from stuttering effort to full gear.  Before long, tables lined either side of the open space and they were laden with all manner of food and drinks.  A stage had been raised on one end of the field and the band went right ahead and started setting up their instruments, the lights and the sound system.  The Amazons and the People proceeded to start games and races, trying to get everyone as involved as they could.

Only the Sabres stood to one side, not really sure what their participation should be.  Gwen and Randi were slowly walking around the perimeter, meeting and speaking to each and every person.  Gwen nudged Randi when she realized the Sabres, both male and female, were standing apart, simply watching.  Randi grinned and shook her head, then sighed and strode over to the Sabre contingent.

“Problem, guys?”

Every single pair of Sabre eyes turned in her direction and they had the decency to look sheepish before dropping their eyes to the ground and shaking their heads.  Even in this they were uniform to the point of being ridiculous and it was all Randi could do not to laugh at them.

“All right, ya’ll... lighten up!!” she commanded.  “I know you all know how to break loose and have fun – that’s what this is about.  And for the guys especially, who knows, you might be surprised at who ends up kicking your ass.”  That caused them all to straighten and glare at her; they were the best of the best and they knew it – so did she.

“And if we beat them?”

“Then you will wear the winner’s ribbons when Gwen awards them tonight.  But none of you is gonna win anything if you don’t get out there and try.  C’mon, guys... this is a party.  The Amazons have even made considerations to include men in their competition.  Go play!”

“Is that an order, gunny?”

“It can be, Tiny,” Randi said with a grin.

“As long as they don’t blame us when they lose.”

“As long as you don’t get upset when someone else wins,” she cautioned.  “Don’t forget there has been an Amazon/Sabre delegation here for almost a month.  Who knows what the Amazons have learned from them in that time?”  She turned to Reed and Jess.  “Can I speak to you both a moment?”

They nodded and came up on either side of her, even as the remainder of the group, both men and women, headed into the fray of what was obviously, friendly competition.  Randi watched them go, proud when they immediately became a part of things, spreading out to participate in all the activities they could.  Then her focus came back to the two women standing beside her.

“How are things with Corky?”

“Slow but steady,” Jess responded immediately.  “There’s a lot of old hatred and resentment buried there, but she seems genuinely willing to get past it and move on with her life.”

“Agreed.  She is taking her studies as seriously as her is the physical retraining, and she has gone out of her way to do not only what has been asked of her, but she has taken the initiative to learn things outside her basic curriculum.”

“So you both feel she is on the right track?”  They nodded.  “All right.  When do you feel it will be safe to turn her tutoring over to the Amazons completely?  I’m sure you are both ready to get back to your respective partners and homes.”

Jess and Reed exchanged glances.  They had already discussed this at some length.  “Actually, several Sabres who were assigned here would like to remain once we go into stand-down mode.  They would like to make their homes here.  I think we could do easily turn Corky’s training over to any of them.”

Randi nodded.  “All right.  Get me a list and I will make the arrangements.  Thank you, ladies.  Now go have some fun.  I have an Amazon Queen to attend.”  The two traded smirks, but neither said a word as Randi left them and returned to Gwen’s side.  Then they headed off to find Chase and Tiny, and maybe even get involved in some of the games and competitions.

“Everything okay?” Gwen asked as Randi reached her side once more.

“Yeah... just had to remind them they were here for fun – whether it killed them or not.”  They continued walking slowly around the field, greeting everyone personally with a kind word.  Then they found themselves engulfed in hugs as Sky and Rosie spotted them.

“What a delightful party, Ravenhawk.  The People are very proud you invited us to join you and Little Dove here.  You have so many lovely friends.”

“And it has been an absolute hoot to be here the past couple weeks.  Thank you both for indulging me,” Rosie added.  “I know you didn’t have to, and neither did the Amazons.”

“It was little enough to do for you, Rosie... and for the People, Sky.  We wouldn’t be here today without all of you.”

“Well, we were glad to be a part, and we’re looking forward to the musical portion of the evening.  I understand we will get stories as well?”

“Yes,” Gwen concurred.  “I promised Tommy.  Who knows?  Maybe Randi will share the secret Tommy has been hunting for.  But at least it should all be entertaining... I hope.  Ya’ll make sure you get something to eat.  I can’t believe the amount of food that got prepared for this.”

“Not to worry, Gwen,” Rosie assured.  “I’d be willing to bet there will be very few leftovers by the end of the day... especially with all the activities going on.  Now go... you have a lot of other folks you need to speak to before evening, and we don’t want to hold you up.”

