Disclaimer: This is a Wonder Woman/X:WP uberish cross-over.Therefore, any recognizable characters in this tale belong to DC Comics and anyone else who has an investment in Wonder Woman and to cover my 'just in case' bases, to Rob Tapert and Co., RenPics, Studios USA, MCA/Universal and anyone else who has an investment in Xena: Warrior Princess.I am just borrowing them for use in this story.No profit is being made from this and no copyright infringement is intended.This is all just for fun and to keep me busy and out of trouble.The other characters and the story belong to me.

Thanks: To Noe and Erin for supplying all the background information on Wonder Woman and the Amazons of Paradise Island and to SueG for pointing me in their direction.Big thanks to Marilyn for picking up all my dropped letters, of which there were many.

Author's Note: This is a stand alone story.The Storyteller's Cardinal Rule is in effect.

Brave New World

By D

Prologue

The year is 2043. For over one hundred years, the world has been ruled by Nazi tyranny. The Japanese are an acknowledged power within the Reich, but they concede the supreme leadership of the Fuehrer. The United States, because of its choice to remain isolated during the conflict that was World War II, is now an occupied territory of the Nazi regime. It is also home to the Resistance. This is the story of their fight for freedom.

Chapter I

"Goddamnit, Chase! What the hell's wrong with you?!" The man yelling grabbed the blonde woman by the arm and swung her around to face him. She jerked her arm out of his grasp, and the fire in her green eyes prevented him from reaching for her again. She glared at him another long moment before turning and striding back towards the P-40 Curtiss Warhawk Flying Tiger airplane that sat tarped and hidden near the tree line. He ran to catch up.

"Dammit, Annabelle!" flinching when she grabbed his ear and twisted. They stopped walking. "Owowowowow!!! Sorry, Chase. It's just you move really fast when you put it in gear. C'mon now... let go. Please?"

"Hans, you can't go with me. I can't let you go. You're too important to the movement."

Hans snorted. "*I'm* too important to the movement? Chase, you're all that holds us together aside from a bit of spit and some string. I'm just...."

"You're just the only one of us who is German. You're also one of our top scientists with ongoing projects. With Ty and Jen out west, Mitch and Shep still busy up north, I'm the only one left here qualified to go. Don't worry about it." She put a placating hand on his arm. "You know why I have to do this, and you know I'm the most capable to do so. Relax... everyone here knows what to do in the meantime, and I'll be back before you know it."

Chase motioned to number of people who stood around the compound trying desperately to look busy while they strained to hear the obvious confrontation between the two. They were both the best at what they did, but it put them at odds more often than not and provided the entire rebellion with some much needed levity.

"I hope so," Hans answered soberly. "I have a bad feeling about this."

************

<Sputter>

"C'mon, c'mon, dammit!

<Cough, sputter>

"C'mon, start, damn you!"

<Cough, sputter, choke>

"C'mon baby! Start for mama!" Chase pleaded quietly, then sighed when the motor finally rolled over and caught. "Thata girl. I knew you wouldn't let me down." She revved the engine, listening to the roar and smiling when it turned to a smooth purr. She looked up when weight landed on her left wing.

"Here," Hans yelled over the rumble of the engine, handing her a package wrapped in oilskin. "It's a long flight. You're gonna need something to eat."

Chase took the parcel and gave Hans a smile. Despite everything, he was one of her dearest friends and she appreciated having him in her life. There were definitely times she wanted to throttle him, but most of the time she was glad he was around. And she was pretty sure he felt the same way about her.

"Thanks, Hans. You're the best."

He looked her directly in the eyes and said with all seriousness, "So are you. So please don't go and do anything stupid, all right? We need you here, and I'd miss having you around to fight and argue with."

Her grin turned rakish and Hans couldn't stop the smile that formed on his own lips. "I'd miss me too," she said patting his hand. "Don't worry. There and back. We need that information or I wouldn't bother. Keep working on...."

"I will! I will!" he broke in, waving his hands to get her to stop talking. "Geez, you think I'm dumb or something?"

"Or something," Chase answered cheekily, shifting in the seat and reaching back to close the canopy. "I should be back in a couple days. Try and stay out of trouble, will ya?"

"You just be careful and get back in one piece. We've got things to do, and we need you here."

"You got it. Wish me luck."

"Always... you know that." He hopped off the wing and returned her wave. Then he watched her taxi down the runway and take off, following her flight until she was a mere speck on the horizon.

"Guess I better get back to work," he said to himself, turning his back on the runway and noting the activity in the compound had resumed. "I'd like to have something to show her when she gets home," determined to think confidently about the outcome of Chase's mission despite the knots in his belly.

************

"Has she said anything yet?" the queen asked her head healer. Though the Amazons of Paradise Island were immortal, from time to time they still had medical issues arise that required the skills of a trained physician. Usually these occurred after a tournament and a few times because of outrageous weather. But for the most part, Drea's skills were called upon to nurse the soul. Such was the case now.

"No, Majesty. Not a word. She continues to act as though we don't exist. She doesn't speak or respond – not to anyone or anything. She spends her time fighting, practicing, honing her skills to a degree I would not have believed possible were I not witnessing it with my own eyes. The only time she leaves that room is when she takes her runs around the island. The anger within her burns deep and I fear for her sanity if not her very life."

"Perhaps I have let this continue too long. Perhaps it is time to force the issue." The queen commented as she stood, only to hesitate when Drea placed a hand on her arm.

"My queen, please don't do anything rash. I don't think there is anything you or anyone else here on the island can do for her."

"But...?"

"Mala has foreseen. One is coming. One who will, as you say, force the issue. She will either accept her fate or...." The healer trailed off when the queen turned anguished blue eyes in her direction.

"I could lose her for good."

Drea swallowed. Some days she hated her job. "Hippolyta," finally addressing the Queen as the old friend she was. "The Princess is already lost to us. This may be the only chance we have of regaining her. You cannot, *must not* interfere. If she chooses to go, she will need your blessing and support."

"As I should have done years ago," the queen said sadly. "I miss her so much," she said softly, leaning into Drea's body and sighing when the healer's still strong arms wrapped around her in wordless comfort. Her face creased into a smile when she felt lips brush her hair in a ghost-like kiss.

"We all do, my queen. The princess has always been sought out for her favor. It's a wonder the Nation has not fallen ill from the hearts she's broken... even before her self-imposed exile."

Hippolyta tilted her head slightly to look up into Drea's brown eyes. "Thank you, my friend. I'm sorry to put all this on you...."

Drea covered the queen's lips with her fingers. "It is my duty as head physician and my honor as your friend." She bent and brushed Hippolyta's cheek with her lips before releasing her hold and taking the queen's hand in her own. "Come. Let us talk to Mala. With a little luck, she should be able to tell us about this one who is coming. And I think we are due for a little luck at this point."

Hippolyta blew a breath out and her bangs fluffed out in reaction. "I hope so. I would rather lose Diana to the world of men than to whatever inner demons she continues to fight. At least there she would stand a fighting chance."

************

"DIE, YOU FUCKING BASTARD!!!" Chase screamed even as she banked the plane hard to the right. She'd spotted the Nazi plane a mere second before he'd seen her. Unfortunately, the son of a bitch wasn't flying alone, and now she was out gunned by a ratio of three to one. She'd already eliminated the first.

The second Nazi plane started trailing smoke and flames, and Chase would have pumped her arm victoriously had she not been so preoccupied in trying to avoid being shot down herself. She dove hard, knowing they'd follow her down and hoping she could pull up fast enough while causing them to crash.

What concerned her just as much, though, was the fact that this little dogfight was eating into her fuel – fuel she was going to have difficulty replacing to get home. She was confident enough in her fighting prowess to believe she'd be the sole survivor of this little adventure, but there was nothing those skills could do for her if she ran out of gas.

What the hell were they doing here anyway? We haven't had any recon showing them out this far. Did someone tip them off or did I just get lucky enough to run into a random patrol of the bastards? OW, Shit!! What the fuck??

Searing pain in her right shoulder brought Chase out of her thoughts and she realized she'd been hit by the remaining Nazi aircraft that was currently heading directly for her. Her useless right arm fell away and she grabbed the stick with her left. The plane responded sluggishly, and Chase fought to hold on long enough to take the son of a bitch down with her. If she had to die today, she was damn sure going to take him too.

Closer and closer until she could see the look of terror on the man's face. Then she popped the canopy, feeling the impact as their planes met nose to nose. She jerked the cord of her chute and felt a searing pain cut across the middle of her body and into her left thigh. Then all she knew was merciful blackness.

************

"My queen," Paula raced into the temple where Hippolyta and Drea sat talking with the Priestess Mala. She bowed her head in respect. "I beg pardon for interrupting, but...."

The queen waved her hands. "Nevermind that, Paula. What news?" Hippolyta knew the island's chief scientist would never disrupt a meeting, especially in the temple, without good cause. Something important had happened, and by the prickling of her skin, the queen was fairly certain this was the event the priestess had foretold.

"My queen, there is activity outside the shield."

The queen's features creased into a frown. "Yes, Paula. There is always activity outside the shield. Humanity continues to exist around us."

The scientist shook her head. "No, my queen. I mean, yes, my queen, I know that. You don't understand. There is violent activity taking place just outside the shielded area, above us. It is very likely we could see some serious fall-out from it."

"How serious?" Drea asked.

"At the very least, we could be discovered by any and all survivors. Worst case? They bring their fight to us and Amazons get hurt."

"How can they bring their fight to us, Paula?" Hippolyta asked. "They cannot see us through the shielding."

"No, my queen, but they appear to be the same fighting air machines we saw so long ago. And you remember the damage those caused. We already saw one break up and fall to pieces in the ocean."

Hippolyta nodded. "Sound the alarm. Make sure all the women are under shelter until the danger has passed." Paula nodded.

"How many were there?" Drea asked again, thinking ahead to the number of facilities she would need if there were injuries. Her assistant Rina would need to prepare everything necessary for the possible extensive damage they could encounter.

"We counted five," Paula was saying. "Four to one odds, it looked like. But the single was not the one shot down because the fighting continued when I left."

"This is the one," Mala said without fanfare. "This is the one we have waited for."

Paula looked confused, but both Hippolyta and Drea nodded at the priestess' words. Drea touched the queen's arm, and Hippolyta nodded her dismissal. The healer squeezed the queen's arm in encouragement, then took Paula by the elbow and led her out without a word.

"You're sure?" Hippolyta asked.

The priestess nodded. "I have foreseen. Have faith, my queen. There is still hope."

Hippolyta nodded and turned her attention out the window, knowing if her daughter kept to her schedule, regardless of the alarm that sounded across the island, she should be passing by on the beach below very soon. And somewhere out there in the heavens above them, Diana's savior was rushing to meet them.

************

Diana silently moved through the corridors of the palace. She had long ago learned to tune out the existence of everyone and everything around her. She could account for each and every sound indoors and out, and knew there was no danger to her here. The alarm didn't slow her steps. She wasn't changing her routine for some threat, perceived or imagined. She didn't give a shit – at least if something happened, it would be something new to experience.

She stepped out onto the grounds, feeling the guards' eyes on her, but knowing they wouldn't stop her. Many had gotten hurt in the beginning learning this lesson – they knew better now. Diana went down the slope and out onto the beach, running with a freedom she didn't express anywhere else. This was the one place she allowed herself to feel again – just a bit. For a little while every day, things were good and she was happy.

It was a familiar whining hum that brought her out of the meditative trance she had fallen into to block the annoying sound of the alarm. She fell to her knees as she was assaulted by images and memories she could no longer live with yet was unable to purge.

Pain, darkness, betrayal....

The sound was coming ominously closer and her dark head jerked up as a crash reverberated across the sky followed by a thunderous explosion. Blue eyes found the smoking mass easily against the blue and white background. Then her attention was caught by something else.

A single figure emerged from the smoke and flames, wrenched upwards by the billowing parachute. Diana watched as the chute wobbled and whirled out of control and it dawned on her that whoever it was attached to was likely unconscious and unable to control or direct it. She thought briefly of calling for help, then decided against it. She would follow its downward path, and once assured she could locate it again, she would then seek out assistance. For the first time in nearly a century, Diana felt alive again, and she relished the feeling as it coursed across her skin and through her veins.

The figure swayed listlessly in the breeze and Diana watched helplessly as a gust of wind yanked the chute straight up then collapsed it, allowing it and the person attached to it to plummet into the sea with frightening strength and speed.

Without thought, the princess stripped and dove into the water, strong strokes rapidly carrying her to the spot the chute had struck with such force. There was nothing visible and an unreasoning fear gripped Diana's heart. She took a deep breath and dove, blue eyes flinching at the sting of salt. Though she had long since given up worshiping the gods of her birth, she whispered a prayer for the strength and wisdom to find the individual who had fallen into her life, however unintentionally.

Lack of air drove her to the surface, and she gasped, drawing air deep into her lungs before plunging beneath the waves and resuming her search. Almost by accident, her hand brushed against canvas and she curled a fist around it, yanking with adrenaline-enhanced, supernatural strength. As she rose to the surface, she gave a yell and heaved the figure to the surface with her. She wrapped an arm around the woman's... woman? Since when did women fight in the world of men? Had so much changed? Diana put such thoughts out of her mind and pushed the water out of the woman's lungs, careful of the cut across her belly. When the woman coughed weakly, the princess unbuckled the harness and resumed her strokes towards shore. She noted the large crowd gathered there including her mother and the healer and sighed in resignation.

Diana was happy when her feet hit sand and she gathered up her failing strength, forcing herself to stand and cradle to limp body she'd rescued from the sea. She strode forward, willing herself not to stumble and ignoring the minions who rushed into the shallow waves to help her. Diana accepted the towel draped around her shoulders by simply not shrugging it off, but she failed to acknowledge it or the Amazon who draped it over her either. She glared at the woman who reached out towards her trying to look at the wounds that covered the body she carried. She smiled grimly when the hand was removed but the woman continued her visual examination.

As soon as she reached dry land, Drea pushed forward, ignoring the princess's icy stare as she beckoned the minions to bring the stretcher they'd brought with them. The blonde woman had been badly wounded and was still losing blood sluggishly. They needed to move quickly to give her the best chance for survival.

Taking a gamble, she clasped Diana's face in both hands, waiting until the blue eyes focused on her face. Drea didn't even flinch when the expression turned to ice. She simply held on until she was sure Diana's attention was focused on her.

"You did a good thing here, Princess. Thank you. Now you need to let us care for...." A glance down at the lax figure. "Her."

Diana didn't acknowledge the words. When she was sure the blonde was safely supported on the stretcher, she dropped the towel and snatched up her clothes from the sand. The Amazons gathered did their best to give her privacy, though many of them snuck a peek from beneath lowered lashes. Diana ignored them as she always had, slipping into her clothing and walking away from them without either a word or a backwards glance.

Hippolyta watched her daughter make good her escape with a heavy heart. The princess had not acknowledged her presence at all. She wasn't even sure she'd acknowledged Drea, but to her credit, she hadn't hurt the healer either. There had been a time when Drea would have been on the ground in intense pain. Hippolyta was glad Diana no longer had that sort of immediate reaction – she just wished she would get past the indifference as well. Mala came up beside the queen and grasped her hand, squeezing lightly to show her support as they watched Diana disappear around a corner of the island.

"It has begun, my queen."

Hippolyta squeezed the priestess's hand in return, thankful for the unspoken support.

"It certainly has. I can only hope this turns out better than the last."

"Indeed," Mala agreed, knowing she'd seen two distinct futures in her visions... and one was enough to give even the strongest Amazon warrior nightmares. A lot depended on what happened here in the next few days. The priestess just hoped both Diana and their mysterious visitor were ready for the challenges that lay ahead for them. They were going to need each other to survive.

************

Diana waited until she was positive she was out of sight before dropping into the sand in exhaustion, her mind unable to cope with her physical actions. It had taken every bit of remaining willpower she possessed to continue standing and moving on her own two feet. But there had been no way in the seven levels of Hades itself she was going to let anyone, especially her mother, see weakness.

She was alone now however, and she let her body curl into itself as her muscles clenched in agonizing spasms. They hadn't been used and abused in such applications in more than a century and regular exercise didn't produce the same results. And it would be the only way her body would remember what happened. Her eyes burned harshly for their prolonged exposure to the salt water of the sea, and there wasn't one spot on her person that wasn't screaming for mercy. Even her hair hurt in sympathy for the rest of her parts.

Diana focused on breathing, on simply being, encouraging tight and knotted muscles to relax. Her eyes closed and she felt immediate relief from the action. Without warning tears rolled silently down her cheeks and she let them fall, unable to reach up and wipe them away. It had been so long since she'd allowed herself this kind of release, she wasn't sure what the reason behind them was now. So she let them fall without examining the *why* behind them too closely. If nothing else, her logical mind figured, it was the easiest way to clean out the seawater. Then she put rational thought to one side and let her mind float away into a restful oblivion. She never even realized when she fell asleep.

************

Pain. Rather intense pain.

Darkness.

Warmth.

These were the first sensations Chase became aware of. She moved her head from side to side slowly, trying to orient herself without causing herself any more pain in the process. A cool hand felt her forehead and she leaned into it slightly, feeling her mother's touch in the contact. A soft voice, not her mother's but not unfamiliar spoke into the quiet of the darkness.

"Drink."

A straw was raised to her lips and Chase did as she was told. If she were in enemy hands, they would need her to be lucid before she could answer questions and she would need to be strong to escape. If not, she had found friends, and that was even better. For now though, she struggled to open her eyes.

"Wh...?"

"Shh," the voice commanded. "You're safe here, but you need to rest and heal. Sleep now. All will be explained in the morning."

Chase sighed and fell asleep once more, her normal breathing rhythm assuring the healer that stood by her bedside.

"Fetch the queen," Drea said to Rina. "And call together the council. We have some decisions to make."

************

"She's not an Amazon."

"No, but she is a woman under my care. I cannot allow her health to be jeopardized because of prejudice. We wouldn't even force a man to leave in the shape she is currently in."

Gasps made the rounds. Prejudice was fairly unheard of on Paradise Island though they did understand the concept. The queen held up her hands to stave off the argument she felt coming.

"Ladies! Ladies, please. The question on the table is not whether she can stay. Of course she will stay until Drea releases her from her care. What we need to consider is *why* she is here and *how* we can return her to her home. I hesitate to have one of our Amazons escort her, and yet I highly doubt, given the circumstances that surround her arrival as we know them, that she will wish to remain with us."

"But she can reveal us to the world."

"Not necessarily," Paula spoke up. "It is highly unlikely she knows where she is given the ferocity of the fighting we saw. Besides, there are herbs and drugs to assure that part of her memory is not a problem."

"We can discuss that when the time comes. There is much we need to know first before any sort of decision is made."

It was quiet as everyone contemplated Hippolyta's words. Finally, Drea sighed.

"Well, the first order of business is to get her well. After that, well, the young lady in question may have some ideas about everything else herself."

The queen nodded. "Mala?"

The priestess nodded her agreement. "Let's get her well, then we can talk. I imagine she will wish to have some say in what happens to her and how. And she will be able to answer our questions without all this unnecessary speculation."

Hippolyta looked around at the faces of her council. Rarely had they had to meet for anything more than social issues, and she could see how this issue was going to divide them. There was no help for it now though. Diana had followed her heart when she'd pull the young woman out of the sea, and regardless of the consequences, Hippolyta was happy to witness a return of the daughter she knew. Now it only remained to see how those actions would change things for everyone involved.

Chapter II

Chase held herself very still as she came to the second time, focusing on keeping her breathing deep and regular as she struggled to discern many things in the darkness that surrounded her. She was chiefly aware of the pain, mostly in her left thigh, but also from her belly, her right shoulder and her head.

She heard the soft, odd sounds of machinery, and.... Someone else was in the room – a presence more felt than heard, though she could just barely pick out the sounds of soft, regular breaths.

Musta been one hell of a landing, she thought groggily. She remembered the dogfight and without warning, her breathing sped up exponentially as she started reliving it. Her hands clenched the sheets and she grit her teeth, a fact which didn't go very far towards alleviating the pounding behind her eyes and in her skull.

Warm hands were placed over her clenched fists, coaxing them to relax. Then the coolness of a wet cloth wiped her face, reminding her again of her mother's soothing touch. The same voice from before, the one that sounded like her mother and yet was not, spoke again into the darkness, willing her to listen and obey.

"Come, child. Open your eyes for me. It's all a memory... a bad dream. I need you to open your eyes and let me see how you are really doing. Come on, now. Open your eyes."

Chase's eyes still felt so heavy, but that voice was very compelling and she struggled to obey. Her eyes open but closed again immediately against light they received as too bright. Drea caught the reaction instantly and called out in a quiet voice, "Lights dim."

Though they had only been at half-intensity, the lights fell to half again what they had been and Drea looked around to make sure it was safe for her patient to try again.

"Try again," she asked. "I don't think the light level will be a problem now," though it may drive me crazy. Drea liked being able to see. She figured it had a lot to do with her being a healer, but she just felt more comfortable with the lights turned up. However, she was more concerned with getting the small woman's eyes opened for now. They could work on re-brightening the room later.

Chase blinked rapidly at first, as much to moisturize her eyes as to get them accustomed to the new light level. It was much more manageable now, though still considerably brighter than total darkness had been. She let her eyes look around without moving her head, still afraid that too much movement would cause it to roll right off her shoulders. She hadn't had a headache like this since her first - and only - hangover. It made her stomach roil in sympathy just thinking about it.

The room was... not what she expected. It was austere in its furnishings as she expected a hospital room to be. Yet it was something beyond that as well. The walls and floors seemed to be made from marble – not the linoleum and plaster she'd expected. The machinery tucked discretely behind and to either side of the bed was beyond anything she'd seen before. She didn't appear to be a prisoner – the wires and tubes from the machines were attached to her body and looked as though they were monitoring her body's functions. They in no way hindered her from leaving the bed in the sense that she could remove them. Her arms and feet were not bound.

The most peculiar thing in the room, though, was the woman who spoke in the low, melodic voice. She wasn't dressed like a nurse... or a doctor for that matter. Hell, she wasn't dressed like anyone Chase had ever seen. Her brow furrowed as her puzzle became just that much more convoluted. No medical personnel Chase had ever dealt with wore flowing robes or looked so comfortable. Drea smiled gently, sympathetic to her patient's confusion, but anxious to learn more about the blonde woman as well.

"My name is Drea, and I'm the head healer here." She reached out a hand and smoothed the hair off Chase's forehead. "How do you feel?" Chase shifted again, biting back a groan when she pulled on new stitches. She swallowed, and Drea offered her a cup. "Slowly," the healer cautioned. "You've got a nice cut across your stomach and you don't want to have to throw up because you drank too fast."

Chase accepted the straw and gingerly sipped the cool liquid, noting fuzzily it wasn't just water, but something almost tingly. A few swallows and she turned her away, exhausted by the effort and disgusted by how drained she felt.

Drea set the cup to one side and smiled at Chase. "You'll have to finish it, but we'll go slowly. In the meantime, do you feel up to answering a few questions?"

Chase closed her eyes. She didn't sense any danger but something was making alarm bells ring in her mind – something familiar in her surroundings - which did nothing to help the headache that was pounding behind her eyes. On the other hand, it didn't feel threatening. Whatever else, the pilot didn't think she had fallen into enemy hands.

"Okay," she finally answered. Drea had seen the expressions crossing Chase's face and wondered about the thoughts behind them. The healer didn't even realize she had been holding her breath until she exhaled at the single word. Drea patted her hands comfortingly, then gestured to the side of the wide bed.

"May I?" Chase motioned with her hand, unwilling to risk moving her head until the pounding eased somewhat. "Thank you... um...?"

"Chase."

"Just Chase?"

"For now," the blonde smiled as rakishly as she could manage. "We really don't know each other sufficiently yet for anything else."

Drea smiled. The woman certainly was enchanting; the healer could see how easy it would be for any number of Amazons to be swept away by her charm. She nodded her acceptance of Chase's answer; she could clearly see the wariness and distrust in those green eyes.

"I like it... it suits you somehow," said with a smile. "Now," getting briskly down to business. "Do you remember what happened? What brought you to us?

"Whose side are you on?" Chase answered one question with another. At Drea's look of confusion, she continued. "In the fight against tyranny, whose side are you on?"

Drea shook her head, unwilling to reveal the Amazons and their location to Chase at this point in time. "We, um... I guess we are neutral? We're so far removed from everything and everyone that we really don't have a side. But I'd like to think we'd come down on the side of right if given a choice."

Chase stared hard into the brown eyes looking back at her. She'd learned as a very young child how to gauge when a person was lying to her and that skill had served her well since that time. She saw nothing but honesty and a bit of hesitant fear reflected back to her.

"All right," Chase replied, relaxing back into her pillows with a barely concealed groan. Drea picked up the cup and offered it again, and Chase sipped on it gratefully – both for the wetness it provided her poor throat and because she felt her headache easing off. She had the distinct impression the tingly feeling was behind that.

Drea waited patiently. She had dealt with this kind before and knew that pushing Chase would result in nothing – no answers for them and no trust between them. And Mala had already stressed this woman's importance to Diana... and Diana's importance to the Amazons. No one would be happier to see the fulfillment of Mala's prophecy more than Drea. So she continued to wait.

Chase let her mind wander, even as she processed her impressions of this place. Everything told her she was safe here, and yet there was still something setting off niggling alarms in the back of her mind. She decided it was safe enough to give this woman Drea an abbreviated accounting of what happened. She knew she couldn't get information without giving some, and she needed this woman to help her get well enough to go home.

Hans is gonna kill me.

"Well," Chase started, clearing her throat gently. "I was on my way home when I got spotted by a patrol of Nazis. Though what they were doing out this far...." she mused to herself and grew silent as she pondered that puzzle for a long moment. Chase didn't see the widening of Drea's eyes at the mention of the Nazis. She drew a deep breath and resumed speaking.

"Anyway, they saw me and gave...." Here she smiled sheepishly. "Chase. I started shooting." The pilot turned her attention full on the healer, and Drea was impressed by the presence the small woman focused her way. "Did any of them survive?"

Drea shook her head. "Not to our knowledge. You were the only one we saw escape from your flying machine."

"Hmm... I remember popping the top just before I hit the last man. The explosion was...." She shuddered. "Horrific," finished in a whisper. Chase closed her eyes, willing the images away. She could still visualize the terror on the young man's face, and she wondered as she watched him explode if he was even old enough to shave. That was the worst part of the rebellion. Chase could still see clearly every single person she'd been force to kill, and sometimes that burden got so heavy. But she had decided long ago that living with oppression and tyranny were worse, so she locked that memory away as she had so many others throughout her lifetime, knowing they would only come back to haunt her in the darkest part of her dreams.

Drea sat quietly, not wanting to disturb Chase's thoughts, though it was apparent they were unpleasant. When the green eyes blinked open again, the healer offered her some more water, which Chase gladly accepted. Her headache had eased off to the point of being almost non-existent, and the rest of her body was starting to relax from the pain as well.

"Anyway, I remember the explosion, which was way too close for my tastes, and being hit in the stomach and thigh. And after that.... Did I hit my head on something?"

Drea nodded. "The water, we think. You came down in it pretty hard. You seemed to have caught an updraft that dropped right out from under you while you were still a little way up. We were just glad you were over water and not earth. Gaia is a little less forgiving than Poseidon."

The blood drained out of Chase's face as she understood the implications of what Drea was telling her. The healer realized what her words must have sounded like to the pilot and hastened to reassure her.

"The drop did no residual damage aside from your headache. All your motor functions react normally to stimuli and nothing is broken. All your wounds appear to be from your combat experience." Drea touched Chase's shoulder. "We took a bullet from here, and shredded metal from here," moving her hand to Chase's thigh. "Your stomach had a clean cut across it. The only explanation we could come up with was a piece of one of the exploding airplanes caught you as you ejected."

Chase nodded tentatively, inordinately pleased when her head didn't fall off. "I think you're right. I remember some rather intense pain before I blacked out." She paused. "You say I fell in the water." Drea nodded. "Who pulled me out?"

"Our very reclusive princess."

"Does that mean I won't get to meet her? I mean, I'd at least like to thank the woman who saved my life."

"Probably. She's not inclined to be social very much," Drea said honestly, thinking back to a time when that wasn't true. "But you never know. Stranger things have happened." And her rescuing you would be one of those things. Never thought we'd see that hero again. "But," Drea continuing to speak aloud as she rose from the bed and tucked the cover around Chase. "I want you to get some more rest. When I come back it will be with something to eat."

Chase's belly rumbled in response and she blushed and grinned awkwardly. "I think that sounds like a great idea. I can't remember the last time I ate." Drea grinned in response.

"I'll bring plenty."

Diana woke in the dawn disoriented, her abused body screaming in agony. Her face was pressed into the sand, and her body was curled into a fetal position. She deliberately stretched as far as she could, working through the pain of aching muscles and allowing her thoughts to wander.

Why do I hurt so badly? I'm not in bad shape, thinking of the rigorous exercises she did daily. Why am I on the beach? It appears I spent the night here, but why? And who got close enough to cover me without my noticing? She pushed the thin blanket aside and stood. Already she felt better. Evidently she had remained in one position too long, letting her muscles atrophy after some apparently harsh exertion. But what? And why couldn't she recall anything after heading out for her run?

She shrugged and picked the blanket off the sand, shaking it out and meticulously folding it neatly. Then she moved back towards the palace, determined to discover what had happened the previous day.

Diana noticed a subtle difference in the Amazons' attitudes towards her and her curiosity grew. They were looking at her with eyes full of admiration and awe, something she'd accepted as her due once upon a time, but no more. Not since her mother....

Here her thoughts grew cold and hard, and she ignored the respect they paid her. Diana placed the blanket on a chair just inside the palace, moving with sure, silent steps towards her rooms.

"Diana?" Her mother's voice... a voice she studiously ignored. "Daughter!" seeing the princess stiffen but not slow her steps or acknowledge the queen's presence. "Diana, we need to talk." Hippolyta reached out a hand, and found it caught and held in a nearly painful grip.

Diana didn't speak, simply looked at her mother for a long moment. Then she threw the queen's hand from her and resumed her trek to her room.

Hippolyta stood frozen in the middle of the hallway, torn between anger at her daughter's impudence and despair at what she had seen so clearly in those expressive blue eyes. She started after Diana when she heard her name called from the other end of the hallway. Turning, she saw Rina, and the assistant healer's winded condition caused her immediate concern.

"Rina?" moving towards her.

"My... my queen. Drea... requests your presence... immediately. It seems our... patient spoke to her... this morning."

Hippolyta cast one last glance towards her daughter's room, then strode with Rina out the other end of the hall. Drea wouldn't call her this early if it wasn't a matter of some urgency.

"Do you know what she said?" Hippolyta asked. She never saw Diana glance out of her room nor the princess' shoulders slump when she saw Hippolyta moving away from her. Diana's resolve hardened again, and she refused to allow the tears to fall. Instead she moved to the shower, wanting to rinse away the sand and all the aches and pains she had accumulated... inside and out.

Hippolyta waved the assembled Amazons back to their seats, glad they had been gathered so quickly. She would soon understand that most of them had been working overtime since Chase had been pulled from the water. And in Paula's case, since they'd spotted the aerial dogfight in the skies above them.

"Hello, Ladies," watching with mischievous glee the outraged expressions that turned her way. They were Amazons – first, last and always – and Hippolyta knew that was the surest way to not only get their complete attention, but break up some of the tension in the room as well. "Drea, you have the floor," taking a seat and motioning to her best friend.

"Majesty," accepting with a nod and rising from her chair. "I spoke with our guest just a short while ago. She doesn't trust us... yet anyway. Not that I can blame her after what I found out. For now, she goes by the name of Chase. It's all she would share with me about herself."

"Okay, so...?" Hippolyta asked, knowing there had to be more if Drea summoned the council.

"She also gave me an abbreviated account of what brought her to us... specifically the air fight that took place."

"How do you know it's abbreviated and how can we be sure she gave you accurate information?" asked Nubia. She was one of Hippolyta's most trusted advisors, and she was the biggest skeptic on Paradise Island. She had been after the queen, the healer and the priestess to push Diana out of what she perceived as a childish funk. She was well-respected for her forthrightness, if not well-liked for her harsh outlook and ruthless tongue.

"If you'd let me finish," the healer said pointedly. She and Nubia mixed like oil and water, and there were days – this was shaping up to be one of them – when Drea wanted to send Nubia far, far away. The dark-skinned Amazon nodded her head magnanimously, and gestured for the healer to continue.

"Thank you," turning back towards the queen. "What she told me about... what she said...." Drea rubbed a hand across her face. "It's the Nazis... again. Or still." Gasps around the table, followed by whispers and low chatter. Drea held up her hands for silence before she continued. "Paula started doing research as soon as she realized what was happening yesterday, and I gave her the information Chase gave me immediately. She's been going non-stop on this." The healer turned to the scientist. "She came to me as soon as she gathered enough information to make a preliminary report." Drea sat down and Paula stood, chewing her lip nervously. Sometimes she hated her job. She cleared her throat and began to speak.

"When we noticed the air fight over the island, it was... familiar. And Chase's arrival... it reminded us of... well, it was very similar to what happened when Steve Trevor dropped in on our home." The council as a body held their breaths and eyes turned furtively towards the queen. That had been the turning point in Diana's life and left them with the nearly unrecognizable woman who was now their princess. Paula swallowed and went on.

"We started doing some checking and when Drea came in with her information, it gave us something specific to look for. What we found was... disturbing."

Paula stopped talking and looked at Drea for support. The healer was the only one who knew what they had found out as she had been standing in the research lab when the information came through. Drea nodded and Nubia nearly slapped the table in frustration until she saw the serious expression on Paula's face. Nubia had a soft spot for the scientist and knew without asking that whatever she'd discovered had very bad connotations.

"Paula?" Hippolyta's softly spoken word broke the silence that had fallen.

"I'm sorry, my queen. The next part is, um... hard to tell. I feel like it is partly my lack of vigilance that allowed this to develop like it has."

Hippolyta stood from her seat and moved around the table to take Paula's hands in her own. "Paula, if anyone bears responsibility and guilt here it will be me. You have always faithfully served the Nation. No one here questions your loyalty or vigilance. Now, tell me what you found out."

Paula focused on the queen; it was easier that way.

"Take your time," Hippolyta said, seeing the hesitation and feeling a cold shudder travel down her own spine. Paula nodded, and looked down at their still linked hands for a long moment, drawing strength from the trust she felt flowing from Hippolyta.

"Diana didn't lie to you, my queen. The Nazis apparently won the war they were waging a hundred years ago." She swallowed hard enough for the room to hear it. "And it looks like they had help... Amazon help."

The silence that fell in the room at Paula's pronouncement was so still even the wind stopped blowing. Hippolyta paled at the implication of Paula's words, her hands tightening reflexively on the scientist's.

The sound of a chair scraping across the floor broke the spell and Hippolyta looked around, gratefully noting Drea's presence behind her almost immediately. She leaned back into the healer's embrace while maintaining her grip on Paula's hands.

"You mean, Orana...?"

Paula nodded. "Yes, my queen. Though I cannot say so with one hundred percent certainty, all indicators we have found point to her being the reason for the Nazis' success."

"Oh, my gods," the queen muttered. She never heard the excited chatter – the buzzing in her ears blocked the sound, and then the world went blissfully black.

Diana wondered at the odd silence that seemed to be hovering around the palace. The outside guards were in place, but no one appeared to be inside. In a completely inexplicable change in behavior, the princess was roaming the corridors, seeing what she could see instead of holing up in her room as was her habit.

The palace was more than a home for her and her mother. It also housed several public areas - the library, a music conservatory, the scientific research laboratories, the infirmary and the hothouse gardens. It was also home to several other Amazons aside from the royal family, but their quarters were in a separate wing. Many of the Amazons had their own homes with yards and gardens spread across the island, but all were welcome in the public areas of the palace.

Today, however, no one was about. No one that is except for the small, unknown woman who lay sleeping in the infirmary.

Diana stood in the doorway for a long moment studying her intently. She wondered who the woman was and where she'd come from. There was a familiarity that tickled the edges of her senses though she knew for a certainty that the woman was a stranger to herself and the island. And ever more curious – how she'd come by the injuries she had so obviously sustained. Diana had absolutely no recollection of her own efforts to save Chase, and no one was around to answer her questions or tell her the story. She never saw Rina, who was monitoring Chase from one of the observation rooms and who maintained her distance on strict orders from both the queen and Drea.

The princess walked quickly through the palace and outdoors, realizing immediately where all the Amazons had disappeared to. They all sat in the outdoor theatre next to the palace and the queen was addressing them. She wondered why she had not been summoned, then shrugged. It was obvious to her that the only reason she was part of this society at all anymore was because she had nowhere else to go - either by choice or by design.

So Diana chose not to bother and went to sit in her favorite thinking tree.

Chase felt someone staring, but just couldn't seem to open her eyes. Whatever the healer had given her packed quite a punch and though she felt much better than she had the first time she'd awakened, she was unable to pry her eyes opened. Instead, she floated in a comfortable twilight, aware of sounds and sensations around her, but powerless to do more than listen to them.

She turned her mind back to the Drea's words, and wondered again what she was missing. The healer wasn't being totally open and honest, though Chase couldn't really blame her. The pilot wasn't completely forthcoming with information either.

Chase felt the presence leave as silently as it came, and she wondered if she was going to be some sort of freak sideshow. Though in all fairness to wherever she was, this was the first observer Chase was actually aware of having. Cool your jets, Chase. You don't need to be making snap judgments – especially since you're not in a position to do anything about anything until you're healed a little more.

She wondered at the silence, though. In her brief snippets of conscious and semi-conscious memories, there had always been a soft scuffling of footsteps, the crackle of moving material and the whisper of breathing. Right now, there was nothing, save her own breathing and the whirr of machinery in the room. With a mental shrug, Chase put it out of her mind. She couldn't do anything about it, so she let herself slip out of the twilight state and back into a deep, healing sleep.

"My sister Amazons," the queen began. "Many of you...." She paused, knowing the truth. "All of you are aware that we have a visitor from the outside. A mortal woman who literally fell out of the skies and into our backyard. While I know you are all intensely curious about her and the circumstances surrounding her appearance here on Paradise Island, I am asking for your patience. She was badly injured before she hit the water, and Drea has indicated she will need sufficient time to heal before she can have any visitors. And even when Drea releases her to have visitors, I am asking you all to be kind to the young woman and don't interrogate her. The council and I will endeavor to find out all we can and will pass along any pertinent information, but please – we want her experience to be something she will remember as a beautiful dream."

After Paula's words had sunk in, the council decided not to share the implications with the general Amazon population... at least not yet. There were still too many unknowns, and they felt there was no reason to stir things up any more than Chase's appearance already had until they had more facts. The queen, when she'd regained her senses, had ordered Paula to get some rest while the remainder of the council discussed her findings quietly. It confirmed a good many things that heretofore had made no sense to them. It didn't, however, bring them any closer to a decision.

The only thing they agreed on was the fact that no one wanted to start a panic or a revolt – both of which were possible if the council went off half-cocked. So it was decided that the queen would make an announcement, and the council would proceed from there. There had to be an answer, and it was up to them to find it.

Mala didn't attend the queen's address to the rest of the Amazons. She felt the need for prayer and fasting. This whole situation was becoming much more than she'd initially seen, and she wanted to ask for guidance and wisdom. The priestess wondered if any of the goddesses would answer, though. They had been unusually silent, as of late... ever since the fiasco with Diana, in fact. Mala shrugged. Perhaps they would make an appearance now. Change was in the wind, and any goddess worth her salt was going to want to be in the forefront of that change.

On Olympus, there was a conclave of another kind going on. Hera, Demeter, Hestia, Athena, Artemis and Aphrodite sat at their own round table discussing possibilities. For too long, Ares had held the world in the palm of his hand and used it for his own advancement. The time had come to change that, and opportunity was knocking at their door. The only decision they had to reach was the best way to utilize the chance they had been given. Life was fixing to get very interesting for the lot of them, and they were merely supporting players. They were looking forward to watching events unfold for the others who were now involved in the drama which would eventually determine the fate of the world. Sometimes, it just totally rocked to be a goddess.

Chapter III

"What did you find out?" Hans asked the tall man as he stepped into the room. Shep just cast him a look and took a seat, waiting for the other leaders of the rebellion to file in behind him. Hans had literally accosted him as soon as he and Mitch had returned from up north. It had been bad enough that he and Jen had been separated for the better part of a month while they were being utilized in different areas of the rebellion. But to come home and find that Chase had disappeared... so much depended on her. She was a pain in the ass, but she was *their* pain in the ass. Not only was she a capable leader and an excellent pilot, she also had a knack for bringing people together and a way of making things seem possible. Of course, sometimes that had as much to do with her ability to kick ass and take names as it did with anything else. God knew they'd all gone the rounds with her on more than one occasion. Better than that – she kept Hans from driving the rest of the crew nuts.

So Shep was already in a sour mood, and Hans' nervous energy wasn't helping matters at all. Fortunately, the other rebel leaders were only a pace or two behind him. Ty patted his shoulder as she passed behind him, knowing the scientist tended to rub Shep the wrong way. Jen nudged Ty out of the way with a smile and the two women teasingly elbowed each other like kids for a minute before taking their seats. Mitch and Hans slid into their seats and waited for Shep to speak.

"The news isn't good. She made it to the southern base and picked up the packet. From there things seemed to go downhill."

"What happened?!?" Hans demanded impatiently. Shep glared at him, and Hans folded his on the table and sat back. "Sorry," he muttered.

Shep nodded and cleared his throat. He knew the German man was simply concerned – they all were. But his impatience wasn't going to help what appeared to be a complete calamity.

"It appears she ran into trouble once she took off. Apparently there was an ambush waiting for her. Now," he held up his hands when the mutterings started.

"Damn it, Shep! That means we've got bigger problems than Chase missing."

"I know," the man said quietly. "But can I finish this first?"

Mitch nodded.

"Thank you. Now, as I was saying, we don't know what happened from there – except that all five planes disappeared over the Devil's Triangle." Gasps around the table. "I know, but there is a possibility that Chase is alive."