So Randi and Gwen continued around the makeshift circle, bypassing the stage area for now and taking at least a moment with each person before they finally ended up where they had started.  Only when they reached the starting point, close to the base of the mountain, did they notice three new arrivals.  Gwen opened her arms for hugs, and all three goddesses were happy to comply.  Then Aphrodite looked pathetically at Randi and pouted; Randi rolled her eyes and sighed, but opened her arms.  Then she proceeded to pick Dite up off the ground and embrace her tight enough to make Dite’s bones creak.

“Randi!” she squealed.  “Put me down!  I’m too old for you to be woman-handling like that!”

Randi grinned and carefully set Aphrodite on her feet.  Athena and Artemis took advantage of the distraction and each planted a kiss on Randi’s cheek.  Gwen smiled at the blush that caused, but remained silent until the three of them moved away from Randi.  Then she reclaimed her place at Randi’s side and smiled at all of them.

“I’m so glad all of you could make it.”

“We’re glad to be here, Gwen.  I can’t remember the last Amazon party I was actually invited to... or attended, for that matter.”

Aphrodite and Athena couldn’t stop the snorts that followed this pronouncement.  “That might have something to do with the amount of mortal alcohol you consumed or the number of varieties you tried.”

Artemis glowered at her sisters.  “Well, who knew it would affect a goddess like that?”  She crossed her arms over her chest.  “At least we know to be more careful this time.  I don’t want to miss any part of this.  There is so much living... so much enjoyment of life here.  I want to be able to appreciate all of it... especially tonight’s entertainment.”

“Well, ya’ll go mix and mingle and have fun for a change,” Randi said, clutching Gwen’s hand.  “There are a few more people we need to speak to, but seriously – thank you for being here.  It means a lot to us, even if the rest won’t know who you are.”

“We wouldn’t have missed it, Randi,” Dite said, stealing her own kiss.  Then the three of them stepped back a pace and the air around them shimmered.  When Randi and Gwen could see them again, they were unrecognizable.  With a wave, they turned and headed out into the melee, determined to enjoy everything this day and place had to offer.

Randi and Gwen exchanged smiles, then headed towards the stage and the last folks they needed to greet.

Tommy hung back, having already had a little time with them and knowing there would be more in the near future.  He was glad Randall was with the other children though – he tended to be more than a bit possessive where both Randi and Gwen were concerned.  So now it was just the adults, and the guys in the band didn’t waste any time wrapping both Randi and Gwen in enormous bear hugs.  They had truly been missed and it was obvious in the affection displayed on both sides.

They spent some time catching up, then the discussion turned to the music for the evening.  The guys assured Randi they were ready for almost anything she decided to do music wise and they were all looking forward to getting back in the groove. 

“And we’re looking forward to story time,” Scott assured Gwen.  “The kids have been asking about it.”

“We’re *all* looking forward to it,” Marie assured them.  “I never realized how much we took for granted having this available every weekend... until it was gone.  You think we’ll be able to do it regularly again?”

“Well, at least more regularly than it has been in the past few months,” Gwen assured.  “We’ll work something out, I promise, because we have missed this a lot as well.”

“Does this mean I’ll get to dance away my Friday nights with the friends I have made here?”

Gwen’s head whirled at the question, then she opened her arms and hugged her mother for all she was worth.  Randi embraced both of them and for a long moment, they rocked back and forth together.  Then Randi loosened her hold and Jill and Gwen stepped back from each other.  Gwen blinked to keep the tears from forming and Jill surreptitiously wiped hers away.

“You’re welcome anytime, Mama.  How are you doing?”

“Some days are better than others, but I always feel your daddy nearby watching over me.  I miss him terribly, but being here with all the folks who we came to think of as an extended family has made it easier.”

“So when are you moving?” Randi asked matter-of-factly.

“Not anytime soon,” Jill stated.  “But I will be down often to visit.”

“You’d better,” Gwen warned her.  “And if you ever decide to stay on a more permanent basis, we’ll be happy to have you.”

“Baby girl,” Jill said, cupping Gwen’s cheek in her hand, “even if I do decide to live here eventually, it won’t be with you and Randi.  You deserve the chance to live as your own family.  God knows you have certainly more than earned it.”

“No matter what you decide, Jill, the invitation is always there for you, all right?  And if you need anything....”

“... I know where to find you both.  I know, and I love knowing that you’re looking out for me.  I’ll be fine, really.  And so will you.  Randi, can I make a request for a song tonight?”