"So what do we do? Surely we can't just leave her there," from Hans.

"The southern base has a patrol out looking for survivors – Chase or the Nazis. My odds are on Chase having shot them all down and then being drawn into the Triangle." The gasps turned to grins and nods of affirmation. "For now, though, we've got work to do. Not having the packet changes things, so we're gonna have to implement some alternative plans and methods of attack."

They opened their planning books and pulled pencils from the cup at the center of the table. Jen chuckled as she flipped to an empty page and all eyes turned to her.

She returned their gazes evenly, the mirth twinkling out of her brown eyes. "I was just thinking – I know that this is serious, but I'm glad I wasn't the one to bring Chase down in the triangle, and I'm real glad I won't be the one finding her. You *know* she is gonna be spitting mad, especially if she is stuck riding in a life boat out in the Triangle."

Laughter went round the table for a minute, each of them well able to picture the blonde fury tearing through the Nazis and then the Devil's Triangle trying to find a way out.

"So, you think she's alive?"

Jen reached out a hand and patted Hans' arm. "Not only do I think she's alive. I'd put good money on her getting out of the Triangle by herself and coming home to kick our collective asses for leaving her there to find her own way out."

"Guess we'd better get to work then. I don't want to be accused of slacking off when she gets back."

Five sets of eyes widened at Hans' words, then they turned their attention to their planning.

When Chase opened her eyes the next time, the curtains had been opened allowing a minimal amount of light in the room through the slatted shutters. It bothered her eyes though, so she squinted as she looked around the room again. Nothing had changed – it still reminded her of a hospital though there were several pieces of equipment she didn't recognize.

The pilot sat up, wincing as she pulled against the injuries in belly, shoulder and thigh. Chase cursed the aggravation they caused her, but was happy to note her head was much better though it did spin when she changed directions. She looked down, glad to see that this institution didn't have the standard, ass-baring hospital gown.

It was actually... well, she wasn't sure exactly what it was. It would have been a toga in Roman times, she suspected, though the material was silk, not linen. Chase rubbed its softness between her fingers and thumb. It reminded her greatly of the silk scarf passed down from her great-grandfather. It was the last reminder she had of the man who had been a hero to many, but whose efforts had in the end ultimately come up short.

Chase spared a wistful thought for it now, wondering where her clothes were and if the packet was safe. She assumed that whoever now had it in hand had opened it and read it. So her first order of business was going to be to get out of here and find her clothing and the packet. Then she'd need to find a way to escape.

She stood slowly, breathing deliberately to move past the pain and holding onto the rail when the world started to spin unmercifully. Chase bit her lip until it bled and closed her eyes, willing her body to co-operate. She took a step and would have hit the ground had it not been for the warm hands of her arms keeping her upright.

"You shouldn't be out of bed yet," Rina chided. "Come, let me help you back to bed, and I'll get Drea."

"Nono... I need...."

"You need to get back in bed," the healer asserted firmly. "Please, you're bleeding."

Chase allowed the young woman to help her back to bed, moaning when she banged her leg into the rail. "I'm going to get Drea," Rina said, pointing a finger at Chase. "You stay put." She grabbed a glass and pitcher that were sitting on the bedside table and filled the glass nearly to the brim. "Here. Drink this slowly. I'll be right back."

Chase closed her eyes and concentrated on not throwing up.

"Are you sure about this, Paula?" Hippolyta was looking through the reports the scientist had just handed her passing them on to Drea and Nubia as she read them. The three had withdrawn to the Queen's study discuss the development Paula had presented them with about Orana. They were deep in discussion, having reached a consensus on the need to work together when Paula knocked on the door. The look on her face was one of confusion, and the queen bade her enter. Now the trio understood the look – they were bewildered as well by the new information they now held in their hands.

"Yes, my queen. I have run the information three times. It comes up the same every time."

"This makes no sense. Granted, humanity doesn't have the same level of genius available to us here on Paradise Island," with a nod in Paula's direction, "but they should have made some sort of advancements in the past century."

"Thank you, my queen," the scientist responded to the subtle compliment though they all knew who was responsible for most of the innovative progress the Amazons enjoyed, including the sleek, slim-line computers and holography technology apparent even here in the queen's private rooms.

"So in a hundred years, there has been no significant evolution in mankind's development? No scientific advancement – not in medicine or mechanics or technology?" Nubia asked. The thought of such a stagnant society made her mind hurt.

Paula shook her head. "Not in anything, it seems. Their music, clothing, way of life remains the same. Even their standard of living hasn't altered significantly."

"But why?" Drea asked. "It makes no sense. Surely there should be some sort of progress somewhere."

Paula shrugged and scrubbed her hands through her hair, making it stand up on end more than it usually did. "I don't have any answers for you. Every time I start looking for answers, I find something new that just makes more questions."

"So do we know more about our guest? And what about Orana?"

"I am still working on getting things into place to find the facts we need about Orana. I can't believe I missed this... that I let this get by me so easily."

"Paula, don't do this to yourself. We had no reason to suspect...."

"Yes, we did, my queen," the scientist cut in unexpectedly. "You know we did – Diana warned us...."

"Paula!! You overstep your bounds!" Nubia roared, and Paula cringed inwardly though she didn't flinch on the outside.

"Not this time, Nubia," she replied quietly. "How long did Diana and I work together on many of the luxuries the Amazons now enjoy as part of their everyday lives? I got to know the princess better than most of you. I knew she wasn't lying and I should have kept a closer eye on what was going on in man's world."

"Let her be, Nubia," the queen added tiredly. "Just because the truth isn't what we'd like it to be doesn't make it any less the truth. *I* knew Diana wouldn't lie to me, but I was so angry...." She took a deep breath and shook her head. "Ultimately the responsibility for this lies on my head alone and I will be the one to fix it when the time comes."

"What of our guest?" Drea asked, breaking a silence that was becoming unbearable in its strain.

"That was much easier," Paula replied, switching to another screen. "She hasn't gone to the trouble of trying to hide from us, and breaking into that primitive system was child's play."

"Annabelle Chaser – age...." Drea turned her head towards Paula. "Is that accurate? I would have guessed at least five years older given her maturity and bearing."

"Well, that is the age she claims to be, at any rate," causing a small smile to ripple among the immortals. They had long since given up being precise about their ages. No woman wanted to admit to being millennia old, even if she perpetually looked like she was in her mid-twenties. "But her birth date does confirm that to be an accurate number, yes."

"Hmm," Drea mused. "Height, weight, schooling... wow." She turned brown eyes back to Paula who smiled and nodded.

"Yes, she is something of a genius herself."

"Religious affiliation, family backgr...." She closed her eyes. "Oh, please tell me I am reading this wrong."

"What??" Nubia said, reaching for the electronic report. Drea pushed the pad where all of them could read from it. Hippolyta's eyes widened and she glanced at each woman in turn.

"Oh, dear... this complicates things immeasurably. Thoughts on how to proceed?"

"I think we need to let her reveal what she is comfortable revealing in her own time at this point. She's already very wary of us and if she discovers we know all about her, she'd going to trust us even less."

"And how are we going to get her home? Judging from that packet she was carrying, she's pretty important to the rebellion. She's going to want to go back as soon as she's able."

Silence fell – everyone knowing the answer but no one wanting to be the one to say it aloud. Finally Nubia took a deep breath.

"We all know what... or rather *who* the best solution is going to be in this situation."

All eyes turned to the queen. "Now all I have to do is convince a daughter who no longer has any respect for me that she has to be something I denied her a hundred years ago."

The hush that fell the second time was broken when Drea pushed back her chair and stood. "I suppose I'd better...." Her words were cut off when Rina knocked then entered the room without waiting for an invitation.

"Apologies, my queen," she said with a nominal bow in Hippolyta's direction. "I am sorry for intruding, but Drea is needed back at the infirmary immediately."

"Chase?"

Rina nodded. "She woke up, then decided to get up without help. She tore the stitches in her leg."

"Did you...?"

"No, you told me to let you know as soon as she was awake. Besides, I think she trusts you more. It took all she could do to let me help her back to bed."

The two started walking at a hurried pace towards the door. "By your leave, my queen." Drea said as they reached it. Hippolyta gave them a wave of the hand, effectively dismissing them. They were gone before her hand dropped back into her lap.

"You let her get away with too much, my queen," Nubia spoke from her side. Paula wisely moved from the table.

"She has always shown me respect, Nubia, in and out of our private lives. She has never tried to take advantage of what we share in the bedroom in a public manner, so I'm not sure I understand your concern."

"She only asked for your leave when she was gone, majesty. Surely you deserve more consideration...."

"Nubia, I have always counted you as a dear sister and friend as well as my closest advisor. Take care where you go with this. Drea's first responsibility to me and to the Nation involves healing our guest. It is right that she put the young woman's health above niceties and protocol. Honestly, the only reason she felt the need to observe them was because you and Paula were still here."

Nubia looked abashed as the queen quietly and politely dressed her down. "My apologies, my queen. I feel... I'm not sure what my problem is."

"Come," moving away from the conference table and into the comfortable chairs at the fireplace. "Let's talk. Maybe we can figure things out together."

Hippolyta nodded her head at Paula who motioned to the door. Then Hippolyta sat down to help her friend work things out, the scientist's departure unnoticed by both women who were totally engrossed in their conversation.

"Was it worth it?" the soft voice caused Chase to crack her eyes open to see Drea standing beside her bed. She turned back to her assistant. "Rina, I need...."

"I'm on it," the Amazon said on her way out the door.

Drea shook her head and turned back to Chase with a smile and a twinkle in her eye. "I'm not sure how I ever got along without her. She's always right on top of things." Chase didn't comment and Drea became the consummate professional in the blink of an eye.

"Now, let me take a look," noting the blood now staining Chase's gown. Her hands were sure and impersonal, and the pilot eventually relaxed into the touch. It wasn't something she was used to – the rebellion's doctors were good at what they did, but they were rough, almost callous. This was something beyond that; it felt comforting without being invasive.

"Rina, we're going to need a new gown also please," Drea said when the assistant healer returned with a tray full of instruments and supplies. "Thank you," she added when Rina set the tray down and nodded her acquiescence to Drea's request.

"Please," Chase broke in quietly. "Do you suppose I could have a shower first? I feel... grungy."

Drea looked at her seriously for a long moment. "Let me get you re-stitched and then we'll see. I imagine we could manage to arrange something for you."

"Thank you," Chase replied.

"So," Drea resumed speaking when the silence began to drag on uncomfortably. "Why did you get up? Surely you knew it was too soon." She didn't mention the few scars the younger woman's body bore as a testament to her fighting, but it was obvious to Drea that Chase had been in this type of situation before. Besides, she endured the repair process stoically and unflinchingly, only her eyes bearing witness to the pain it cost her.

"I needed... I... look, I appreciate the hospitality and the help. I mean, ya'll have been very kind, and I'll never be able to repay you. But I've got responsibilities I've got to get back to."

Drew nodded. "I can understand that. I have responsibilities of my own, and I take them very seriously. But Chase, you have to show a little sense here. If you're not well, can you really fulfill those responsibilities? You've only been here a couple days. Give yourself a little more time to heal before you start running races, all right? Trust me to let you know as soon as you are able to get around safely?"

Chase gazed into gentle brown eyes for a timeless moment. She was inclined to trust this woman instinctively though her rational mind told her that sort of trust was stupid. Those gut instincts had never let her down, but....

"Why?"

Drea nodded to herself as though she expected the question. "I am a healer. I have sworn an oath to do no harm. That includes allowing you or others to harm you. I don't want to spend my time making you well only to have you hurt yourself because of your impatience. You will get better; it's just going to take a little time." Drea waited until she saw acceptance in those green eyes. "Now, come. We'll get you into the shower and then arrange for you to have some food." She scooped Chase up negligently in her arms, not missing the startled look that crossed the pilot's face.

Chase automatically put her arms around the healer's neck in reflexive response. "You're not an Amazon, are you?"

Drea noticed the dark expression settle on Chase's face, clouding her normally brilliant eyes. She decided discretion was the order of the day. "Why would you ask that? Aren't they a myth?"

Now the eyes grew cold in memory. "No," starkly. "They are very real and brutally evil. They are also incredibly, deceptively strong." Chase bit her lip. "On second thought, I'm sorry. You may be strong, but you don't strike me as evil."

They crossed the threshold into the bathing room and Drea deposited Chase on a seat in a large tiled enclosure. She turned her attention to adjusting the water temperature to the proper setting while the blonde woman struggled to undress. When she was satisfied, she moved back to help Chase disrobe. Her touch was impersonal and detached, and it was that attitude that permitted Chase to allow the healer to help her.

Drea noted almost clinically that Annabelle Chaser was a beautiful young woman - more sculpted than most of the Amazons who resided here, though there was plenty of feminine softness and curves. It was a tribute to the fact that she physically worked her body hard and not simply exercised it. There was only one here who rivaled her musculature, yet Diana's did not show the abuse that Chase had obviously suffered in her fight for freedom. That thought brought the pilot's previous comment back to mind.

"Have you seen enough evil to be able to recognize it?"

Now Chase looked her directly in the eyes, and what Drea saw there scared her. "Oh yes," she said flatly. "I have seen evil face to face and lived to tell the tale."

The healer swallowed hard and nodded. "Perhaps you will share the tale?" She handed Chase the soap and moved around the wall to give the young woman a bit of privacy without having to leave the room.

"No," Chase answered vehemently. "It's not something that should ever see the light of day."

Drea nodded again, sensing that pushing Chase would be the wrong thing to do at this point. She had a gut instinct telling her that the pilot held information that they needed, and there was no reason to anger her – it would make Chase clam up and then they'd get nothing. Instead, she'd work on the trust angle, and hopefully the Amazons would gain allies and the rebels would as well. It had been a long time since the Amazon warriors had seen a good fight.

Chapter IV

The sun was setting. Diana languidly stretched from her place in the tree, having reached a level of meditation where she was comfortable in her body and in her mind. Diana was still uncertain about the stranger among them though she believed she should know... something. However, now she simply wanted to be left alone to enjoy the beauty of the colors as the golden light of day became crimson, then violet and finally black. She realized that wish was not to be granted her when she heard the footsteps of the priestess approaching.

Mala didn't say anything for a while, content to sit beneath the tree and take pleasure in the display laid out so grandly before them. Usually she was in prayer at this time of day, as this was the time when the goddesses tended to commune; so sunsets had been a rare treat for her. Even when it seemed like the goddesses had abandoned them to their fate, Mala continued to fast and pray, hoping something would change – hoping they would speak to her again and offer some sort of guidance.

Today, however, she felt the need to watch the sunset, and seeing the form of the princess in the tree soaking in the sunshine and fresh air gave her reason to suspect divine machinations behind her own desire.

Diana noted the priestess' presence but decided to ignore her. It wasn't any different from her normal behavior towards Mala or anyone else, and though there were any number of other places the priestess could have gone to watch the sun set, Diana was content to share as long as no socialization o was required on her part.

Slowly the sun slipped beneath the horizon and the colors Apollo left in his wake were truly spectacular. Diana sighed, knowing the storm that would follow such a breathtaking display would be equally phenomenal. She had long lost her fascination with storms, knowing they kept everyone inside, and that tended to work her nerves as it was usually when her mother made some inane attempt to communicate with her. Right now, though, she had to deal with a priestess who seemed to have made herself comfortable for the duration. And despite Diana's disdain for everything around her, she hesitated to completely disrespect the priestess.

Mala had counted on that facet of Diana's personality to work in her favor. Though the princess rarely gave any indication of attention or response, she was also unfailingly polite to the priestess in that she would not simply walk away from her. Diana didn't show much tolerance for any other Amazon, but Mala had been her mentor and the only one who had stood up to Hippolyta for Diana when the princess had competed for the honor of becoming Wonder Woman. So Diana settled back down for the duration and kept her eyes on the horizon, knowing Mala had something to say. She wasn't disappointed.

"You did a good thing yesterday, Diana. It was nice to see the princess I remember again." Mala felt Diana stiffen at the implication, but more importantly, she caught the look of confusion that flickered across the princess' face at her initial words. Interesting, was her thought, though those weren't the words she spoke aloud.

"The young woman you rescued – her name is Chase. Annabelle Chaser actually, but she has asked to be called Chase. Very nice girl. Extremely bright and from all we have been able to find out about her, she is both strong and stubborn. Though given the world she lives in, I suppose all those qualities are necessary for survival."

Mala paused, allowing the words to sink in. Diana might not speak, but Mala could almost hear the thoughts that were being processed. Obviously, from the bewildered expression that the mention of Chase had cause, Diana had no recollection of her actions. The question was... why? Why would she forget something like that? Mala decided that would need further investigation, but for now....

"Man's world is still at war with itself, and Chase seems to be at the heart of the rebellion. We're going to have to get her home, though gods know she would make an exceptional Amazon."

Diana didn't answer verbally, but for the first time she turned her face and met Mala's eyes directly. The priestess held herself tightly, unwilling to let Diana see her flinch at the pain and lost look those blue eyes held. Mala rose and extended a hand towards the princess, hoping she wouldn't be rebuffed. Diana didn't withdraw or stop the touch, but she twisted her head back to the horizon, unwilling to refuse the comfort and unable to accept it as well.

Mala could feel the tension in the muscles beneath her hand, but she left it, knowing she was being permitted a greater liberty than Diana had allowed in more than a century.

"When you are ready to hear the whole story, come see me, my friend. I have missed you, and I think the time has come for you to return to us. You are meant for more than what you have become, princess."

Mala left her hand in place for several heartbeats longer before patting the strong back and walking back towards the temple. She felt sure that she would be having a visitor sooner rather than later, and she wanted to be ready. With any luck at all, she would be entertaining more than one, and though she relished the idea of the goddesses returning to them, more than anything she looked forward to the return of the princess and friend she had known from her conception.

Diana sat still and unmoving as twilight turned to total darkness. The peace she had achieved only an hour early had evaporated, leaving nothing but confusion and disarray in its wake. She thought she was content with what had become her lot in life and yet the priestess's words had sparked... something in her soul – something she had not allowed herself to feel in a very long time.

Several somethings, in point of fact, and her curiosity was at the forefront of the burning urge that would ultimately push her forward into the world of men.

Chase was much happier after her shower though the effort it took to bathe herself was more draining than she'd imagined it could possibly be. With very little fanfare, Drea helped her dry off and dress before negligently swinging the pilot back into her arms and carrying her back to her bed.

"Let me check your stitches once more," the healer said as she moved to do just that. "Then Rina can bring your breakfast. Then if you're feeling up to it after a bit of a nap, we can get you up and around a little bit," Drea looked directly at Chase and pinned her in place. "But with a little *help* this time."

Chase bit her lip, trying to stop the blush she felt crawling up her skin at the evident scolding. Then she frowned. "Whaddya mean, a nap?? I gave those up when I was two."

Drea eased Chase back onto the bed, fluffing her pillows and tucking her in before motioning to Rina. "Perhaps, but I doubt you were recovering from bullet wounds and surgery when you were two," not missing the shadow that crossed the pilot's face. But Drea continued without missing a beat. "And as your healer, I am authorizing a nap to stimulate your healing. After and only after you rest again will we go out for a while."

Drea motioned to Rina who came in with a loaded tray. "You remind me...." the thought trailed off. Chase took a good look at the tray which contained delicacies she had read about but hadn't seen before. "Where did you get this stuff? I've never seen food that looked or smelled so good. And I'm not sure I know what half of it is."

"Trust me when I tell you that not only is it all good, it is all good for you. Now, eat up. Your body has a lot of rebuilding to do. I want to see your plate clean when I come back in to check on you." The healer turned and took two steps towards the door when Chase spoke again softly.

"Do you treat all prisoners of war so well?" needing to know where she stood with the people who now held her life completely in their hands.

Drea stopped and walked back to Chase's bedside, covering the pilot's capable, well-worked hands with her own softer ones. "Chase, you are not a prisoner here. You are our honored guest. And when you are ready to go home, we will do our best to get you there. I am hoping you will learn to trust us and share what is going on in the world outside, but even if you never reach that stage, we will still do everything in our power to insure you make it back to your world."

"I'm not sure I understand."

Drea smiled and patted the hands she held before she stood up. "I know, but you will eventually. Now, eat before it gets cold. I'll be back shortly."

Chase picked up her fork and gingerly took a bite, letting the flavors burst across her tongue before scooping up more and chewing enthusiastically. Drea moved the hair back out of Chase's eyes and the younger woman smiled as the motion evoked yet another memory of her mother.

The healer smiled in sympathy then left the room and Chase turned her full attention to cleaning her plate.

"Diana! DIANA!!" Hippolyta wasn't fond of yelling to be heard, but her daughter made any other choice impossible. Unfortunately, it drew everyone else's attention as well.

Diana conveniently ignored her mother, just as she had every other time the woman had spoken to her since.... Her mind turned away from the time of her disgrace and humiliation. Instead, she continued on to her rooms, ever mindful of the guards that stood outside her door.

Hippolyta reached out a hand and grabbed Diana by the arm, flinching when the princess whirled on her but unwilling to give up the tenuous hold she had on Diana's attention. Then flinching for an entirely different reason.

Blue eyes blazed with anger, hatred and resentment and burned into eyes equally blue, but filled with regret, despair and pain.

Without a word, Diana lifted her mother's hand from her arm, squeezing until tears ran from Hippolyta's eyes. The guards approached, but were stopped by a hand signal from the queen. Diana threw Hippolyta away from her – not hard enough to make her fall, but with force enough to make her stumble backwards several steps. Diana gave her a look of complete loathing and turned and entered her room.

Now the guards moved forward, ad Hippolyta again waved them away, cradling her damaged hand tenderly before rising on unsteady legs and making her way out of the palace.

Hippolyta was on her knees at the altar when Mala returned to the temple. The priestess hesitated, not wanting to interfere if the queen was in prayer. When Diana had returned to the Amazons changed, Hippolyta had come to the temple to pray for her daughter's soul only to learn that the goddesses were furious with her. Because of that fury, they no longer deigned to appear bodily to any Amazon, though they still extended their protection over all who lived on both Paradise and Transformation Islands. Further evidence of their presence lay in the occasional appearance of a new tribe member. Otherwise, however, they remained silent, and in defiance of what she perceived as their abandonment of the Nation, Hippolyta had refused to bend a knee to them again... until today.

Now the queen lay prostrate before the altar, hard sobs convulsing her body as she cried out her rage, frustration and sorrow. Finally she had been beaten and broken, accepting responsibility for a great many things that until that moment in time she had not acknowledged her role in.

Mala covered the queen in a soft, thick blanket, and brought water for her to wash in and water to drink. Then she moved to an alcove to wait for things to unfold. She could feel the change in the air, and wanted to be witness to what was happening.

Eventually, Hippolyta ran out of tears and she sat up, noting for the first time the items that had been placed out for her needs. The washing water was still warm, and she gently cleaned her face, wincing when it stung and burned. Then she poured a glass of cool water and drank it swiftly, nearly choking in her haste. But it was soothing and she poured a second glass, sipping this one and appreciating the feel of it on her raw throat.

Hippolyta wrapped the blanket more tightly around her, feeling the chill after the rush of emotion just passed. She removed the tiara from her head and studied it intently before she placed it on the altar. Then she stood as though she bore the weight of the world itself on her shoulders and shuffled listlessly towards the backside of the altar.

Mala rose from her spot in the alcove, moving to intercept the queen when she realized her intention, only to be stopped by two invisible hands on her shoulders.

"Let us handle this," Hera said. "We have let this go on too long, and it's time to resolve this and bring unity back to the Nation and peace back to our chosen."

"Diana?"

"Yes," replied Demeter. "She has suffered much for too long, and the time has come to make amends."

"And the queen?"

"Watch," Hestia answered, and turned the priestess back towards the altar... offering her a front row seat for the drama that was being revealed.

Hippolyta leaned on the top of the altar and closed her eyes. Then she reached for the hidden drawer - known only to the queen, the priestess and artisan who had crafted the altar itself. Hippolyta opened her eyes and gazed at the ceremonial knives that were housed in the hidden compartment, letting her mind drift back millennia to the time when the Amazons had originally left Greece.

They had been scrambling for days trying to crate as many artifacts and as much of their history as they could find. When the goddesses had come to them, offering to move them to a safe place, free of war and disease and men, Hippolyta had been more than slightly skeptical. After all, for years the deities had been silent while not only the Amazon Nation, but women in general suffered cruel and unspeakable fates. It was quite a stretch for them to accept such sudden interest in their well-being.

However, the Amazons had not survived wars, pestilence, hatred and discrimination without learning a few things. One of those things was when to go with the flow – and they had decided by popular vote that this was one of those times. Even if the goddesses did not come through, it was time for the Amazons to leave Greece and find a new home. The surprising offer had just given the Nation the impetus it needed to take action.

Personal belongings and medical supplies had been packed first so everyone could help with the things that belonged to them as a people. So now they were packing up the temple and the library. There were scrolls numbering in the thousands – scrolls that told their history and folklore; scrolls that gave instruction; scrolls that remembered their greatest warriors and heroes. One entire section of scrolls was dedicated to the writings of one of their most treasured queens – a young bard who had stumbled into the Nation by her willingness to sacrifice herself for a stranger princess. A young woman who with her champion befriended the Amazons and helped them to survive until they could rebuild. The writings of this bardic queen were favorites of everyone, and they were now carefully packed and stored for the move.

While many in the Nation carefully handled the history, Mala pulled Hippolyta aside to deal with something a little more dangerous.

The priestess and the queen walked back to the alcove where their sacred items of worship were secreted when not in use. Mala touched a spot in the wall and a hidden panel slid sideways to reveal a concealed cache of ceremonial weapons, including some of rare pieces that had come into the Nation's possession.

Hippolyta's eyebrows rose. Even as queen, she had been unaware of this collection of arms. She turned questioning eyes to Mala, waiting for an explanation. The expression on her face was clearly indicative that she was completely in the dark about the accumulation of weaponry before her.

"We were asked... we were instructed to keep these things here. They each hold special significance to our history in some way or another."

Hippolyta nodded, recognized a few of the pieces from her studies. "And the dryad bone daggers?"

"They were crafted and hidden here after two feuding, newly-minted goddesses nearly destroyed the village. It was decided it was necessary to defend against gods and goddesses as well as humanity, and our queen's champion went out and got the necessary parts and actually created the knives that were left in the hands of the high priestess."

"Why did they become a well-kept secret?"

Mala shrugged. "I don't know," she answered honestly. "The secret was always passed from high priestess to high priestess. I had assumed it also went from queen to queen until I observed your face when you saw them."

Hippolyta reached out a hand towards them but hesitated before she actually reached the smooth, sharp blades. "And they kill gods?"

Mala nodded. "And immortals. It was documented."

Hippolyta nodded. "Very well. Pack them with the other sacred items... things you alone handle. We will build a new hiding place for them when we reach our new home."

And they had. The goddesses had kept their promises and whisked them to an island of safety Hippolyta had named Paradise. Cleo, their master sculptor, had fashioned the altar complete with the hidden tray. She never saw what went into but she knew of its presence and was the only Amazon outside of the queen and Mala to be aware of it.

Now Hippolyta opened the drawer and removed the dryad bone daggers from their hiding place. Even after millennia of residing in the hidden niche, they remained as razor-sharp as they had been the day they had been crafted. The queen admired them for a long moment before lifting the blade to her eye level. Mala jumped forward, only to be stopped again by the hands on her shoulders. She glared at her captors, only to have her face turned back towards the altar.

Hippolyta had collapsed again, the knife lying clean and untarnished on the floor beside her. She didn't even flinch when she felt gentle hands stroking her loosened hair.

"Why?" Hippolyta whispered. "I am no longer worthy to be queen and I am obviously totally unfit to be a mother." She looked up into compassionate blue eyes. "Especially Diana's mother. She hates me."

"And giving up will help you how?" Hippolyta moved her attention from Aphrodite to Artemis. "Hippolyta, the fight for Diana's soul has just begun."

The queen jerked away from the love goddess' touch and glared in the hunt goddess' direction. "JUST BEGUN?!? We have been fighting for well over a century." She stood up and moved away from the altar where three goddesses now sat in repose. "I realize on the immortal scale that is a drop in the bucket in the grand scheme of things. But living it day to day, watching her hate me more and more, seeing her close herself off to everyone and everything and grow distant from the world, the last hundred years has been an eternity."

Athena rose from her spot and moved behind Hippolyta, placing her hands on the queen's shoulders and kneading gently. Hippolyta flinched but Athena held on and gradually the queen began to relax. "It does seem like an eternity, Hippolyta, but things are just now falling into place to make things right again. And it may take a while from a human perspective for balance to be restored, but it will happen."

The queen stood still and unmoving in thought. Finally she pulled away from the goddess' hands and turned to face the three of them. "Why? Why did you let this happen? What is the point of everything that has happened... to us," motioning between herself and them. "To Diana... to man's world? Why didn't you do something to stop it?"

There was no anger, no accusation in her voice; only a world-weariness and heartsoreness that could not be hidden. All six goddesses came forward now and Mala followed, not wanting to miss the story she felt sure was coming.

Chapter V

"We all bear the responsibility for what happened to Diana, Hippolyta – you as well as us. And until now, there has been no real way to rectify the situation our actions created."

"But...."

Athena held up her hands. She had been given the difficult task of being the spokeswoman for this particular tale and wanted to get through it without interruption. It was hard enough to tell without them. Because here was something they had done together as a group – something they had done to grant a request of people they had come to love and cherish as their own children, and it had gone horribly, tragically wrong for everyone, but especially for the one that was their chosen.

"Please, Hippolyta. Let me tell this without questions or comments. It's hard enough."

The queen swallowed hard and nodded. She had seen a sadness in the eyes that met hers that was reflected in her own. She could only imagine the goddesses' feelings of guilt, given what she knew hers to be even without knowing the whole story yet.

"Thank you," Athena replied. "This story actually starts several thousand years ago, when we decided to offer sanctuary to the Amazons and to those women who were slaves and worse at the hands of men. We didn't consider the fact that your science had not progressed enough to create life without men or the fact that things would become stagnant without the ability to procreate and bring new life and fresh ideas into the world."

"So when you called upon us as a people asking for the blessing of a new life, it was one we were happy to grant. And we gave the child everything we could; every god and goddess of the Pantheon was anxious to bestow on the child a gift – well, every god except one, and he figures into this tale as well, just not yet."

"We only made one small mistake when we granted your request, Hippolyta, but it was one that would haunt us and you, but especially Diana. You see, when you asked for a child and we agreed, we knew the child would need a soul. So we searched far and wide for a soul that was deserving and that could fulfill every potential we offered it. And we found that in a soul that was known to the Nation, both as a Destroyer and as a Champion."

Athena stopped talking for a moment, closing her eyes and breathing as though collecting her thoughts. When she opened them, her eyes glistened with tears, but she blew out a breath and continued.

"We wanted to give her a second chance. What we didn't figure was that taking her soul out of the karmic circle was going to disrupt... everything."

The silence that fell then lasted so long Hippolyta felt compelled to break it.

"How so, Athena? I don't understand."

The goddess shook her head. "No I'm sure you don't. We didn't either for a long time, and by the time we figured it out things were in motion that would have to be played out to their bitter conclusion."

Aphrodite placed a comforting hand on Athena's back, rubbing in a slow circular pattern. The war goddess looked up with pleading eyes into Aphrodite's, and the love goddess kissed her sister on the forehead before resuming the tale.

"We chose the warrior's soul because it seemed so perfect for our needs, even with its flaws. She possessed skills and strength and beauty and was already intelligent enough to have conquered half the known world with a rag-tag army she'd put together from her home village."

"What happened? What changed her that she'd become a champion to our people?"

Aphrodite smiled. "Love. She found her soulmate and things balanced. And for a while, that was enough. But things were never easy with them and eventually they were separated, but it was with the knowledge, or at least the belief that they would find one another again in their next lives."

"So when you removed Diana's soul...."

"We messed up the balance, and removed the possibility of them finding one another again. But Diana didn't know that and her soul kept searching."

A light dawned in Hippolyta eyes. "Steve Trevor – was he her soulmate?"

Aphrodite shook her curly blonde head. "No. Right family line, wrong soul. But she made a connection, felt the familiarity...."

"And my actions...."

"Your actions made a bad situation intolerable," Dite stated bluntly.

"Oh, gods!" the queen moaned, covering her eyes. Though she'd thoroughly believed her harshness was completely warranted given her daughter's disobedient actions, she suddenly realized not only what she had done, but why Diana hated her, instead of merely resented her.

"What happened to Diana when you disgraced her is her own story to tell," giving a shiver which raised the goosebumps on her skin. "Or not, as the case seems to be. You can't force her to share with you. But Hippolyta... it was bad. Very bad."

"Can I help her without knowing?"

"You're going to have to," Hera said softly. "She no longer trusts you, and earning that back may take longer than you actually have."

"Things are coming together again...finally. And your mysterious visitor is at the heart of things."

"Is she...?"

"That will be for her and Diana to determine, and it's going to be a long, rocky road regardless. For now, you need to focus on salvaging some sort of relationship with your daughter. She will never admit it, but she needs your love and support. The loss of that cut her deeply."

Silence fell again while Hippolyta girded her loins for a question she figured could anger them again, but she needed to know.

"Why have you come back now? Why did you abandon us for so long?"

It was Hestia who answered this, standing and taking the queen's face in her hands. "We never, ever abandoned you. But think about the timing, Hippolyta. I think you know the answer to your question."

The queen's gaze went inward for a long moment. "You did to me what I did to her."

"Something like that, yes. We pulled away from you, hoping you would see your mistake, but we never abandoned you."

"My gods, what have I done?"

"You have been a mother, but by holding on too tightly, you lost all you held dear. Perhaps you can learn from it and do better... much like we did. We've all made mistakes, Hippolyta. The important thing is what we learn from them and what we do with that knowledge."

"My queen," Mala spoke up for the first time, making Hippolyta aware of her presence. Hippolyta wanted to be angry and embarrassed, but instead all she felt was gratitude and relief that she didn't have to go through this alone. No one, not even Drea, knew her like Mala did. There positions in the Nation insured that there were very few secrets between them, and not once had they betrayed one another. Only once had Mala stood publicly against her, and Hippolyta had long since understood her reasons for it.

Now the queen motioned her forward and the goddesses parted to let the priestess into their inner circle.

"I spoke to the princess earlier. It is my firm belief that she has no short term memory. I don't know how far back the problem extends, but it is highly likely, given her lack of response to our questions and probing, that she does not remember anything that happened to her after the competition."

Hippolyta's brows rose into her hairline. "You think she's misplaced more than a hundred years worth of memories?"

Mala shrugged. "I think they are hidden from her, for whatever reason. She doesn't remember rescuing Chase." She held up her hands to forestall comments. "I've promised her the whole story when she is ready to hear it, and I think that will be sooner rather than later. I also believe it could be a key in helping her regain her memory."

Hippolyta dropped her head and her shoulders slumped as well. "I don't think her regaining her memory is going to gain me any points in the endearing mother department."

"Probably not," Mala replied frankly, unmindful of their still watchful audience. "But it is necessary and probably the only way we are going to recover the princess we all fell in love with."

"A little honesty will go a long way towards healing, as will your love and support."

"I never stopped loving her," Hippolyta stated fiercely. "Not once."

Aphrodite cupped her cheek. "But she doesn't know that," said with compassion. "Not anymore. You're going to have to show her until she believes it again."

Finally, after a century of pain and defeat, a passionate determination entered Hippolyta's eyes. "I will – even if she beats me black and blue. I am going to force her to listen to me and I will make her understand."

"Whoo hoo! You go girl!" Dite cheered before becoming serious again. "Just remember that this rift, as ugly and as lonely as it is for her, has become comfortable and well-known. She's not going to give it up without a fight."

Hippolyta nodded. "She's going to leave again, isn't she?"

"Yes," Hera answered. "And she's going to need your blessing this time."

Hippolyta chewed her lip. "I can do that... I *WILL* do that."

"Good. And don't be surprised if sparks fly when she and Chase start butting heads."

Hippolyta chuckled. "I think I will look forward to that."

The goddesses and Mala joined in her laughter, a release for tensions that had finally been dispersed.

"Oh babe," Dite said, flinging an impromptu arm over Hippolyta's shoulders while still giggling heartily. "I'm not sure the world is ready for all those fireworks, but I gotta tell you *I* for sure am looking forward to this reunion. It has been waaaaay too long."

Athena shook her head. "Little sister, I worry about you sometimes."

Hera muttered, "So do I." Their renewed laughter was the last thing that was heard from them as they faded back to the Olympian plain

Chase blinked open her eyes with a squint again, truly surprised she'd fallen asleep so easily after breakfast. She hadn't believed she could be so tired from doing so little, but her senses told her she'd slept a good portion of the morning away. She knew two things for sure – her butt was tired from her inactivity and she had to pee very badly. However, she'd learned her lesson quite plainly that morning, and searched around for something that would get her some help before she embarrassed herself.

Fortunately, Drea chose that moment to stick her head in the door.

"Ah. You're awake."

"Yep, and badly in need of the privy. I don't suppose you'd be willing to help me walk there, would ya?" pointing in the general direction of the facilities.

Drea smiled. She understood the effort it took for the independent young woman to ask for help, but was glad she'd finally managed to impress the seriousness of her injuries on Chase. Half her battle was over if she'd accomplished that much.

"I certainly will. Then if you feel up to it, I will take you around the island a bit... get you out into the fresh air and sunshine for a while."

"I like the sound of that," Chase nodded gingerly. The headache she'd had before had come back with a sudden, blinding intensity as her equilibrium shifted from horizontal to vertical. She extended a hand towards Drea and used the healer for support as they walked together towards the bathroom. Drea got her to the toilet and turned to leave to extend her a bit of privacy. Chase reached out a shaky hand.

"Do you think I could have a bit more of that fizzy water you gave me yesterday... yesterday? Whatever it was settled my stomach and took my headache away."

Despite Chase's position on the toilet, Drea knelt in front of her and took her face in smooth hands. "Chase? Are you in a lot of pain?"

"Yeah, my head, actually," said in a whisper. She bit her lips to hold back the groans that wanted to erupt from the back of her throat. "The light is killing me."

Drea held her head a moment longer looking intently into her eyes. "I need to take a good look at your eyes. Let me go get you some... um, fizzy water. Don't move til I get back please?"

"Thanks, Drea," Chase said softly. "I'm not sure where this came from," dropping her head into her hands.

Drea rushed out and motioned Rina over to her. A few whispered words between them and a quick nod of her head and Rina disappeared to do Drea's bidding. The healer returned to Chase's side and helped the struggling woman without drawing attention to her actions. Rina returned with the water and unobtrusively took a position on Chase's other side while Drea helped the young woman drink.

"Better?" the healer asked after a few minutes of silence.

Chase nodded. "Yeah, thanks. I don't know what happened."

"Come. I want to examine your eyes."

Chase felt an uneasy chill skitter up her spine at those words. "My eyes?"

"Yes. You shouldn't still be feeling the effects of your fall into the sea unless you've done more extensive damage than we first believed." They got her to the bed again. "Is the light still bothering you?"

Chase laid her head back carefully. "Yeah, but not as badly."

"Good. If you're okay with it, I'd like to ask our head scientist Paula in as a consult. She might have some ideas. She helped develop all the medical equipment here."

"That's fine," Chase replied wearily. "Do you think we could go out afterwards?"

"If you'd like to try, absolutely. We'll find a way to protect your eyes."

"Thanks, Drea," Chase nodded before falling back into a light doze. The medicine was supposed to give that effect and the healer was glad to see it work so quickly and effectively. Rina had already summoned Paula and as soon as Chase went out, the three women fell to work with a will.

"There's nothing wrong that we can find, Chase. We have run every test we know and then some. But we're going to keep trying. Something is giving you those headaches and making your eyes so sensitive to the light."

"What are you saying, Drea? Is there a problem with my eyes or not?"

Drea took Chase's hands in her own and chafed them lightly. "I think so. I just have to find it. But I will," she added with such determination that Chase forgot her upset and smiled.

"Drea, I hope you won't take this the wrong way since you can't be more than a couple years older than me if that much, but you remind me so much of my mother."

Drea returned a genuine, full-faced smile and took a seat on the edge of the bed. "Do I really?"

"Yeah, ya do. I'm not sure why – a lot of things really... same soft voice, same look of compassion, even some of the same mannerisms." Chase shrugged and dropped her eyes, a little embarrassed. "Maybe it's just you're the nicest doctor I have ever met."

Drea chuckled. "I'll have to remember this – most of my patients don't like to be here. But thank you, Chase. I think it is sweet I remind you of your mother. I must come by it naturally, though. I have very few memories of my own."

"Me either," came the soft reply. "And I miss her."

"I understand." It got very quiet and solemn for a long moment before Drea slapped her hands on her thighs and stood up. "Now, let's see about getting you some fresh air and sunshine."

"That's about the best offer I've had all day."

That caused laughter to flow from Drea and Chase joined in, feeling better than she had since she'd run into the Nazi ambush.

They didn't go far... just outside the hospice and down to the beach. Paula had crafted a special pair of glasses for Chase to use to protect her eyes and it made the experience most pleasant. For her part, Chase was glad to get outdoors and though she wanted to get out and explore, she was just happy to be out of the bed for a while. Drea had promised exploration would come with healing and healing would come with time. Already she felt better.

It wasn't until later that evening that Drea and Hippolyta finally had the opportunity to exchange stories.

Chapter VI

"Are you all right love?" Drea asked as she and Hippolyta prepared for bed. It had been the first time they'd seen one another since Drea had been pulled out of their meeting earlier that morning. It seemed impossible that it had only been that morning so much had happened in the meantime, but the sundial confirmed that only a single day had passed.

Drea came up behind her and pulled Hippolyta into her arms, surprised when the queen collapsed into her. Never in their life together had Hippolyta shown weakness like this, not even when things had gone so badly with Diana.

The healer wondered what had happened, hoping that Hippolyta would be able to share. Drea knew that the queen and Mala had a few secrets that were kept between them and she sincerely hoped this wasn't going to be one of those times. It was hard sometimes, knowing that Hippolyta couldn't share everything with her after the lifetime they'd been together, even when her mind understood and accepted the reasons behind it.