“Anything you want, Jill... as long as we know it.”  She pulled Randi down to her level and whispered in her ear.  Randi just nodded and Jill smiled and patted her arm.

“Thanks, Randi.  Now, if you’ll excuse me, I want to go see what all the cheering is about.”

Only then did Tommy and Ella come up on either side of Randi and Gwen to watch all the activity taking place around the field.  No one was separated any longer; instead, there was just a single mass of people celebrating the end of summer and having a damned fine time to boot.

“This was a mighty fine idea, Gwen.  Thank you for letting us be a part of it.”

“We’re glad ya’ll could join us, T.  I know I haven’t been around much, T, and I’m sorry for letting you down as far as my contract obligations went.  But I couldn’t....”

“And I wouldn’t have let you in any case,” Tommy interrupted, holding up his hand.  “What you had to do was more important.  We’ll work something out.  I’m recording you tonight, for starters.”

“Tell ya what, T... if you can’t figure out what her secret is this time, I’ll share it with you.”

“WHAT??  You *know*?”

“I have a pretty good idea, yeah.  If you pay attention to the right things, so will you.  Now, if you’ll excuse us, I’m hungry.  We’re gonna go get something to eat.”  They waved bye to the guys and headed back towards the still laden tables.  Tommy’s whine could be heard petulantly behind them.

“RANNNNNDIIIIII!!  That wasn’t very nice!”

Randi and Gwen just looked at one another... and laughed.


It had been a good day.  There had been lots of winners and all of them had been thrilled to accept their tokens from Gwen.  Most of them had been bashful and more than a little intimidated by the still, silent picture Randi made as she handed the ribbons to Gwen as each winner approached.  Corky was especially proud of her win, and maintained her dignity and respect when her award was presented.  It was a major step in her rehabilitation.

When it was over, Gwen extended her hand and Randi accepted it without thought.  Then Gwen wrapped Randi’s arms around her middle and leaned back into the strength of their embrace.  “I know we have said thank you to each of you,” glancing in the direction of the goddesses, “but we wanted you to understand how very much all of you and what you did for us means.  Without your strength behind us, we very well could have failed, and mankind wouldn’t have the chance to grow.”

“A lot depends on all of us, but ya’ll especially have already given the world a model they should try to follow.  I hope you’ll all continue to lead by example.”

“Now... enough with the serious stuff.  This is a party!  Whaddya say we crank up the music??”  Wild cheers greeted her words and the band started making its way to join Randi on stage.  For her part, Randi led Gwen from the stage and onto the makeshift dance floor with Jill.  Then she raced back up, snatched up her sticks and began a countdown for what promised to be a very wild ride.


They did two long sets, then Randi asked Gwen to do her story telling before their last set.  “I know it is a little unusual, but there’s a special song I want to close with tonight and everyone, especially me, wants to hear you be a bard again.”  She turned her attention to the gathered audience.  “Whaddya say, folks?  A few stories before the last dance of the night?”

The cheers were answer enough and they echoed off the mountains for several long minutes before finally quieting sufficiently to allow Gwen to speak.  “All right.  Bring the kids to the front, and you,” pointing to Randi, “take a seat,” patting the spot beside her.

Randi sat down and loosely wrapped an arm around Gwen’s waist, and listened with a beatific smile on her face as Gwen began to weave a tale that was at once old and new to her.  Suddenly, blindingly, Tommy realized the truth.  It doesn’t matter who she tells her stories *to*; what matters is who she is telling them *for*.  When her focus is Randi, everything changes.  He would have smacked himself for his denseness, but he was too busy enjoying yet another new soulmates story.

Gwen had told stories until she was hoarse from it and the applause had gone on for long minutes before the band had resumed the stage.  Now they were getting ready to close out their third and final set.  They had altered instruments and vocals several times throughout the night, but for the last little while Randi had been resting her voice for the last number.  Randi motioned Greg to take her place behind the drums for the final song, whispering her instructions to the guys who had huddled around her and nodded agreement, even as they gave her big grins.

Randi stepped to the mic and caught the towel and water bottle Gwen tossed her with a grin and a wink, even as the guys collected their own from Jill, Tommy and Ella.  Randi extended a hand to Gwen, and Gwen gave her a startled look in return.  Randi raised her eyebrow and Gwen acquiesced, coming around and letting Randi help her ascend the steps.  She felt a little conspicuous, but since Randi had sat next to her for the entire storytelling session, she figured she owed Randi at least one song.