Hippolyta clung to her tightly and Drea maneuvered them under the covers, situating them comfortably. Neither woman released her grip and it took a good deal of effort, but eventually they did wind up curled together in the middle of the big bed.

Hippolyta didn't cry or sob; her tears had been shed in the temple. She had yet to utter a sound. Instead, she simply held on to Drea and accepted the warmth and comfort the healer offered her, holding on fiercely. Drea returned the embrace, muttering nonsense words of love and affection until Hippolyta's grip on her loosened and she was able to look into the queen's blue eyes.

"You ready to talk to me now?"

Hippolyta shifted in Drea's arms until they were nearly nose to nose, eyes crossing to maintain contact. She moved her hands to cup the healer's face and spent a long moment tracing gentle curves and planes she knew by heart. Then Hippolyta dropped a light kiss on Drea's lips and settled back into her arms.

"I love you. I just wanted you to know that right up front. Despite everything you know, despite everything I have done wrong, you have never criticized me publicly or been judgmental in private, even when my decisions went against your very nature. Your belief in me means everything to me – I can't believe I was so blind... so selfish."

Drea bit her lip, trying to control the shaking she could feel trembling throughout her body. She eased away from Hippolyta slightly. "Pol, are you breaking up with me?"

Hippolyta whipped around so swiftly she nearly fell off the bed in shocked surprise. She grabbed Drea's hands and held them to her lips. "WHAT?!? NO!!! Nonononononono!" Hippolyta kissed Drea's knuckles again before using their hands to lift the healer's chin so their eyes met. "No," she reassured more softly, if with no less vehemence. "This is a forever kind of thing for me, until and unless you decide otherwise, my love. Even after millennia together, you still fascinate me."

Now Drea blushed deeply. "You're a sweet talker, my queen."

Hippolyta stroked Drea's face tenderly. "Not with you, sweetheart. Only the truth between us."

"So truth then... what happened? As much as I appreciate your words, I'd like to understand what's behind them."

So Hippolyta told her – told her of the assembly of goddesses in the temple and the things they had shared; of the responsibility they all bore for the situation they now found themselves in... in the world in general and for Diana particularly.

"But you are not alone to blame, Pol."

"No, but it is ultimately my fault, Drea. I messed up so many things... so many things I would have done differently if I had known...."

"Pol, there are things ALL of us would do differently if we known the things we know now. Don't regret your coulda-woulda-shoulda's. Let's just move forward from here and make the best of what we have now."

"Well, I know what I *need* to do. The question is how to do it."

Drea smiled. "That is something we can work on together, if you like."

"I like. And maybe we can also figure out where Ares is in all this... aside from the obvious, I mean."

"We can definitely do that, and I imagine Chase could help with that if approached correctly."

"Hmm... good point. How did things go with her? Was Rina right to be so concerned this morning she nearly caused Nubia to have a fit?"

Drea rolled her eyes, causing Hippolyta to chuckle. "As a matter of fact, yes. That young pilot is the most stubborn, independent woman I have ever met, and since I live on an island *full* of stubborn, independent women, that is saying quite a bit."

Hippolyta's eyebrows rose into her hairline. "Merciful heavens! You mean to tell me she outdoes the entire Amazon Nation?"

"In spades," Drea answered solemnly.

Hippolyta patted the chest her head was resting on. "My condolences, love. I'm not sure I could manage."

Drea chuckled soundlessly. "Years of practice, my queen... years and *years* of practice."

Hippolyta poked Drea's ribs, causing her to jump. "I resemble that remark, you know."

"Yes, I do," eliciting another poke and another round of giggles. "Stop. I'm trying to be serious here."

Hippolyta pulled herself up but not away from Drea in fine royal fashion. "Indeed, madam, you are not. You are being a perfect scoundrel."

Drea wiggled her eyebrows. "No, I'm saving that for later." Her expression changed and became totally serious. "I'm worried, Pol. Chase is healing, and she's trying to trust me. I think she wants to. She told me today I reminded her of her mother."

Now they separated far enough to look at one another while they spoke, though they never lost tactile contact with each other. Hippolyta took one of Drea's hands into her own. "Does that bother you, sweetheart?"

Drea smiled sweetly. "No. It was somewhat flattering actually. I want you to meet her soon."

"I am looking forward to it in fact. But why is that worrying you?"

"That isn't. Trust takes time – we all know that, and it's only been a couple days since she arrived here. Given the history Paula has found out about her, it's a wonder Chase can trust at all, but I imagine she'd also developed quite an instinct for that sort of thing as well."

Hippolyta nodded. "Agreed. So what is bothering you?"

"Something else is wrong with her – something that is giving her severe headaches and trouble with her vision. Aside from the fact that she is the key to Diana recovering herself, I like her, Pol. She's someone I would like to have as a friend. And I am at a complete loss of what else to do for her." She turned to look the queen more directly in the eyes. "We tried every test we could think of and then some. Paula developed some special glasses specifically for her to be able to tolerate the brightness of the sun for a while, just so we could get her out in the fresh air."

"Are all the results in?"

"All but two. I am beginning to suspect it might be psychological, but regardless, it is very real. I have never seen anything like this before. At least not since we arrived here."

Hippolyta eased Drea onto her belly and gently began rubbing the healer's tight shoulders. "Wow, this really does have you tied up in knots, doesn't it, love?"

"Yes. I've put a soothing salve on Chase's eyes and covered them for the night, but I'm not sure what good if any that is going to do." Drea turned her head slightly until her eyes could meet Hippolyta's. "This is bothering me, Pol. There has to be something I can do... some way for me to make this better."

The queen leaned over and placed a kiss at the nape of Drea's neck. "You can't fix everything, Drea. Didn't you just tell me that? But we'll work on it together. Surely with all the outstanding minds here on Paradise Island we can find a way. And then we can even figure out how to reach Diana and return our princess to us once more."

Drea rolled onto her back and pulled Hippolyta into her, savoring the warmth between them. "I like that idea. I'd like to see her happy again." She kissed Hippolyta's forehead and lowered the lights. "I will be curious to see how Chase fits into all of this."

Hippolyta yawned. "I have a few theories, but Aphrodite indicated there would be some serious head-butting between them. Guess we'll have to wait and see. I'm just glad things are changing again," she added on a soft breath.

"Me too, love. Me too. Night," whispered as their breathing patterns deepened into the regular rhythm of sleep, and their thoughts became their dreams.

Chase's dreams were strange and unsettling. Nothing made sense to her rational mind and being essential blind only served to heighten that perception. All she saw were odd, disjointed images – her great-grandfather's twinkling eyes, her mother's lips fashioned in a grim smile, Hans as he reached for his notes. Nothing made sense and it was unnerving in the extreme.

She woke with the same feeling of upset, her head pounding again and her sixth sense telling her she was not alone. Chase reached a hand up to the bandages that covered her eyes, heedless of the healer's cautionary words. If there was a threat, she wanted to face it head on. Instead, strong hands caught hers and a soft voice rumbled into her darkness.

"Leave them. Nothing will bother you here."

"Who are you?"

"No one," came the reply. "No one at all," said with a sadness that touched Chase in a deep, unexpected place. "Will you let me try to help you?"

Chase reached out and caught the hands that were moving towards her. They were soft and warm, but the pilot could feel the strength in them and the calluses that marked their owner as a warrior of great skill.

"Why?"

The hands tried to pull away, but Chase held on. Eventually they relaxed and she heard confused resignation in the voice that answered.

"I don't know, honestly, except it seems like the right thing to do."

Chase considered her position, knowing the woman who had spoken could have just come in and done... whatever. This place was strange – the doctors here did not act like most medic and corpsman she had met in the rebellion. They certainly weren't like the Nazi doctors, and she couldn't stop the involuntary shudder that ran through her slight frame in memory. The hands holding hers tightened their grip briefly before releasing entirely.

"I'm sorry," the voice apologized. "I should go." And she moved away before Chase could react.

"No... I'm sorry," Chase whispered into the dark emptiness. "The Nazis... bad memories."

Diana stood at the doorway still and silent. She wasn't sure what had brought her here, other than what she had told the young woman... it seemed like the right thing to do. Then her breathing stopped completely as Chase's low words hit her hearing.

Without hesitation, Diana crossed back into the room. "What did you say?" she ground out harshly. She couldn't explain the sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach nor that anger and agony the welled up from the depths of her soul.

Chase flinched, more from her visitor's unexpected return than the violence of her question. She was fairly certain it was directed at something other than her. Diana reached for Chase's hands again, pleased when the other woman accepted her touch without hesitation.

"What did you say?" she repeated more calmly.

"I said I was sorry. My thoughts went away from here. I didn't mean to be rude."

"The Nazis?" feeling a chill settle on her skin as another shudder rippled through Chase's body.

"Don't," came the flat statement in a hardened voice. "I will not suffer through their atrocities again... even in my memories."

Flashes of images flickered through Diana's mind – nothing solid, nothing she could even focus on for more than a transitory moment. But the feelings they left her with made the blood burn hot in her veins. She shook her head to clear it of the disturbing dregs of haunted memory that remained.

"I'm sorry. Will you let me help you? I think I can relieve some of your pain."

Chase lifted a hand to her head. "How did you...?"

Diana's shrug went unseen. "I read your file, and you are very pale. Drea gave you something to help you sleep, and it is possible that is making it worse. Will you trust me?"

Chase lay silent for a long moment, letting the words flow over her and focusing strictly on the whispered voice that spoke them.

"Yes," then moaned as strong hands manipulated several pressure points until the pain simply vanished. The release was almost orgasmic.

"Thank you," Chase mumbled allowing her body to relax into the contentment Diana had created.

"Rest now," came the quiet response. Diana reached a hand out to smooth back the blonde hair, but stopped just short of touching. She waited until Chase's breathing evened out in sleep before turning and leaving the pilot's room.

Nubia remained out of sight until Diana passed from the hospice area to the private residence of the palace. She had been unable to sleep and had wandered down to check on their guest, only to find the princess in Chase's room. She had waited out of sight but within hearing, nearly swallowing her tongue when Diana spoke for the first time. She couldn't help the thrill of joy that course through her at the sound and the possibilities it conveyed.

Now she gazed down at the young face that had caused the change. If Mala was right, and it appeared very likely that she was, the Amazon Nation would owe a great debt to the woman who was sleeping so soundly before her. Nubia considered waking the queen with her fortuitous news, but decided it would wait until later in the morning. Regardless of how welcome it would be, there was nothing any of them could do to force the process, and she figured Hippolyta would relish a few more hours of sleep.

For herself, she had found newfound hope, and she was able to head to her own bed for the first time since Orana had left them filled with optimism and anticipation for what the future held.

Diana entered her room, not even taking notice of the fact that there was no longer a guard stationed right outside her door. Her mind was conflicted and she shed her garments before sliding into bed naked. Blue eyes closed, only to have her inner eye battered by images she didn't understand.

All night, barrage after barrage of impressions assaulted her senses and she remained in the grip of a feverish nightmare she couldn't seem to escape from.

Daylight came, and Diana stayed in the bed unmoving, something unheard of since her birth. Always she had arisen in the gray mists of pre-dawn, wanting to greet the arrival of every new day. Even when she'd lost her joy and grown angry and resentful towards everyone, she had coveted that time of day. So her unprecedented sleep-in set off all sorts of alarms across the island. Then Drea discovered Chase and life got really interesting for the women on Paradise Island.

Chapter VII

The dreams were much more pleasant this time, though they made no more sense than they had in her first attempt at sleep. Chase saw things that were as clear as memories, but her conscious mind knew for a fact they couldn't be real. She hadn't lived in ancient times and she certainly had never dressed *that* way. Her mother would have tanned her hide but good for exposing so much of herself to the world. She chuckled in her sleep, remembering a time her mother *had* taken a switch to her backside for taking her shirt off in front of the boys... or tried to anyway. Chase's nickname hadn't been solely derived from her last name.

Still, the dreams were good ones and she enjoyed them, allowing the pictures she saw to bring a smile to her face – even in the depths of her sleep.

In fact, she was so deeply asleep that Drea feared for the pilot's life when she first walked in the room. There was no sound of breathing, no visible rise and fall of her chest. Drea hurried to Chase's bedside, calling out for Rina in the process.

"Rina, NOW!"

The assistant healer rushed in almost on Drea's heels, but long enough for the healer to have reached Chase and assured herself that the young pilot was still with them among the living. There was the tiniest hint of a smile on her face, causing Drea to wonder where Chase's mind had escaped to in her dreams. That wasn't her primary concern at the moment, though.

What troubled her now was the profundity of sleep Chase seemed to be in... still. Despite the sleeping draught she had been given, Chase shouldn't have reached a level of sleep so deep, especially maintaining such a depth for so long. Even the commotion she and Rina had caused rushing into the room had done nothing to disturb Chase or bring her up out of her sleep.

Now Drea began a thorough examination, wondering what had happened to have changed things so rapidly overnight. Carefully she let her knowledgeable fingers trace over Chase's skin, looking for anomalies she could possibly have missed in her earlier examinations. What she found....

"Rina, help me turn her over. There's something...."

"Drea?" Rina rolled Chase's body to her and held her while the healer continued her examination.

"Rina, did you notice any marks we hadn't already accounted for?" Drea reached for Chase and together they lowered the pilot onto her back once more. Rina picked up the chart they kept at the end of the bed and flipped back to the initial examination. She moved over to stand next to Drea and they studied the chart together.

"No," Rina finally answered. "There's nothing new here."

"Except there is," Drea replied. Rina looked at the healer expectantly. "Her pressure points have been manipulated."

"Huh?" came the intelligent response. Rina waved her hands at Drea's expression. "No, I understand what you said, but who? And why?"

Drea shrugged. "I can think of several 'whos', but the real question is why?"

"Well, we can figure that part out easily enough just by marking what got adjusted." Drea nodded.

"Let's get to work. One thing," the healer said as she and Rina prepared for the exam. "At least I don't think Chase will even notice us, she's so deeply asleep." Drea paused as her words sank in and she and Rina looked at each other for a long moment. "You don't suppose...?"

"No way. That's just too easy."

"Well, there's only one way to find out. Let's roll her onto her stomach first and the we can...."

"Drea! DREA!!!" The Amazon running into the hospice stopped to catch her breath even as the healer moved to meet her. Drea put her hands on the younger Amazon's arms and waited, knowing the effort to speak when so winded was mostly useless. She felt a chill skitter up her spine in premonition, though. No one on Paradise Island had had cause for upset like this since Diana had returned to them, if one didn't count Chase's arrival. Suddenly, they seemed to be almost overwhelmed with excitement lately.

"Charis, take a deep breath. Now another and tell me what is wrong. What made you come running in here like the hounds of Hades were on your heels?"

Charis did as she was told and swallowed hard for good measure. "Drea, you've got to come quickly. The queen...."

Those words lent fear to the healer's heart and wings to her feet – except for the hold Charis maintained on her arms.

"Charis, let go. If the queen is in trouble...."

"Drea, it isn't the queen."

"But she... you... she...mmph...." The healer glared at the young Amazon, but got the point. She nodded her head, letting Charis know she understood and would remain quiet to hear out.

"Thank you. The queen asked me to come fetch you with a med kit. The princess...."

"Oh gods, Diana? Charis, what's wrong with Diana?"

"That's just it, Drea. We don't know. She's still asleep."

"Excuse me? Charis, she's never slept past dawn. It's one of her favorite times of day."

It was all Charis could do not to roll her eyes and she released Drea's arms to allow the healer the opportunity to gather up the med kit and other supplies she needed and to give instruction to Rina who had been watching the interplay.

"Rina, get Anya in here to help you with Chase. I'll be back as soon as I can."

"Yes, Drea."

"Come, Charis. Let's go see if we can help the princess."

Drea and Hippolyta had spent their time over breakfast discussing Diana. They knew Hippolyta needed to approach Diana alone first, but the queen seemed to be at a loss on how to reach her daughter after such a long, painful separation.

"I'm sorry generally works wonders."

"Drea, I don't think 'I'm sorry' is going to cover a hundred years of anger and estrangement... especially if she doesn't remember why she's angry." Hippolyta took a bite of her food and shook her head slowly as she chewed. "Do you think she even noticed I removed the guards from her room?"

"Well, the princess doesn't miss much, my queen, but somehow I doubt that is going to be enough." Drea reached across the table and took Hippolyta's hands in her own. "Pol, you remember what Mala told you? Diana's going to fight any sort of reconciliation between you. Fighting, distrust and anger are all she's known with you for the last century. It's not easy to let go of the known and familiar... even if it is painful. Bur you've got to start somewhere. Go talk to her. Make it a point to talk to her every morning, every afternoon, every evening – whatever it takes to get through to her. Even if she ignores you, even if she doesn't seem to respond, it will wear her down. It is just going to take time."

"Time we really don't have right now. Drea, why did I let this go on for so long? I know I was so angry with her in the beginning, but then... it just hurt."

"Only you know the real answer to that, my queen, but Hippolyta," squeezing the hands she held gently until blue eyes looked up to meet her brown ones. "You've got to put the past behind you. You can't change it. You can't make it rosy. It wasn't, and no amount of wishing will produce a different result. Move forward, Hippolyta. I'll walk beside you and the Amazons will stand behind you. But it is time to fix this – time for Diana to take her place in the Nation and in the world."

Hippolyta nodded her agreement, blinking the tears from her eyes rapidly, though not fast enough to keep Drea from catching one that rolled down.

"Scared?" the healer asked softly.

Hippolyta nodded. "A little."

"Of Diana?"

The queen shrugged. "A little," she repeated, "but mostly of failing. I seem to have gotten in a rut as far as Diana is concerned and...."

"That's enough!" Drea didn't raise her voice, but the force she put behind it more than got Hippolyta's attention. "You are not the only one to blame here, but you're not going to start with the self-pitying business either. Now get over it."

Hippolyta blinked again, but this time it was in astonishment. Seldom had Drea spoken to her in such a manner, but always with good reason and to good effect when she did. She straightened her shoulders purposefully and smiled at the healer.

"You are absolutely right, my love. I am so glad to have you in my life to help me see things clearly. Now," she continued, lifting Drea's hands to her lips and brushing a kiss across the knuckles. The action got her a broad smile that she cheerfully returned. "I need to go see my daughter, and you have a patient to check on."

"Yes, I do, but Chase will wait a few minutes if you need me to accompany you."

"No, you go on. I will put together a tray of Diana's favorites and wait for her to return from her morning run. I wouldn't stop you from coming by as soon as you are done at the hospice though," Hippolyta added nervously.

"I wouldn't miss it, my love," Drea said confidently. "And I shouldn't be long... unless something drastic has happened. My main goal is to put a fresh batch of cream on her eyes and then rewrap them so they can rest for the remainder for the day. The remainder of her body is still healing – I will probably get her back out into the sunshine for a while after lunch."

Hippolyta nodded. "Sounds good. Perhaps I can come with you to meet her then."

Drea nodded and leaned over for a kiss. "I will see you shortly then." She leaned her forehead against Hippolyta's. "Good luck," whispered.

The queen stole another kiss. "Don't need luck; I have you." Her eyes opened wide. "That was an incredibly sappy thing to say, wasn't it?"

Drea laughed. "Yes, it was, but I promise not to tell anyone. I'll meet you at Diana's rooms in a little while." Then she disappeared out the door, knowing Hippolyta's eyes followed her every step until she turned the corner out of sight.

Hippolyta stood in the doorway a moment or two longer after Drea disappeared before she shook herself from her absorption and pushed off the jamb. "Let's go, queenie. You've got things to do and stalling isn't going to help you get them done any faster."

Still, it took her quite some time to find what she was looking for in the kitchen. It had been so long since she'd done anything like this for Diana that she hoped she was choosing correctly. Several of the Amazons who were on kitchen duty that week offered to help, but Hippolyta gave them each a firm shake of her head. So instead, they pulled back and simply watched.

The queen rummaged through cabinets as she searched her memories for a time when she still knew her daughter. Gradually, the tray began to fill up with food as well as pleasant memories and the Amazons returned to their work.

One of the more astute and daring Amazons brought a vase filled with fresh-cut flowers and set it on the edge of the tray. Hippolyta smiled her gratitude and lifted the tray, heading down the hall to wait for Diana to return from her run. What she found was disturbing.

The queen crossed the threshold into Diana's rooms, noting for the first time the sparse furnishings and barren feel in what had at one time been a warm and lively place. She set the tray down carefully on the table in the center of the main room and glanced around slowly. Gone were all the reminders of Diana's heritage as the princess of the Amazon Nation. All that remained were her books on science and literature. Hippolyta had a passing thought to wonder what had happened to all the old histories that had once enthralled Diana, then she continued her perusal.

There were no personal objects in the room any longer – nothing remotely connecting Diana to the Amazons... or anything else. Instead, it was a very sterile environment – a place Diana existed for brief periods of time and nothing more.

Eventually, Hippolyta grew weary of pacing back and forth waiting for her daughter's return and she seated herself on the long, extended couch she and Diana had spent hours crafting together when it became apparent that the princess had outgrown not only her mother, but most of the Nation as well. So they'd created furniture to accommodate her longer frame comfortably,

Hippolyta wiped her eyes at the memories of better times. She couldn't understand how she had let things get so bad between them, or stay bad so long. She shook her head, refusing to allow the maudlin thoughts to overtake her mind again. She had determined to put things right between her daughter and herself and to do that, she had to keep her focus on the present and future, not the past.

The queen folded her hands together, concentrating on centering herself for her coming encounter with Diana. It was an odd noise that got her attention originally. There shouldn't be any noises coming from the bedroom if Diana was out running. And the princess *should* be out running – that hadn't changed since she'd learned to walk. At first it had been part of Diana's curriculum; eventually it had become a part of her daily routine that Diana took great joy in.

A second noise made Hippolyta's head pop up. There was definitely someone in Diana's bedroom, and it didn't sound pleasant. In fact.... Hippolyta cocked her head to listen intently. In fact, it sounded like Diana, and it wasn't the kind of noise the queen expected to hear from her daughter.

There were low whimpers and a murmuring, then the noise of soft sniffles were carried to Hippolyta's ears. The sound lent wings to her feet and overrode her mind's logical assertion that she could be interrupting something a mother didn't need to be exposed to in her child's life. What she saw broke her heart.

Diana lay on her side, completely tangled up in the sheet and wrapped around a pillow. Tears rolled down her face and the only sounds were the quiet sobs that escaped her lips as she breathed.

Hippolyta walked swiftly into the room and knelt beside the bed, smoothing the dark hair away from Diana's forehead. The princess didn't flinch or stir. Instead she remained in the throes of whatever nightmare had her in its grasp.

Hippolyta took both shoulders in a firm grasp and shook gently, then harder when there was no response from Diana at all. Had it not been for the fact that Diana continued to breathe audibly, Hippolyta would have panicked at her lack of reaction.

As it was, she eased her daughter into a more comfortable position, then moved to the door to find someone to fetch Drea. Hippolyta retrieved a cool, wet cloth from the bathing room and sat down next to Diana to wipe her face while they waited for the healer to join them.

Drea rushed into Diana's quarters and immediately noticed the sounds of Hippolyta moaning in pain.

"Charis, wait here," she commanded the younger Amazon following her before continuing on. She picked up her pace into the bedroom, only to come to a screeching halt at the scene before her. The princess was sitting straight up in bed, her eyes completely vacant and void of life and her torso naked and uncovered. The queen was cowering in the corner, cradling her arm and biting her lip.

The healer looked between them and headed for the queen, but was stopped by a shake of Hippolyta's head.

"No... check Diana... first. I don't...." Hippolyta sucked in a breath when she moved the wrong way suddenly. "Ow. I don't think... she... is even cog... nizant... right now. I think she... is still... sleeping."

Drea looked hard at Hippolyta before nodding her agreement and walked to Diana's bedside. A glance told her that the princess was indeed completely unaware of her surroundings. With soft, gentle words, Drea spoke rhythmically, allowing her voice to soothe Diana and lull her further into a hypnotic state. Diana eased back onto the bed and curled around her pillow again at Drea's coaxing, and her eyes closed in sleep.

The healer watched her for a moment longer before covering her with a sheet and turning her attention back to the queen.

"What happened?" Drea asked as she took Hippolyta's arm in her hands. She twisted around to catch the attention of the Amazon still waiting in Diana's living area. "Charis, go to the hospice and fetch my kit. Ask Rina; she'll know where it is."

Charis nodded and rushed out, eyes wide with what she had seen.

Drea waited until the sound of footsteps faded before her attention refocused on Hippolyta. "Pol, what happened?" She tended the arm carefully, easily finding a break in the bone. "Sweetheart, this is broken. Did she...?" knowing Diana's anger had never manifested itself quiet so violently before, even towards her mother.

Hippolyta nodded, but she spoke before Drea could comment. "Yes, but I think... it was my fault. She was having... a... a nightmare. I tried to... I tried to wake her." She looked up at Drea with tears in her eyes. "I know...." She hissed when Drea pushed the pressure points to alleviate the pain so she could set her arm. Then Hippolyta blew out a breath and smiled up at Drea when the healer moved her hair out of her face. "I know it was a stupid thing to do, but Drea, she looked so miserable. I had to do something."

Charis came running back into the room with Drea's kit, careful to keep her eyes on her hands. There were some things it was better not to study to closely or understand too well. Everyone knew of the difficulties between the queen and the princess, but that was enough. Everything else was considered their private affair and Charis, for one, did not want to change the status quo. The knowledge wasn't worth the responsibility, and she breathed a sigh of relief when she was thanked and dismissed.

In minutes, Drea had Hippolyta's arm set and braced. Then they rose together and walked to Diana's bedside. The princess appeared to have left her nightmares behind her and was now sleeping deeply, peacefully. They watched for a long moment before Hippolyta spoke.

"Let's call Mala and have her sit with Diana until she wakes up. I think I may need her help."

Chapter VIII

Mala walked across the threshold just as Drea stepped from Diana's room. The healer stopped in startlement and the priestess continued until she was standing by Drea's side. She took Drea's arm and turned them back towards Diana's room.

"Mala? What... how did you...?"

The priestess snorted and stopped short to look directly into the healer's brown eyes. "You have got to be kidding me, Drea. How long have you been an Amazon?" She shook her head. "The princess is in bed past dawn for the first time since her birth and you think it doesn't make headlines around the island? Please, Drea."

Drea laughed, despite the seriousness of the situation. "Good point. Come, Hippolyta wants you to stay with Diana," moving them into Diana's room. "I need to get her to the hospice and check on our guest."

"You think the princess needs to go to the hospice?" Mala frowned and focused her attention on the sleeping princess before movement from the window caught her attention. "My Queen!! What happened? Are you all right?"

Hippolyta smiled painfully. "I'll be fine, Mala," she replied, patting the priestess' hand that was clutching the upper pat of her broken arm. "I promise to explain everything to you later, but for now I need you to keep an eye on Diana. Please?"

"Certainly, my queen. You know it will be my pleasure."

Hippolyta nodded. "Thank you, my friend. We'll be back shortly. And if anything changes...."

Mala squeezed the queen's good hand. "If anything changes, Hippolyta, I will notify you immediately."

Drea put her arm around Hippolyta's shoulders and clasped Mala's hand briefly before steering Hippolyta towards the door. "I'm going to take the queen to the hospice, Mala. But I'll be back shortly to check Diana out more thoroughly."

"Go. I'll be here."

"Thank you, Mala," Hippolyta said as Drea headed them out of Diana's room and to the hospice. The walk was at once the longest and shortest Hippolyta could remember. Without fanfare, the two women found themselves escorted by members of the Royal Guard. Two of the contingent were dispatched to remain outside Diana's rooms in case the priestess required assistance while alone with the princess. Already rumors of what had happened were making their rounds. Hippolyta frowned, vowing to put a stop to it immediately.

They crossed into the hospice and Hippolyta immediately headed for Chase's room. She was quite anxious to meet the young woman, as she had been since her arrival. But now that it seemed she'd influenced Diana's memories in some way, the queen's desire had become more of a quiet demand. Drea had agreed, feeling in her heart that it was important to all of them to understand what had happened between them so far. Perhaps then they could begin to repair the damage that had been done.

Drea walked over to the side where Rina waited to give her report on the findings they had made on Chase. It had been an interesting discovery. Drea moved to the herb cabinet, removing things they hadn't used in a lifetime or more. She began sorting, nodding her head at Rina to proceed.

"You were right. Her pressure points were manipulated to ease her pain and send her into a deep, healing sleep. A sleep she is still enjoying, as a matter of fact."

Drea nibbled her lips and concentrated on carefully mixing the herbs correctly. "Hmm...." she finally replied. "Do we know who? Since obviously it wasn't you or me. And did it help her eyesight? Did the final two test results come back?"

Nubia strode in and Drea bit off a groan. Of all times and of all people to show up, this had to be the worst combination the gods could have come up with. She didn't have time to voice her disdain, however, because at that moment Nubia approached her with a cross between shock and delight – the likes of which Drea had not seen from Nubia in a very long time. It was completely disconcerting.

"Drea," came the excited whisper. "I have news... good news. Where is the queen? I was told she was here."

The healer could feel Nubia shaking in excitement and wondered what could possibly have caused such a reaction in the normally stoic advisor.

"She's in with our guest," nodding in that direction. "Nubia, are you all right? You're shaking."

Nubia raised her hands and closed her eyes, focusing on her breathing. When she felt she had some semblance of control, she opened her eyes and reached out to clasp Drea at the elbows.

"I'm... I'm a little overwhelmed, honestly. I saw something... heard something last night I never expected to experience again." She paused, then jerked her head in the direction of Chase's room. "Come. You deserve to hear this as much as Hippolyta does."

Drea's brow creased in confusion. She couldn't imagine what Nubia would find so exciting she would want to share with her, but her curiosity was piqued and she nodded. "Let me finish mixing this up for Hippolyta. I don't want her to suffer any longer than she has to."

"Suffer? What happened?"

Drea sighed. "Come. Let me take care of Hippolyta. Then you can share your news and we will bring you up to speed on what happened this morning."

Nubia nodded. "All right. Sounds intriguing."

"More than you know, Nubia... more than you know."

Hippolyta crossed to Chase's bedside, cradling her arm gently. She gazed at the young woman her daughter had rescued and let her mind drift back over the goddesses' words. Hippolyta brushed a bit of blonde hair off Chase's forehead and wished she could see Chase's eyes. There was something so familiar about this woman. Something that reminded her of the stories that had been her favorites millennia ago as a girl growing up in the Amazon territories of Greece. The queen decided she needed to go back and reread the histories of her people.

"Who are you, Annabelle Chaser? And what Fate brought you to us on Paradise Island?"

Hippolyta walked around and took the stool that was there for Drea's benefit and sat down, grateful for the extra support the action provided her arm.

"You see, I know that the Nazis were the instrument. But this goes so far beyond them. Soon, I hope we can talk. I think you are going to make a huge difference to both my daughter and the Amazon Nation."

A rustling caught her attention and Hippolyta turned her head to see both Drea and Nubia entering the room together. The healer extended her hand and Hippolyta accepted the cup. She downed the contents with a grimace and returned the cup to Drea.

"Ew, Drea! What was that disgusting mixture?"

Drea chuckled and offered the queen a second cup which she took gratefully, gulping the sweet juice with relief.

"Pain killer," the healer answered dryly. "Don't you feel better?"

"Pain killer?" Nubia queried. "My queen? What's wrong? Why do you need pain killer?"

Surprisingly, to the queen anyway, it was Drea who took Nubia's arm and extended her hand to Hippolyta who took it with a smile.

"Let's get some breakfast and go back to Diana's. I think Mala needs to be part of this discussion."

Two sets of eyes turned to her in confusion, but Drea blithely ignored them. She was certain it would all make better sense when they put together the new pieces they each held.

Mala wasn't surprised to see them return fairly quickly, but she was a little stunned to see Nubia accompanying them. Especially since Drea had a smile on her face and a hand on Nubia's arm. Everyone knew of the tension between the queen's advisor and her consort. Mala wondered what had effected the change, then figured she'd find out soon enough. There weren't many secrets that affected the Nation that she wasn't privy to.

However, she didn't comment on it. The first words out of her mouth were about Diana and were directed at Drea, though they were for the queen's ears as well.

"There has been no change. Diana is still sleeping peacefully."

Drea nodded and continued to Diana's room. Hippolyta kept her hand in the healer's and accompanied Drea to the princess' bedside. Nubia took the hint and walked over to take a place beside Mala on the couch to wait until they returned.

The healer carefully scrutinized Diana who now slept so deeply that she never flinched as Drea's hands ran over the princess checking any physical damage. Looking for mental and psychological damage was going to be something else again and would require more than the cursory examination she was able to do at the moment.

Hippolyta, meanwhile, sat near Diana's head as far out of Drea's way as she could be and still maintain physical contact with her daughter. She whispered quiet words to Diana, and though Drea couldn't understand them, she was confident she could guess what Hippolyta was saying. Now that the queen had decided to get her daughter back, she would be single-minded in both her focus and her purpose.

Finally, patient brown eyes caught questioning blue, and Drea hastened to reassure the mother she saw looking back at her. "She is fine, Pol. She is merely asleep... resting comfortably."

"You're sure?" Hippolyta blushed with the asking. "I'm sorry, Drea. It's not that I doubt you, it's just that...."

"It's just that she's your daughter...."

"She's our daughter, Drea," Hippolyta interrupted. "You've always been her second mother."

"Perhaps," Drea answered, patting the hand that still rested on Diana's shoulder, unable to hide the hurt in her eyes completely. "Though I don't think the princess has ever thought so. I have been happy to have been her confidante and friend. She has always been your daughter, Pol. And it's natural that you're concerned, especially given the circumstances."

Hippolyta lifted her hand from Diana's shoulder and clasped Drea's hand in her own. "I am so sorry, love. I never knew... never suspected...." She took her free hand and dropped her head into it. "Gods, I have been so blind." She looked up with pained eyes. "I mean, I knew she was my daughter and I guess I just took it for granted that you thought of her as yours as well."

Drea squeezed Hippolyta's hand. "Pol, I do. I just don't think Diana looks at me that way, and I'm all right with that."

"Well, *I'm* not," Hippolyta answered fervently. "And we will take care of that once we get Diana back."

Drea leaned her forehead to the queen's and kissed her gently. "You are something else, you know that?"

Hippolyta chuckled wearily. "Yes. The question is what." She turned her head to gaze at Diana again. "You're sure she's all right?"

"Yes, my queen. The princess is sleeping peacefully right now. I think we can leave her alone for a bit while we go have a council meeting in her living room."

Hippolyta stood and extended her hand to Drea who accepted it with alacrity and rose to stand beside her. "I don't know why you put up with me sometimes," the queen commented quietly as she stepped away from Diana's side.

Drea stopped and held Hippolyta's hand to keep her from falling over from the abrupt motion. "Even if I didn't love you with every fibre of my being," the healer replied as she pulled Hippolyta into her arms, "there are a few perks to being the consort of the queen, you know," said with a silent chuckle she knew the queen would feel.

"Oh really?" Hippolyta replied, feeling her good humor return. "We'll have to discuss these perks in length later."

"It would be my pleasure," the healer purred in her ear, pleased that Hippolyta had relaxed against her with their easy banter. "Now, let's not keep Nubia waiting. She seemed very excited this morning."

"Yes. I cannot tell you how amazed I was to see the two of you getting along so well. What an unexpected surprise!"

"For me too," Drea agreed, and they stepped out into the living room to find Mala, Nubia, Paula and breakfast waiting for them.

"Wait," Drea said, holding up her hands. The table held empty dishes scattered over its surface and her the five women seated around it were too deeply engrossed in their conversation to be worried about their unusual lack of neatness. Nubia's report had been nothing short of astounding, and had held them spellbound for the better part of the meal. The latter portion they had spent in silence, digesting both food and words until Drea's exclamation disturbed the silence.

"You're sure, Nubia? You are positive you heard the princess speak?" She held up her hands again as a dark shadow crossed the advisor's face. "Wait – let me rephrase that. What did you hear Diana say?"

"Nothing. I mean, I didn't hear the words, only the sounds, but it was the princess' voice I heard. That I am sure of."

"Even as a whisper?"

"Especially then," Nubia confirmed. "That was her preferred voice during war games." She chuckled in memory. "It wasn't something you could forget once you heard it in your ear while she had her arm around your throat."

Laughter flitted through the small group. They had all, at one time or another, gone up against Diana in the war games, and lost. But only Nubia had been quite so up close and personal during a kill. Hippolyta had lost to swordplay; Drea to chobos; Mala and Paula to long distance weapons – one to an arrow and the other to a catapult.

"Well, at least now I know who reworked Chase's pressure points." Drea looked back at the four pairs interrogating eyes. "When I went in to check on our guest this morning, she was in a sleep so deep, I feared she was dead. Rina checked her when I was called here. She discovered the pressure points were manipulated to provide Chase with less pain and a peaceful sleep."

"Why had you not used these already, Drea? It's not like you to let someone suffer needlessly."

The healer turned her attention to Mala. "Because I was still waiting for the results from some of the tests I had ordered. She's losing her eyesight and I cannot pinpoint a physical reason for it. I am waiting for the final two tests to be completed, but I think she is having a psychological reaction to being here... on Paradise Island. I already know from our brief discussions that Chase has some deep-seeded loathing for the Amazons and I suspect it has something to do with Orana... and the Nazis."

"The Nazis?" Nubia repeated. "I heard some mention of that from the other young woman. It brought Diana back into the room."

"I wonder what they talked about and if that conversation is what gave Diana the nightmares," Hippolyta questioned.

"I would say that the odds are good on the second," Mala answered. "We have no way of knowing what happened to her when she went to the world of men a century ago until and unless she decides to share, but given what we have learned so far, it is highly probable."

"It is more than probable," Paula finally spoke. "I have been doing research on the Nazis since Chase's arrival. Their records are poor, spotty at best, and there has been an obvious effort to purge them. But...." Paula consulted the information in her hands. "We have found both Diana's and Chase's names buried in their database."

"Any more information?"

Paula shook her dark head. "Not yet. But we're still digging."

Hippolyta nodded. "Good, good. I know I can count everyone's discretion about this. Rumors are already running rampant after all the excitement this morning, I'm sure. I don't want to add any fuel to the fire, especially with only blurred facts and speculation. I'll make some sort of statement later today and try to diffuse some of the talk."

Four heads nodded their immediate agreement. "I'll keep looking into Nazi records to see what else we can uncover," Paula said, rising to her feet. Nubia stood as well.

"I would like to help, if I could be of service," the dark advisor said almost shyly.

Paula blushed lightly but nodded. "Certainly, Nubia. I would appreciate your insight."

The three remaining women exchanged amused glances but said nothing. Instead, they rose and began to gather the strewn dishes onto the tray to remove them from Diana's room. Nubia lifted the tray.

"My queen, I'll drop this off in the kitchen on the way to the lab. If you will excuse me...."

Hippolyta nodded absently. "Thank you, Nubia. I need to...." She broke off, torn between her need to lie down and rest and her desire to stay with Diana until she woke. Mala came to her rescue.

"I would like to stay with the princess, my Queen. If she wakes up, I will call you immediately."

"That sounds like a great idea, Pol. Come, I'll walk you back to our rooms before I head back to the hospice. You need to rest at least for a little while. Mala will keep an eye on Diana."

"You'll come get me the moment she awakens?" the queen asked the priestess.

"I will do better than that, my queen. I will send one of the Royal Guards if you will leave one outside the door. That way Diana won't need to be left alone before you can get here."

Hippolyta smiled. "Thank you, Mala. I know she'll be in good hands."

Drea put her arm around the queen and led her out of Diana's rooms and down to their own quarters. Mala turned and went back to sit beside Diana, gently riffling the dark hair away from the princess' angular cheekbones.

"Oh, Diana... what happened to you, child? What happened to the confident young woman I knew to give her such intense, deeply hidden nightmares?" Mala blew out a breath. "And what place does Annabelle Chaser hold in your mind... and in your heart?"

Chapter IX

The darkness was comforting and the images of her dreams were so vivid they felt more like memories than the illusions she knew them to be. Chase was loath to give them up for a reality she knew was painful, though less so now than it had been. Still, it was a bit of a struggle to unwrap herself from whatever spell the mysterious woman had woven over her; she had never known the lassitude she'd felt after the woman had pressed several odd spots on her body, and she couldn't remember ever feeling so rested. The rebellion was not encouraging of deep, healing sleep. There just wasn't time or personnel to cover such things.

So Chase lay dozing, trying to separate in her mind the real from the imagined. Eventually she hoped to work her way up to opening her eyes, but for now, they were still heavy and she was content for them to remain closed.

It was the odd words piercing her lethargy that finally forced the issue of waking. At first it was an anomalous hum, like bees buzzing in and out of hearing. Chase forced herself to concentrate, hoping to make sense of what the bees were saying. Gradually the buzzing formed words, though her understanding of those words was few and far between the noises she was trying to decipher.

"... princess...."

"... Hippolyta... broken....

"Amazon queen...."

"... Diana... ...Orana... ...Nazis...."

The last words set of alarm bells in Chase's mind and body, but she couldn't grasp any of them long enough to make coherent sense of them. Something, though, was niggling at the back of her consciousness and she knew if she left it alone long enough, it would simmer to the top and reveal itself to her. She just needed patience. The question was whether or not she had that kind of time.

A voice she knew and recognized crossed her hearing after what seems eons of struggling to comprehend the bits of conversation around her and to finally open her eyes. The voice was sharp and it made the buzzing recede into the background and stop. The silence was a blessed relief and Chase settled back into the quiet with a moan. She hadn't realized the strain she had been putting on her body to force herself to focus so hard.

Her mother's touch once again brushed the hair back away from her forehead, and that voice became her entire focus. "Chase? Chase, it's Drea. Come... you need to try to wake up for me, Chase. Can you do that?"

Chase allowed that voice to coax her closer to true awareness, and she shifted uncomfortably, sensitive to the fact that she was still healing. Surprisingly, instead of the pain she expected to experience, she only felt a lingering soreness over most of her body.

Drea's voice continued to speak to her, gently coaxing and encouraging her to come up from the deep sleep she'd been in. Finally, she blinked her eyes open and saw... nothing.

"Drea," Chase called out, though her voice was little more than a croak. She reached for her eyes, but found her hands caught.

The healer slipped an arm beneath Chase's sturdy shoulders and helped the young woman sit up. Then she held her in a hug to allow Chase's equilibrium a chance to catch up to her body.

Chase tried to clear her throat and noted with some dismay that it was completely dry. She had a passing thought to wonder just how long she had been asleep and what sort of spell that mystery woman had placed on her when she felt a cup pressed into her hands.

"Drink," Drea said calmly. "You been asleep for a good many hours, so I imagine you must be quite thirsty by now. Your eyes are still wrapped. When you're a little more awake, we'll remove the bandages and see what we can see."

Chase swallowed, noting it was simply cool, clean, sweet water and she drank again until it was gone. She felt the silent chuckle run through the healer and smiled in response, despite the unnerving fear that was skittering through her body.

"Would you like more?" Drea asked politely.

Chase nodded. "Please," was her whispered response and she cleared her throat again.

She couldn't see, but she heard everything clearly, anticipating the full glass before it arrived in her hands. She sipped it more slowly, leaning into the body tucked beside her. Chase finished her water and straightened up.

"Thanks, Drea. I feel a lot better." She shook her head gingerly. "My head has stopped hurting and I think I'm finally awake now," she added with a smile. "What'd ya'll do to me anyway? I've never slept like that before."

Drea shifted until they were facing one another and she took Chase's hands in her own. "Like how, Chase? How would you describe your sleep?"

Chase removed one of her hands to scratch her forehead. "Well, you said I was asleep for hours and hours. Asleep, not unconscious, correct?"

"Correct," Drea answered cautiously.

"Usually when I sleep, when I'm healthy, that is, I sleep very lightly and in short spurts – three to four hours at a time max. According to you, I've been asleep for quite a while longer than that, and I was so deeply asleep that I had dreams. Dreams that were so vivid I almost remember them... and I do remember the feelings of contentment they gave me. They were almost... familiar."

She banged her fist on her knee. "I wish I could remember." Chase turned her head, wishing she could see Drea's expression. "So what did ya'll do to me anyway?"

Drea stood and casually started unwrapping the bandages while she spoke. "Um," uncharacteristically hesitant. "Actually *we* didn't do anything. Tell me, did you have any visitors after I left you last night?"

Chase's furrowed brow was apparent even under the binding that Drea was removing. "Yes, actually... a woman." Chase paused, something occurring to her and blending with the other things she had heard that morning that she would process later. "She, um... she came in and we talked briefly. Then she... she touched me and whatever she did released the pain." Chase whipped her head around towards Drea, causing the healer to drop the bandage she'd been patiently winding as she unraveled it from Chase's eyes. "Do you think what she did caused me to sleep? To dream those odd dreams?"

Drea nodded in contemplative thought, forgetting for a moment that Chase couldn't see her reaction. She looked up startled when the young woman grabbed her arm somewhat frantically.

"Drea?!"

"Sorry, Chase. My apologies. I was thinking and forgot to answer aloud." Drea looked Chase, whose eyes were still hidden by the pads placed protectively over her eyes. "Can you show me which pressure points were manipulated and in what order?"

Chase obliged, and Drea's eyes widened with the skill Diana had used in relieving the young woman's pain. She closed her own eyes in memory of the times she and Diana had spent together in this very room learning and experimenting with new treatments. The course the princess had chosen was one that they'd never had the chance to test on a real patient before instead of one another, and Drea was gratified to know it had done just what it was supposed to with no apparent harmful aftereffects.

"To answer your question, Chase, yes. What Diana did was allow you to relax and sleep while at the same time stimulate the healing of your body. That is why you feel so much better today."

"And it caused those weird, but very pleasant dreams?"

Drea shrugged, a little baffled by the dreams. That hadn't been a side effect of the treatment when they'd been experimenting, but Chase was a whole new mix into the equation they had used. It had been one reason, the main one but certainly not the only one, that she had been hesitant to try the pressure points. Now that she had the final test results on Chase's eyes, she knew Diana had made the right choice. She felt a fleeting wish go through her for the friendship she had once shared with the princess. Then she blinked, realizing that her patient was waiting not-so-patiently for an answer.

"Honestly, I am not sure, but I would have to guess yes. We've never actually had a reaction like that before." Not adding that Chase was the first to need that particular treatment.

"Hmm," Chase replied after a long, thoughtful moment. "Well, at least they were pleasant... all warm and kind of, I dunno... comfortable, I guess."

"Much more pleasant than nightmares would have been for sure. Too bad you cannot remember the specifics."

"Yeah," Chase said absently. "I'd be interested in knowing what exactly caused that sort of feeling. Nothing consciously comes to mind to invoke that."

Drea smiled. "Well, if you feel up to it, perhaps we could try hypnosis. We have quite a.... Chase?!? Whatever is wrong?"

The pilot had gone completely pale; even her lips were ashen, and she was close to hyperventilating. "No," spoken with fervent vehemence. "No hypnosis. No mind games."

Drea took the ice cold hands in her own and chafed them tenderly until she felt a bit of warmth return to them. "All right, Chase. All right. No mind games. I would never, ever force you into something that obviously made you so uncomfortable." Then they sat quietly together until Chase's color and breathing returned to normal. "Better?" Drea finally inquired.

Chase nodded, somewhat embarrassed by her outburst. "Yes," came her quiet reply.

"Good. Now," she continued briskly as though nothing out of the ordinary had taken place. "I am going to remove the pads from your eyes and take a look. But first...." Drea got up from the bed where she had been sitting and closed the blinds. The apprentice healers had opened them as a matter of course and since Chase couldn't see them to be bothered by them, she'd left them open. Now, however, she didn't want the shock of nearly midday sunlight to cause more problems to the already unexplainable one she had on her hands.

"Chase, I've made it quite dark in here, so don't be too alarmed if you have trouble seeing. *I* am having trouble seeing right at the moment," she joked lightly, feeling an uneasy tension roiling in her gut. "We will gradually alter the light's brightness to allow your eyes time to adjust to it."

"So everything should be all right now? I should be able to see normally again."

"I was unable to find a reason for you not to," the healer hedged. "There is no physical damage at all to your eyes."

Chase weighed the carefully chosen words in her head and understood that Drea wasn't sure of the outcome. She sighed. "Well, let's get this over with," she said bravely. "Nothing much I can do about it either way until we know something," she added pragmatically.

Drea nodded, knowing she spoke the truth, but wondering where she got the fortitude to accept possible blindness so casually. She had no way of knowing that Chase was shaking like a leaf on the inside, contemplating her future if things turned out badly.

Diana struggled to come up from her dreams. They bordered on weird and felt oddly disconcerting. She remembered darkness and anger and pain, and then that had morph into something... unexpected. Something that was warm and comfortable and almost... familiar. Something that somehow connected her to the woman she had seen in the hospice. But that couldn't be true, could it? She'd never seen the woman before. Surely she would have remembered her... wouldn't she? But she couldn't deny the truth that more than anyone or anything Diana had experienced in her long life, the mysterious woman felt like home.

Too many confusing thoughts and feeling finally pushed her up from the depths of sleep she'd fallen into. When blue eyes opened, Diana blinked around in confusion. Bright sunlight streamed into the room from the windows that had been opened for the first time in.... Just what exactly was going on here? She never slept past dawn, and she hadn't opened up her room like this since her mother's disgrace of her at the games. What fresh air and sunshine she got came from her morning and evening runs and that was enough.

Diana closed her eyes, suddenly conscious that she was not alone in her quarters. She fumed – now she wasn't even allowed privacy in her own rooms. Was there no end to the humiliation her mother would heap on her head for what she perceived as inexcusable behavior?

She pushed back the cover, heedless of her nakedness and rose, heading for the door with single-minded intent. She yanked the door opened, then paused on the threshold when she realized who was in her rooms, cleaning and singing somewhat off key to herself.

Mala turned at the sound of the bedroom door opening and just as quickly whipped her head back to her task. "You know, princess, the gods were extremely kind to you when they created you. You could kill an old woman strutting around in your all together like that," said with a hint of a smile in her voice. Not reprimanding since she was the intruder, but asking in her own soft, subtle way for a bit of modesty from one she loved as a daughter.

Diana took the hint gracefully and disappeared back into the confines of her bedroom briefly, before returning clothed in a comfortable, casual short toga. It was well-worn and Mala recognized it from before what she referred to as 'the late unpleasantness'. She reached out a hand towards it, but stopped before she actually made contact. Instead she offered Diana a smile.

"I always liked this one on you, princess. It brings out the color of your eyes so well."

Diana made no verbal response but Mala could see the questions and confusion lingering in the back of her eyes.

"I guess you are curious as to why I am here. You gave us quite a scare this morning, Diana. Never since your birth have you slept so long or so deeply, and I volunteered to watch you so your mother could rest." Mala couldn't miss the hint of bitterness that crossed the beautiful face in front of her. "Don't judge too quickly, princess. You'll find her reasons for not being here instead are not entirely selfish."

Diana just refrained from rolling her eyes in derision. Nothing Mala or anyone else could say would convince her that Hippolyta was more than a selfish, hypocritical bitch with no though or regard for anyone other than herself.

"Besides," the priestess continued blithely, knowing full well the thoughts going on behind the mask Diana wore whenever her mother became part of any discussion. "I felt a little decorating was in order. It was just too Spartan in here to be a comfortable living space. What do you think?" motioning to the walls and waiting for Diana's reaction.

What she got was not what she expected. Rage flamed in the back of those ice cold eyes, but Diana calmly rose from her seat and walked into her room, closing and locking the door with a chilling finality. And with that perfect timing that all humans, immortal or not, are sometimes blessed with, Hippolyta crossed the outer threshold just as the lock snapped into place.

"Where is she, Mala? Where is my daughter?"

The priestess' shoulders slumped and she gestured to the closed door. "I don't know that I would try to approach her right now, my queen. I think I made a very grave error."

"You, Mala? What did you do?" the queen asked, concerned as much for her despondent high priestess as she was for the daughter she was now determined to recover.

Mala sank into a seat on one end of the couch and Hippolyta took the other. Mala waved at the walls and shelves where now a myriad of artifacts and scrolls resided, including the masked that marked Diana as the Amazon princess. "I think I may have pressed a little too hard, a little too fast."

Hippolyta reached out with her good arm, clasping Mala's forearm with sure strength. "I don't think so. I think we... *I*... have let this anger fester long enough. The time has come to force the issue." She squeezed gently, then released her hold. "Leave it. Let's wait and see what Diana does with it before we start questioning ourselves. She's going to have to come to terms with everything – including the fact that I am her mother who loves her and she is still the Amazon princess."

Mala shook her head. "It's going to be a long, uphill battle. Do you wish me to stay for moral support for this first skirmish?"

Hippolyta smiled. "Would I like you to? Absolutely. Do I think you should? No. I think this is going to be something we have to handle privately as much as possible until Diana is ready to resume her place here again. But I wouldn't object to your being fairly close by. I think when my daughter decides to open up, it's not going to be to me; It will be you and Drea who have always been friends and confidantes to her."

"Well, then, I will go to visit Drea at the hospice and perhaps she will introduce me to our young guest. I would like to get to know the young woman who is already a hero to so many, and who will soon write herself into the chronicles of the Amazons."

Mala rose from her place on the couch and extended a hand to her queen. Hippolyta accepted it and stood, flinching a little at how the motion pulled on her injured arm. Mala raised the hand that she held to her lips and kissed it, offering a blessing for the upcoming encounter. Then she met Hippolyta's eyes in understanding. "Good luck, my queen."

Hippolyta smiled and ducked her head gracefully. "Thank you, my friend. I think I'll need patience more than luck."

Now Mala smiled mischievously, trying to lighten the atmosphere just a bit. "Perhaps, my queen, but I learned years ago never to pray for patience. Bad things tend to happen when you do. I'd rather have good luck myself."

Hippolyta chuckled, appreciating the truth in Mala's words. "Right," she answered. "Good luck."

Mala released her hand and strode purposefully towards the door. Only when she was completely out of sight did Hippolyta turn and face the closed door that led to Diana's room.

"Well," she said to herself firmly. "We have to start somewhere, and I know I have to be the one to make the first step." Still she remained rooted to the spot, hoping for a sign of some sort – though she wasn't sure what – and looking for a courage she'd never expected to need.

"Let's go, Hippolyta," she coached herself. "This is your daughter. The daughter you prayed and asked the gods for." She felt a tear slide down her face as she began to understand the price her daughter had paid for that request. "Time to start setting things right... for everyone."

Hippolyta walked to the door and stood looking at it for a long moment before raising her hand and knocking soundly. "Diana? Diana, it's me... your mother." Then she rolled her eyes at how lame that sounded. "Diana, may I come in please?" She tried the doorknob, only to find it still locked firmly against intrusions – against *her*.

She had no way of knowing that Diana was no longer in her room.

Chapter X

The sun was warm... warmer than she was accustomed to anymore and Diana found herself sweating freely as she made her circuit of the island. Of course, the fiery rage coursing through her veins that was pushing her harder and faster had nothing to do with that consequence, she mentally told herself. No, it was simply that the temperature was much warmer at midday than it was at dawn.

Consciously, Diana forced her mind to push the anger aside and concentrated solely on the motion and effort required to complete the task she'd set herself to. So she increased her speed and let her thoughts move away from the twisted reality she'd woken up to.

The guards placed casually around the island watched in amazement as she completed her regular circuit and began another. They'd all heard the rumors, of course, of what had happened between Hippolyta and Diana, but they had had no change in their orders, so they allowed the princess to run without escort to her heart's content.

All the way around she went the second time, allowing nothing into her consciousness but the feel of the wind on her body and the burn of her muscles as she forced herself to start a third circuit. Now a silent alert went up among the guards still watching her exercise. It was completely unheard of and they fully expected her to collapse from the overexertion she was forcing upon herself. More than one of them wondered if she was punishing herself for whatever had happened between herself and the queen.

Finally, after completing her third lap, Diana slowed, breathing hard. None of her previous exercise had prepared her for the limits she had pushed and her body was more than happy to remind her that being an immortal guaranteed neither painlessness nor brilliance. And right at the moment, she was inclined to go with immortality going hand in hand with stupid ideas as muscles over-used and highly abused began to protest loudly at their treatment.

Gently, she stretched her legs until she felt the knots loosening and relaxing into their normal position. Then she did the same with her upper body as her breathing steadily returned to normal. With a tired sigh, Diana began walking, making for the tree she favored for watching the sunset, even though sunset was still some hours away. She gradually noticed the guards watching her, but dismissed them with the practice borne of a hundred years, knowing her meditation would dismiss them from her mind completely in short order.

With a sense of relief, Diana approached the tree. For reasons know only to them, the guards respected the tree as her space and she was grateful. More than her rooms in the palace, this one place on the island felt like hers. With a wistful smile, she leaped into its welcoming branches, balancing precariously. She spent untold minutes just enjoying the art of balancing, focusing her mind on something beyond the horizon.

Without warning, unwelcome images assaulted her mind. Vicious, ugly images of a lifetime before. So sudden and unexpected was the onslaught of memories, Diana's physical reality got lost in them and she lost her grip on her physical reality. She didn't even feel when she hit the ground.

"Open your eyes, Chase," Drea instructed. The healer held her breath as she watched the green eyes blink slowly and struggle to focus. "What do you see?" she finally asked in a subdued voiced.

The blonde head shook negatively and her shoulders slumped. "Dark shapes, a little light, but nothing clearly." She lay back down and curled around her pillow. "I think I'd like to be alone now."

"Chase, I...."

"Drea, please. I don't blame you for this, honestly, but you don't know what is wrong or how to fix it. I just need a little time alone to adjust to it, all right? Please?"

Drea ran her hands through Chase's hair, then cupped her cheek tenderly in one hand. "Don't give up yet, Chase, because I certainly am not. We will figure out what happened and we will make it right. I promise to keep trying as long as you promise to keep the faith."

Chase smiled reflexively; she couldn't help it. The determination in the healer's voice was contagious. "I'll do my best."

"Good girl," Drea commented, brushing the blonde hair back once more. "Now, I will leave you alone for a bit while I go do a little research. There has to be something I am missing. And I am going to find it and fix this. Are you hungry?"

Chase nodded hesitantly. "Um... a little, I think."

Drea nodded her approval. "Good. I'll have Rina bring something light from the kitchen for you to snack on for now. Then when you feel up to it, we'll take you outside for a bit of fresh air and sunshine. In the meantime, though...." The healer broke off and walked to the windows, pulling back the coverings and throwing the casement open wide and feeling a breeze immediately begin to blow through.

"There," she said aloud. "That is much better. We will bring it in to you until then." She breathed deeply, her satisfaction evident in the sounds she made. A soft chuckling brought her out of her obvious appreciation. A dark brow rose in question and she cleared her throat with some embarrassment.

"Are you laughing at me?" she asked Chase, though she couldn't keep the laughter out of her voice, and Chase was quick to pick up on it.

"Not as much as you are, it seems," she answered cheekily. Then she smiled sadly. "I was just noticing how much you seem to enjoy such simple things as fresh air and sunshine, and wondering when the last time was that I even noticed them. Lately, it seems that everything has just...." Chase broke off and stretched out. Drea returned to her bedside and took a tentative seat on the edge of the bed.

"Is it something you would like to talk about, Chase? I don't really know anything about what you have been through except for what your body has shown me, but I do know you have suffered."

Chase stiffened. She'd never considered herself a great beauty, and time and the rebellion had done nothing to change that view of herself. But to be reminded of the scars she bore by someone as lovely as the healer....

"No, thank you," she said coolly. "Do you think I could have my clothes back?" she continued without pause, feeling the sympathy emanating from Drea, even without being able to see her expression. "I mean these toga things are great and all," she said with a deprecating smile. "But I feel a little underdressed."

Drea smiled sadly, glad Chase was unable to see her face. Paula had given her an electronic report on the young pilot and it had broken her heart to just skim through it. She hadn't even shared the bits of her findings with Hippolyta yet. She had hoped Chase trusted her enough to share some of the burden she carried, but it was obvious that not only was the trust not there but Chase felt uncomfortable? Ashamed? It was hard to pinpoint the exact emotion Chase was trying to hide.

"Of course, Chase. I'll bring them to you as soon as you eat." Drea turned at the noise Rina made coming into the room. "Ah, here is your snack. I shall return shortly."

Chase smiled, though it didn't reach her eyes. "Thank you, Drea."

The healer left with a nod at her assistant, determined to take a little time to read the complete file that Paula had given her. Surely there was an answer somewhere which would give her a clue to the cause of Chase's blindness. Might as well start at the beginning of her research.

Rina set the tray down in front of Chase, and stepped back slightly. "Is there anything else you require, Chase?"

The blonde head shook. "No, but... um, if you could tell me where everything is?" She turned green eyes towards the apprentice healer and Rina noticed for the first time the completely lack of focus in them.

"Oh, surely," describing everything on the plate. " Would you... would like some... help?"

"No thank you," Chase answered shortly, and heard Rina's intake of breath. "Sorry, I don't mean to sound ungrateful, because I'm not. I'm just...."

Rina patted her hand. "Don't worry about it, Chase. Things are probably much different here than what you are accustomed to. Perhaps you'd rather a bit of company and conversation instead?"

Chase really didn't want company, but the innate, inbred manners her mother had worked so hard to instill in her came to the fore instead. She patted the bed beside her. "Sure. Have a seat. You can tell me about this place and the people here."

"Certainly. Amazon history is a fascinating tale and you're the first visitor we've had on Paradise Island in over a hundred years that we could share it with."

Only a well-practiced poker face kept Chase from reacting to Rina's words and she calmly kept chewing the fruit pieces that she'd been given to eat. "Amazons?" she questioned with only the slightest edge in her voice. "I thought they were a myth... a legend."

Rina laughed. "Oh no. We are quite real. But it was our move here to the island that saved us as a people and as a culture."

"Really? How so?" Chase asked, infusing as much interest as she could into her voice.

So Rina told her... of their enslavement and decimation in the world of men. Of the goddesses' directives and protection. Of the things they had learned and the advancements they had made since their settlement.

"Has anyone ever left?" Chase asked with studied casualness. She chewed her food so hard she grit her teeth together in an effort to keep her expression as impassive as possible. Rina didn't notice Chase's jaw clenching since she looked down at the hands clasped together in her lap. But Chase could clearly hear the pain in her voice.

"Twice," she answered tersely, but she didn't say anymore. Finally, the silence grew uncomfortable even for Chase, and she reached out towards Rina.

"I'm sorry," she said honestly. "I didn't...."

Rina patted Chase's hand and rose from the bed, gathering up her tray and neatly stacking everything together. "I know you didn't... how could you? It's just not something we talk about. It has been very painful, but especially for Diana."

Chase cocked her head. "The princess, right?"

Rina smiled sadly. "Right." She looked back at Chase who wore a look of polite interest. "Now," she continued briskly, changing the subject. "Would you like some more to eat? You did everything but lick the plate clean," with humor in her voice. Chase chucked.

"My mother accused me of that on more than one occasion. But I'm good for now. Thanks for asking though."

"You're very welcome, Chase. Perhaps next time you'll share with me about your culture."

Chase nodded, but didn't answer verbally. She knew there wouldn't be a next time... not anytime soon.

"I'm going to take the dishes back to the kitchen. Will you be all right here alone for a bit?"

"I'm fine, Rina, thanks. Besides, I imagine Drea will be back shortly. She promised me fresh air and sunshine."

Rina clapped her on the arm. "Her favorite prescription."

"What?" came a voice from the doorway. "Exactly what am I being accused of?"

Rina laughed. "Nothing you're not guilty of. I'm going to take these to the kitchen. You need me to come back and help?"

Drea placed Chase's clothes on the bed. "I believe Chase and I can mange all right. What do you think, Chase?"

Chase blinked, her eyesight still nothing but light and shadows. "Well, I think I can get dressed, but you'll have to help me get to the beach. I'm not sure how much fresh air and sunshine I can stand before it kills me," she added with a smile.

Drea and Rina both chuckled. "You must be feeling better."

Chase smiled weakly. "Well, no pain right now at least. I'll take my blessings where I can find them."

"I like that philosophy." Rina took the tray and walked out and Drea focused on Chase. "Would you like some help getting dressed?" fairly certain what the pilot's response was going to be.

Chase went rigid for a moment before she forced herself to relax. "I appreciate the offer Drea, but...." She shrugged sheepishly.

Drea chuckled again and patted Chase's shoulder. "Don't worry, Chase. I expected as much, but I had to ask. Taking the best care I can of my patient you know."

Chase nodded. "I know. You've been great. I wish I could stay here. I've never been treated so well, and I've sure never had medical treatment like yours." She smiled wryly. "I'd love to take you back with me so you could teach the medics what a good bedside manner is."

Two phrases caught Drea's attention and held it. "Are you planning on leaving us, Chase? You're not nearly healed enough for me to release you from my care yet."

"I know, but I'm gonna have to leave sometime, Drea. I've got work I've got to get back to. I've been gone too long already."

"But it's only been three days."

"A lifetime when it comes to war. Things are so different on the outside. I... it's hard to explain. I just wish my friends could experience the kind of care I've had here. I really appreciate it."

"I am sorry you needed my care, Chase, but I thank the gods for bringing you to us. You have reminded me of so many things...." Drea broke off, not wanting to say too much, knowing how Chase felt about Amazons. "I will leave you to dress in peace. Just call me when you are ready, and we will get you outside for that fresh air and sunshine."

"Your favorite prescription."

"Ah, so that is what Rina was telling tales about. Well, I'll tell you a secret, Chase. I have found that spending a little time everyday soaking in those two things make all the difference in my daily outlook." She crossed the threshold and looked back. "Just call out when you're ready. My office is right next door."

Chase sat still for long moments, listening to Drea's footsteps fade around the corner. Then she continued to sit quietly, willing her eyesight back and growing frustrated when nothing changed. She had a real good idea what the problem was, but she didn't know how to correct it and she didn't have time to wait for it to fix itself.

Chase stretched, then winced as she pulled the stitches in both her shoulder and her leg. It was a firm reminder she was nowhere close to being healed, but she was determined to get away from this place. Aside from the fact that she had to get back to the war effort, she couldn't stomach the quandary she now found herself in.

Chase eased from the bed, carefully testing her leg before setting her weight onto it. She was pleased when it didn't collapse under her and dropped the toga with an expert twist before sorting through the clothes Drea had left for her.

Her forehead creased. Given the cut of the cloth and the patches she could feel, she was fairly confident they were her clothes. But the feel of them was off, as though they were now made of silk. And they smelled... beyond clean. Chase shook her head and reminded herself to be thankful for small blessings. Then she struggled into underclothes before shrugging into her shirt and sliding into her pants. It was a relief to button and zip. As much as she'd enjoyed the freedom and comfort of the garment the Amazons provided, this was real for her, and Chase was glad to return to the known and familiar. She wiggled her feet into her socks and boots.

A few pats assured her that her pads were secure, and she gave a breath of relief. That made things so much easier for her. "Drea?" she called softly after savoring the feeling of normality she felt. The healer was quick to respond to her summons.

"Wow," the healer commented. "You look quite imposing."

Chase's head dropped. "Um, do you have the scarf I had on? I feel kinda funny without it."

"Oh, yes. I'm sorry. I didn't think you would want it to sit out in the sun."

"If it's not too much trouble...."

"Not at all," Drea said. "Be right back."

True to her word, Drea returned almost immediately, and Chase accepted the scarf with alacrity, wrapping it around her neck and tucking it into her shirt. Then she closed her eyes briefly and sighed.

"Thank you, Drea. This means a lot to me, and I...."

"It's all right, Chase. You don't have to explain. I think I understand. I'm glad you have it back. You look... quite dashing. I imagine you are quite the sensation at home; you've certainly made an impression on everyone here that has had the pleasure of seeing you." She put a hand around Chase's good arm and handed her a walking stick. "Here, you'll need this to help you balance. Remember to go slow... we have as long as it takes. We're not running a race."

Chase chuckled, trying to put her inherent hate of what this woman was aside and focusing on the fact that not only did she owe Drea her life, but that she truly liked the woman as a person. Damn shame she's an Amazon. However Chase wanted to be fair and was making an effort. Drea felt the struggle, but was clueless as to what Chase's internal fight was about.

The healer backed off a step, but kept her hand on Chase's arm. Then she caught the wry smile on the pilot's face and cocked a brow in question.

"I'm sorry," Chase said as she accepted the walking stick and gingerly took a step. "I was snickering at what you said. You must have some of the world's worst patients."

Drea gave her a full, genuine smile. "Aren't all patients the world's worst when they are healed enough to be mobile but not enough to get around by themselves? And here... trust me, you haven't seen egos until getting well becomes a race." She shook her head and grabbed a basket she had left sitting near the door as they approached.

"I had the kitchen pack us a lunch... that is, if you wouldn't mind sharing. I thought maybe we could talk a little bit if you felt up to it.

Chase stiffened warily, then relaxed. She could talk. Maybe she could worm enough information out of Drea to figure a way off the island. "I'd like that," she responded cordially. "Maybe we could walk a little as well? I feel like I have been lying down for days."

Drea looked at her in concern. "Let's get you down to the beach first. If you still feel like walking, I'm certain we can manage a short walk." And they walked out of hospice area and into the great outdoors, acutely aware of the multitude of eyes and the whispers that followed them.

Chapter XI

"You do realize you're the most interesting thing that's happened around here in forever, don't you?" Drea asked with a smile in her voice. She was gently guiding Chase down the short steps that led from the palace to the beachfront. She watched with a smile the look of wonder and joy that Chase couldn't contain behind the mask she had been struggling to maintain with very limited success. A look that changed drastically as her words sank into Chase's consciousness.

She turned to Drea with a smirk. "Things that boring around here for ya'll?"

Drea laughed. It was an outlet for any number of emotions that had been building since the pilot's unexpected arrival in their midst. "Well, not boring, but certainly routine."

A frown crossed Chase's now expressive face. "What's that like?" she asked honestly. "I mean it's so different here... so peaceful. I can't imagine that kind of routine."

"What's it like for you, Chase?" Drea replied, throwing the query right back at her. "I cannot remember having had excitement like we've had in the last few days."

"Well, this is normal... I mean, unexpected events, attacking and attacks, people being hurt or dying...." She spoke dispassionately, but her eyes clouded over and her words trailed off. "There are always plans to make and crises that arise and things that have to be taken care of," Chase added after a bit of silence. "It's just very different from what I've experienced here."

She turned her head and looked at Drea directly, even though she still could not see the healer. Drea felt the weight of Chase's stare and returned the gaze. Finally Chase turned away and returned her eyes to the horizon she couldn't see.

"What is it, Chase?" wondering what was causing the conflict she could feel running through the pilot's wiry frame.

Chase struggled with her words, trying to let go of a hatred she'd long held, but unable to completely forgive the atrocities that had been perpetrated on her and the rest of the world because of these people. She bowed her head.

"I hope you never lose what you have here, Drea," she finally commented. "I hope the war never comes to this place."

Drea realized what an admission that had to be given the source and she patted Chase's hand lightly before speaking. "Thank you, Chase. I hope so too."

The sound of running footsteps caught their attention and they both looked in the direction they heard them coming from. Chase blinked as her vision seemed to clear just slightly and the dark blob became the shape of a woman. She blinked again, hoping it would help and growling silently in frustration when nothing changed. The footsteps came to a halt in front of them and the young woman stood bent over trying to catch her breath. Drea laid a hand on her arm.

"Rina? What is it? What's wrong?"

"Drea, you've got to come quickly. It's the princess. She fell out of her tree and...." She winced when the grip on her arm tightened uncomfortably around her bicep.

"What did you say? Diana FELL out of her tree?" Rina nodded her head. "Rina, that's not possible. She has the most flawless balance of anyone I have ever known, bar none."

"Well that may be, Drea, but several guards were witness to it. Said she simply lost her grip and slipped right off the limb she was sitting on." She loosened the healer's hold on her arm, wincing at the visible mark Drea's hand had made. "C'mon," she added, tugging on the hand she now held in her own. "We've got to get back there and check on her. Mala is sitting with Diana and the queen."

"Oh my," Drea said, pushing her immaculate hair back away from her face where the wind had teased it loose. She turned to Chase. "Will you be all right here alone for a bit, Chase? I can leave Rina if...." She stopped when Chase shook her head negatively.

"I'll be fine Drea. What can happen to me here? Ya'll go and take care of your princess."

Drea smiled gratefully. Not knowing what was wrong with Diana was troubling and she really wanted Rina's help in figuring out what was wrong. Between the two of them and Paula, they would find the problem and hopefully, a way to fix it.

"Thank you, Chase. I will send someone out to help you back to the hospice shortly if I cannot come myself."

"Don't rush on my account, Drea. I'm enjoying your favorite prescription. Now, go on," making a shooing motion with her hands. "Go see to your princess. I am perfectly content to stay out here for a good while longer."

Drea squeezed her arm in thanks and she and Rina left on a run. Chase closed her eyes and focused on the sounds around her. This was a golden opportunity and she had learned early in life to take advantage of each and every opportunity afforded her.

She listened carefully and heard the birds and the sounds of the leaves crinkling in the wind. Beyond that.... There were no sounds of any human presence nearby. She frowned in concentration then her face creased into a smile. But there was the distinct sound of water slapping against wood, and that meant there was a good chance there was a boat nearby.

Chase sighed, wishing heartily that she felt better or at least that she could see clearly. Instead, she leaned down and felt around for the basket, grasping the handle firmly when she finally found it. Then she lifted it with a wince and headed down the beach in the directions her sense told her to go. She only hoped it would be a short walk.

Drea rushed into the hospice with Rina on her heels. She was amazed at the number of people keeping vigil outside the room the princess was occupying, then realized that the entire contingent of Royal Guards made up a majority of the large group. When she was spotted, they let her through immediately and Drea passed into Diana's room and stopped. Mala and Hippolyta rose from either side of the bed and moved back to give the healers the access they needed to work.

The princess lay on the bed, still and white as a sheet. The only bit of color visible was her dark hair and a cut on her forehead that was bleeding sluggishly. Drea crossed over and pulled back the sheet that had been tucked around her body.

"Rina, check her for cuts and abrasions. I'm going to start here," motioning to Diana's head. They worked in tandem without words, each knowing what to do and what the other needed. It wasn't long before they were done and Diana's head wound was dressed. Drea moved away from the bed and signaled the others to join her near the window.

"She has a bump on the head – you saw that. It seems to be her only injury. I believe she was already in some sort of meditative state when this happened. I cannot find another reason for her to be unconscious – the damage is not that bad."

Mala nodded. "Given what the guard told me, I think that is a safe assumption. You think she will be all right when she comes out of her meditative state?"

"Except for the headache she's going to have, yes."

"Drea, what caused her to fall?" Hippolyta asked with concern. "Even meditating, that shouldn't have happened. Especially then, as she becomes even more aware."

"I do not know," the healer answered honestly. "And we may not know if she chooses not to share with us. We will simply have to work with what we know, which at this point really isn't very much."

Hippolyta nodded. "Is there anything we can do to speed this along? Anything *I* can do?"

"We can sit with her, maybe talk to her. She can hear and understand."

"She might wake up faster just to get us to shut up and leave her in peace," Mala joked. The others laughed at the truth of her words. At that moment, Nubia and Paula slipped into the room.

"We came as soon as we heard," Nubia commented. "How is she?"

Hippolyta sighed. "I suppose I need to go make an announcement to the Nation. I'm sure this has made the circuit already."

"If the presence of the Guard is any indication, the entire island knew before we got in here to treat her," Drea commented. "Why don't you stay here with her? I can make the announcement."

"Actually," Paula cut in unexpectedly, "Perhaps Rina could? I have some things we need to go over," with a pointed look at both the healer and the priestess.

"I can do that, certainly," Rina replied.

"And I would like to stay here," Hippolyta added. "Can I be brought up to speed later, perhaps?"

"Oh, absolutely," the scientist confirmed quickly. "Nothing that won't wait. The princess is more important."

The queen nodded, but Drea's brow rose into her hairline. She wondered what was in the report that Paula didn't want to share with Hippolyta. Then they separated – Hippolyta back to Diana's beside where she started talking to her in low tones; Rina to the waiting area to give the Amazons a status report and collect as much information about the incident as she could; and the council retired to Drea's office to discuss Paula's latest findings.

Finding the dock had been easier than she expected considering her blindness, and now Chase stood considering the best way to escape unseen. She was simply going to have to take the boat farthest out that she could reach and hope she got lucky enough to find something she could handle alone. There was no way she would survive going in and out of each vessel looking for the ideal transportation. Given her handicaps, there wasn't one, but she knew without a doubt she had to get off the island. She suspected her being here was causing her blindness, but regardless, the Amazons were the enemy, despite their care and treatment of her. There were some things that couldn't be canceled out, no matter what good was done. And producing the mastermind of the Nazi regime was at the top of that list.

Slowly she made her way down the dock, carefully feeling her way to keep from falling into the water. When she reached the end, she poked around, eventually finding a large sailboat and the ropes which held it tied to the pier. She placed the basket onto the deck and stepped in vigilantly, not wanting a slip to cause her to be discovered. Chase loosened the ropes and let the boat drift away from the dock, glad the current and the tide were working in her favor.

When the pier was not even a dark splotch in her vision, Chase reached forward and raised the sail, catching a good wind and hoping she was moving in the right direction.

Hippolyta looked at her daughter and a wave of remorse flowed through her. She took Diana's hand in her own, bringing it to her lips before gently stroking the knuckles. "Drea said for me to talk to you, and I don't even know where to start. I have so many things I need to say to you... so many misunderstandings to straighten out. I'm not even sure where to start, especially since anything I say to you now will have to be repeated when you're actually able to comprehend and acknowledge what I say to you."

She paused and looked at her daughter with a sincere sigh. "I guess the first thing I need to say to you is I'm sorry. I'm sorry for what I did to you... for what it cost you... for letting the situation drag on like it has. The truth is I knew as soon as the words were out of my mouth they were wrong, but you were so angry - *I* was so angry. And when you left anyway despite everything...." Hippolyta mind traveled back to that first fateful day in the year of man nineteen hundred forty-two.

Steve Trevor had landed unceremoniously on their island six days prior and his arrival had caused a stir among all the Amazons. Some, a small minority, were furious at the thought that a man was not only polluting their island, but receiving treatment as well for injuries obtained by violence. Most though, were curious about the presence of a species they hadn't seen in twenty-six hundred years.

The conversations had gone back and forth about how he had come to be there, the violence he had both perpetrated and had done to him, and the problem of retuning him to his own world without disrupting their own. Hippolyta decided to be fair that her Amazons would compete for the responsibility of returning Steve Trevor to the world outside their domain.

The athletic contest had been... spectacular. Each of the Amazons who had vied for the privilege had surpassed any expectations the council had had for them. Even so, two had stood out above the rest, and though they weren't tied, they were close enough that Hippolyta had decided to have a final challenge between the two of them. Everything had come down to bullets and bracelets.

Orana had taken aim first – all six shots neatly deflected by the mysterious number thirty-three. The watchers screamed enthusiastically. Number thirty-three was the crowd favorite – not only was she ahead of Orana, whose attitude had become increasingly and unbearably smug. But number thirty-three was also a mystery, and the amazons hadn't had a good mystery amongst them in years.

Rumors had flown, of course, about the spectacular argument between the princess and the queen when Hippolyta forbade Diana to participate in the games. More than a few suspected the truth of number thirty-three, but no one spoke their thoughts aloud.

Instead, they cheered wildly when number thirty-three kept every bullet from getting by her. Then she lifted her revolver and waited for Orana to position herself in from of the statue of Athena.

Orana glared and took her place, nodding her readiness to her opponent. She had thought... had expected... with the queen's disqualification of Diana, that she would be a shoo in for an easy victory. Instead, she had been outdone by this interloper who wouldn't even show her face.

It wasn't that she disliked Diana – on the contrary, Orana considered Diana her best friend. But it had become progressively more irritating to always be coming in second to someone she had trained and mentored. Just once she'd wanted to be on top again, and with the princess out of the running, Orana had been sure she would easily win. Though it would have been a hollow victory, it would have been a victory nonetheless.

Now Orana waited for the mystery competitor to take her best shot, confident in her ability to do as well as the other woman had.

Five for five she went and her self-assurance grew. Then the sixth shot got by her and Orana flinched, anger growing in her eyes. But she played the good sport, congratulating the mystery woman on her win. Then unexpectedly, they were both called to stand in front of the queen and her council.

Here Hippolyta's voice faltered. "I knew Orana had grown jealous of you, but I didn't realize how bad it was. I still wouldn't know if it hadn't been for the young woman Chase coming into our lives. I cannot believe how blind I was to her... and to you. I was just so... angry. And if I could go back to one moment... gods, Diana... I would give anything to change that one moment."

Orana and the mystery woman stood before the council and the Nation, and Hippolyta stood on the dais, her face wreathed in smiles. It had been a long time since the Amazons had had this much fun and she made a note to schedule more athletic contests. They had become a little lazy and complacent, and Hippolyta decided it was time to put a stop to that.

She raised her hands for silence and quiet fell. "Amazons, today we have witnessed a magnificent display of strength and endurance and sportsmanship. And all of our contestants have outdone themselves showing a degree of prowess seldom seen even among athletes as skilled as Amazons." A cheer rose across the yard and Hippolyta let it ring for a while before lifting her hands. The Nation quieted again.

"But there can be only one Amazon crowned the winner of the games. And it gives me great pleasure to announce the games' champion and our Wonder Woman... our mystery contestant, number thirty-three."

Another cheer rang out as Hippolyta raised the winner's arm up in victory. Drea handed the belt of strength and the lasso of truth to the queen and Hippolyta accepted them with a smile. "Please," the queen said to the victor. "Remove your mask so the Amazons can be introduced to their victor."

Slowly, a hand raised and removed both mask and blonde wig. The gasp that escaped Hippolyta's lips was masked by the shouts and applause that erupted when Diana's face was revealed.

Unceremoniously, Hippolyta jerked the belt and lasso out of Diana's hands. "DIANA!! How dare you?!? How could you?!?"

A hush fell over the crowd, so quiet not even breathing could be heard.

Diana stepped up towards the platform with her hand held out beseechingly. Hippolyta shifted back away from Diana and turned towards Orana, extending her hand to the other Amazon.

"Mother, you can't!!"

Without warning, she ripped the trappings of Wonder Woman away from Orana as well and threw them behind her before she stomped over to stand in front of Diana, face flushed in fury and eyes flaming.

"I most certainly can!"

"Mother, please! I did it for you... I did it for us!"

"No, Diana," she growled between clenched teeth. "You did it for yourself! You did it because you feel something for that man! You lied and you cheated and you disobeyed me!!"

Diana flushed with embarrassment but she stood her ground and straightened to her full height. "I *never* lied and I *never* cheated! I won fair and square!"

"But it doesn't change the fact that you disobeyed me, does it?"

Drea stepped up behind Hippolyta and placed a calming hand on the queen's back. "Perhaps we should take this to a more private venue?" she suggested quietly.

"NO! Diana wanted to humiliate me by making a mockery of this competition." She turned her furious eyes back to Diana. "We'll finish this here!" She took a visible breath to calm herself, though her anger never seemed to lessen.

"Now," she said a little more evenly. "You did disobey me didn't you? After I forbade your participation in the games, you hid your identity and competed anyway."

"Yes, I did," Diana admitted. "Because I am the best qualified." Her voice became plaintive, pleading for something she didn't fully understand. "Mother, I proved myself. On your terms. Why can't you let me have the victory I earned??"

"Because it isn't yours, any more than that man is." She yanked the belt and lasso from Drea's hands and slapped it into Orana's hands who accepted them with a smug look. "Orana will take Steve Trevor back to the world of men, and will remain there as the Amazon representative Wonder Woman."

Hippolyta turned her attention back to Diana. "As for you, daughter, you are confined to your rooms in the palace until further notice. No running around the island, no visits to the hospice, no walks in the temple gardens... nothing. You will learn the price of disobedience!"