“Time to wind things up folks, at least for us,” she added when a loud groan went up from those gathered.  Amazingly, except for the children who had been removed as soon as Gwen’s part was over, everyone else was still up and most of them had spent a majority of their time on the dance floor.  Jill had once again proven very popular with men and women alike and there had been great camaraderie between everyone.  “So grab you best girl or guy and head back to the dance floor.  You’re not gonna want miss the romance of this last song,” moving to put her arm around Gwen’s waist.

“This is by special request of my mother-in-law, but the truth is, this song is one of my favorites as well.  Gwen wrote the words to this one and I handled the music and with your permission, I’m gonna sing this song to my wife.”  As if on cue, the lights dimmed, leaving Randi and Gwen alone in the spotlight.  Then the music started and Gwen closed her eyes and bit her lip, leaning her forehead on Randi’s chest.  Randi tipped her chin up until their eyes met, and then she began to sing.

If there were no words
No way to speak
I would still hear you

If there were no tears
No way to feel inside
I'd still feel for you

And even if the sun refused to shine
Even if romance ran out of rhyme
You would still have my heart until the end of time
You're all I need, my love, my Valentine

The world did not exist for them outside of the circle fashioned by Randi’s voice and the spotlight that created a bubble around them.  Gwen wrapped both hands around Randi’s neck and they swayed slowly back and forth, conscious only of one another. Most of those gathered stopped their own dancing, mesmerized by the bond they could see enveloping Randi and Gwen.  Even the goddesses were in awe of the miracle they were once more being permitted to witness.

All of my life
I have been waiting for
All you give to me
You've opened my eyes
And shown me how to love unselfishly

I've dreamed of this a thousand times before
But in my dreams I couldn't love you more
I will give you my heart
Until the end of time
You're all I need, my love, my Valentine

And even if the sun refused to shine
Even if romance ran out of rhyme
You would still have my heart until the end of time
'Cause all I need is you, my Valentine

You're all I need, my love, my Valentine

When the song was finished, Randi leaned down and captured Gwen’s lips with her own, sealing the promise of the words with the most tangible of reminders.  Only when the hoots and cheers started did they remember their audience.  They flushed, then laughed, realizing that here especially, among the friends who had so fiercely protected what they shared, they had no reason to hide and every reason to let the see a little of what they had protected. 

But a little was enough, and it was time to head back to their quarters and share the rest in private.  Tomorrow started the first day of the rest of their lives.  But first....

“Thank you, everyone, for sticking through this with us.  You’ll never know what it means to us to know we have friends like you.  I hope it means we’re as good of friends in return to you.  We wish each and every one of you peace and love and happiness always.  Good night, ya’ll.”

Then they stepped off the stage and walked back towards the mountain, knowing that no matter what else happened, today had been a good day.  As for tomorrow, well... they would look to those together.



Two gray-haired, old women stood at the shore watching the waves come in as the sun slowly slipped beneath the horizon once more.  It had been a good day, even warming for the occasion, but it had been forever long, and Randi and Gwen wanted nothing more than to curl up together in the big bed that had been theirs for more than fifty years.

Both nearly a hundred years old, they were still as spry and alert as they had been in their much younger days, but despite it, they were tired and ready to go to their final rest.

“We’ve had a good life together this time around,” Gwen said softly.  “A very full life.”  They climbed into their bed slowly and Randi stretched out her length and waited for Gwen to curl up beside her.

“Yep.  It was a nice anniversary party too.  Lots of folks we haven’t seen in a while.”  Randi closed her eyes and smiled.  “Never thought Tiny would be bald as a cue ball though.”

Gwen chuckled.  “He and Reed make a cute couple, and their girls and their kids....”

“I can’t believe they brought puppies from Phil’s and Ditto’s line to give to Randall’s boys.”

“At least, they didn’t bring horses sired by Lance or Cal.  I thought those two were gonna kill each other when Tiny and Reed took them home... before Tiny put them in separate corrals.”  A beat.  “And did you see Scott’s oldest granddaughter had her eyes on Randall’s oldest?  Lacey’s daughter too.  Not surprising though... he’s a good-looking kid.” 

“I’m glad Tommy will have to deal with that. And that he has Ella to help him.  Even as old as he is, and despite the fact that his son and his grandsons are grown, T is still very protective of his family.”

“I wish Mama had been here to see this.  She would have enjoyed it... even without the band.  But I imagine she is pretty content where she is.”