And that had only been the beginning.

Chapter XII

"Now, you have to realize this is incomplete," Paula said motioning to the reports that rested in front of them. "This is what we have been able to cull from the rebel databanks and Chase's personal diary. The databanks are so old and outdated that the information is spotty at best."

"How does Chase's diary help? She is too young to have any knowledge of what happened to the Princess."

"Personal knowledge, yes. But don't forget who her great-grandfather was."

Drea rubbed her eyes. Already this day seemed years long, and now it seemed like she was betraying a young woman she wanted to believe in and have believe in her. "This seems so wrong."

Nubia sighed. "We need to know, Drea. The princess is unwilling and unable to share, and Chase doesn't trust us enough to do so. And according to Mala, we are running out of time."

Mala's hand covered Drea's and she nodded her agreement. "That is correct. If things play out the way I believe they will, then Diana will leave us when she awakens. It is in our best interests to be aware of what happened to whatever extent that we can manage. And thanks to Chase, we finally have a window into that world and those events."

Drea agreed. "I know. It's just...."

"Why this sudden crisis of faith?" Nubia demanded. Mala answered before Drea could draw breath to speak.

"You've come to care for the young woman." Drea nodded again. "That is a good thing." Mala faced the healer and met her eyes with stark sincerity. "Drea, I know Chase has and will make a difference for Diana and for us. But I believe we can also make a difference to her and the rebellion as well. But we need all the facts we can get before we send our sisters off to war."

"I know, and I'm not trying to be difficult really. Rough day."

Mala chuckled. "You are a master of understatement, my dear." Even Nubia had to laugh at that. "Now, Paula, my dear... what have you found for us?"

Paula was still smiling when she motioned to the reports once more. "It took us a little while to get all this together. Get comfortable. It's going to take a little while to go through it as well."

Chase was cursing herself on any number of levels. She had forgotten the glasses Paula had crafted for her and surprisingly, so had Drea. She was entirely frustrated by the lack because even though her eyesight had not nearly fully returned, the sunlight was still overwhelming in its intensity out here on the water.

Aside from that, the effort she had made putting out to sea had torn open both her leg and shoulder again and they hurt like hellfire and damnation itself. Her stomach, thankfully, just ached, but she was fairly certain from the lack of telltale burning that the stitching still held.

She was happy for the food Drea had packed for their lunch. With carefully rationing, Chase was confident that she could make it last for several days – hopefully long enough to either reach land or recover her eyesight and at least be able to steer herself in the right direction.

Chase laid back and closed her eyes, hopeful that rest would bring better results when she woke up.

"The first information comes from the Nazis because it is the briefest. They went to a lot of trouble to insure that Diana's name was erased, but they didn't count on our ability to ghost the records. Still, what we got is spotty at best and really makes no sense... until you add Chase's diary and the information the rebels have obtained."

"We know the lengths Diana went to leave here, but what happened after that...."

Hippolyta had been livid. Six of her Royal Guards were laying in the hospice with varying degrees of bodily harm done to their persons. Diana had be exceedingly careful not to kill, but she had made her unspoken point to both her mother and the rest of the Nation. The note she had left for her mother had done little to dispel the fury, worry and frustration Hippolyta felt.

***Hippolyta, (it read)

"I know you do not or will not understand my fascination with the man Steve Trevor, but the fact is that something in him calls to my soul. I do not understand it myself, but I cannot ignore the truth. And the truth is I belong by his side... or he by mine.

I could forgive your lack of understanding had it not been for your deliberate effort to humiliate me in front of the entire Nation. Regardless of how you felt, and regardless of the fact that I disobeyed you for the chance to compete, the truth is I won on my own merit. That should have counted for something. But it didn't – all you could do was disgrace me publicly.

Therefore, to remove any sense of embarrassment you may still have, I am leaving Paradise Island. I will make my own way in the world of men. You may consider yourself free from any obligation you may have felt towards me as I no longer regard myself as part of the Amazon Nation or your daughter.

Diana***

Her lack of titular respect and obvious disdain for everything Amazonian caused Hippolyta to feel her first twinges of guilt and remorse over the way she had handled Diana. Not that she believed she hadn't been justified in her anger, and not that she didn't feel vindicated by forbidding Diana's victory. But the truth was she handled the entire situation poorly, and it had cost her not only her daughter on many levels, but also a measure of respect amongst the women of the Nation. Regardless of how they felt about her need to discipline Diana for her actions, none of them agreed with her doing so publicly.

And now it appeared that even if she recovered Diana from the world of men, things would never, ever be the same between them again.

Hippolyta went to the temple for council with Mala and to pray. What she found was that Mala was furious and the goddesses were silent. When she arrived home, disheartened, she found Drea waiting for her and was honestly surprised.

"Why are you here?" she blurted out. Drea's brows jumped into her hairline.

"Um... I live here? Unless you'd rather I live elsewhere," said with only the slightest degree of uncertainty. Drea gave an inaudible sigh when Hippolyta shook her head.

"Not at all, love, but I am pretty unpopular at the moment."

"Well, you should have expected that, Pol. What you did to Diana was uncalled for on several levels and way over the top," Drea offered bluntly.

"So you don't stand behind me in this either?" Hippolyta turned away and gazed unseeingly out the window. Drea came up and deliberately stood beside the queen at the window and turned slightly, enabling her to see Hippolyta's silhouette. "I think what you did was grossly wrong and unfair – I do understand your reasoning... I just happen to disagree with them. Doesn't mean I have or ever would forsake you, Pol. I love you."

Hippolyta turned from the window and shoved the note in her hands. "It would appear that you were right and I was wrong," she said before retreating to the bathing room for a respite. Drea read the letter and left.

"That was such a horrible time," Drea remembered with her head now cradled in her hands. "The only one worse was Diana's abrupt return home."

Nubia nodded her agreement to Drea's statement. "That is the truth. I never expected so much... hatred from the princess. Certainly not directed at her mother and her own people."

"At least now we have an understanding of *why* that hatred exists – above and beyond what happened to her at the games," Paula acknowledged. "If you keep reading, this is where Chase's diary and the writings of Steve Trevor begin to come into play." She swallowed hard. "I will tell you that it gets very ugly and violent as we get further into history. And some of it is quite graphic."

07 September 1942

I still have holes in my memory apparently. The general and Etta both assure me I was MIA for just over a week after we lost radio contact over Bermuda. I remember flying out to stop the Nazi plane and I remember the dog fight, and then... nothing. And there is no good explanation for how I got back to Washington. We've investigated every possible avenue and clue we could find, but no one has seen the mystery woman who it appears rescued me and dropped me off at the hospital for treatment. It's a shame, that – I would have liked to have thanked her, talked to her a little bit. Maybe she'd have an idea about some of the odd dreams I have had since then.

On the other hand, I like my new yeoman, Diana Prince. She's jumped right in to the war effort with enthusiasm, and has made my life in the War Department much easier. My wife Mary treats her like a kid sister.

I will continue to search for the mystery woman. Maybe she can explain where the dreams of Amazons and Paradise came from.

12 October 1942

Something serious is changing in the Nazi party. Hitler still appears to be in power, but there is a new power behind the throne. And rumors make it out to be a woman. We have people investigating. With luck we should have some news within the week.

27 October 1942

Not only has luck deserted us, but we've lost several of our top agents acquiring the top secret information about the new Nazi threat. All we know is that her name is Orana and that she showed up on the scene about four months ago. No other data is available, so we don't know who she is or where she came from or how she has managed to obtain such a position of authority in such a short period of time, especially as a woman. I may end up doing some undercover work behind enemy lines myself very soon.

One odd note – when my yeoman Diana heard the woman's name, I thought she was going to be sick. I have never seen the blood drain from a tanned face so quickly, and she broke into a sweat. From her reaction, I would have guessed that she *knew* this Orana person, but that's not possible... is it?

This will bear some more checking out.

12 November 1942

Mary told me today she's pregnant!!! We're expecting a child!! This is probably about the worst time in history to bring a child into the world, but I won't lie and pretend I'm not excited!!

We're going to have a baby!!

28 November 1942

I am being sent into Nazi Germany on 01 December. It is hoped that I can learn more about this new leader behind Hitler. We have lost a number of good operatives trying to find out more about this woman, and I'll admit to being scared of the same – especially now with a baby coming. But it is my duty, and I will do it to the very best of my abilities.

"This was the last entry written by Steve Trevor. The next record we have is the telegram from the War Department to his wife Mary telling of his death at the hands of the Nazis."

"Do we know what happened?" Mala asked. Paula nodded.

"We've been able to piece it together by culling various sources – some of them the Nazi guards who were there. We don't have all the details, of course, so we've had to make some educated guesses, but it gives us a good idea, and it explains a whole lot more... including how and why Diana returned to us. Please keep in mind that most of this was ghosted from their purged records, so there are some pretty big holes in the actual recorded history."

It took several weeks of undercover travel before Steve and Diana entered Nazi Germany. Diana hadn't been part of the original plan, but she had convinced Steve and his superiors of the need to blend, and being part of a couple made him much less conspicuous. The fact that she was fluent in fourteen distinct languages was also a distinct advantage.

After twenty-two days of traveling, Steve had a full beard and they were both a bit bedraggled and worse for wear. In other words, they looked like every other European citizen, and they used that fact to their advantage.

Getting into the country had been insanely easy, and they slowly, carefully made their way towards Berlin. The closer they got, the stranger the stories and rumors became, though they were only spoken in whispers in the dead of night.

Diana had long wrestled with the sick feeling in her gut, sure of what they would find at the end of their journey and knowing it was her responsibility to get Orana home. Better to have no Wonder Woman at all in the world of men than to have one who had ultimately sold out and chosen the wrong side. And from everything Diana had seen and heard and learned from her relatively brief time in the outside world, the Nazis were definitely the wrong side.

For his part, Steve felt a growing trepidation. There was something about the whole situation that was just a little too familiar for comfort. And Diana was getting more withdrawn the farther into enemy territory they got. Overall, it didn't bode well for their coming activities. Sooner or later, they were going to have to venture into the bowels of the Reichstag and find the truth.

As it happened, it was sooner rather than later, and they didn't have to find their way into it. The way discovered them and they found themselves captured by their enemies. All that was left was for them to face Orana.

"Are you sure the queen can't be here for this?" Nubia asked Drea quietly. She noticed the healer shaking as they read the reports and the clenching and unclenching of her fists wasn't an indication of a calm and stable individual, though privately, Nubia admired Drea's fortitude.

Though the advisor had been involved with Orana at one time, she had long since moved past feeling responsible for Orana's abandonment of her or the Nation. Any guilt for her actions lay at Orana's feet alone, and Nubia had finally been able to put that part of her life into perspective. Her talk with the queen mere days ago had gone greatly towards healing that, and Paula's quiet acceptance of her attentions had set her heart and mind at peace.

But what Drea and ultimately Hippolyta now had to deal with was so far beyond that. Their grief involved a flesh and blood daughter who had obviously suffered untold horrors and it was something they work going to have to work through. To add to that, there was also the matter of Orana to deal with, and since she had apparently maintained her immortality away from Paradise Island, it had become a massive Amazon problem.

But first things first - Drea and Hippolyta needed to know and understand what Diana had seen and suffered, then they would have to try to help her heal from whatever tragedies had befallen her. Nubia was of the firm opinion that Drea and Hippolyta supporting each other through whatever ugliness was coming was the only way any of them would survive it. The look on Drea's face before she spoke confirmed she heartily agreed with Nubia.

"I don't want Diana left alone, Nubia."

The dark woman nodded. "I'll go sit with her. I know I'm not her mother, and certainly not the first choice for a companion, but I think Hippolyta needs to be here – for both of you. At least with Mala and Paula here, there will be some support for you both."

Drea turned and looked at Nubia directly, surprised by the offer from someone who had been her greatest antagonist for most of their twenty-six hundred plus years of living side by side. She wondered what had wrought the change, finding only stark sincerity in the black eyes facing her.

"Thank you, Nubia. I appreciate the offer, but...."

"Drea," Mala cut in. "Let Rina sit with the princess for now, and let's go over this together. It will be easier if we don't have to do it more than once, and you deserve the support of your sisters... you both do."

Strangely, it was Paula who objected. "Respectfully, I disagree. These are hard, ugly facts and the reality of them may be overwhelming for the queen. It might be better to let Drea hear them alone. Then she can decide whether or not and what to share with the queen."

It was Drea who addressed this statement as it threw the entire council into a state of shock. Never before had Paula taken such an aggressive stance, and never, ever had anyone ever suggested the queen needed dissimilation to handle any information relevant to the Nation – even if it directly involved her daughter. However, Drea was the first to recover her senses and she thought she knew, or she hoped she did anyway, what Paula was getting at. It wouldn't be pretty if she guessed wrong.

Drea rose from her seat slowly, making her way to Paula's seat and kneeling at her side. She covered the scientist's hands, then gently Drea cleared her throat and met Paula's eyes.

"You love the queen, don't you Paula? She has always been kind to you... treated you as a member of her family." Paula nodded slowly, her expression a mix of dread, confusion and pain. "And Diana, she was always a good friend, someone who loved and appreciated science like you did." Another nod. "And you feel like you let them down by not knowing what happened to Diana, or what Orana had become. And you want to protect them both now that you can, don't you?"

Paula's eyes dropped and she found her chin caught in Drea's firm, gentle grip. The eyes that met here were full of compassion and understanding. She nodded and bit her lip nervously. Drea gave her a small smile.

"Oh, Paula... my friend, you cannot protect the ones you love by keeping secrets. This whole situation is proof of that. The queen has to know the truth, all of it, no matter how much it hurts her. It is not going to go away or get easier just because we don't want to see her or Diana hurt anymore. And it may be that knowing will help heal the wounds that have been festering for a hundred years."

"Drea, it's brutal. What happened to Diana was horrible. But if you think the queen should hear then blunt truth...."

"I think she needs to, Paula. If it will make you more comfortable for me to tell her privately, I will do that, but she's still going to need to hear it all."

"No. If we are going to give the queen the entire story, then Mala and Nubia are right. Let us be here to support you both."

Drea squeezed Paula's hands. "Thank you for caring so much, Paula. And I want you to know something... to believe it with all your heart. What happened was not your fault in any way. You couldn't know what would happen – none of us could have guessed."

Paula smiled wryly. "My head knows that. I just...."

"You just have a good heart," Hippolyta cut in from the doorway. "I consider myself lucky to be surrounded by such wonderful, caring women." She crossed the room and squeezed Paula's shoulders before extending her hand to Drea. "Thank you, Paula." Hippolyta gave her a shaky smile. "Thank you for caring so much." She turned to Drea. "And thank you, love," cupping the healer's cheek. "Thank you for doing the right thing, even if you'd rather protect me."

Hippolyta looked around the room at her friends before taking a seat at the table. "Come," she commanded. "Let's get this done."

Chapter XIII

"Shep, it's only been four days. We can't stop looking yet!"

"Hans! Will you sit down and stop whining?? You are giving me a headache and if you don't get a grip on yourself I'm gonna smack you into next week just to get a little peace!" Hans glared at him, and Shep returned it measure for measure until Hans flopped into the chair across from him.

"Now, I am well aware of how long we have had planes searching. I am also aware of Chase's approximate location when she went down, and I am further aware of just how big the Atlantic Ocean is. We will give it another three days, and then I'm gonna have to pull the plug on this rescue."

"You can't...."

"Goddamn it, Hans! You think I *want* to do this? Huh? You think I like having this laid in my lap, knowing that I'm condemning Chase to die if she hasn't already?? You think I want to be responsible for all the shit that Chase takes care of around this joint???"

Shep was screaming by this point and Hans understood just how this was tearing Shep... and all of them... to pieces. It was amazing to realize just how true his words to Chase had become. She really was the glue that held them all together and without her....

Hans stood and leaned over the desk. Shep raked his hands through his hair and looked up into eyes he expected to be antagonistic and found instead sympathy and understanding. "She's my best friend, Hans."

"I know, Shep. She's mine too. I'm not sure what we'll do without her."

"We're gonna hope we don't have to find out. We still have three days." Shep rubbed his eyes. "We have to believe we'll find her."

Chase blinked. It was dark, or at least she hoped it was. The heat and the steady motion of the boat had coupled with her over-abused and still healing body in lulling her into sleep. She awoke feeling more refreshed, more sunburned and very thirsty. She was also more than a little disoriented and what felt like totally blind.

She felt around on the bottom of the boat, searching for the food and water she'd brought with her. Chase uncapped the water and took two long swallows, knowing she had to drink sparingly. Then she felt her way through the food, snagging a slice of bread and some cheese. Not enough to satisfy her hunger, but at least enough to slack it for now.

She leaned back, enjoying the taste of the food and the rhythmic motion of the waves as she drifted in the direction the wind blew it. She just hoped it was blowing her towards land. She was more than a little anxious to return to the base camp and get back to the rebellion.

Chase studied that thought for a long moment. Paradise Island had been something new and unexpected, and given other circumstances, she could have been happy living there. But there were too many factors against that possibility... not the least of which were the Amazons.

They were something of a conundrum to Chase. The few women she had encountered on the island had been kind and helpful – women she would have been proud to have called friend. Especially Drea – the healer, despite her youth, reminded Chase so much of her mother, and Chase couldn't find it in her heart to think poorly of someone who had shown her so much kindness.

But on the flip side, she knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that the woman she'd encountered in Germany was an Amazon – the same Amazon who'd tortured and killed her great-grandfather – Steve Trevor. Something didn't add up.

Her mind shied away from that experience and she turned her attention back to Paradise Island. Chase let her mind review what she knew about the area she had gone down in and she knew there was nothing listed on any chart she'd seen. And she knew them all by heart.

So where had Paradise Island come from and how had the Amazons managed to stay hidden? Chase chewed her food slowly as the rote motion helped her to focus her thoughts. She wished she could have stayed and learned more about their culture, but knowing what she did, staying had become an unthinkable option.

Her head started to hurt as her thoughts began to trail one another in rapid succession, and she closed her eyes and gave herself up to the healing oblivion of sleep.

It was daylight when Chase opened her eyes again, and she was devoutly thankful for the ability to see light again. Not only could she see light, but she could sort of almost see blue sky, she thought. She squinted, but that didn't seem to help – it only made things fuzzy. So she closed them again, and then blinked them open slowly.

This time she smiled – she did see blue sky. She inched up slowly, not wanting to lose the sight she had with any sudden movements. She wasn't sure where her logic came from, but she felt comfortable with it regardless.

Chase eased into a sitting position, and blinked again as she took in her surroundings. There wasn't much for her to see, save water and sky, a few clouds and the sun. But they were all a welcome sight after her blindness and she smiled. With a little luck, she'd have a direction soon, and would be steering her way home.

She reached for the water jug, downing a goodly portion to slake her overnight thirst while she took a look around the boat. Everything was still less than clear, but at least she could distinguish shapes and forms now. It certainly beat trying to sail completely blind.

The ship was good-sized, though not large, and as she walked slowly around the masts and riggings, Chase realized that is was made to accommodate a single sailor. The wood was tight and well-sanded and below decks was a tiny cabin, complete with miniature head. Chase stroked her chin while she contemplated the possibilities, then decided to take advantage of the opportunity.

With her morning ablutions completed, Chase made her way back above deck, blinking rapidly in the bright sunlight. Then she snagged an apple from the basket and started to determine how to get home.

By mid-afternoon, Chase was equal parts content and frustrated. Her content stemmed from the fact that she had determined that she was indeed headed the right direction. Her frustration was born on the truth that her progress was slower than she would have liked and worse, there was, if her squinting eyes could be trusted, quite the storm brewing to her east.

The wind it was likely to bring would be well appreciated if it blew her closer to land, especially if that land was anywhere close to home. But knowing her recent luck, the wind would blow her in circles and the rain would sink her. However, Chase was nothing if not determined, and she hadn't been the leader of the rebellion as long as she had without learning how to survive.

On the far horizon, she saw what she thought... what she *hoped* was a bit of land. It wasn't in the direction she actually needed to go, but any port in a storm, right? With any luck at all, she could at least restock her meager supplies, and with real luck, it was inhabited and the natives would have a short-wave radio that she could use to contact Shep or Hans and let them know where she was.

She looked back at the ever-increasing black line and realized it was going to be a race to get to the hoped-for land in the distance.

The first rumble of thunder was nit unexpected, but it was unwelcome as it was immediately followed by a deluge of water. Chase was already exhausted by her efforts to stay ahead of the storm, and when she knew her efforts were futile, she'd dropped the sails and done her best to steer along the edges. Unfortunately, she'd banged her thigh twice, and ripped the stitches in her shoulder trying to haul in the mainsail.

So now she was bleeding somewhat profusely from both spots and now with the pouring rain, her eyesight was back to nil again. Still, she held on to the rudder, doing her damnedest to tack through the worst of the storm, hoping to be alive on the far side.

She was doing quite well, considering her circumstances when she was blindsided by a swamping wave that washed over the starboard side of the boat. That alone wouldn't have been so bad had the following wave picked the little craft up and dropped it like a ton of bricks. The resulting jar left Chase scrambling for a hold.

She managed to find one on the rudder again, though it was short-lived. Her damaged shoulder left her with little strength to maintain her grip as the storm grew exponentially worse.

A bump underneath her brought her travels to a grinding halt, and she almost breathed a sigh of relief to be relatively still while the storm continued to surge around her. Chase brushed the rain and hair out of her face and took a deep breath. She figured she had hit a sand bar, and there wasn't much she could do about it until the storm either blew itself out or pushed her off and back into the churning sea. Frankly, she was glad to be still for a moment.

It was seconds too late that she understood her stillness made her a primary target for whatever deity appeared to have it in for her. She felt the crackle of electricity travel from the tips of her toes to the ends of her hair before she realized she hadn't been struck directly. Only the crack of the wood alerted her to the danger as the mast split in two and fell.

There were swirling colors and bright lights and melodic sounds in her awareness, but nothing she could capture or understand. Chase shifted trying to follow where they beckoned her, but the movement caused pain and confusion to rip through her being without mercy and she lost the trail. She gave herself back up to merciful blackness once more.

The voices were vague and fuzzy and strangely, they reminded Chase of so many angry bees pursuing one another in a fight over a prized pot of honey. She blinked, glad she still had her fuzzy vision and not the darkness she'd half-expected. Then a wash of pain swept through her head and she clutched it, moaning as she curled into a small ball. The buzzing ceased and a warm hand landed on her back, rubbing soothing circles. Chase felt herself relax with the touch, and gradually, the pain began to recede.

"Better?" a soft voice asked.

"Mmm," was the best Chase could manage, but the voice seemed to understand. Chase heard the smile she couldn't see with her eyes still closed.

"My name is Aaron," the man continued quietly. "My son and I found you stranded on the sandbar when the storm was over and brought you to our home. We've been caring for you since then. You gave us quite a scare."

"Than' you," she mumbled. She accepted the liquid he offered knowing she wasn't in a position to do anything else. Once more she was dependent on others for her care, and she sighed in sheer frustration before easing her head back down on its pillow. "Sorry... where? Ho' lon'?"

"You reached Bermuda, and you're lucky we found you – that's a fifty/fifty proposition on this island. You've been here since the day before yesterday, and spent most of the day yesterday with a high fever. We were a little concerned," downplaying the hours his family had spent by her bedside doing everything they could to break her fever. "We, um... we contacted your friends as soon as we knew who you were. They've been looking for you for nearly a week."

Chase slowly sat up as the pounding in her head eased off and Aaron's words penetrated her thoughts. "Than...." She cleared her throat and tried again. "Thank you, Aaron. What happened to the boat I was on?"

"We scuttled it... made it look like the storm had destroyed it, which was pretty close to being true."

Chase nodded. It was a shame, but it was also necessary. She certainly didn't want people getting hurt or worse for helping her. And here on Bermuda, as Aaron had indicated, helping a member of the rebellion, especially her, was a considerable risk. There were plenty of Nazi spies who'd give their eyeteeth to get their hands on her again. She shuddered in memory and forced her attention back to her current situation. First things first.

She slipped from beneath the sheets, glad that Aaron or whomever had taken the time to preserve her modesty with a bit of cloth which, come to think of it, covered more than most hospital gowns she'd seen.

"Aaron, I need my clothes, then I need to contact my friends and get off the island as quickly as possible. I appreciate all you've done for me, but I can't continue to put you in danger with my presence in your home." She stood and swayed on her feet. Aaron remained close by, but he didn't reach out to help knowing she had to do this on her own.

It took a few moments, much longer than Chase was happy with, but eventually her equilibrium returned. "This just has not been a good week," she muttered to herself, deliberately setting aside the good memories she had of Paradise Island. Instead she focused on the here and now.

"I'd have to agree," Aaron said, "having seen the damage the storm did to you and your boat. "My wife will bring your clothes and I will go fetch your friend." Then he left before Chase could question his words.

Aaron's wife was a round, little woman who had numerous laugh lines despite the wariness the war had put there. As Chase listened to her, she realized that the Anna found happiness and pleasure in the simplest things and she didn't allow the Nazis or anyone else to rob her of that joy. Anna was very careful as she helped Chase dress, nor wanting to rip the stitches she had put in the younger woman's body. She and Aaron knew from the boat and the care her body had already apparently received that someone else had cared for her also, but it wasn't their business, so they didn't ask questions. In war, one learned to pick and choose, knowing any information they held could be turned against them. What they didn't know or ask questions about couldn't come back to bite them or the rebellion in the ass, so they were content to remain ignorant.

Chase was breathing heavily by the time she finished dressing and she cursed her weak, injured body. She didn't have time for this, and neither did the rebellion. As it was, she was unsure if they would be able to use the information that had cost her so dearly. And all she wanted to do was crawl back in that semi-comfortable bed and go back to sleep until she felt better. That didn't appear to be an option currently so she settled for sitting when Anna hand on her well shoulder urged her to do so.

"It will take Aaron a little while to contact your friend. Drink this," handing Chase a cup, "then get a little rest. The rebellion will wait another hour or so, and I will wake you when Aaron returns."

Finally, Chase understood. "Wait, you mean someone actually came here to get me? Are they insane? I'm not worth more than the rest."

"Yes, you are, Chase." When Anna called her by name, Chase met the other woman's eyes. Anna nodded. "Even here we know of Annabelle Chaser and the hero she is to the rebellion. Don't discount your influence, Chase."

Chase shrugged. "I'll try, but I'm sorta used to being one of many."

Anna smiled and patted her knee. "You may be one of many, but you are a leader among those many. You may not have asked for it, but that's the way things are. Now rest," Anna chided before Chase could say anything more. "Responsibility will return to you quickly enough."

Chase closed her eyes, glad to give herself up to the oblivion of sleep if only for a little while.

"You're sure she's all right?" Shep asked as he gazed at Chase's relaxed features. She was entirely too pale and much thinner than he remembered. Something in the picture she presented didn't make sense to her being on the open water for the better part of a week, but he was so glad to have her found and alive that he put his questions aside. For now they were far less important than the fact that Chase had not only returned, but she still had the cache of papers she'd risked so much to retrieve.

"She's exhausted," Aaron answered honestly. "And she lost quite a bit of blood. The storm tore open several old wounds. She could use a week's worth of sleep to help her recover. Otherwise?" He shrugged his shoulders eloquently.

"Well, I'll see what I can do once I get her home, though getting her to slow down there is nigh unto impossible. Chase is like a whirlwind." He smiled as he said it and looked up to meet their matching smiles. "I can't begin to thank you...."

Both Aaron and Anna held up hands to keep Shep from saying anything more. "We were glad to be able to have been the ones to have found her. Sometimes we feel completely out of the loop out here. It's nice to be able to contribute to the effort, though this wouldn't have been our first choice."

Shep nodded. "Mine either, but I'm glad you were all in the right place at the right time," nodding to their son Adam who was going to help them get back to the hidden airfield. "Things would have gone down hard for Chase if she'd fallen into Nazi hands again."

Three sets of eyes widened at his words and Aaron said questioningly, "She was a prisoner of war and lived to tell?"

Shep nodded, his eyes hard with memories. "Yes," he answered briskly, but did not elaborate. "Can ya'll help me get her awake? We need to get going and she's going to have to walk on her own til we get to the plane. Then I can tuck her in to sleep on the flight home."

"Not the way you fly," Chase mumbled, though the smile in her voice was obvious. "You get me to the plane and *I'll* fly us home."

"Uh uh," Shep teased. "I know what happened that last time." Chase glared at him.

"Hey! I won, ya know!" Shep smiled and brushed her sleep-tangled hair back from her face.

"I know, and I can't wait to hear about it, but it's gonna have to wait til we get home. This is a bad place for us to be right now. I think this is like the primo Nazi vacation spot and if they get a look at you...."

"We're all dead meat. Gotcha. Help me up."

Shep extended an arm and helped Chase to stand and get her balance before her released her. She turned to Anna and Aaron. "Thank you both. I know it doesn't sound like much, but I really appreciate the help and the risk you took. Thank you."

They both accepted her gratitude, knowing she needed to say it. Aaron took her hand in a string clasp and Anna kissed her cheek. Then Chase and Shep snuck out the back with Adam in the lead. Then Anna and Aaron started erasing any evidence of Chase's presence in their home... just in case.

Chapter XIV

It was a fairly quick process to bring the queen up to speed on what they had already learned about Diana's foray into the world of men a century before. There was no need for discussion between them on the second round of readings. It sickened the queen to realize what her daughter had suffered through already, knowing far worse was yet to come.

She'd felt Paula's upset when the scientist had asked for a meeting of the council, and she'd felt the dread grow as they continued to meet after several hours with no break. She'd talked to Diana and saw no response, and reliving the first of their bad history coupled with the fact that she had a good idea just exactly what was going on in that council meeting made Hippolyta drained and antsy.

When it appeared that Diana was going to remain unconscious for at least a little while longer, Hippolyta called Rina in and asked her to sit with the princess, then she went to find the council. She was touched by their concern and only a little annoyed that they felt she needed to be protected. Given her actions where her daughter was concerned, though, she couldn't blame them for looking out for Diana, even if that meant protecting her as well.

Now Hippolyta blew out a breath and took a drink of water before looking up at the faces that were watching hers. "All right, Paula... let's proceed. We need to know... *I* need to know the worst. Then maybe I can figure out what the Hades to do to fix this."

Hippolyta raked her hands through her in frustration. Drea reached over and took Hippolyta's hands in her own, chafing them lightly until the queen's breathing settled and evened out. Hippolyta held Drea's eyes with her own until she felt a sense of balance return.

"I beg pardon, ladies. Paula, please continue."

The scientist swallowed and nodded. "We had left off right before Diana and Steve Trevor were captured by the Nazis. This is the most piecemeal section, as we had to cull the information from the Nazi's purged files and the few entries we could find in the rebels' database. And those reports are all second and third hand from the people who tried rescued Steve Trevor and Diana."

The ease with which they were captured coming into Berlin made them acutely aware of a traitor in their midst, though they never knew exactly who it was. In the end, it didn't matter, as the knowledge couldn't change the outcome of what happened.

Diana woke with a splitting headache, trussed to the wall spread-eagle and naked. Steve was lashed to what appeared to be an ancient altar, anchored by chains driven deep in the stone, equally spread-eagle and naked.

Time was non-existent and the darkness only enhanced the feeling of displacement. They were able to converse, barely, as Steve was wheezing from broken ribs and Diana had to talk with a clenched, broken jaw and busted lips.

Finally, the door opened and not surprisingly, Orana walked into the room. Diana knew who she was before the light switch was even flipped – there was an Amazon awareness that Diana recognized, skewed as it was.

Orana walked around Steve, sparing him a cursory glance before slamming him into unconsciousness. Then she made her way to stand in front of Diana. She made a thorough perusal of the woman she had once called best friend as she removed the cape that covered her from neck to knees, revealing sharp black trousers, pressed white shirt with shiny silver lightning bolts and crisp swastika armband.

On her waist were the belt of strength and the lasso of truth.

Diana clenched her jaw tighter, focusing on the pain to keep the betrayal she felt out of her expression. But her eyes told a story that would never cross her lips.

"Well, well, Princess," Orana began without so much as a sneer in her voice. She actually managed to convey concern, and had Diana not been able to see her eyes, she might have almost believed her. "Fancy meeting you here. I never expected to be visited by an Amazon... especially not you. Tell me, does your mother know you're here, or did you disobey her yet again?"

Diana kept her focus straight ahead, refusing to give Orana the satisfaction of knowing how those words burned.

Now Orana smirked. "I figure you had to have disobeyed her, given that you're here with *that man*. Tell me, Di... is he really so great in the sack that you'd give up everything to be with him? I mean, come on... it's not like you'd have lacked for sexual partners on Paradise Island if you'd given any Amazon an indication their attentions might be welcomed." Now her voice was bitter.

"What do you want, Orana?" Diana finally broke her silence, not justifying the other Amazon's petty accusations with an answer.

Orana laughed cruelly. "I have what I want, Diana. They don't know it yet, but I am going to be the leader of the Nazi party. Adolf has some... interesting... ideas, and I know how to make them work. I can correct the mistakes they have already made, and I will bring order to the world with them. And then, I will rule the world."

"You don't think they might object?"

"They won't be in a position to."

Diana blinked. "You've betrayed everything we stand for, betrayed your oath as an Amazon...."

Orana snorted. "And you haven't? Give me a break, Diana. Your presence here means you did what you wanted despite the rules... again... just like your competing in the games was what you wanted to do. The only reason you care about me breaking the rules is because I have something you don't."

She caressed the belt and ran her fingers through the lasso. "These have made me invincible, Di, and nothing and no one is going to make me second best ever again." Orana looked at Diana again, and this time her hatred and jealously shown clearly from her mad, brown eyes. "The only thing left for me to decide is what to do with you both. Trevor will be executed for the spy that he is, but you... I have something special in mind for you. Imagine what Hippolyta will do when you return home and finds out you've been screwing a man." She clucked her tongue in mock sympathy. "Maybe I should cut his dick off first – seems like a fitting punishment for deflowering the Amazon Princess."

"I haven't," Diana bit off. "Steve is happily married with a baby on the way. He is merely my boss and my friend."

Orana laughed again. "Ooo... You take orders from him... from a man? Oh, Diana, how far you have fallen," shaking her head. "Why are you following him around like some sort of love-sick puppy then?"

The conversation had suddenly taken an intensely personal turn and Diana clamped her jaw painfully shut on the words she wanted to allow to spill out. Orana no longer had the right to know her thoughts and feelings... especially this.

Without warning, a whip lashed out and bit into the skin of her belly, nearly causing Diana to cry out. She bit her lip to keep from making a sound. A second lash criss-crossed the first and Diana felt blood ooze from the welts and trickle down her skin. The third lash brought taunting.

"Come, Diana... I can't believe you are into the whole pain thing. You're really not the type. Answer my question."

Silence was its own statement, and Orana continued to punish her until Diana's belly was raw and bleeding, yet the princess never uttered a sound. She slammed a fist into Diana's ribs in frustration, listening in satisfaction for the cracking sound she knew would follow. Air whoosed out from between the princess' lips, but she gave Orana no quarter and took several more hits to her body before Orana's eye widened in sudden understanding.

"You think he is your soulmate, don't you? You genuinely believe in that load of bull Mala sold you as a child, don't you?" Orana shook her head in sympathy. "Oh, Di... you know, I almost feel sorry for you. You'd think after twenty-six hundred years you'd have caught a clue to just how bogus that whole idea was. Honestly, don't you think if it was really possible, someone would have found it by now? Half of a whole? Give me a break. There is no such thing."

Diana never said a word, but Orana could easily read the truth in her eyes, and suddenly she felt an odd mix of disgust, sadness and pity. She looked at the princess and shook her head, knowing there was only one way to win – only one way to break Diana's spirit.

Orana slapped Steve's face hard – once, twice... until the third time he came to with a moan. His eyelids blinked rapidly as he tried to adjust to the harsh light, but Orana never gave him the chance as she grasped his chin and pulled his face towards hers.

"Hello, Steve," she greeted smoothly. "Long time, no see."

He squinted at her, trying to reconcile her familiarity with a vague impression of a memory, but nothing made sense.

She grinned at him and the sight made a chill skitter up Steve's spin unpleasantly. "Don't try to figure it out, Major. You wouldn't remember me, but I most certainly remember you. You were my ticket to freedom, and know you're going to be my ticket to power... the great American hero captured, interrogated and executed by a woman. And don't worry – I'm going to record everything for posterity so you'll be remembered for the traitor you are."

Her questions started off easily, as did her punishments for non-cooperation – a slap on the face, a punch to his body. Then it got harder.

Orana started by breaking his toes, then graduated to his feet and legs, taking special care with his kneecaps. Diana pleaded with Orana, but the sound did nothing but egg her on to do worse. By the time she started cutting off his third finger, Steve Trevor was screaming every secret he'd ever been entrusted with – from the fact that little Peggy kissed all the boys in kindergarten to the latest bomber weapon the War Department was developing.

Diana had long since stopped speaking, recognizing that Orana reveled in the sound, and Orana didn't know whether to be pleased with the fact that she'd driven the princess deep into herself or angry because she was no longer playing the game.

"Watch, Diana. Watch as I bring to an end your belief in soulmates!" Steve Trevor had lost consciousness moments before, though it was impossible to tell if it was due to pain or blood loss. Still, when Orana brought the knife up and plunged it into his stomach, he screamed. Diana kept her mind tucked away inside itself, unwilling to hear the tortured sound any longer, and unable to watch as his entrails spilled to the floor.

Orana nodded in satisfaction when his chest stopped moving and she moved to one side of the chamber, stripping of her now blood-encrusted clothes. She stepped into the shower that resided in a recessed corner of the room, then retrieved her cloak and covered herself. She snatched up the lasso and belt and left without saying another word to Diana.

Eventually, a young corporal came in, ignoring both the dead man on the altar and the barely-alive woman who still hung from the walls. He picked up the blood-soaked clothing and walked out of the room again.

Throughout the night Diana hung there, aware of the dead friend who shared the room with her. She had lived with an odd aching in her soul from the early days of her childhood, and when she'd first seen Steve Trevor, she'd gotten her first glimpse of possibilities of completion. Now, there was an emptiness in her soul, but it remained the same as it had been when she'd discovered Steve Trevor to be a happily married man... different from the soul loneliness she'd always been aware of, but less than a breaking of soulmates. Now, she expected to feel the same emptiness until time stopped. She been given her opportunity in this lifetime, and as an immortal, she didn't expect to get another chance.

Diana was only aware of the passage of time because of movement she could hear in the corridor as the guards made their rounds. Finally, the door opened and Orana stood in it again, dressed once more like the Nazi she had so obviously become.

She signaled two rather dapper young men forward, and they moved quickly to remove Diana from the wall. They weren't particularly careful and she dropped to the floor, scraping her knees and hitting her head. She lay there dazed, and could just make out Orana's words.

"Take the body and burn it. I have taped his confession and it will be played at tonight's rally."

"What of her?"

"I have special plans for her, don't you worry. She will never bother us again."

The men nodded and saluted, then retreated from the room to find something to get what remained of Steve Trevor down to the incinerator. Orana lifted Diana up and tossed her over her shoulder, hearing the bones grind together. She smiled grimly and moved out into a secret hallway, headed for her invisible plane.

It was a relatively short trip given the speed she was able to achieve and within a few hours, she was settling down on the beach. Orana had taken care to remove all traces of her Nazi attire and had resumed her Wonder Woman costume, and she was greeted warmly by the Nation... until Hippolyta got a look at her daughter.

"Diana?! Orana, what happened?" Hippolyta sighed and signaled for the healers to come forward, and Drea did so with tears in her eyes. She had only held off because she hoped the queen would show more compassion, but she knew Hippolyta was still dreadfully upset with the princess for leaving. Apparently forgiveness was still a little ways off.

Orana shook her head. "I found her this way, my queen. I suspect the enemy was involved. I believe Diana was in league with them and that trust was betrayed." Truth, mostly, even though it was Orana's own twisted version of the events which had occurred.

"Orana," the queen asked with a second look at her daughter's condition, flinching at the obvious damage that had been done. "Can you stay a while? Tell us of the world of men?"

The Amazon shook her head regretfully. "I'm afraid not, my queen. I risked a lot to come here and bring Diana home. I've got to get back before I am missed and my cover gets blown. There's a lot at stake."

Hippolyta pursed her lips and nodded. "I understand. Go back with my blessing then, and do the Nation proud. We are most pleased to have you representing us in the world of men."

Orana accepted the compliment with a graceful nod of her head. "Thank you, my queen," she said as she stepped back into the plane. "I will do my best, and I will return home when I can." Then she shut the door and taxied down the beach, disappearing into the horizon before Hippolyta turned her steps to the palace and her increasingly wayward daughter.

"Oh, Diana, my child... what have you done? What have I done to you?"

Before Paula could finish reading, Hippolyta had risen from her chair and rushed into the bathing room. The sounds of her retching could be plainly heard and as her own memories of that time flooded back, the clenching in her guts increased exponentially. How cold... how heartless... the gods should damn me to Tartarus....

The cold floor was chilly against her clammy skin and it took her a moment to feel the warmth of Drea's hand stroking her back. Hippolyta curled into her lover's body, greedily accepting the comfort she offered.

"Oh gods, Drea... how could I...? How could I have been so cold and heartless? How could I have treated my only child that way? No wonder she hates me."

"You can't worry about your mistakes, Pol, except for looking for ways to make amends. We can't change what happened then, but we can change how we act now."

"Oh Drea... I don't think Diana will let me make amends, not knowing what we know now. Given my anger and callous behavior...."

"My queen, do you remember what you said to me just the other day?" Nubia cut in from the doorway. "About letting go of the past and moving into the future with confidence and optimism?"

Hippolyta almost smiled. "Different circumstances, Nubia, though I appreciate the sentiment."

Nubia shook her head and pushed off the wall, kneeling beside the queen and the healer. "The circumstances don't change the truth if the words. You and Diana are going to have to both face the past and overcome it at some point. But for you to recover any sort of relationship with one another, you're going to have to let go of it and forgive yourselves and one another. There's plenty of responsibility to go around, and we bear some as well. But for healing to take place, we are going to have to move beyond the guilt."

Silence reigned for a few moments before Hippolyta looked up from her place on Drea's lap. "When did you get so smart, Nubia?"

The dark advisor laughed. "I've always been quite brilliant," Nubia replied snootily, but with a distinct twinkle in her eyes. "It's nice to finally have it noticed," allowing a bright smile to cross her lips.

Hippolyta chuckled, feeling an irrational lightening of spirit accompany the action. "You are incorrigible, my friend," the queen commended. Drea gave her a grateful smile Hippolyta could not see. Nubia just looked inordinately pleased with herself.

"Thank you, my queen," Nubia replied with a sardonic grin. "With your recognition of that little facet of my personality, I have finally achieved my lifelong goal. Now what am I going to do with myself?"

Hippolyta extended a hand. "Help me get up off this cold floor," she answered regally.

Nubia stood and accepted the hand, then Drea gently eased Hippolyta into a sitting position so she and
Nubia could help the queen back to her feet. Once she was safely standing, Nubia went back into the council room and left the two partners alone. Drea turned and gently bathed Hippolyta's face, then offered her some water to rinse her mouth out and some mint to settle her stomach.

"Come. Let's go back into chambers and see what else Paula has for us." Drea simply nodded her agreement and took Hippolyta's arm in her own so they could walk together.

"My apologies for the delay, ladies," Hippolyta said as they crossed back into the room. She was still pale and shaky, but now she felt an urgency to finish their meeting and get back to her daughter. "Paula, please... continue."

The scientist nodded solemnly. "The next bit is about Chase and it is much more thorough as we were able to access both her diary and rather complete Nazi records. They didn't feel the need to erase her as I suspect they never thought she would ever be brought to our attention like she has. I will warn you that this is very similar to what you have already heard. Time has not made Orana a kinder, gentler dictator."

She picked up her pad and opened her mouth to resume reading, when a member of the Royal Guard rushed into the room.

"My queen," the young woman said, bowing. Hippolyta gestured for her to continue. "Forgive the intrusion, but the young woman Chase has disappeared."

Drea shook her head. "No she hasn't, Erilani. She is down on the beach outside the hospice. I took her out for a bit of sun and was called back to attend the princess. She should still be there."

Erilani's blonde head shook rapidly. "That's just it, Drea. She's not. And one of the boats has gone missing."

Before anyone could move, Rina rushed into the room. "My queen... It's Diana. We have a problem."

Chapter XV

It was quite the procession that made its way towards the hospice – the queen, Drea, Mala, Nubia, Paula, Rina and the guard Erilani. When they reached Diana's room, Erilani stopped and took up a post beside the door, while the rest seemed intent on getting into the princess' room. Drea halted the procession before they could cross the threshold.

"I want everyone except for Rina to wait here until I have an idea of what's going on." She turned to Hippolyta and spoke for her ears only. "I'm sorry, Pol... I need to know what is going on first."

Hippolyta smiled and cupped Drea's cheek gently. "I know I haven't acted like it in a very long time, beloved, but she is your daughter too, and you have only ever had her best interests at heart. You go do what you need to do, and I will see what I can do about finding our friend Chase. There is still much to this puzzle we need to understand if we are to act."

Drea took Hippolyta's hand in her on and kissed it, then turned and motioned Rina into the room with her. The rest looked to Hippolyta for direction. She cleared her throat.

"Erilani?" The Guard moved from her post and knelt in front of the queen. Hippolyta smiled and motioned the woman to her feet. "Rise, Erilani and tell me what you know of our young guest's departure."

The room was dark when Drea and Rina crossed the threshold. Only Diana's pale eyes reflected glints of the moonlight that streamed in through the open window.

"Diana?" Drea spoke quietly. She was at a loss to understand what the problem was immediately. It appeared as though she had recovered her consciousness, and at first glance there didn't seem to be any sort of medical issue. The healer turned towards Rina with a look of confusion.

"She's not responding, Drea. She didn't even react to my turning the lights on or off. I wasn't sure what to make of it... especially when she started mumbling."

"What did she say?" the healer asked as she turned the lights up to half-power. Diana blinked and turned her eyes towards Drea, carefully watching her each and every move, but otherwise initiating no contact, verbal or tactile.

"'Not even in death'... just kept repeating it over and over. What was even stranger...."

"Yes?" when the silence continued too long.

"Well, I'm not sure, but I think she expected to find Hippolyta beside her when she woke. She grabbed at me, then pushed me away when she saw who I was, and there was anger and disappointment in her face. Then she kind of just went internal and started muttering."

Drea nodded. "I want you to stay in the room for now, but remain out of sight. I'm going to try to get through to her."

Rina gave her a concerned look then agreed, and moved over to the small enclosure where they kept supplies and medicines for the room. Drea waited until she was hidden from view before approaching the bed. Diana's eyes tracked her progress, and held the healer's eyes when Drea got close. She motioned to the bed.

"May I sit down?"

Diana waited a beat before nodding briskly. Drea took a seat and treated Diana to a long perusal. Then she reached up and brushed the hair away from Diana's forehead, gratified beyond measure when the princess did not flinch away from her touch. She took a chance and let her hand cover one of Diana's and looked her squarely in the eye.

"You had us terribly worried, especially your mother and me. Are you all right?"

The shields went up in the blue eyes at the mention of Hippolyta, and Drea could have cried at the loss she felt at the action. The healer moved her hand to cup Diana's cheek.

"Talk to me, baby girl."

She caught the flash before it disappeared behind the shuttered expression, and it gave Drea hope. Then Diana spoke in a bare whisper.

"Where is she?"

"Where is who, Diana? Your mother? I asked her to wa...." stopping when the dark head shook.

"Where is she?" came the repeated whisper and Drea gazed back at the princess confused.

"Where is who, sweet girl? I don't know who you mean."

Surprisingly, blue eyes filled with tears and rolled silently down Diana's cheeks. She turned her head away to keep Drea from seeing them, but it didn't work. Drea knew better than to make a big deal of it, however and continued to speak.

"Let me check you over very carefully, and if everything is in order, maybe we can get you back to your rooms tonight. I think you'll be more comfortable there, and then maybe we can figure things out. All right?"

Diana nodded and tried to surreptitiously wipe her eyes, but Drea managed to give the illusion of completely ignoring them. That was something of a feat as she hadn't seen Diana cry in far longer than she cared to think about. Knowing at least part of what had happened to Diana when she was in the world of men made her heart ache... especially if when there was a good possibility that what they didn't know about was much worse. And Drea remembered all too well the terrible shape the princess had been in when she had been returned to them by Orana all those years ago.

Satisfied that whatever physical damage had been done to Diana had passed, Drea brought her a cup of cool water. Diana accepted the cup with alacrity and drained it, nodding her thanks as she handed it back. Then she sat up and swung her long legs over the side of the bed and stood.

Drea stood beside her, in case Diana needed help, but the princess adopted her most stoic mask and stood upright with seemingly little effort. From looking at her, it was impossible to tell just how off-balance she felt... physically and emotionally. Then they crossed the threshold and were immediately surrounded by bodies, not the least of which was Hippolyta's. Drea felt Diana stiffen and wondered how long it would be before the explosion came.

Hippolyta reached up a hand and Diana instinctively moved back away from the touch. When she turned blue eyes towards her mother, they were full of disdain, but Hippolyta also saw the pain lurking in the back of those eyes for the first time and she sucked in a breath at the anguish that was hidden there. Knowing what she now did about what had happened to her daughter and suspecting even worse, Hippolyta wondered what she could do to regain Diana's trust.

She let her hand fall limply to her side, but she still addressed Diana directly when she spoke. "How are you, Diana?" asked softly, without the stridence that has so long been part of their conversation. "You've had us all terribly worried. I'm glad I can let the Nation know you are well on your way to recovery."

The words and the tone confused Diana, and it showed in the briefest flicker across her face. Then she turned and immediately headed across the hall to the room that Chase had been in since her arrival on the island. She noted its emptiness instantly and looked back at Drea again.

"Where is she?" in a hoarse whisper.

Drea looked around, lost, and shrugged her shoulders. "I don't kn...."

"We think she left, Diana," Hippolyta responded. Diana sank to the bed at the words as her knees refused to hold her up any longer. She picked up Chase's pillow and hugged it to her, closing her mind to all outside distractions. It wasn't supposed to be like this, her soul cried. This wasn't supposed to happen. I know I was right this time... I felt it.

Hippolyta looked at Drea in alarm. This was totally unlike her daughter... even the daughter Diana had been before her disastrous foray into the world of men. Not once in twenty-six centuries had the princess even shown the slightest attachment to anyone except Steve Trevor, and even he hadn't solicited the gut-wrenching reaction Diana was showing about Chase.

Drea put her hand lightly on Diana's back and the princess stiffened before finally turning her head and looking back towards the healer. "Come, princess. Let's get you settled in your rooms and then perhaps we can pool our knowledge together and get the whole story."

Diana gazed at her a moment longer before nodding silently and allowing Drea to help her to her feet. She kept the pillow clutched in her hand, and no one made an effort to remove it. Then she shuffled unaided out the door and headed to her own rooms, anxious to collapse in private.

Nubia turned to the queen before she could follow and they watched her out of sight. "Paula and I will go back to the lab and see what else we can find in regards to Chase. We will gather as much information as we can for the princess."

Hippolyta nodded absently. "Thank you both. I think... well, I appreciate it, that's all."

Nubia accepted the queen's words with a slight bow, then took Paula's arm and together they went out of the hospice area. Hippolyta turned back to the remaining women.

"Rina, you and Erilani are dismissed. Thank you both for your help. Please do not discuss what has happened here tonight with anyone. The princess is in a very bad place right now, and I would count it as a personal favor if each you would respect that."

Erilani knelt and saluted with an arm across her chest. "By your will, my queen."

Rina nodded and gave a bow. "Yes, your majesty."

Hippolyta smiled. "Thank you both," watching as the two headed out of the hospice, then she glanced back at the priestess who waited patiently with Drea. "Come, let us go and see what we can do for my daughter," moving out confidently and expecting them to follow her. Somewhere, the queen had finally found her resolve and it was wonderful to see her moving towards Diana with such determination and focus. Drea and Mala exchanged glances, then rapidly followed in Hippolyta's footsteps.

Diana entered the room and was immediately assaulted by the scent of the things Mala had left earlier in the day. They in turn brought a flash of unpleasant memories and coupled with the dreams she remembered, left Diana drained and shaken. She pulled the mask off the wall, dropping it carelessly to the floor. Then she did the same with the other artifacts, leaving them where they fell. The scrolls, however... the scrolls she pulled carefully from the shelves and stacked neatly in the box Mala had brought them in. Only one did she keep – one that had been copied specifically for her when years of her rereading it had caused the original to show tattered wear.

The knock at the door startled her, as she couldn't remember the last time she'd been afforded the courtesy of privacy. Well, she could, but it was always followed by feelings of anger. She wasn't surprised when the knock was immediately followed by Drea's head.

"May we come in?"

Diana shrugged, not caring. She had no plans to stay out here and entertain them, and it was possible they might be able to answer some of her questions.

Drea entered, followed by Hippolyta with Mala bringing up the rear. Hippolyta eyes flared with anger when she saw the disrespect accorded the artifacts Mala had brought with such care to Diana's room earlier in the day. Then she released it, knowing there was more behind Diana's feelings of anger than mere spite towards her mother. Mala ignored them and walked to stand directly in front of the princess.

"How are you, Diana?" though a look in the anguished blue eyes gave a more accurate answer than would ever pass Diana's lips. So Mala and everyone else in the room was shocked when she spoke.

"I hurt."

"I'm sorry, Diana." The words came from an unexpected quarter and three heads swiveled towards the queen. She moved to her daughter and eased Mala aside. "I am so, so very sorry. This is all my fault, and I'm going to do everything I can to make things right for you again."

The pain changed to anger, though not completely and the blue eyes burned fire. "You did this? You hate me so much?" in a whisper that slashed Hippolyta's heart to ribbons. "First you disgrace me before the Nation and then you destroy any chance for happiness I have?"

The three older women realized at that moment that Diana still had no conscious memory of the events they had so recently learned of.

"No, Diana, no! I had nothing to do with Chase leaving. I hadn't even gotten a chance to talk with her yet when we discovered she was gone." Hippolyta reached up a hand to cup Diana's face, but her daughter stepped back out of her reach. Her hand dropped.

"I know you don't believe this, Diana... I don't expect you to after all this time, but I am going to do whatever it takes to fix this... ALL of this. You deserve better."

Diana sneered and turned to Drea. "Drea, where is she?"

It was Mala who answered. "We don't know, Diana. When the guard went out to recover her from the beach and bring her back into the hospice, they couldn't find her. A further search revealed that your sailboat was missing. It is believed she felt the need to go home and did so without our help."

"Why?" came the bewildered cry.

"Why does she mean so much to you, Princess?" Mala cut in.

Blue eyes shuttered and she held the pillow she still held closer to her body, absently inhaling its scent. "I am going to go find her, and you're not going to stop me," pointing her finger and her words specifically at her mother and ignoring Mala's question.

"No, Diana, I won't... not this time. But I would like to help you if you would let me." Hippolyta held up a hand when Diana turned disdainful, disbelieving eyes in her direction. "I know you don't believe me – I don't expect you to trust me anytime soon if ever again. But I am going to apologize every day if that's what it takes to show you my sincerity, and in the meantime, I will do all that I can to help you."

"Paula and Nubia are working to find out all they can about Annabelle Chaser... personal data, location... things that should help your search immensely. Give them a little time, Diana, please, especially if it means you will wait until daylight before you leave."

Diana didn't answer, but crossed into her bedroom still clutching Chase's pillow and the single scroll she had removed from the multitude. They caught a glimpse of the bewilderment on her face when she turned and shut the door, and then there was silence.

Hippolyta walked into Drea's arms and broke into tears. "She spoke to me, Drea. For the first time in a hundred years, even though she still hates me, she spoke directly to me. That is the most wonderful, awful feeling I have ever experienced."

Mala had moved quietly over to the artifacts to begin packing them away with great care. "We have a slight problem, Hippolyta," addressing the queen as the old friend she was. "Diana still has no conscious recollection of what happened to her once she left here. Do we want to let her regain those memories on her own or do we want to help her? She is going to need to know, especially when she goes back out into the world of men."

Drea put Hippolyta away from her slightly and nudged her in Mala's direction. "Why don't you help Mala pack those things away? I want to go check on Diana, and I think she will probably respond better to me alone."

Hippolyta nodded. It was her belief as well, badly as it hurt her to admit it. "Take whatever time you need with her, beloved. I may have been a royal screw-up as far as she is concerned, but all I have ever wanted is to protect her. Maybe you will have better luck conveying that to her. We will wait here for as long as it takes."

Drea nodded and knocked on the door, hesitating before she entered. Then she closed it with a chilling finality and Hippolyta shivered.

"Come, my queen. Help me put this away and then we will sit and talk. Perhaps with a bit of luck, Paula and Nubia will have information for us soon. Besides, I am curious to know what Chase's diary said about her experience with Orana. Given what we now know about Diana's experience, I cannot blame her for wanting to get as far away from the Amazons as possible." And they fell to work with a will.

It was pitch dark in Diana's room when Drea went in and she offered up a prayer that nothing had been changed so she didn't trip and make a fool of herself. Slowly she eased in the direction she remembered the bed to be in and was gratified to bump into it. Drea sat down carefully.

"Diana?"

Drea reached out a hand and came into contact with a smooth, strong back that flinched at her touch. She kept it there anyway and gently stroked the skin, hoping Diana would relax. Eventually, Drea spoke again into the darkness.

"Diana, we've always been friends - from the time you were given to your mother and many times you shared with me when you couldn't share with her. Can't I help you now? I know you hurt, but I don't understand why. I don't understand what Chase means to you."

For so long there was silence that Drea had given up hope of a response, though she continued the keep her hand on Diana's back. Then she felt the princess take a deep breath and she strained her ears to hear the whispered words.

"I hurt, Drea. My soul hurts. She called to... she...."

Oh my daughter... what she has done for you. I never again thought to hear such openness from you, especially about anything so personal, Drea thought to herself. Aloud she said softly, "Diana do you remember when you were a child and we used to read the old scrolls together?" thinking of the scroll she had seen Diana gripping. "And always... always... you wanted the story of the soulmates? Do you think perhaps... is it possible Chase might... be that... for you?"

"No," rasped out harshly. "I thought I had discovered that once. I won't... I can't. Not again."

"Then why are you so adamant about finding her? Not that I disagree – I am quite concerned for her myself, knowing she is out there alone and blind. But, Diana, you remember the legend. It wasn't a choice. And those legends aren't myth, Di. The queen who wrote those stories was one half of the soulmates she wrote about. They were real flesh-and-blood people."

"No, Drea. No... I...." She broke off unable to finish, knowing in her heart... in her soul that what the healer said was true and regardless of the consequences and despite what had happened to her before, she was going to have to confront the fear and the possibilities head on. And hope that this time she was not misled. Given the intensity of her nightmares, she wasn't sure she could survive a second trial by fire if she guessed wrong.

Chapter XVI

"Diana, what do you remember of *that* time?" knowing Diana would understand exactly when she was referring to. She felt the princess turn over and look at her in the darkness and pressed on. "Please Diana... it's important. I wouldn't ask otherwise."

Drea felt the shiver pass through Diana's body and she waited patiently, knowing it had to come voluntarily, and recognizing just how difficult it was for Diana to share any of that, even the bits that were common knowledge among the Nation. The humiliation had been overwhelming for Diana's proud spirit, even without the agony that had followed. Finally, though....

"I remember Mother forbidding me to compete in the games because she felt I coveted Steve Trevor for my own. I didn't, Drea. He spoke to me, or his soul did... like hers did – only hers was much stronger than his ever was," she added contemplatively, referring to Chase. "But it was comfortable and familiar and something I had been looking for since I first heard those stories, though I knew it wasn't the completion of myself I'd hoped for. But it was enough that I wanted to be with him to try to understand it, perhaps to find it out there related to him in some way."

Drea held her breath. Never in her wildest dreams had she expected such revelations. Even before, Diana had been hesitant to share such personal information, but it seemed with everything coming to a head, it had to bubble over and spew forth. Drea was devoutly thankful that she was the one privileged enough to hear it.

"Then she humiliated me at the games when I competed anonymously and won... deliberately humiliated me and stripped me of my rank and privilege. Then she banished me to the summer palace under guard, but not before making me walk the gauntlet and insuring that every single Amazon took a shot at me. I have never felt agony like I lived through then."

Drea's mouth dropped. This was bad... far worse than she'd expected. "Every one?" she muttered through stiff lips.

"All but you and Mala. You cared for me."

"When did you return here?"

"I did a year of intense labor there, rebuilding the wall alone before I was permitted to return. But I've remained a prisoner here." Her whispered voice took on a fierceness. "I won't do it anymore, Drea. I hate it here. I'm not going to stay... not now... now that I've found a reason to leave."

"Diana, what if I told you that most of your memories are wrong... that they have been tampered with?"

"Nice try, Drea. That sort of betrayal you don't forget." Diana turned back to the wall.

"Diana, I can prove it if you'll let me." Diana didn't move or acknowledge Drea's words, and the healer sighed in defeat. "Sweetheart, I know you're angry... you've been angry a very long time, and I really don't blame you. Your mother does bear a large burden of guilt in what happened and she knows it, even though she thought she was acting with your best interests in mind." Diana snorted, and Drea patted her back. "I really do believe she was, regardless of the poor judgment she used in trying to achieve that. But, Diana - what you believe happened... what you think you remember is not the whole truth. I know the truth and so does Mala, and when you're ready to face what really happened to you, we'll be right here to show you."

Silence was her only answer and Drea sighed, then leaned forward and kissed Diana's forehead. "I love you, baby girl. I always have. Thank you for letting me back in again." Diana didn't respond, but for the first time in a long time the silence didn't disturb Drea. She finally had an understanding of Diana that gave her unlooked for answers, and she knew what they would need to do to begin repairing the damage that Hippolyta had started and Orana had completed.

Drea leaned up against the door as she pulled it closed behind her and reaction set in. Hippolyta and Mala both looked at her but remained silent as Drea collected her obviously scattered composure. Hippolyta noted the shakiness of her hand and the paleness of her complexion and moved to guide Drea to a seat, while Mala went to get her a cup of something tall and cool.

"Wait," Drea called out to the priestess as she realized their intentions. "Let's go to our quarters. We will be uninterrupted there and Diana deserves whatever privacy we can afford her. Oh, gods." Drea covered her hands with her eyes and breathed deeply. Hippolyta wrapped a supporting hand around her waist and Mala came up to reinforce the other side. They looked at each other over Drea's head, wondering what could have caused such an intense reaction.

They went down the hall to their rooms and Drea dropped heavily onto the couch. Hippolyta sat down beside her and gently rubbed her back while Mala moved behind the bar and poured Drea a glass of wine.

"Better bring one for each of us and the bottle as well," Drea warned. "It's not pretty."

"Worse than we expected."

"Worse than you can imagine."

"Should we call Nubia and Paula to hear this at least? I don't think we need involve the entire council at this point but they...."

"No," Drea answered. "Perhaps later, but this... for now this information is for family only."

Slowly Drea gave a recounting of what had transpired when she entered Diana's room, because she wanted to include her thoughts and impressions of things as they happened. When she got to the point of sharing Diana's recollections of that time, though, she told it straight through with no deviations from the actual events. Hippolyta's breath caught and she clasped a hand over her mouth to keep from emitting any sound. Mala grabbed her free hand and held on tightly, as though to help bear some of the burden.

They remained steadfastly silent while Drea finished her retelling, including her rather harsh judgment of Hippolyta's involvement. Fortunately, that information was known to the queen as she and her consort had discussed it several times in recent days and it was nothing she herself did not believe as truth. But Diana's remembrances of what had happened to her were simply horrific, and they brought tears streaming down Hippolyta's face.

"My gods, no wonder she hates me. I'd hate me too... worse than I already do. I hadn't realized until... gods, I was so wrong... so very unfair to her." Drea covered Hippolyta's hand and rubbed her thumb across the soft skin in a gesture of comfort.

"You are working to fix that. The big question though is whether or not she will let us help her uncover the real truth. And whether or not she can survive without the knowledge if she chooses to leave us believing the lie," Mala said. "Because you know when she goes back into the world of men, she's going to remember eventually. And she will go looking for Orana when she does."

"She will survive regardless of what she chooses," Hippolyta replied through her tears. "Because she is a survivor – she's shown us that."

Drea nodded. "There is still something I do not understand, and that is why she gave up. Why did she stay here, hating it like she does? It doesn't make sense, not if we put that knowledge up against the intense woman and the fierce warrior she was before she left here." She paused and finished her wine, filling her glass before she continued speaking. "You both remember how defeat used to spur her to greater accomplishments. So why not this time? What happened to fundamentally change the woman we knew and respected and loved? We are missing an important piece of the puzzle."

"Perhaps the information Paula has on Chase will help. Or perhaps they will dig up something new," Mala commented as she rubbed her eyes. She swallowed her wine and leaned back in her chair. "You know, we knew that Chase was going to be important to Diana, but it would have been nice to have been clued in a little better as to just how tied together they already are." She turned to Drea. "Did Chase give you any indication she was going to just up and leave like that?"

The healer shook her head. "No. I knew she didn't trust me yet, though she really wanted to. I have to wonder... I told you her reaction to thinking I was an Amazon. I would be willing to wager that she somehow survived an encounter with Orana and that she found out that we are Amazons. It's the only thing I can think of that makes any sense at all." She turned to the queen. "Are you all right, Pol? I'm sorry about what I said, but...."

"No, Drea. It was the truth on all levels, and I'm not all right, but I will be. At least now I know what I have to work against and if it takes a hundred years times a hundred more, I will make my daughter... *our* daughter understand the truth. All of it – my mistakes as well as hers."

She wiped her eyes and rose, then excused herself to wash her face. When she returned, Hippolyta looked much more relaxed and composed. "Let's call Nubia and Paula in here. I am anxious to hear about what Chase experienced. I am more than a little curious to know whether Drea guessed right about her possible reasons for leaving us. It is possible, if she had a run-in with Orana and obviously lived to tell about it, she may be the key to not only defeating her, but to laying to rest Diana's ghosts as well."

"Your majesty, it's late. Perhaps we should pick this up early in the morning. The last few days have been exhausting and the next few promise to be just as harrowing, especially if there are more revelations like we received this afternoon. We need to rest if we are to get through it and help Diana through it as well. Sheer grit is not going to make it an easier proposition for any of us."

Hippolyta shook her head. "I know you are right, my friend, but I feel a sense of urgency driving me, as though we only have a very little time left before everything changes. Let us hear the rest now. Once we have done all we can, then we can stop to sleep."

Mala couldn't argue with the logic – she herself felt the stress of the situation... a pounding insistence to resolve things that were unraveling quickly. "As you wish, my queen. Let me send a guard to the lab to fetch them, and another to the kitchen for something to eat. This could take a while and we have to eat regardless of how we feel."

It didn't take long – Nubia and Paula arrived from down one corridor as the guard and another woman made their way from the kitchen with laden trays. Hippolyta assumed the role of hostess, pouring drinks and insuring everyone was served before they took comfortable seats in the living area, forgoing the stiff chairs and formal table of the meeting room. The time for formalities was over... this was a time for both thought and action.

Hippolyta took a look at both Paula and Nubia whose appearance was as ragged as she felt. She ran a hand through her hair, mussing a usually neat coiffure. "My apologies, ladies. I know you have been working overtime since Chase's arrival. But I feel we need to hurry. Diana is going to leave as early as tomorrow, and I'd like to know what she is going into. I'd like her to have an idea of what she is going into if we can manage it."

"Tomorrow, my queen?"

"Yes, Paula. I don't know that she will go so quickly, but it is a possibility and we need to be prepared for that."

"Well, we have a couple of searches going on about the rebellion in general and one on Chase and her sect particularly. We should have something useful by morning, but not before then."

"Thank you, Paula. I know you have been working almost non-stop."

"Yes, but the historians are going to have a field day with all the information we have pulled down. Just glancing through it for things we could use has been fascinating. But we can discuss that later," Paula added. "You wanted to hear about what happened to Chase, correct? Did you want her whole history or just her encounter with Orana?"

"Do her early experiences have any bearing on what happened with Orana, directly, I mean? If not, I think we can wait on it. We'll need to know to give us a better understanding of her, but the most important piece right now is her meeting with Orana."

Paula nodded her acceptance of the healer's words and turned to her pad. "This happened several years ago, when Chase was still a teenager, and it is one of the key events that allowed her to become the leader of the rebellion."

"Wait, I have a question," Mala cut in. "Is she *A* leader of the rebellion or *THE* leader of the rebellion?"

"From what we have been able to ascertain from the records, she is now *THE* leader of the rebellion. She didn't start it and she'd not particularly thrilled with being given the role, but this experience - her survival of her encounter with Orana - put her in a position to unite the many different individual factions into a single cohesive unit. She possesses the charm and a gift for words that make people want to follow her." Nubia paused to take a swallow of her water before continuing. "She will be the one we have to convince to let the Amazons help dispose of Orana. But that is something we can worry about later. We have enough on our plates to worry about right now."

"Agreed," Hippolyta said. "One thing at a time. Please, Paula... continue."

"Yes, my queen." The scientist turned her attention back to her pad, consulting her notes. "It appears that when she lost her mother, Chase became quite reckless, accepting riskier assignments and taking dangerous gambles that garnered her spectacular results but came close to getting her killed more than once. It was almost as though she wanted to die, but when brought face to face with that very real possibility...."

The assignment had been simple enough. Word was that the Nazis were developing a new serum to use against the rebels. It would allow them to extract information while eating away at the insides of the human it was being used on. So far, it worked far too well, as it was eating the rebels alive before any useful information could be obtained. So their effort was now concentrated on slowing its effects down, and as an added bonus, it appeared that the slower it worked, the more excruciating the pain the rebel would have to endure.

The thought had been terrifying and it had turned Chase's stomach when she'd heard what they were doing. She'd known what they'd done to her mother had been horrific, but she had believed... had hoped that the Nazis had reached the depth of their villainy. But this news....

The hierarchy had been almost relieved when Chase volunteered. She was the best that they had. She had survived several trips behind enemy lines and had always retrieved what they needed and usually more valuable information besides. They felt confident that she could succeed if anyone could.

All she had to do was sneak into the Reichstag and steal the formula. Then the rebel scientists could begin working on a cure.

Getting in had been absurdly easy... child's play for Chase who had accomplished it successfully several times before. Unfortunately for Chase, one of the test subjects for the serum had been their inside informant, and the Nazis had a welcoming reception waiting for her when she crossed the threshold.

The men of the party wanted to inject her immediately, thinking to destroy a formidable foe. But Orana recognized Chase as an opportunity, and ordered her removed to the torture chamber. The men grumbled, but obeyed, knowing at some point they would be allowed their fun as well.

She was stripped and bound to the wall, much in the manner Diana had been nearly a century before. The room smelled of fear and old blood, and Chase concentrated her considerable intellect on finding a way out before the she-devil could inject her with the serum.

For how long she hung there, Chase had no real way of knowing, but her arms were screaming in protest at their mistreatment long before Orana stepped into the room. It was almost a relief to see her. At least now she could try to create her own opportunity to escape.

Orana surveyed Chase for a long moment, lust lingering in her eyes before it was masked by hatred and disgust. "Did you really think you could outsmart me, you worthless little rebel? You... a mere child against the greatest mind the world has ever seen? Against the ultimate Amazon?" She stepped closed, running her whip handle against the smooth skin, frowning when there was no reaction.

Chase had already put her mind on another conscious plain, and though she was marginally aware of Orana's actions, she was focused on looking for a way out.

Unexpectedly the whip lashed out and Chase flinched more in surprise than in pain. She hadn't expected the physical punishment to begin so soon. All their intel had suggested that this particular Nazi, known in rebel circles as the Black Widow, got off on psychological torture as well as physical, and usually took quite some time to intimidate her victims before beginning the physical abuse.

Orana watched Chase with eager eyes. It had been far too long since she'd had a challenge like this one, and she relished the sport that was to come. She decided from the young woman's lack of reaction though, that she needed to approach her differently, and went right into a flurry of physical punishment.

She felt the ribs crack under her blows and smiled in satisfaction when Chase emitted a cry of pain. Slaps to her face, a punch to her nose and lips, and then she took the cat and began marking her thighs and chest, savoring the blood that flowed freely and the whimpers Chase couldn't manage to stifle as the pain burned white hot.

Orana wanted to continue, but she saw Chase was fading into unconsciousness so she pulled back. "Now that I have your undivided attention," she purred in evident satisfaction. "I'm going to leave you here for a while to think about my question. It would be to your advantage to have an answer ready for me when I return. I still have all that lovely skin on your back to play with, and I haven't broken any bones yet." She grinned. "Well, maybe a couple. But there are plenty more to choose from before I am close to the two hundred mark. And just think, when I've done all that, and you think it can't be any worse, I'm going to inject you with my latest creation. Then I'm going to sit hear and listen to you spill your guts while the poison eats you alive from the inside out." She grinned again, and Chase couldn't help noticing that her eyes were completely mad. "Sounds like a fun afternoon and evening, don't you think?"

She left with a final punch to Chase's mid-section. Then she laughed and the sound sent chills skittering over Chase's spine adding to the ache throughout her body.

"How did we miss this?" Hippolyta asked. "How did we all miss the fact that Orana was so evil?"

"It was easy, my queen. She never had the opportunity for power here that she achieved in the world of men. She is apparently the ultimate power there, and it corrupted her absolutely. Besides, I sense Ares' fine hand back of this somewhere. What could be better for him than a never ending war?"

"Perhaps," Drea agreed, "but the basis for that evil had to have been in place before she left. Which means we still had to have missed some pretty big clues."

"Not necessarily," Mala objected. "It is highly likely that she would never have uncovered and utilized those traits had she not left here. I believe she was jealous of Diana for a very long time, but not once did she act with dishonor until she got into a place where that was acceptable behavior. You all remember the issues the Nation faced amongst ourselves when we lived in the world of men. We were as susceptible to corruption as they, though we were never as cruel."

"Well, Orana has certainly managed to dispel the cruelty theory. The things she has done go beyond anything any man ever did to any of us, and gods know it wasn't an easy life for any of us before Paradise Island."

"If it makes any of you feel better, Chase does get some of her own back. I think we should finish her story."

"Paula's right," Nubia said. "It doesn't make Orana go away or look any better, but it makes for really good reading. My respect for Chase jumped greatly, and I already thought highly of her after she managed to get the princess talking again," not mentioning the questions and concerns she'd originally held in regards to the young woman's presence on their island. The rest accepted Nubia at her word and turned their attention back to Paula's research.

Chapter XVII

How long Chase hung there, she couldn't possibly have said, but she let her mind float, separating itself from the pain. She'd deal with it later, but her priority now was to escape, and the damage Orana had already done was going to make that a difficult proposition at best. The only thing she had going for her at the moment was the one guard she knew was a double agent. If there was a God, Jorge would come to check on her before the Widow came back, and could give her the advantage she needed. She had the inklings of a plan, but she needed a little luck – and the last few hours had managed to successfully dispel Chase's belief in her luck.

After a bit, the door opened and Chase forced her head up expecting to see Orana's evil reflected back at her. She went limp with relief when she came face to face with Jorge. The man looked back at his partner, instructing him to watch the door while he checked the prisoner. The younger man looked as though he wanted to argue, but they had been instructed to insure she was still alive and secure, and Jorge was senior to him. So he took his post while Jorge entered the room, leaving the door open to avert suspicion from the gutsy move he was undertaking.

He checked Chase's ankle restraints first, sliding his hands up her body as was expected while looking at her with eyes full of apology. She offered him forgiveness with a slow nod that continued her ruse of unconsciousness. Jorge tested one wrist, then the other, pressing something cool and metallic into the second that nearly caused Chase to start. Only her practice in self-control kept her front squirming with joy. Finally she had a way out.

"Jorge, let's go. You know the Fuehrer is anxious to get back in here, and I don't want to be here when she does.

"Afraid, Max?"

The younger man nodded furiously. "Yes. There is just something about the Fuehrer...." Jorge held up a hand to stop his words.

"Careful, Max. You don't want to show disrespect," closing the door on their conversation.

Again time passed as an unknown quantity, and this time Chase got what, or rather *who* she expected to get. Orana strutted in and grinned evilly at the still-unconscious looking rebel. She clucked to herself. "I expected more stamina from you, Annabelle," not getting the looked-for reaction to the use of Chase's first name. "Hmm... I may have to alter my plans for you. I need whatever information you've got, and if you're not even conscious, where's the fun in torturing you?"

"I've been working on improving my drug, and I'm going to test a new theory on you. You see," Orana continued conversationally, as she loosened the restraints around Chase's ankles, "I think if I use this in very tiny, very measured amounts, I can make you live a very long time. It will be excruciating for you, of course, but sacrifices have to be made in the name of scientific research."

Chase hung limply, keeping her breathing even and her body completely relaxed. She was only going to get one shot at this because she figured Orana was smart enough not to be this overconfident twice. The ex-Amazon set the syringe on the table behind her, and released one arm and then the other, laughing cruelly when Chase hit the floor with a dull thud.

"I wasn't considered brilliant enough to be a research scientist when I was an Amazon. Shame, that. I am beyond brilliant in this world, but somehow I don't think Hippolyta would appreciate me anyway."

For her part, Chase laid there and allowed the blood to flow back into her arms with painful prickles. She didn't flinch when Orana jerked her up and onto her shoulders, though the motion did make her grunt in pain. Orana smiled.

"Well, maybe I will get a little more enjoyment out of you after all," she commented darkly as she dropped Chase onto the table.

Faster than seemed possible, Chase forced her body to respond and grasped the syringe. Then she jammed it into Orana's thigh and released its vile contents in one bold push. Orana screamed in outrage and agony as the poison began to make its way through her system swiftly. She reached for Chase, only to have her leg collapse out from under her, hitting her head on the corner of the table on her way down.

Chase waited a long moment, gathering both wits and strength before sitting up carefully, mindful of her painfully broken ribs. She looked at the unconscious woman at her feet distastefully, then grit her teeth and set herself to lift the larger woman up onto the table. The scream she emitted could be heard down in the barracks and caused smiles to ripple across the faces of several SS members, though for different reasons than they suspected.

Chase stripped Orana of trousers and shirt, wishing she had something to wrap around her ribs. She shackled the Nazi woman to the table, not willing to take the chance that Orana had and allow the woman to get the jump on her, even though Chase believed she was dying.

She opened the door slowly, expecting to see at least one guard, then shaking her head in disbelieving thankfulness at Orana's overwhelming cockiness. The woman had been so sure of her superiority that not only had she not wanted anyone to help her in the chamber, but she hadn't even bothered with a guard outside the room just in case there was a problem.

Chase had long learned not to look a gift horse in the mouth and eased out the door with one last look at the woman the Nazi's had called fuehrer. With any kind of luck this was the end of her and the regime would crumble.

She walked quickly and silently down the hallway, hoping to find a way out before anyone came looking for her. She was trying to remember the schematics she had memorized adapting for the area she had come from, hunting for the laboratory that had been her original destination.

It wasn't hard once she figured out exactly where she was and Chase dispensed with the lone guard by jamming the key Jorge had slipped her into his eye, taking his machine gun and side arm before she unlocked the door with the set of keys she had taken with Orana's clothes.

Her search was easy – there was no real security, and Hans had been very specific in what she had to look for. Her German was exceptional thanks to Hans' tutoring and she found not only the poison, but several other questionable experiments as well.

Chase stuffed the files into her shirt, then looked around for a way to destroy what was left. She moved away from the files and smiled when she walked into the working lab. It was almost too easy, and with a little more luck she'd be able to take some of them out as well.

The fire was burning well when she casually walked out and slipped down the hall unnoticed.

"It goes on from there," Paula said, "and gives an account of how she got out and back to the rebellion. But it boils down to the fact that Chase's actions turned the rebellion around. She brought everyone together in a common effort after that, and they started making great strides against the Nazis."

A respectful silence fell after that as each woman present contemplated the information they had just been presented with. Eventually, Drea cleared her throat and spoke softly.

"Well, at least now I understand her comment about the evil brutality of Amazons and having seen it face to face and lived to tell the tale."

Another silence fell at her words.

"I think we all need some rest," Hippolyta said as she stood up, and the other women followed suit. "There is nothing more we can do tonight, and now at least we have something to tell Diana if she asks. With a little luck, she'll give me a chance to.... Well, we'll pick this up in the morning."

Mala, Nubia and Paula all nodded and bowed their heads before escaping out the door. Drea and Hippolyta watched in silence until the door closed behind them. Then the healer wrapped her arms around the queen and led her into their bedchambers.

"Come, Pol. It's time for bed."

Hippolyta nodded, but made no move to ready herself as her mind continued to go over and over the many different things she was trying to process. Drea took her hand and gently led her to the bed, easing her out of her clothing and tucking her in. The lights were off and Drea was tucked around her before Hippolyta stopped thinking and let her mind return to the present.

"Drea?"

"Hmm?"

"We've really got our work cut out for us."

"Um hmm."

"You think we can do it?"

Drea was quiet for a few minutes as she gave the question some serious thought. "Yes," she answered finally. "Because it's going to come down to Chase's and Diana's need to be together, and I think they are going to need us to make that a complete reality. It's not going to be easy, though."

"As long as it works," Hippolyta vowed firmly, "we will do whatever it takes."

And on that thought, they gave themselves over to Morpheus' care.

Diana tossed and turned all night as Drea's words flowed in and out of her mind, giving her strange and unsettling dreams. Over and over she dreamed of the games and the gauntlet she had walked and each time Drea's words haunted her visions.

She knew what she remembered – the memories were much too vivid for her to have made them up out of whole cloth, and yet.... Something in Drea's words rang true in her heart as well as her mind. Whatever else, Drea firmly believed she spoke the truth. Perhaps she should allow Drea to tell her own brand of truth. Then maybe she could exorcise the ghosts that had returned again to haunt her.

Getting back to the plane proved almost more of an adventure than any of them needed and all by accident.

Chase walked between Adam and Shep, grateful for the support they offered even as she struggled to make her own way. They had to walk through several public areas, and none of them wanted to draw attention to themselves. But it was hard to hide the marks on Chase's face or the fact that she walked with a decided limp, even as slowly as they were moving.

They attracted the notice of a small band of Nazi soldiers, clustered at a table in an outdoor café. They didn't move to stop them at first – only spread out to follow the trio. Adam noticed them first.

"We appear to have attracted a tail."

"Question is – what can we do? I really don't think Chase is up to a knock-down, drag out, no holds barred fight. And our first priority remains to get Chase off this island and back to the base camp."

"Um, guys...."

"Agreed," Adam said, ignoring Chase's attempt to cut into the conversation.

"Um, guys...."

The soldiers spread out, determined to surround them and cut them off for questioning. They still had no idea who the three were... only that they were odd enough to be made sport of. Had they known, they might have been a little more cautious in their actions.

Chase blew out a frustrated breath, then let her pain and the aggravation she'd felt building for days work to her advantage. She swung her undamaged arm, clouting the nearest on the jaw and dropping him like a lead balloon. Shep growled under his breath.

"Damnation Chase!" Then he was too busy warding off the Nazi's who were left. Two went down to a punch and kick combination, while Adam took out another two with a split kick. Chase got the last with a punch to the throat, and then they were being cheered by the native bystanders. Chase struggled to maintain her equilibrium now that the rush of adrenaline had left her body. Shep took one side and Adam took the other, literally carrying her as they moved swiftly out of the market place.

The natives scrambled to get out of the way and get back to their business. They couldn't afford to out themselves as rebels yet, so they didn't want to be seen as helping the trio escape. But they did nothing to hinder their leaving or to assist the soldiers who were still sprawled all over the ground.

Chase came back to her senses only to realize that she was being carried by Shep, and they were moving very fast through some serious undergrowth. She twitched and he held on tighter, holding her eyes with a glare.

"Shep...."