“I’ll bet Geoff is too,” Randi said with a sad, knowing smile.  “And Sky and Rosie were there to greet her as well, so she is definitely among friends, even without having met my mama and daddy.”  She paused.  “It was nice to see so many of my old Sabre friends still around.  It’s so easy to lose track of people these day with the new starships being manned and sent out on longer and longer voyages.  I do regret that we never got a chance to explore space more in our lifetime, but we really did see and do so much this last trip through the circle.”

And they had.  Peace had taken root and though there would always be some outbreaks of strife and discontent, human nature being what it is, now *everyone* worked to take care of the problem.  Because of this, mankind had made leaps and bounds in scientific advancement and they were on the cusp of deep space travel.

“Is everything all set?”

Randi nodded. “The trusts were set up years ago. All we have to do is go to sleep and our part is done.”

“Then let’s go to sleep, love.  I’m ready to go home.”

Pink sparkle lit up the room and showered down around them.  Randi blew a rose petal off her nose and glared at Aphrodite, who remained young and beautiful as though no time at all had passed.  She looked at them sadly for a long moment with her head cocked, then said forlornly, “So this is it, huh?  You two radical babes are finally taking off?”

“Yeah, Dite.  We’re tired – it’s time.”

She nodded her agreement.  “I know, but you’re not coming back after this.  I’m gonna miss you guys.”

“Come visit us in eternity, Dite,” Gwen said as she tucked her head under Randi’s chin.  “Leave us a message – we’ll always come find you when you’re ready for a little radical girl talk.”  Dite’s blue eyes widened comically.

“Bitchin’, babe.  You learned the lingo!  How totally cool is that?  You bet I will.  Now close your eyes.”  She leaned over and brushed a kiss on each of their foreheads.  “Safe travels and peaceful rest.”  When Dite stood upright once more, they were gone.


Between one breath and the next, Ares’ essence was freed from the box and without hesitation it made its way to where he still resided.  He had made a lot of progress in the fifty plus years he lived as a mortal, building a house and making a few acquaintances in the nearby town.  It wasn’t a thrilling life, but he coped and thought about how he had ended up there.  It still made him furious, and despite everything he learned to the contrary, he was determined to have his revenge for the time he had been forced to live as a mortal.

It was almost shocking when the power of war washed over him and renewed his life and youth.  He knew his first responsibility would be to watch for Randi and Gwen to return to the circle.  Once his business with them was concluded, he could take care of everything else.

“They’re not coming back, brother,” Aphrodite said sweetly as she popped in on the humble abode he had created with his own hands and sweat.  “They have removed themselves from the karmic circle.  You don’t get to mess with them again.  I won after all.”

“NO!!!  They don’t get to do that!!”

“They already did, Ares.  They’re gone.”

“NO!!!  That’s not fair!!!”

Dite shrugged.  “You’ll find that life generally isn’t – get over it.”

“They can’t do this!!  I’ll create wars... make them come back to rescue mankind again.”

“I think you’re gonna find a lot of changes out there you so not gonna be cool with, bro.  Maybe you oughta go back to Olympus for a while... see what all you’ve missed.  ‘Cause mankind no longer needs your gnarly little self and the warrior and the bard are not coming back.  Get used to it.”

With that pronouncement, Dite winked out of sight, and Ares stood stock still, realizing he had well and truly lost.  It was time to admit defeat and go home.


Their cabin was what it had always been – warm, cozy, and located on the edge of nowhere where it would never be discovered.  They were young once more - two old souls content in the peace and refuge they had in one another and the love they had and continued to share through the ages.

Randi and Gwen had spent a number of years traveling off and on across the globe – talking to people, sharing with them; learning from them and helping them.  It had been a most rewarding experience for them both and reminded them greatly of their roots and who they truly were at their core.

Some called them heroes, though they both shied away from that description.  Mostly they just saw themselves as ordinary people, like everyone else – put in a unique position in history.  The rest of the world saw them for the heroes they were.  The world would go on without them, but they would always be greatly missed.

But eternity was a wonderful place to spend together – happily ever after.

04/06 - 01/07

Author’s Notes: well, folks – this be the end.  Randi and Gwen have their happy ever after ending and are going to retire to enjoy it. smiley face They have been wonderful characters to write, and I think they have earned all the happiness they can find together.  I still have plenty of other stories waiting to be written, both short and novel length – original as well as other fandoms, and I’m looking forward to trying my hand at each and every one.

Thanks to Phil, who stuck with me the entire six years it took to write this series, and to the many, many readers who not only took the time to feed the bard, but waited patiently for each new story to be completed.  I appreciate each and every one of you... and so do Pink & Fluffy. smiley face


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