"Chase, be quiet and be still. We've got to get out of here and I don't need any more stress at this point, all right?"

"Shep, I can walk...."

"Chase, I mean it. I don't know what you were thinking back there, but that was just stupid."

Adam kept his face forward, clearing a path in front of them and assuring that their passage would be unmarked. But he listened; it was too interesting not to.

"Stupid?? Um, Shep? Did you happen to notice what was going on?"

"Nothing, until you lit into those soldiers. You know they are going to comb this island looking for us now. We're going to have to take Adam to the mainland for a while to keep him alive. We can't leave him here because they've seen and know his face. He's risked everything and you put us all in jeopardy."

"Put. Me. Down." Chase was so rigid and precise in her manner of speaking that Shep reacted as the trained soldier he was. He eased her to her feet and withdrew to stand at attention. Adam stopped and turned as well.

"The one I hit initially had a blade tucked into his sleeve and was going to gut me. They all did, Shep. They were going to make sport of us by sticking blades in us until we begged for mercy. It is standard operating procedure for these guys."

"How come we didn't see them?" Adam asked.

"Because you didn't look," was the flat reply.

"Do you think they made us, Chase?"

Chase bit her lip in thought, then shook her head. "I don't think so. I think they saw weakness and decided to prey on it. They will be looking for us now though, so we need to get the hell outta dodge and home." She turned to Adam. "We'll get you back here as soon as we can, but for now it would be safest for you to come with us."

Adam nodded. "I knew and accepted the risks. I am prepared."

"Good. Can you two help me now?" she asked, reaching out in the darkness, not realizing when Shep moved to catch her before she hit the ground.

The darkness was comforting and Chase struggled to bring herself back towards the harshness of the light. She had faded in and out of consciousness the rest of the way to the waiting plane, than passed out completely when a wrong turn sent pain wrenching through her body. She blinked, glad Shep had brought the larger plane.

Chase sat up slowly and shivered, bringing Adam back to her side. She wondered what had happened that she seemed to have completely lost her ability to put the pain aside, especially given what she had been through with Orana and some of her other less-than-pleasant experiences. This just wasn't that bad, comparatively speaking, though the cold was making her cramp and she wondered if the Amazons on Paradise Island had done something to her. Then she put the thought aside as Adam extended a bottle of water for her to sip from.

"Where are we?" she asked hoarsely. Adam shrugged.

"I don't know. We have been airborne about an hour." He watched as she nodded and continued to sip at the water he'd given her. "Can you eat something with that? It had been a while since you ate and Pop instructed me that you were still quite weak."

Chase blinked. "We have food?"

Adam smiled. "Oh yes. Mama made sure we had plenty to tide us over... for several days judging by the weight of my knapsack."

Chase smiled in sympathy with his chuckles. She really didn't feel like eating, but realized that could be a serious part of her problem. Her eating had sporadic at best and it was doing nothing to help her body repair the damage that had been done to it. Adam waited patiently, watching the thoughts tumble over one another in her eyes.

"Some crackers maybe? I think I need something on my stomach before I put anything substantial into it."

"Very smart," Adam agreed. "Pop intimated as much. Here," had added, digging around and handing her a small package wrapped in waxed paper. "These should work."

Chase nibbled slowly feeling her stomach settle and her equilibrium return. Adam watched as a bit of color returned to her cheeks and nodded in approval. Then he handed her a bit of bread and fruit and settled back with his own, glad to pass the time by filling his belly which was strangely empty after the exertion of the morning.

Chase chewed deliberately and methodically enjoying the sense of filling in her belly and feeling the pain recede as her strength began to restore itself. She could tell it was going to be a slow recovery period, but it was nice to feel better after what seemed like a lifetime of feeling weak and in pain.

She finished up and patted Adam's leg in thanks. Then she slowly shifted her body over until she sat back of Shep. Then she tapped on the back of his seat to get his attention, gratified when he only glimpsed in her direction before retuning his attention back out the window.

"What's up?"

"Where are we?" Chase asked, clutching her collar more tightly around her throat. Shep shrugged.

"We've still got a few hours if you want to curl up and get some rest. You look better, but you still look pretty rough. How do you feel?"

"Pretty rough," Chase answered with a wry grin. "I dunno... this has just drained me for some reason. I feel like my soul is running on empty." The last muttered in a whisper so low Shep nearly missed it.

Shep turned his head again and regarded his friend and leader for a very long moment before turning his focus back to the empty sky outside the windshield. He heard Chase slide back into her little cubby and he sent up a quiet prayer for a speedy recovery. They were going to need her whole for the big offensive that was coming.

Chapter XVIII

Chase awoke again much more refreshed and in better spirits than she had been in since she'd left the rebel base little more than a week ago. She blinked and stretched, absorbing the recognizable scents of her hut and the familiar feel of her rough cot and blanket. It took a minute, but her brain did catch up with her senses and she shot up out of bed.

Her head no longer hurt and there was only residual pain in both her shoulder and her thigh. Better, her eyes seemed to have cleared and didn't hurt nearly as badly as they had even the.... Chase's thoughts stopped there as she realized she had no recollection of arriving home. She wondered how much time had passed and stuck her head out her doorway. As though he had been watching specifically for her to make an appearance, Hans was the first to see her and he ran across the compound to catch her in a full body hug.

"Annabelle!!" knowing she would grab his ears in retaliation and relishing the familiarity of it. Chase did, yanking hard enough to make him release her before she threw up from the spinning he was doing. He set her down gently and gave her a much more tender, though no less heartfelt hug. He released her and stepped back, wiping tears from his eyes unashamedly.

"God, Chase!! It is so good to have you home! What happened? How are you? Do you know how worried...?" Hans stopped speaking when Chase held up a hand.

"What day is it?"

Hans looked confused but answered the question. "Wednesday. Why?"

"So we got in...?"

"Yesterday afternoon. You slept for almost twenty-four hours. How do you feel?"

Chase smiled and the action transformed her face completely. "I feel good. It's good to be home." Her stomach chose that moment to growl and she couldn't stop the blush that followed. "Guess I better go grab something to eat."

"Let me," Hans inserted. "It'll give you a chance to take a shower and me a chance to find Shep and the rest of the gang. I know everyone is anxious to talk to you. We were really worried."

Chase nodded, knowing she was going to have to give at least a partial explanation of what had happened to her during her time away. The Nazis - that would be easy. So would the island that she had stumbled to during the storm. But the Amazons... that was something else all together. What had happened there was still very much a confused tangle in her own mind. She wasn't ready to share it, and she didn't know if she ever would be. No one would understand her feelings because she had never, EVER shared what had happened to her... except with her diary. And no one here was capable of hacking into her security, not even Hans.

Suddenly she moved snapping green eyes back to Hans' concerned expression. "Hey, wait a minute." She narrowed said eyes at him. "You saying I stink there, buddy?"

Hans' eyes widened comically. "NO! No, of course not. I just... I, um...."

Chase laughed. "It's all right, Hans," she said with a laugh, clapping his shoulder in camaraderie. "I imagine I do stink; it's been a while since my last shower." Her brow furrowed. "I think, anyway. Things are still pretty hazy." Not complete truth, but she felt comfortable with the little white lie. It would go a very long way towards making her life easier. She shook her head. "Besides, you know I am fond of a shower when I get up, especially on the rare occasion I get hot water."

A laugh was heard behind her and Chase whirled to see Ty with her hand over her mouth. "Yeeeesss?" Chase drawled slowly, knowing Ty loved a good tease and Chase could see the sparkles shining out of Ty's brown eyes.

Ty made an exaggerated motion to look at her watch and raised an eyebrow in mock astonishment. "Well, maybe if you could crawl out of bed at a decent hour there, Chief, you might get a little hot water now and then. Not all of us have the luxury of sleeping round the clock." But Chase could see the honest worry in the back of Ty's eyes.

Chase smirked. "Yeah, well, I have to do something to give you guys a chance to keep up. Can't be stuck doing all the work around here myself, ya know."

Ty narrowed her eyes and snorted derisively. "Remind me again why we wanted you home? You are such an egotistical pain in the ass."

Without warning, Chase jumped into Ty's arms, wrapping her legs around Ty's waist and kissing her cheek. "Yes, but I'm ya'll's pain in the ass and the best damn pain in the ass in the world!"

Ty threw her head back and laughed, a full rich sound that drew attention and caused others to join in without knowing what had caused it. She hugged Chase tightly, then released her to slide to the ground. "Ya know, cuz, I love you, but your modesty in completely underwhelming." Ty reached up a hand and pushed the blonde hair back from Chase's eyes, tilting her chin up until their eyes met.

"You all right? Aside from needing a haircut, I mean. God Chase, you scared everyone out of a year's life."

"She's not kidding," Hans cut in. "We were all pretty worried when we heard you'd been shot down. But not worried enough to stop working. No one wanted an ass kicking when you got back." Chase laughed and Hans smiled, glad of the reaction. He and the rest had been truly worried when Chase didn't respond to any of them upon landing. Though she was well-known for enjoying the occasional sleep-in when she could manage it, she was always instantly awake when called for. And her lack of reaction had been scary.

"Speaking of ass kicking," he said, backing away towards the mess area. "Let me go get you something to eat before your stomach decides to make an appearance and beats me to death for not moving fast enough. You want everyone back here in...?"

"We'll meet in the conference room in thirty minutes. Thanks, Hans."

"Anytime, Chase."

The two women watched him go, then Ty looked back at Chase with a wicked grin. "He likes you, ya know."

Chase returned the look with a knowing smile of her own. "No, actually he doesn't... not the way you're thinking."

"C'mon, Chase. You can't tell me you haven't seen those lovesick looks he casts in your direction every time he looks at you."

They walked back in to Chase's quarters so she could grab her toiletries and a change of clothes. Ty opened her mouth to tease a little more, but stopped when Chase's serious eyes met her own.

"Ty, I am not gonna betray any confidences here, but trust me when I tell you that Hans is not interested in me that way. He is my friend... a good friend... but only a friend."

"You're serious," grabbing a towel and passing it over.

"Yep. I sure am," picking up her things and making her way out of her hut and across the compound toward the showers. Ty followed more slowly, pinching her lips between her fingers in thought. She followed Chase into the shower tent, then took a seat on the changing bench while Chase continued on to stand under the nozzle.

Chase turned the knobs and let the warm water run over her in relief before she grabbed the soap and began to lather her body. She waited patiently, knowing something was bugging Ty beyond the fact that she had guessed wrong about Hans.

It had been a running joke between them all their growing up years, teasing about who fell for whom and trying to see who could guess right more often about the dalliances that went on between members of the rebellion. But Ty also know her cousin well enough to know that when Chase turned serious, the teasing was over. And she knew better than to ask who because Chase took her confidences to heart and kept them there.

But Chase's words had caused questions of another kind to run rampant through Ty's mind – things that had been niggling at her for quite some time now – and with Chase's confirmation that Hans was not the object of her affections, she decided to give the questions voice.

"Does that bother you?"

Chase blinked water out of her eyes and blew it away from her lips. Then she turned her head and looked at Ty with confused eyes as she scrubbed her hair with savage satisfaction. "What?" she asked as she backed into the spray to rinse the soap.

Ty bit the bullet. "The fact that there is no one special in your life. I mean," she continued hastily when she saw the storm clods gathering in eyes that were rapidly going from green to gray. "I know you have responsibilities – we all do. I know yours are a lot greater than the rest of us cause you got stuck leading this ragtag group of misfits, and I can't tell you what a difference that has made to the rebellion. I mean... it seems like we will actually finally defeat those damn Nazi bastards once and for all. But Chase, it has changed you so much."

"How could it not, Ty? So much depends on me and the decisions I make. Every time I make a bad judgment call, people die." She turned back to the water and jerked the knobs into the off position, reaching for the towel she had draped over the stall wall. "Hell, even when I make the right decision, people die. I know what those bastards are capable of and if we don't win...." She broke off, not wanting to hear herself speak her doubts aloud – not even to the woman who had been her best friend growing up.

Ty smiled, her expression full of confidence. "We will win, Chase, but then what? Things will change when the war is finally over, and we're gonna have to discover a new form of normality. But since you were captured, since you assumed command of the rebellion, you haven't let anyone get close to you. Don't you remember all the fun we used to have sneaking out after curfew to steal a few kisses or more from the other guys and girls in the camp? That's one reason I was kinda hoping about Hans, though I will admit to wondering about your taste on that one. I mean... don't get me wrong, he can be a nice guy and he is certainly cute enough, but God almighty I think he deliberately tries to step on every single nerve I've got some days."

Chase squeezed the water out of her hair then roughly ran the towel through it then proceeded to do the same haphazardly over her body before wrapping it around her and moving over to stand beside Ty. Ty looked up at Chase at the exact minute that Chase smiled down at her.

"Don't you ever get lonely, cousin?"

Chase's smile become melancholy and she shrugged as she dropped the towel and started dressing. Ty spared a moment's appreciation for the beautiful form of Chase's body, then returned her attention to their conversation.

"Don't you miss the companionship and camaraderie... hell, don't you miss the sex having someone in your life will give you? I mean really, Chase... seriously – knowing yourself is all well and good but it can't replace the warmth of another human being in your arms and in your bed."

Chase chuckled... she had to. She knew the words were sparked mostly by concern and only a little by curiosity, but it just wasn't the sort of conversation she'd expected to be having with anyone, even Ty.

Especially not after the events of the past few days. There was something there – something teasing her at the back of her mind that was familiar. And she still wasn't completely convinced now that the whole Amazon experience hadn't been a dream. Worse, she wasn't sure she wanted it to be. Something about the whole thing had been comforting and at the same time, unnerving. She shook herself from her daze to find Ty's curious eyes on her.

"Sorry, I was just thinking about what you said." Chases tucked her t-shirt into her pants and fastened them before dropping onto the seat and pulling on her socks. "In some ways you're absolutely right, Ty. Things will change when we win and normal will mean more than fighting and planning and strategizing. But I'm gonna have to adjust to that when it happens. I can't afford the distraction that being in a relationship would cost... me and the rest of the team. Too much depends on me, and until that changes...." She let her words trail off and picked up her boots.

"Do I miss it?" she continued as she laced up her boots carefully. "Sometimes, but I think I actually miss the thought of what could be more than the reality of what is."

"You lost me."

Chase stood and stomped her boots into place before gathering her dirty clothes and wrapping them up in her wet towel. She looked at the door abstractedly for several long minutes before turning her head back towards Ty.

"I want more than an occasional roll in the hay or someone to eat dinner with once in a while. I want it to mean something."

"You think it wouldn't?"

"I know it wouldn't, Ty. Not with anyone here. Don't get me wrong... folks here are great and I do love them, especially the gang, but no one touches my soul, Ty. And I'm not willing to be distracted for less than that."

Ty wrapped and arm around Chase's shoulders and was gratified to feel the touch returned around her waist. They headed out the door and both blinked rapidly when the bright sunlight momentarily stunned them.

"Well, I gotta tell ya, cuz, I for one hope I am there to see it when it finally does happen. 'Cause I got a feeling when you fall, you're gonna be down for the count."

Chase laughed with Ty though there was a sadness in her eyes that her cousin completely missed. "Never happen, Ty. It'll never happen."

Ty smirked. "I've got good currency says differently. You confidant enough to bet on it?"

"It'll be like taking candy from a baby."

Whatever response Ty might have made was lost in the rumble that sounded loudly from the vicinity of Chase's stomach. The two women looked at one another and burst into laughter. "C'mon," Ty urged, letting her arm fall from Chase's shoulders to catch her hand instead. "Let's get you fed before the Nazis find us just on the basis of your setting off the Richter scale."

For answer, Chase jumped on Ty's back and proceeded to treat her like a horse. Their rambunctious play brought out the rest of the team to simply laugh at their antics, pleased beyond reason to see a momentary return to the Chase they had known before adulthood forced responsibilities on them they didn't necessarily want.

Ty reached Chase's hut and they entered, then she returned a moment later dusting her hands off and grinning like a Cheshire cat.

Shep laughed again as he and the rest of the crew moved to intercept Ty on the short walk to the conference room, only to hear the roar as Chase rushed out the door and landed on Ty's back once more. They actually winced as they heard the air rush out of Ty's lungs, but Ty was long used to Chase's games and had missed them terribly. She had a passing thought to wonder what had happened in the week she'd gone missing to suddenly inspire the bout of playfulness. But she relished it and leaned over obligingly, flipping Chase over her head and onto the ground.

Chase winced as the landing rattled through her body, sending a residual ache into the spots that were still not fully healed. She popped Ty in the arm, then accepted the plate of chow Hans had collected for her and they made their way into the conference room to catch up on what had happened between them during the week they had been apart.

But in the back of Chase's mind, Ty's words hovered, and she wondered if she would ever find what she was searching for, or if she was destined to be alone for the rest of her life.

Diana finally gave up sleeping and rose from her bed to stand at the window and watch the moon set. She clutched the pillow she still held to her, letting the scent soothe the ache in her soul as nothing short of Chase's physical presence could have done.

She let her mind drift back over her brief conversation with Drea. She wondered at the conviction in the healer's voice. No matter her relationship to Hippolyta, Drea had never lied to Diana. BUT....

But, Diana's memories were painfully clear. She *knew* what she remembered, and what she remembered was shame and humiliation and walking the gauntlet of those she had once called family. Her insides hurt with a gut wrenching intensity as she allowed the memories to flow over her once again, and she held the pillow to her more tightly.

Diana slowed her breathing, imagining the feel of Chase in her arms and allowing that sensation to calm her raging spirit. A part of her mind had the sense to wonder how an imaginary person could cause such a literal reaction, especially one whom she had only had the briefest real contact with, but a larger part of her simply accepted the response. Chase was real, even if that reality wasn't in Diana's arms at the moment. That would change soon enough, she hoped, but first she had to find some answers here. Then she would go seek that which her soul assured her was hers for the claiming.

She wondered about trusting her own judgment on this soulmate aspect particularly – Diana was honest enough to admit to herself that her track record was somewhat lacking in this department... whether it fall into the romance, love or bonding category. But at the same time, she couldn't deny the familiarity she'd felt the first time she'd seen Chase in the hospice, beyond anything she'd ever dreamed of with Steve Trevor. There was a resonance there that just....

Diana scrubbed at her eyes furiously. All the crazy thinking was making her antsy and giving her a headache to boot. She padded back over to the bed and placed the pillow reverently on hers before resuming her place back at the window. Then she knelt with her hands on her thighs and simply rested.

She watched the moon slide beneath the horizon just as the sun peeked over the other side. Then she closed her eyes and forced her breathing to slow once more, intent on centering herself before beginning her day. There were too many important decisions to make to allow the chaos her mind had suddenly become to make those choices without an effort at centering herself.

She called on the warrior discipline that had always come so easily to her, and was able to put the ache in her soul back into focus, making it more of a background noise than the screaming demand it had been. She let things flow past her reality, acknowledging that she might need some help this time if she was to find Chase and succeed at becoming part of her world. This was too important to risk screwing up for her pride.

Decision made, she rose and went to shower, determined to get the information she needed as quickly as possible – ready to begin her life again.

Chapter XIX

She was hit with a centuries old familiar scent when she crossed the threshold into the temple, and for a moment, Diana simply closed her eyes and breathed it in. Something had changed for her in deciding to move forward with her life once more, and for the first time in a century and more, Diana was able to relive the happy times in her life and appreciate all the memories she had that were wrapped up in the place she now stood.

Mala stood in a back corner merely observing, watching the nuances in Diana's face change as she absorbed the temple atmosphere into her soul. She could sense a peace long absent from Diana present within her again, and she stood in silence allowing Diana that peace.

Eventually Diana's eyes fluttered open and she padded silently into the temple, looking around it with familiar eyes. There was no warmth associated with this place any longer, but at least the contempt that had been there for so long was missing.

For her part, Diana sat down on a bench about halfway into the sanctuary and let her eyes roam across the various statues and artifacts that adorned the room. She hesitated, startled when they reached the shelving that held the neatly stacked scrolls. It wasn't readily apparent, but her long acquaintanceship with the material allowed her sharp eyes to catch the difference as soon as they passed over the parchments.

Slowly she stood and walked to the front, stopping only when she reached the shelf in question. The dark head cocked to one side and reached up and removed the new scroll from its place. Diana opened it up and scanned it, then crumpled it in her hands before she moved to sit on the front bench across from the altar.

For a long time she sat still allowing the memories from the day that still haunted her days and nights to wash over her with startling clarity. When they had run their course, she returned her eyes to the parchment and began to read the words written their, allowing their meaning to soak in. Then she sat lost in thought, before reading it through a second time.

The differences in her memories and what was written were astounding, and though what was written was bad, it wasn't nearly as vindictive and hateful as her own recollections were.

Hippolyta was embarrassed by Diana's obvious lack of respect from her by her willful disobedience, and in her fury lashed out at the princess. Diana's eyes grew cold and distant even as she tried to defend her actions, but the queen would have none of it. In her anger, she treated Diana like a child, confining her to the palace under guard for the duration. And like that scorned child, Diana retaliated in a way she knew would further fuel her mother's rage.

She was extremely careful not to kill any of the guards who were assigned to keep her a prisoner, but she made sure both they and her mother understood that she was a force to be reckoned with – not a child to be trifled with or placated. It was a point well-taken when Hippolyta saw the condition of her guards and read the note left behind by her headstrong, frustrating daughter, and it was then that Hippolyta began to question her actions.

The queen went to Drea, seeking reassurance that she had been right, only to find that the healer, *her consort* completely disagreed with her handling of their daughter. Though she couldn't fault Drea for believing the way she did, it hurt to know she had lost her unqualified support. Rarely had they disagreed about Diana, and never to this degree.

Hippolyta went to the temple, hoping to find solace there, only to discover that the goddesses had forsaken her and Mala wasn't particularly pleased with her performance either. So she hardened her heart against Diana, blaming her for the troubles that had arisen from the whole situation - refusing to admit her wrong and unwilling to discuss the situation with anyone.

Her actions and attitude caused a split among the Amazon Nation in the months that followed and she was nearly removed from office. Then the unthinkable happened – Diana was brought home by Orana... body broken and spirit crushed with nothing but hatred and contempt left in her heart.

Hippolyta tried to put her issues aside, but Diana's obvious disdain of her only entrenched her own hurt and anger more firmly, and soon both Drea and Mala insisted that the queen stay away from the princess to allow Diana to physically heal and recover from her ordeal.

It was touch and go for a while. Fever racked Diana's body and yet she remained silent in her misery. Drea and Mala both spoke to her, hoping to encourage some sort of reaction but all they got for their trouble was silence, though it was not the contempt-filled one that Diana presented on the rare occasion Hippolyta would venture into the room.

Eventually Hippolyta stopped trying and finally Drea released Diana from the hospice with supervised care. That lasted one entire day before the Amazon who had been given the assignment left and refused to return. Several more tried, and each of them failed within less than a day, the last only managing to last a single hour before she ran out of the room.

From that day, Diana was left to her own devices. No one outside the council attempted to talk to her or include her in anything again, and Hippolyta's handling of the entire situation was put aside as the Nation turned its attention to new challenges.

Diana closed her eyes when she reached the end of the scroll. The written words were so different from her memories, and yet there was a familiarity to them that rang true to her mind. Something was wrong – there shouldn't be such discrepancies between the two accountings.

She felt Drea's presence a bare instant before she smelled the light floral scent Diana had long associated with the healer. Drea took a seat but didn't say anything and the two of them sat in silence for sometime before Diana slowly opened her eyes.

She felt Drea's eyes on her, but kept her focus towards the altar. The healer covered Diana's hand, and though the princess did not respond, she did not pull away either and Drea took encouragement from that. They sat that way for a little while before Drea drew a deep breath to speak.

"I know what you read and what you remember are completely different accounts of events. But I swear to you, what you read is the truth. Diana, I have never lied to you, and I wouldn't pick now to start. I know...." Here Drea blew out a breath and dropped her chin to her chest in shame. "I know you've been treated unfairly by everyone here, including me, but gods, I didn't seem to know how to reach you anymore. No one did. When you came back from man's world, you were changed... so different and cut off from everyone and everything. And every gesture was rebuffed until it was just easier to stop trying. I'm sorry for that. I should never have given up on you, or let you give up like that on yourself. I'll never, ever forgive myself for that. You deserved better."

It was quiet for a few minutes while Drea gathered her thoughts and Diana was content to maintain the silence. She was impressed by Drea's sincerity, and yet there were those pesky memories reminding her once again that what Drea was saying did not coincide with what really happened. So she waited patiently, knowing that Drea had more to say and finding strange comfort in the fact that the healer had maintained tactile contact with her.

"If you will give me the chance, I can show you what really happened. I can show you how Orana manipulated your memories to protect herself."

For the first time, Diana showed a bit of emotion, turning her head and cocking an eyebrow in Drea's direction.

Drea sighed and answered the unspoken question. "Everything. She has everything to do with this."

Diana waited for Drea to continue, and when she didn't, Diana grasped her chin firmly but gently and urged the brown eyes up to meet her blue. What she saw in those dark depths – pain, shame and regret - made her bite the inside of her lip. But her face remained stoic and she gazed at Drea seriously.

"Tell me."

The words were whispered, but carried the forcefulness of Diana's formidable personality behind it. Drea swallowed and nodded, then she rose and extended her hand down to Diana. "Come. It will be easier to show you."

Diana hesitated a moment, then accepted the extended hand and stood. Then the two made their way out of the temple, and Mala fell into step behind them.

There was a distinct silence across the courtyard as they left the temple grounds and moved into the palace, but for a change it seemed less foreboding. Instead it seemed filled with expectancy – at least that was the feeling Diana got subconsciously. Consciously, she was only aware of her hand in Drea's being take to the laboratory... the inside of which she had not set foot into in a hundred years.

Paula straightened upon their entrance, then drew a deep breath and moved to stand in front of her princess. "Hello, Diana," she said quietly. "It's good to see you back here again."

Diana nodded her head, but didn't say anything. She held Paula's eyes, liking what she found and nodding again. Then she looked around the room, anxiously taking in the new experiments and inventions Paula had scattered about. Many were things they had been working on together that had yet to see completion. Diana turned questioning eyes towards the scientist, and Paula blushed faintly before her eyes dropped to the floor and she shrugged.

"I was waiting for you to come back," Paula said softly.

Dian's expression never wavered, but Drea felt her breathing hitch. She wondered again how they could have let themselves grow so far apart. She squeezed Diana's hand lightly in a show of support. Unexpectedly, Diana pulled away from her and put both hands on Paula's shoulders. The scientist looked up, startled. Even before all the unpleasantness, Diana had never been a very tactile person, and this was just unheard of.

"I'm sorry," Diana whispered, but Paula heard her and a huge smile crossed her face. She reached up and covered one of Diana's hands with her own, patting it lightly before letting it drop.

"No worries, my friend. It is good to have you back again."

Diana smiled tremulously and turned back towards Drea. The healer gave her own watery smile and reached out a hand. "Come. First I want you to read the accounts that Paula found. They are the actual records that were made by Orana and Steve Trevor during the time that you were away from Paradise Island. Once you have seen those, if you are still interested, we can... well, there are several options. It will depend on what you want to do then."

Diana nodded and followed Drea to her old work station. Everything remained neat and tidy, just like she had left it, and it was apparent that Paula had made an effort to keep it clean the way she knew Diana liked it. Diana especially appreciated that, as Paula's own work area looked like something a tornado had swept through.

Diana sat down at her computer and scanned her handprint into the database. The computer actually hesitated as if in thought before it responded to her identity. "Welcome back, Diana. It has been eight hundred eighty-five thousand, seven hundred and sixty-eight hours and twenty-three minutes since your last log-in. How may I be of service today?"

Diana blinked, unsure what to say. She looked up at Drea in confusion. The healer's forehead creased in thought.

"I didn't think this out very well," she said, running a hand across her furrowed brow. "Maybe we should let Paula move the reports to one of the other...."

"No," Paula cut in. "Diana can type in her access code and open a link between us. I can transfer the files to her directly."

Drea nodded. She knew no one else, not even Paula, had been able to breach the encryption locks Diana had encoded into her machine. And so far, the princess had not spoken above a whisper, as though it pained her greatly to make the effort, so voice command was out.

Diana pulled the keyboard from the desk and slid it towards her, a little hesitant on the keys at first. Then she gradually picked up speed until her fingers were fairly flying across the board. Then she pushed back slightly and waited.

"Command complete. Access granted. Pathway is open and ready for file transfer."

Paula acknowledged by pushing a button on her computer. Seconds later the transfer was complete and Drea set a pitcher of chilled water next to Diana.

"We are going to leave you to read in privacy, Diana. We will be in Paula's office when you are done."

Diana held Drea's eyes for a long moment, searching for answers. Finally she nodded and whispered, "Thank you." Then Drea and Paula went to wait with Mala, and Diana turned back to the screen to face whatever new secrets awaited her there.

They didn't pretend to work, though Paula did sit at her desk. Drea crossed to the window and stared out unseeingly, hoping, believing they had done the right thing for Diana. Mala drifted over to the small couch and sat, turning her gaze inward as she prepared herself for the next step.

Hours passed in silence. Hippolyta looked in on them once but the awkwardness of the atmosphere made her leave shortly after her arrival. It was apparent to her and to them that things would go better with Diana if she wasn't present. At least until Diana knew the truth, there was very little hope of her forgiving her mother.

Finally, the silence wore on Drea enough that she ventured a peek inside the lab, and what she found was... unexpected.

Diana sat completely still, her eyes unfocused and her monitor dark. Drea walked further in the room, wondering if Diana was even aware of her presence she sat so unmoving. Even her breathing was unnoticeable. When Drea was less than an arms' length from Diana's position, the chair whirled around and piercing blue eyes bored into her brown ones.

"Where did you find this?" Diana asked in a sharp, precise whisper.

"Paula went looking."

"Why?"

Drea ran a hand through her tidy hair, mussing it up considerably in her agitation. "When Chase crashed here, it brought up all kinds of questions, especially when we noted the similarities between her and...."

"And Steve Trevor," Diana continued flatly.

"Yes," Drea agreed shakily. "And it made us curious. So Paula went looking, and the things she found.... Diana, I can't say it enough, but I am so sorry. This never...." She stopped speaking when Diana held up her hand.

"It is done and over, Drea, and no amount of sorry will change it or make it go away. What else?" motioning towards her monitor.

"I'm not sure I understand the question."

"You claim you found out what happened to me. You mean to tell me you didn't find out about her?"

Drea blew out a breath. She had hoped to avoid this particular subject. "Yes, we did," she admitted reluctantly, "but...."

"Show me."

Drea hesitated, but the fierce determination in Diana's eyes made her nod her head. "Paula?" she called out softly. The scientist poked her head out the office door almost immediately as though she had been waiting for the summons. Without a word she walked back to her console and uploaded the files she had gathered on Chase. Then she did something unexpected. Once the process was underway, she walked up behind the princess and placed her hands on Diana's shoulders. Then she brushed her lips over the dark hair and turned and walked out of the room.

Both Drea and Diana remained silent as the screen came alive again, then the healer repeated Paula's actions. "Call if you need me," she offered before disappearing behind the office doorway. Diana watched her out of sight, then turned back to the screen, eager to satisfy the niggling in her belly.

It was very easy to figure out when Diana finished reading Chase's file. The punching bag she kept in the lab to relieve the stress of experiments gone awry – the same equipment that hadn't seen action in more than a century – was suddenly pummeled with a flurry of punches. The sound echoed through the lab and into Paula's office and was greeted with almost a sense of relief.

Drea stepped out of the room followed closely by Mala. They watched in silence as Diana attacked the bag again and again, trying to exorcise the rage she felt coursing through her – at her mother, at Orana, at herself, even at Chase, and certainly at the world at large. Fast and harder the blows fell until her legs and arms were a mere blur, and Drea and Mala settled themselves in to watch and wait for Diana to exhaust herself.

It took the better part of the afternoon, and when she fell, she was soaking wet from her exertion. Drea and Mala rose from the seats they had taken on the floor and carefully cradled Diana between them. Then they called for a travois and moved the princess to the hospice where she and Mala could be closely monitored while the priestess purged her mind of the lies Orana had planted.

It was very slow going. Mala had no desire to hurt Diana further, and the process could be extremely painful if it was mishandled. But by the time morning rolled around again, they were finished and both Mala and Drea dropped into a deep sleep. It remained to be seen what Diana's reaction to things would be, but in the meantime, she too lingered in the healing arms of a deep, restful sleep.

Hippolyta came in to sit with Diana for a while, dismissing Rina so she could talk to Diana privately. She felt fairly confident what Diana's reaction was going to be when she awakened, given what had happened when she'd learned the truth, and she craved the opportunity to be Diana's mother again without all the anger and hurt between them for just a little while. Hippolyta knew a time would come – maybe sooner, maybe later – that they would have to have truth between them. And that was going to cause both of them anguish and grief.

But for right now, for this moment, she could sit and talk to Diana and pretend everything was all right.

She didn't speak of anything important – which flowers were blooming, the latest gossip on the love circuit, what was planned for dinner that evening. Trite, inane conversation, but she figured they had to start somewhere. Might as well try the easy stuff first. Finally Hippolyta ran out of words, and simply sat, gazing at the daughter she knew she had been unfair to and sorely missed. She reached up and brushed a lock of hair from Diana's face, and let her mind wander back to happier times.

She was taken completely by surprise when Diana awoke and moved instinctively away from her touch before settling back into sleep. Hippolyta rose and left without a word, holding in her grief until she reached the privacy of her chambers. Then she cried like her heart was broken.

Drea heard her distress and stumbled from the bed to gather the queen in her arms, and she held her until they both fell back into a deeper sleep, knowing that everything would change again when they awakened.

Chapter XX

"So what have we got?" Chase asked as she placed the lukewarm, bitter coffee down on the table in front of her. She managed to hide her grimace, picking up her fork and shoveling some sort of bland, tasteless food in her mouth. She sighed silently and chewed by rote, knowing the only way to get rid of it was to eat it. But she couldn't help but compare it to the fresh, flavorful food she had supped on just days prior. She forced the thoughts from her mind, knowing where they would lead and completely unwilling to go there. She glanced around the table in annoyance when no one made a move to answer her question.

"Am I missing something critical here or did everyone suddenly go mute?" Chase snapped out harshly. Her injuries and experiences were suddenly weighing in her and she simply wanted the briefing to end so she could go lay down for a while.

Shep cleared his throat self-consciously, then met Chase's eyes. "We, uh... we were hoping you would tell us what happened to you. You were gone for what seemed like forever and we were, well, we were worried about you, Chase. Surely you could spare a few minutes to fill us in."

Chase set her fork down deliberately and leaned back in her chair. "Do you feel this is something I owe you?"

Shep blinked. He hadn't expected the hostility... none of them had. Until now, Chase had always been completely honest and open with them and so easy going that they had never hesitated to talk to her about anything. They wondered what had happened to make her so defensive.

"No, Chase, no! Not at all. We were just worried. I'm sorry. I...."

Chase scrubbed her hands through her hair and blew a breath out from between her lips. "No, Shep. I'm sorry. I am tired and achy and honestly, I don't remember that much to tell you. I was caught by surprise by a squadron of Nazis, but I nailed the bastards... every single one of them. After that... after that, it is pretty much a blur for me. Vague impressions at best... flashes of light and sound."

Shep held up his hands in surrender. "I'm sorry Chase. I forgot you've been going pretty much non-stop since we found you. How about we table the discussion until tomorrow and let you get some rest?"

"Can it wait?"

Shep looked around the table and then nodded at Chase. "Yeah. Another day or two isn't gonna make a lot of difference in our planning or our execution. We've got everything in place, and we will be ready to go within our scheduled window."

Chase mulled over his words and finally nodded. "Very well. If this can wait until tomorrow, I would like to adjourn and get some rest. Everything may be a little clearer then."

The group rose in one body at her words. Only Ty lagged behind, watching Chase carefully and accompanying her out the door.

"You all right there, cuz? You didn't seem so tired just a little while ago."

Case nodded her head even as she rubbed the back of her neck. "Yeah. I just... it kind of hit me all of a sudden... like the adrenaline ran out or something."

Ty chuckled. "Well, that's possible, I suppose, given that was about all that was keeping you upright for days from the little bit we could gather. I was just hoping it wasn't something I said," Ty continued as they reached the doorway of Chase's hut.

"Huh?" Chase replied dumbly. "Oh no... I am just exhausted. Might help if I knew what happened to me while I was missing," she lied, "but I don't think I am ever gonna get the truth behind that."

Ty shrugged. "Well, whatever happened, you survived, and that is the most important part. The rest we can worry about later." She pushed Chase back onto the bed and covered her with a single blanket. "For now, get some rest, will ya? We need you at a hundred percent." She brushed the bangs out of Chase's eyes.

Chase clasped her hand and squeezed. "*I* need me at a hundred percent. There is too much riding on this... on me... for me to screw it up now."

Ty brought up her free hand and cupped Chase's face gently. "No worries, cuz. You have never, ever let us down. You get some rest and let us worry about the details for today. Tomorrow is soon enough for you to start sweating again."

Chase grinned. "Thanks, Ty. I just feel so out of sync all of a sudden."

Ty nodded. "Missing almost a week of your life could do that to ya, but you can't keep worrying about it Chase. All that will do is give you an ulcer."

Chase smirked. "I don't think I have had one of those yet. It would be something new to try."

"I don't think so," Ty answered with a swat to Chase's forehead. "It is the only thing I can claim for my own in this place. I refuse to share with you."

Chase burst out laughing. "You are so funny, Ty. I don't know what I'd do without you."

"That's okay... I'm not sure I'd know what to do without you either. So let's make a deal not to find out and just move things along, all right? I'll see about getting Mitch in her to do a reading on you... see if we can find that missing week and put your mind at ease."

"I'm good with that," Chase said as they shook on it. Then she closed her eyes. "What's for dinner?" she murmured.

"Dunno yet. Depends on who made up the menus. But if it's good I won't let you miss out."

Thanks," came the mumbled response before Ty heard Chase's breathing deepen and even out into sleep. She leaned forward and brushed a light kiss across Chase's forehead, then tucked the cover up under her chin. Then she exited the hut with a single, backwards glance.

"Count backwards from a hundred for me Chase."

"One hundred... ninety-nine... ninety-eight... nine-y-sev...."

Mitch waited patiently until he heard Chase sigh in deep contentment before he spoke again. "Chase, do you know who this is?"

"Oh sure," she drawled. "You're muh good buddy, Mitch."

"That's right, Chase. And I'm gonna take you back in time to see if we can find out what happened to you while you were missing, all right?"

"Sure Mitch. You're muh good buddy. You won't let them damn Nazi bastards hurt me this time, will ya?"

He looked at the others and cleared his throat. "I'll do my best to watch your back, Chase, but I need to know what happened while you were all alone out there." He paused then continued. "You went down in Devil's Triangle. Do you remember?"

"Oh yeah. Damn Nazi bastards. Five of 'em. Came outta nowhere. Shot me outta the damn sky, but not 'fore I got them first," she said with a lazy grin.

"Good for you, Ace. We'll add them to your new plane, all right?"

"Nifty, Mitch! Hans is gonna bitch at me about having to repaint all those flags, though."

Hans flushed but joined in the laughter that went around the room. Mitch patted Chase's hand. "Don't worry about it, Chase. We'll all pitch in and he'll get over it."

"Good," she said with a smile, turning over and snuggling more into her pillow.

"Chase?"

"Hmm?"

"Chase, tell me what happened after you shot down the Nazis. You crashed your plane...."

"I crashed into the last man and I ejected. Then I... I think I hit the canopy. It got real dark."

"Did you fall into the water?"

"Dunno." She managed a shrug. "Next thing I remember was waking up when Shep came to get me."

"That's it? You don't know how you got to the island?"

"Nope. Didn't I float there?"

There was silence. No one had ever failed to tell the truth under hypnosis, though this was the first time Chase had agreed to allow a session to be performed on her. Heretofore, she had kept her own secrets and her own council and the practice had served them all well. So now they were faced with the fact that either Chase could lie under hypnosis, nothing had happened to her worth remembering or she really had no memories to share. Given their understanding, they decided to accept that she had no real memories of her experience in Devil's Triangle.

"I guess you did, Chase. It certainly makes sense and would account for your missing week. Sun and dehydration could make it very hard to stay conscious to remember much of anything. Now why don't you get some rest? You want to be fresh in the morning."

"Yeah, cause Ty said I couldn't have an ulcer."

Mitch chuckled. "Did she? And why is that?"

"Cause that is all she has left around here to claim for her own. Doesn't want me horning in on her territory, I guess." She cuddled deeper into the pillow. "I think she is just being selfish." The entire room tittered.

"Probably," Mitch agreed, getting a slap on his arms from Ty for his troubles. "But don't worry about it. If you're meant to remember, you will, and if not, it doesn't matter. Put it behind you, Chase, and focus on the future."

"'Kay. C'n I go asleep now?"

"Goodnight, Chase."

"G'night, Mitch."

"Thanks, Mitch. I hope that will help. I think it was bothering her, not knowing."

"Probably. Given her personality, she needed closure to be able to move on. I think knowing there's nothing there to remember will do that for her."

"Agreed. Thanks, Mitch."

For her part, Chase fell into dreams of sunshine and a whispered voice and paradise itself. It would be a while before she wondered if her memories were really dreams.

"All right, people. What have we got?"

Hans put a hand on her shoulder and looked Chase in the eye. "Are you all right now? Do you feel better?"

Chase patted his hand and smiled, first at him and then around the entire room. "I'm good. Knowing that there really isn't anything there to remember helps a lot." In truth, she felt a bit of confusion, but for now, it was something she would have to live with. Maybe it had all been a figment of her imagination. However, for now there were far more important things for her to consider. Perhaps in time she would be able to figure out which of her memories were real and which were only figments of her imagination.

Each member of her team smiled back at Chase with relief in their eyes and she realized they had been as concerned about her inability to share as she had with her inability to remember. She was glad Mitch had been able to resolve that for all of them.

"Thanks, Mitch," she said, getting a hug in response.

"Anytime, boss. Now let's get back to business. We're about ready to launch our offensive and I think you're gonna like what we came up with the information you brought back. We think we have a really good chance of striking a killing blow with it."

"Yes," Shep agreed. "And even if we don't manage to topple the regime with it, we think it will signal the beginning of the end."

Chase felt the excitement running through them and couldn't help but catch their enthusiasm. "Well all right. Show me what we've got. The sooner we get this over with, the sooner I can take Ty's money from her."

"Uh oh," Jen commented. "What's the bet about this time?"

"Chase falling in love," Ty answered with a grin. "Who's in?"

"Oh, I am."

"Me too."

"I got it covered."

"<Ahem> Is anyone betting *with* me on this?"

"NO!!" came the resounding answer. Then the room burst out in laughter, including Chase. Then she slapped her hands on the table confidently and stood up.

"Very well, then. I'll take ALL your money, and we'll win the war besides!"

A cheer went up at the last pronouncement, and they settled down to serious work.

"So we're all set then right? We've covered all the contingencies, correct?" Chase was looking over all the paperwork her team leaders had given her, pleased with the amount of thought and effort they put into her original plans. They had expanded them until they had covered every foreseeable and unforeseeable event they could think of.

"We think so," Shep said honestly, "though I suppose there could always be something we've failed to consider."

"Well, I think ya'll did a damn fine job," Chase commented. "You thought of some possibilities even I didn't imagine."

Shep blinked. "I think that is probably the single scariest thing I have ever heard you say."

Chase stared at him as though he had grown two heads. "Excuse me?"

"Seriously, Chase. Given your penchant for wild, hair-brained ideas, I didn't think we could come up with anything you hadn't thought of first."

"Are you saying I'm nuts?"

Shep blanched and his eyes widened. Then he shook his head vehemently. "No, no. Uh uh. Not me. You didn't hear anything like that come out of my mouth."

"Funny... that is sure what it sounded like to me. What about you guys... hmm? Did it sound that way to you?"

"Yep, it sure did," Ty and Jan agreed simultaneously. Mitch and Hans just sat with their hands covering the mouths and hiding their laughter. Shep stood up and started inching his way towards the door. Chase just put her hands on the table and stood, leaning over and meeting Shep's eyes.

"I think you are in serious trouble, Shep. You want a head start or you wanna suffer your punishment now?"

He was out the door before Chase finished speaking. Chase looked around the room, her eyes twinkling as she met each of theirs, now all laughing out loud. Then she jumped the desk and darted out the door after him. They heard him squeal in the distance and it caused them to laugh even harder.

"Remind me again why we wanted her back?" Jen asked with a chuckle.

"Cause she provides the best entertainment around here, bar none," Ty answered seriously before cackling again as Shep squealed again and accused Chase of cheating to win. She would have said more except for the fact that Shep crashed into the room and tripped over his own chair, leaving him in perfect position for Chase when she pounced on his back.

"You're mine now, Shep. I'm going to tickle you til you beg for mercy."

"Mercy! Mercy! Mercy!" he screamed, hoping for a miracle. Chase laughed manically.

"You wish," she said as she curled her fingers and moved them in towards his ribs. Then without warning, she moved off of him and pushed out the door to intercept the radioman that was running to the conference room calling her name.

"Now what?" Hans asked. He had the distinct impression this was not going to be good news.

Chapter XXI

"All right... are we sure about this new intel, Harry?"

"Yes ma'am," the radioman replied crisply. "I checked it twice before I brought it to you, ma'am. It's my job to make sure."

Chase nodded. "You did good, Harry. Real good." Harry blushed to the roots of his curly, blond hair and bobbed his head in acknowledgment.

"Thanks, Chase.

"Thank you, Harry... keep up the good work."

Harry ducked his head in response and was out the door before Chase could say another word. Then she sat down on the bed to reread the report Harry had given her. This was one contingency they hadn't anticipated and they were going to have to move quickly to keep this from having a negative impact on their efforts.

Diana opened her eyes after sleeping away an entire day and night. She felt refreshed and her mind was clearer than it had been for decades, but there was still an underlying of anger and hurt that wasn't going to dissipate anytime soon. It had rankled and festered too long, and knowing the truth didn't change the feelings that she had harbored for years.

She sat up carefully, stretching a bit before she swung her legs over the side of the bed. Her nose wrinkled as she realized she'd been put into the bed after her round with the punching bag. Gods, no wonder I feel like I've been ridden hard and put away wet... I was. A wry smile crossed her face. At least that was something she could take care of immediately. Everything else could wait until after her shower. Her stomach growled. Maybe a banana or two would tide her over until she could get some real breakfast.

Diana slipped from the bed and walked the few steps between her bed and where Mala lay comfortably ensconced. The priestess looked tired, and for the first time in Diana's memory, fragile. The princess wondered just exactly what Mala had done to affect her so badly. She pulled the lightweight blanket further up her body until Mala's shoulders were covered. Then she walked out of the hospice and back down to her own quarters.

Rina followed her movements, then tapped another apprentice to keep and eye on Mala while she went to alert Drea to the newest development.

For her part, Diana enjoyed the treat of a long, hot shower. Having realized she had been put to bed all sweaty made her skin itch and she was luxuriating in the feel of clean skin. Then she stepped from the water and wrapped herself in her favorite, fluffiest towel.

Diana went to her closet and withdrew a bag. It was a brand new travel bag she had crafted for herself after Orana had returned her to Paradise Island with only the clothes on her back. She spared a thought for the first bag, remembering the time she had spent learning to craft it as a child. Then she put those thoughts away and focused on the future. The time had come for her to assume the responsibilities she'd once craved.

First, though, she had to find a way off of Paradise Island.

"Pol?" Drea called softly into the darkened bedroom after Rina left their quarters. "Pol? Wake up. Things are starting to happen." She crossed into the room and sat gingerly on the bed.

Drea hated to wake the queen, given the rough, restless night she'd had. But with Diana awake and moving around, the odds were that she'd be leaving very soon, and Hippolyta couldn't miss that event this time. There was too much at stake for everyone.

Hippolyta's bloodshot, blue eyes blinked up at Drea. "What's happening, Drea?" she asked, pushing up onto her elbows and moving her hair out of her eyes.

"Diana's up and awake. She left the hospice this morning. I expect she will be leaving us shortly."

Hippolyta rubbed a hand over her face in an effort to kick start her brain. "Will you go start the shower for me, please? I need to fire up my remaining brain cells before I try to tackle Diana."

Drea smiled. "Yes, love. And I will see what I can do for breakfast as well."

"Thank you, Drea. Someday I'll figure out what I did to deserve you."

Drea patted Hippolyta's leg as she rose from the bed. "You love me, Pol. That was enough." Then she was out the door before the queen could collect her wits to reply.

Hippolyta heard the water come on and Drea leave their suite and head towards the kitchen before she sat up and got out of the bed. She was already trying to decide what she would say to Diana on this occasion that she felt her daughter would listen to and accept from her. Then she stepped under the spray and let the water wash her thoughts away and she focused on the feelings. With a little luck, she would find the words to reach Diana through the feelings she still had for her.

Diana packed carefully. She knew she wouldn't get a second chance at this. She highly doubted she'd be welcome back on Paradise Island once she left this time, but she knew this was something she needed to do.

Diana went through her things carefully, trying to decide what she could live without. So many things were tied to her heritage and who she was, but did she need them in her new life? She bit her lip as she went through her things, choosing her clothing and then moving over to the scroll she had confiscated from the lot Mala had brought to her room only days previously.

That, more than anything else on Paradise Island, she felt tied her to the Amazons. There was just something so familiar in that story....

So she added that to the small pile of items she wanted to take. When she was satisfied with the choices she had made, Diana began to put each article into the small bag. It was a little more than half full when she finished, but to take more felt... wrong. She nodded in satisfaction. What she had was enough.

Content with her progress, she lifted the bag and moved it out into her living area. Then she headed out to the kitchen area to pick up some food. Even with help getting off the island, she still had several days' worth of travel to get to where she needed to be, and she wanted to be prepared for anything.

The kitchen went silent, but Diana moved around with confidence, knowing they wouldn't lift a finger to stop her. She chose foods that would last for a little bit, ignoring the looks of the staff around her, then prepared a loaf of bread and herbed butter. Without a word, she gathered her parcel and left the kitchen, waiting for whispers that never came.

When she reached her room, Diana was surprised to see a small congregation of people waiting respectfully outside her door. It had been so long since anyone had accorded her simple respect without a hint of fear that she stopped walking and simply looked at them.

Mala, Paula, Nubia and Drea returned her gaze evenly, hoping that their numbers would allow them the chance to show their consolidated support of her this time. Hippolyta kept her eyes firmly on the ground in front of her, not wanting her daughter to read anything into her expression.

For her part, Diana was at something of a loss at how to react to these women as a group. Together, especially with her mother as part of the equation, they had the power to make this a less than pleasant departure. She had hoped to avoid that... and them... with a clean getaway. Obviously, though, that wish had been in vain, and with a mental sigh she girded her loins and moved forward towards her door.

They moved back and waited for an invitation. Diana debated for all of two seconds before she turned and gestured them into her rooms, hoping to get things over with quickly so she could leave.

They stepped in behind her, one at a time, and Mala took the lead, moving over to the couch and taking a seat. The rest followed, though Hippolyta remained standing by the fireplace. Diana continued on to her bag, placing the fruit and other food she had collected into her bag, filling it nicely. Then she turned and faced what she knew was going to be an inquisition.

Drea, not surprisingly, took the lead, walking over to Diana and taking her hands. She examined her with a healer's eyes first and then with the eyes of a mother. She brushed the hair back from Diana's forehead then brushed her lips across it before gently cupping her face.

"How are you doing, Little One?" using the moniker that had been theirs alone during Diana's growing up years. Diana smiled wistfully, but didn't answer. Drea just returned the smile, seeing the difference in Diana's eyes. "I want you to know that you go with my blessing and my prayers behind you, Diana." Diana still didn't answer, except for a squeeze to Drea's hand, but for the healer, that was enough.

Mala approached next, confident in the change that had taken place in Diana's mind. She took Diana's face in her hands and held it before placing a light kiss on either cheek. "I know you haven't forgiven yet, Princess, but at least now you do understand the truth. Think about it while you are away from us. Promise me?"

Diana's answer was well considered, and then it was only a single nod of her head. But Mala understood and took it as the promise it was.

Paula rose from her spot, her hands filled with something she passed to Diana with a smile. Diana gave the scientist her customary raised eyebrow look until she realized what Paula had placed into her grasp. "I thought you would probably want to read up on everything. I mean... not much has changed considering more than a hundred years have passed, but a lot of history has happened in that time. I, um... I included everything I could find about Chase." The last she added at a bare whisper that even Diana had to struggle to make out, but when she did, the words made her smile and leaned forward an placed a chaste kiss on Paula's cheek.

"Thank you," Diana whispered into her ear. Paula flushed in pleasure and backed up towards the small group of watchers.

Nubia stepped forward and took one of Diana's hands in hers. "Good luck, Princess," she said simply, then moved to stand with her compatriots.

Diana had chance to wonder what had happened to cause what seemed to her to be a sudden change of heart. Then Hippolyta stepped forward and a chilled hush fell over the room and over Diana's features. The queen took a deep breath and spoke.

"Leave us, please," she requested of the Amazons. They looked at one another, then Diana, then finally Hippolyta before one after the other, they filed out of the room. Drea was the last to leave, and she touched first Diana's arm, then Hippolyta's before crossing the threshold to wait outside.

Diana looked at her mother with disdain for a very long moment before deliberately turning her back and picking up her travel bag. Then she moved towards the door and out of Hippolyta's life. The queen held out a beseeching hand.

"Diana, please."

The princess stopped walking but didn't turn to face the queen. The anger she felt coursing through her veins was palpable and it required more self-control than she had imagined it would to keep from acting on those impulses. Hippolyta reached out again, but stopped just short of actually touching Dian. She could easily ready the hairsbreadth of control her daughter was maintaining and had no desire to push her beyond her limits.

"I'm sorry," she whispered.

Diana closed her eyes, but otherwise gave no outward that she had heard Hippolyta speak. She would have given anything to have heard those words a hundred years ago... when this all meant something to her. Now... now she simply wanted to leave it behind to begin life again with – well, she wasn't exactly sure what or who Chase was or could be to her. But she did know she was anxious to find out.

Hippolyta's shoulders slumped at Diana's lack of reaction to her apology. She had known it was going to be hard, but she hadn't expected it to be impossible. And it looked like Diana was going to make it as near to impossible as she could manage.

"I'm sorry," she whispered again. "I know that what I did to you before was... wrong... and I'm sorry, Diana. I'm sorry, and I know I will never be able to make that up to you. But I want you to know that you have my blessing and my total support in this new fight. It is time for you to resume the title which has always been rightfully yours and the Amazons stand at your disposal if necessary. Please be safe and come home soon, daughter."

Diana never turned or acknowledged Hippolyta's words. Instead, she waited until the queen was finished speaking, then she walked out the door without a backwards glance. Hippolyta sank to the couch and dropped her head into her hands. She had done the best she knew how – the rest was up to Diana. And right now, she didn't hold a lot of hope out for that.

When Diana stepped from her room, Drea took up cadence beside her, steering her down to the docks while the rest of the council filed into Diana's quarters to check on their queen. It was something Hippolyta and Drea had discussed, knowing that the odds of Diana accepting Hippolyta's words were nil, yet wanting Diana to understand she had their unwavering support.

"I realize we cannot give you another invisible plane to travel into man's world, but we thought perhaps you would accept passage on the royal yacht instead. A crew stands by awaiting your leisure to depart. They will take you to the nearest inhabited island where you will be dropped off. Paula has already prepared your travel papers and all the credentials you will need. They are in the packet she gave you earlier. By our calculations, even with favorable winds, the journey will take you a couple days. That should give you plenty of time to read and memorize all the information she collected."

Diana nodded. Already her mind was making plans. She knew just from Paula's words that they all expected her to find Chase. But that was not her first goal. As much as her soul would welcome another opportunity to understand who Chase was and what they had been... were... or could be to one another, her heart and mind required vengeance first. Vengeance for the crimes perpetrated against her, vengeance for the evil perpetrated against Chase and vengeance for the betrayal of both the Amazon Nation and mankind. It was an instinct deeply ingrained in her psyche, and she would not... could not... ignore it.

Drea saw the far-off look in Diana's eye and wondered where her mind had drifted in that brief interlude. Something in her expression made the healer think it had not been a pleasant sojourn and she wondered if she should have someone accompany the princess on her travels into man's world. Then her common sense reasserted herself and she realized that adding more pieces to this puzzle would only complicate things immeasurably – and this was complicated enough without making that kind of effort.

They reached the dock where the boat rose and fell gently in time with the waves as it stood ready to depart. The captain and her crew stood waiting to welcome their princess with hesitant smiles, and Diana reflected on just how bizarre it was to feel almost like part of the Nation again. She wondered at the sudden change of heart among the women, not realizing they were responding to the changes in her. Changes that she would come to recognize and appreciate more and more in the near future.

In the meantime, though, she nodded to the captain and crew as she set foot on the deck, then turned to Drea who had followed her. Diana allowed the healer to give her a very fleeting embrace before she moved away from her and towards her cabin. Drea and the entire crew watched her disappear below decks before exchanging glances.

"We'll take good care of our princess," the captain reassured Drea with a squeeze to her arm. "The Nation doesn't know everything yet, but we know enough. It is time we show Diana the support she deserves... both as our princess and as our champion. We are glad the queen is allowing us to do so once again."

Drea nodded. She had known the Nation had been deeply disturbed by Hippolyta's decision to make Diana an outcast here, though all had abided by her edict, both due to her position as well as Diana's own behavior towards them. She hoped this would be a new beginning to all of them. It was as important to the Amazon Nation as it was to Diana.

"So am I, Captain. But understand – you are only to transport the Princess to the island. No one... no one is to remain behind. This is something Diana has to work out for herself first before the Nation gets involved."

"But we will get the chance, Drea? Will we get a chance to be part of the solution this time?"

Drea thought about it before she nodded. "I think so, Captain. I really do."

"Good," the captain replied firmly. "We'll be off then, and we'll be back in five or six days. Maybe a week if the winds don't change."

"Safe journey, sisters." Then Drea went down the gangplank and the crew prepared to cast off. The healer turned and watched the activity on the ship. Then she offered up a prayer to the goddesses for their safety... and especially for Diana.

Diana went directly to her cabin, absently noting the fact that the crew had made an effort to welcome her. There were fresh sheets and flowers in the cabin and the window had been opened to let in fresh air. Diana pushed her hair back and dropped to the small couch, reaching into her bag and retrieving the information Paula had given her. With any luck, she would find the answers she needed and more besides.

She was totally engrossed in her reading when a knock on the door interrupted her. Diana frowned and looked up, then sighed as she rose and walked to the door. She opened it to find the first mate looking back at her. Diana sighed silently again.

Once upon a time, Nigelia had had an unrequited crush on her and Diana had politely but firmly made her understand that she just wasn't interested. It wasn't like Diana hadn't had to do the same thing with any number of others, but Nigelia had taken it very personally.

"Princess, I was sent to escort you to luncheon." Nigelia smiled at the crease of confusion that crossed Diana's features. "We have been underway for the better part of five hours, Princess." She chuckled when Diana blinked in surprise and realized that Diana had been so absorbed in something that she was completely unaware of the passage of time. "Let me bring you a tray, Princess. I apparently interrupted you."

Diana stood, torn between the need to continue her reading and the desire not to owe anything to Nigelia. Reading Diana's hesitation and guessing at the reason behind it, Nigelia rushed to put Diana at ease.

"Please don't feel obligated to join us, Princess. We know you have a lot to do between now and our arrival at the island. The Captain simply thought you might like an excuse to get out of your cabin for a while. It is a beautiful day and we are dining on deck." She hesitated, then continued. "You don't want to miss my Enora's cooking. No one makes a better peach cobbler than she does."

Diana blinked again, understanding immediately that Nigelia was no longer interested in her. She realized she had missed their joining and it occurred to her to wonder how many other important things she had missed during her self-imposed exile. With a smile, she accepted Nigelia's invitation, and followed the first mate topside.

It was shaping up to be an interesting voyage.

Chapter XXII

By the time they reached the island, Diana had memorized everything Paula had given her. She found the fact that civilization had stagnated quite fascinating, but it had made the formulation of her plans much easier. Tactics had always been her favorite part of training and she finally had a chance to use them in her own unorthodox way. She wondered what her instructors would think about the decision she had made.

Without effort, her thoughts turned away from her plans and swung back to Chase with the inevitability of a compass to the north. There was something completely mesmerizing about the blonde pilot and Diana couldn't help but wonder why.

She was more than interesting, though she certainly was that. The facts in her dossier made that profusely clear. And it was more than intelligence, though Chase also possessed that in abundance as well. It wasn't even her beauty which Diana had seen clearly despite the injuries Chase had borne when Diana had both rescued and visited her.

No, it was much more than that, though it was all of those things combined as well. It was something intangible... something that spoke to Diana's soul... something her soul cried out for.

She wondered briefly if she were being stupid by ignoring the truth her heart recognized and her soul knew to be true by choosing revenge and retribution over whatever possibilities there might be with Chase. But her mind knew there could be nothing between them until Orana was destroyed. And Diana firmly believed that was her responsibility.

So Diana tucked the information about Chase away until she could use it. Then she gathered her things together to leave the ship.

When she reached the deck, each and every Amazon stood at attention in a two line formation waiting to say goodbye. Diana was a little nonplussed. Though she hadn't made an effort to completely cut herself off from her sisters as she had on Paradise Island, her reading had kept her cloistered for the majority of her voyage. So she was surprised to see them all acting as an honor guard. Then the Captain stepped forward.

"It has been an honor, Princess. If there is anything more we can do...."

Diana didn't say a word, but turned to the Captain and extended her hand. Then she saluted the women who stood looking at her. As one body, they returned the salute and were treated to a rare, full-mouth smile from their reclusive princess. More than one fell back into instant lust, but Diana never noticed. Her heart was already full of Chase and her mind already engaged on her upcoming battle with Orana.

Diana turned and walked down the gangway to the dock without a backwards glance.

The Amazons watched her go, following her progress until she was out of sight. Then they made preparations to get back underway.

"Hey, Captain?" Nigelia asked, coming over to stand beside the Captain as the ship backed out of the port. "You think she'll be all right?"

"I think... I think we've finally gotten our princess back."

Nigelia smiled. "I think the world is in for one Hades of a surprise then."

Laughter accompanied them back out to open ocean.

"Chase, you can't do it. You cannot lead another mission. Have you forgotten what happened that last time you went out??"

Bare silence met the words as everyone waited for Chase's reaction. She wasn't known to tolerate fools lightly and Shep had just crossed a line even Hans hesitated in stepping over. It was one thing to protest her leaving; it was something else again to bring up what she perceived as a failure. Even though everyone else in the rebellion considered it at least a partial success, Chase still counted it as a failure for needing to be rescued from it, and Shep was trying to use that to his advantage.

"I see," calmly, frigidly. "And who died and made you God here?"

Shep swallowed hard. The cold precision of her words cut into him; he knew she was angry beyond description and that scared him. But he also felt he had a point that needed to be made and pressed on.

"You did... when you went out and died – or we thought you had. That left me in charge of this place... of this rebellion"

"Uh huh. And so what – you think you're still in charge that you can start issuing orders, Shep? Did I miss something here? Are you assuming command?"

"No!" his eyes widening almost comically. "No, that's my whole point, Chase! You went out on a routine mission and even with the odds in your favor, we still almost lost you completely to a chance encounter with the Nazis. Like it or not, you are what holds us all together. No one else can make this rebellion work like you do, Chase. All we were doing was marking time until we found you. God, can't you understand?? This is serious!!"

Chase regarded Shep from beneath scowling brows. "Yeah, Shep, you're right. This is serious. I find it very serious that you think this whole rebellion sits on my shoulders." She slapped her hands on the desk, causing Shep to stumble. The back of his knees hit a chair and he fell into it gracelessly. "How dare you!! How dare you put the whole of this on me and completely discount the efforts of every other person involved in this rebellion. Goddamn it, Shep!! I don't do this on my own!!"

He jumped up, leaning his weight on the desk and leaving only a hairsbreadth between them. "Exactly! Find someone else to lead this mission. We need you here!"

Chase sank back into her seat though her eyes never left Shep's. He stood up straighter, breaking eye contact and looking around the room with a smirk. He hadn't expected her to capitulate so easily. Then he turned his attention back to her and had to physically restrain himself from shivering at the look in her eyes. He got her unspoken message loud and clear and sank slowly into the seat behind him.

"All right, Shep. You think you need me here so badly. Tell me who you're going to send in my place, hmm? Who knows the Reichstag better than I do? WHO IS THE ONLY PERSON TO HAVE SURVIVED THAT GOD-FORSAKEN, FUCKING HELLHOLE AND COME OUT ALIVE?!?"

"Chase...."

"NO!!!" She drew a deep breath to center herself before speaking again. "No, Shep, there is no one else! No one knows the horrors I've seen there, and no one else has been able to penetrate it with nearly the success that I had!! And not for lack of trying either - we've lost too many good operatives there because even when I share my knowledge of that place, people still get caught." She ran a hand through her short hair. "Like it or not, this is something I have to do. If I am the leader, then you have to let me lead, Shep. It's the only thing I am good at, aside from making everyone nuts."

Shep smiled ruefully at the partial truth in both statements. Chase was a leader who had earned her right and deserved to lead this crucial mission, and she most definitely drove everyone to distraction. But they were certainly not the only things she was good at though she was determined not to be convinced otherwise... at least until the rebellion was over. He shook his head.

"All right, all right. You're absolutely right, of course, but dammit Chase, we need you here too!"

"Shep, if things work out like they should, then you're not gonna need me here for much longer anyway. You and Jen can get married and settle down – raise a family." Chase nearly chuckled watching his eye get very round at her words. "Breathe," she commented softly when she realized he was holding his breath. "Shep, it's gonna be a little while still before we win, but you do need to start wrapping your mind around the fact that we're going to win and when we do, we're all gonna go on to different things – different lives apart from one another. I won't be there to lead you then." She motioned to Jen who stood in the back of the room with the rest of the team. "Jen will."

Everyone cracked up over the truth of her pronouncement and the tension in the room eased considerably. "Besides," she said, leaning back in her chair, "with a little luck, recon will take care of this new development before I have to take care of it personally. I only plan to go in for the final offensive, and our timetable for that has not changed."

Shep held up his hands, conceding the point. He recognized he wasn't going to win. "Okay, then. At least you've set my mind at ease about the intruder. I thought...."

"... that I was just going to rush over? C'mon, Shep – give me a little credit. We don't know who this person is or what they want. All we know is that someone suspicious is traveling alone in the dark and asking the odd question of our people. We're keeping an eye on it, but I imagine it will be brought here before very much longer – certainly before we start our big offensive push."

"Sorry, Chase. It's just... we've lived this way for so long... all our lives, and the thought of it being over – of everything changing – is... terrifying." He cleared his throat, then lowered his voice. "Besides, I really was worried about you. You've been a little, I dunno... off, since we brought you home."

Chase didn't miss a beat. "You mean you haven't *always* thought I was a bit off, Shep? Tch, tch," she clicked her tongue. "And here I thought for sure I had done a better job than that," garnering the laughter from the room she had been looking for. She picked up a pencil and scooted closer to the desk. "Note to self," she mumbled loudly enough for everyone to hear. "Work harder to insure Shep knows I am more than a little bit off." Everyone tittered.

"Oh Shep, I'm sooooo glad I'm not in your place. It sucks to be you, mac!" Mitch cackled.

"Uh huh. Just remember that whatever I suffer is going to spill over to the rest of you."

Chase grinned evilly. "I dunno, Shep. I'm betting I could keep my focus solely on you." The room exploded into laughter when Shep simply dropped his head into his hands and groaned.

"Oh God, it really does suck to be me!"

For her part, Chase felt better having dodged that particular bullet. There were still things she wanted to work out in her mind, things she hadn't shared with anyone, and likely wouldn't. But before she could worry about Amazons and the possibilities they presented, she had a war to help win, and nothing, NOTHING was going to get in the way of that. They had all worked too hard to be waylaid by something intangible like her mixed-up, totally confusing feelings.

"C'mon. That made me hungry. Let's go see what Cookie fixed up for dinner."

"Chase, it's SOS today, just like it had been every week for the past...." Ty turned around and looked at the group. "What year is this again?" She shook her head. "God, I think the food has finally eaten through my last functioning brain cell."

"Is that your excuse this week?" Hans asked with a wicked grin.

Ty went to make a smart remark before she caught the teasing glint in his eyes. She sauntered up close to him. "Ya know, Hans, I know where you live, and you can't stay awake forever."

He swallowed hard then realized she was teasing back. It made him smile and a little bit reckless. "Last one to the chow hall has to skip dessert." It took him nearly ten seconds to realize he was standing in the room alone, the door swinging eerily. "Hey, wait for me!!" Their laughter floated back to him and his return laughter caught up to them long before he did. The evening suddenly had all sorts of interesting possibilities.

Diana sat in the same outdoor café that the Nazis frequented gathering information. They talked fairly freely here, assuming the natives and few tourists didn't speak their language. Already she had more than enough inside intelligence to get her to Germany safely. After that, it would be a matter of getting into the Reichstag. Paula had given her complete blueprints of the building and she felt confident in her abilities to find Orana once she was inside.

First thought, she had to make arrangements to get to Nazi territory.

It was simple enough, really. Diana was fluent in nearly every written and spoken language in the world, including several dead ones, so with the papers Paula had again so thoughtfully provided, she was able to obtain a tourist visa to travel to the Old World.

To make things easy, Diana's new persona was one she was familiar with – Diana Prince. The council had discussed it at length before making the decision to go with the known alias. Though it was a little bit chancy, she could always convince Chase her name was a throwback to an old ancestor if she didn't feel comfortable telling her the truth. Of course, they had no idea she was walking into the lion's den.

However, working in her favor was not only the fact that she was well-acquainted with her persona, but also that there were no real records left from her original pilgrimage into the world of men. Bits and pieces were all that remained of the original Diana Prince, but there was no way to find them unless one knew exactly when and where to look... and of course, one would need a reason to go looking in the first place. There was only one person in the world who might feel the need to go looking, and Diana wasn't going to give Orana the opportunity to know who was coming for her until it was too late.

So she took care to make her looks different from what Orana knew and what the records remembered. It was amazing how a few cosmetic could completely change one's appearance, and she only had to maintain them long enough to get into the Reichstag. After that, it wouldn't matter.

It cost a small fortune, but one she was well able to afford, again thanks to Paula. With her 'new' look in place and her papers in order, Diana Prince was able to purchase a ticket for a flight to the old country the following day.

In an odd way, even knowing the danger she faced, Diana was looking forward to it. Because of the restrictions she was forced to travel under, she would be going to Greece and then making her way into Germany from there. She was finally going to see the home she had only read about.

The trip was long and not particularly comfortable though she wasn't completely miserable either. Still, Diana was glad to see the flight end after a grueling twenty-four hours of travel. Fortunately, enough people traveled between Greece and the islands that a woman traveling alone didn't drew undue attention to herself.

Diana was exhausted when they touched down and she immediately made her way to the nearest hotel, not even able to appreciate the beauty that surrounded her. Then she fell into a deep, dreamless sleep for twelve hours of uninterrupted sleep. When she woke, she felt like a new woman, and she made ready to make her way to find Orana. But first....

She didn't have time for much; it was too important to get Orana taken care of and find Chase. But she had determined to visit the Acropolis. It wouldn't take long and more than anything, she wanted to see Athena's temple.

Slowly she walked up the hill and through the Parthenon, taking a long look around. She closed her eyes briefly and was able to imagine what it might have been like. Then she crossed over to the Temple of Athena and simply stood in awe and despair. She spared a thought to wish she could have actually seen it in Athens' heyday.

From Mount Olympus, six goddesses observed Diana, fascinated with her reaction to what truly was her past in another lifetime. They monitored her progress in the Parthenon and watched as she dropped to her knees in the Temple. But she never called out to them or asked for their presence, so they had to be content with observation.

"What about her mothers?"

Athena turned to Aphrodite, who had raised the question. "What about them, Dite? They have prayed for us to watch over her and that's what we are doing. Diana hasn't asked for our help yet."

"But are we going to tell them?"

"Tell them what?? Moreover, we can't," Hera said. "They haven't asked and we don't have the power to interfere here anymore. Ares has seen to that."

"So she's just going to walk into the spider web with nothing? That is just so wrong!" Dite wailed, frustrated to the max.

Athena nodded. "It would be, if it was true, but somehow, I don't think Diana's plans are as well laid as Chase's."

"Huh?" Dite's not-so-brilliant response elicited a round of laughter from her fellow goddesses and broke the tension in the scrying room. Artemis leaned forward and kissed her sometimes ditzy sister on the forehead.

"Don't you ever go changing, Dite. We love you just the way you are."

Dite smiled and held out her arms. "Aww, you guys.... Group hug!!" They grumbled good-naturedly, but everyone complied and strangely, they felt better for the effort. Then Dite looked around expectantly. "So what is so radical about what Chase is doing that makes it way better than Diana? I thought our princess babe, ya know, like, couldn't be beat."

"Normally, no, but Diana is in the world of men now. And she's going to have to learn to play by a new set of rules. Lucky for her, Chase is on her side... or will be eventually."

"Ooo, I love it when a plan comes together... especially a gnarly love match like this one."

"Yeah," Athena agreed casually. "Don't we all?"

Chapter XXIII

Diana felt a sense of purpose envelop her as she knelt in the temple and she savored the peace it brought her. Then she rose and made her way out of the temple, off the Acropolis and out of Greece.

If she had thought her trip to Greece had been bad, it was nothing compared to her journey to Berlin. She had shucked her feminine garb for something much more practical to her needs – trousers, a rough workman's shirt and sturdy boots. The men's clothing was less uncomfortable than it was awkward. Still, she wished for the freedom of the less constrictive clothing she was used to. She traveled at night to avoid bringing too much attention to herself, though she knew there were watchers then as well as during the day. But the night watchers never stopped her; they only tracked her progress and she was happy to let them. Diana looked at it as a chance to sharpen her stealth skills. She figured, rightly so, that they were not Nazis since they didn't stop her, and that unless she showed herself to be a Nazi, none of these would bother her. It was on the second point that she miscalculated.

It was slow going at night, especially since the moon wanted to remain hidden by clouds, but Diana had learned to count that as a blessing. If she had difficulty seeing, then everyone else had the same difficulty seeing her. And after a week of solid travel, she was dirty enough that she blended in with everyone around her.

Twice she had had to stop and ask directions. She had been very careful not to approach those marked as soldiers and instead focused her attention on the peasants who worked the land. She'd had to awaken early on those days to reach a farmhouse just before sunset, but she felt that bit of exposure was safer than being shot at for knocking at someone's door after curfew.

The people she had interacted with had looked at her askance when she asked flawlessly in their native tongue, but they treated her with respect, answering her questions and offering her a bit of their own meager supplies before letting her continue on her way. Few were known to travel the road at night, and no one headed to Berlin. Diana had no way of knowing she had chosen resistance fighters who sent notice of her and her activities directly to Chase.

Finally, Berlin came in to view and Diana felt a sense of triumph at being so close to her goal. Nightmare images flashed through her mind of her previous visit to this place, and for a long moment, Diana let them wash over her. She relished the pain and anger that accompanied them because she harnessed that energy and allowed them to make her stronger. Then with strength of purpose, she began her trek into the city itself.

She arrived during the day. Here it was most important to blend in, and no one traveled in the city at night. She looked around with familiar eyes, but it was... different than before. For one thing, the tang of war was less sharp. There were fewer obvious troops about though they were still certainly a presence throughout the area. But Diana found it incredibly easy to skirt them – they seemed less vigilant, almost smug and complacent in their achieved superiority.

However, she also noticed the pall that hung over the city, much more prevalent than it had been out in the countryside she had traveled through. There, people had been resigned to their lot in life, but there was also a determined air about them as well. Here, in the heart of the Nazi regime, there was nothing but resignation.

Diana looked around, and saw that the city was... dirty. Oh, nothing obviously filthy or disgusting, but not the pristine condition that she had expected either. Corners had had bits of garbage swept into them and leaves were scattered all over the steps and sidewalks. The few people she saw out and about looked tired, but they went about their business briskly.

Slowly she made her way through the city, mentally noting troop locations and watch stations. The closer Diana got to the Reichstag, the heavier the traffic became, both foot and motorized. As she watched, the Reichstag became a flurry of activity.

A car pulled up in front and a squad of black shirts ran out of the building and down the steps in two lines to form an honor guard. After a moment's hesitation, the doors opened again, and this time, the Fuehrer walked out.

Diana blinked, recognizing Orana immediately. She quelled the urge to rush out from her hiding place. Diana fully intended to destroy Orana and live to find Chase – running headlong into a Nazi ambush was not at the top of her list for accomplishing that. She watched as the car drove off, then started to lay her plans.

"Whatcha got for me, Harry?" Chase rubbed the sleep out of her eyes and squinted at the paper the radioman thrust into her hands over his shoulder. He continued to monitor the incoming signal while Chase leaned on his shoulder to share the small reading light on his desk. It was still dark out and the lamp didn't illuminate much but the immediate area under it.

He handed her up a second paper as the first hit the desk. Then she turned and looked at him squarely. "Are you sure about this, Harry?"

"Yes, ma'am. I double checked it, just like I always do. This is the same one who was asking questions."

"All right. Have recon pick them up. I want them brought here immediately."

Harry's eyes widened. "You want...? Ma'am, yes MA'AM!" he barked, reading the seriousness in Chase's eyes. Then he turned backed to his radio unit and began encoding Chase's message.

Diana found a small hiding place near the Reichstag in the attic of an old church. It had been converted into a temple for Ares at some point but now it stood empty and neglected.

So Diana took the opportunity to hide, not wanting to leave the area just to have to track her way back into the city under the cover of night. She had heard of a rally that was to take place that night in front of the Reichstag and knew it would be the easiest way to slip in undetected.

Curled up in the corner, she let her thoughts turn to the woman she knew as Chase. All the information Paula had given her painted an intriguing portrait of the young woman Diana had only just been able to talk to briefly before her departure from Paradise Island. She looked forward to finding out how accurate Paula's information was. She had the feeling that there was much more than met the eye, or the paper, when it came to Annabelle Chaser.

Night fell and with it came the increased sounds of the populace being herded into the square in front of the Reichstag. Waitaminute...being herded?? Diana looked out the slats in the small attic window to the street below. Her ears hadn't deceived her – while some of the people seemed genuinely excited about the coming party rally, the remainder of them seemed resigned to it.

Diana wondered what Orana was doing so wrong that even as the victor of the war, the people were still unhappy. Then she turned her attention to getting into the Reichstag. She knew she would need every bit of time she had to get through the crowd and into the building.

She snuck down the stairs and into the street, unaware of the eyes tracking her progress.

Diana had marked her prey carefully. She needed to be someone of significant enough rank to have a bit of freedom inside the building, but low enough not to draw attention to herself. It had taken a bit of doing, but she had found a black-shirt lieutenant who would suit her purposes admirably. He was even the right size.

Slowly she tracked around the perimeter of the gathering, noting that those who were enthusiastic about being here had been interspersed among those who weren't until it gave the impression that they were all glad to be there.

Then Orana stepped out onto the second floor balcony and a cry arose. From where she stood, Diana could tell some were cheers of victory while others were screams of frustration and defeat. But regardless of the reason behind it, there was a raucous cacophony of noise that echoed across the square and out into the stillness of the night. It was a perfect cover for Diana to take out her target and strip him of his uniform.

The watching eyes blinked in astonishment – the Nazi had been disabled, stripped and bound in just under two minutes. Of course, it was then that they realized their mysterious visitor was a woman. But they had their orders, and they moved in to carry them out.

The female watcher split from her cohort and snapped the officer's neck first thing. Then he was unbound and his body was carefully hidden. Whatever Diana's personal beliefs in regards to the sanctity of life, the fact was the rebellion had its own code. And that included the annihilation of the enemy at every given opportunity... especially here.

The second watcher continued to follow Diana into the Reichstag, impressed by both the woman's stealth and prowess, and almost regretting the necessity of his next action.

Most of the officers had been moved outdoors for the rally, so getting through the open areas of the Reichstag was a cake walk. Just before Diana could advance past the public areas and make her way into the private domain Orana occupied, she felt a sting to the back of her neck. She slid soundlessly to the floor. The watcher moved to her side swiftly, covering her nose and mouth with a chloroform doused handkerchief to insure that she remained unconscious for some time to come.

By the time the female watcher joined them, Diana had been bound hands and feet. Then the male watched lifted her onto his shoulder in a fireman's carry and the trio made their way swiftly and silently out the same side door they had entered through. The cheers from the rally covered any noise they made and the watchers moved quickly back into the shadows.

"Thank you, Harry," Chase replied as she read the latest transmission. The radioman nodded and saluted.

"Any orders, ma'am?"

"Just keep me posted Harry, though the traffic should settle down once they are underway." She looked at the missive again. "And from the looks of things, that should be very soon." Chased yawned and stretched, and saw Harry struggling not to do the same. "Send them my thanks and congratulations, and then go get some sleep, Harry. You've had a hell of a long day."

"Yes ma'am," Harry replied and took his leave of her.

Chase looked over this dispatch once more. Something was weird about all this – something that didn't add up at all. This intruder... this woman – she didn't appear to be a Nazi sympathizer, her actions painted quite a different picture. But she was also not part of the resistance or the rebellion... at least not that anyone knew. Chase had checked with each of the small pocket groups once the first cell brought the interloper to her attention. No one knew anything about the woman, and now she was on her way to headquarters.

Chase leaned back in her chair and scratched her head thoughtfully. She wondered where the woman had come from and what her intent had been. It was clear just from the reports that had already come in that the woman had some sort of plan. Her movements had been too precise and deliberate to believe otherwise.

With any luck, Chase would have her answers soon. But until then, she still had work to get done. Her workday wasn't over yet.

Diana woke up with the throbbing headache. She blinked her eyes slowly, trying to figure out where she was. There was a low throbbing hum that ran throughout the length of her body. Diana struggled to move, only to find that her hands and feet were tied. At least, she thought thankfully, her hands were tied in front of her. It could have been much worse. She tilted her head to look around and met the eyes of someone she didn't recognize.

The woman crouched down next to the pallet she was on. Diana watched her carefully, but she didn't move or speak. Despite her bindings, Diana did not get a feeling of menace from the woman, only curiosity.

"Would you like to sit up?" the woman asked in a quiet tone. Diana nodded and the woman grabbed her arm and eased her into a sitting position. "Better?" Diana nodded again. The woman sighed. "My name is Lynn. I, uh... I apologize for the bindings, but those were our orders. Since we don't know anything about you or whose side you're on...." She shrugged. "The commander will have to make the decision on when to remove them." She picked up her canteen. "Water – would you like some?"

Diana nodded and Lynn lifted the canteen to her lips. Diana drank deeply, finally pulling away before she choked. "Thanks," she whispered.

Lynn smiled. "Ah, so you do speak. Do you have a name?" Diana nodded but didn't elaborate. Lynn smiled wryly. "You wanna share?"

Diana shook her head.

Lynn nodded. "All right. That's your prerogative. I just thought it might be more pleasant than calling you 'Hey, You', but whatever. Let me tell you a little about what's going on now. For the moment, you are a prisoner of the rebellion, and as we speak, you are on an airplane being flown to headquarters."

Diana remained quiet for a while longer, considering the words carefully. Finally, she raised her head and met Lynn's. "Why?" whispered so low that Lynn would have missed it has she not been watching Diana so closely.

"Why what? Why are you a prisoner or why are you on an airplane headed to headquarters?" At Diana's nod, Lynn smiled and dug into her kit, removing a chocolate bar and offering Diana a piece before taking a bite for herself.

"Well, you're a prisoner because those were our orders – you were to be captured unharmed. You are on an airplane headed to headquarters because the commander wants to talk to you and this is the fastest way to get you there." Lynn saw the questions lurking in the back of Diana's eyes, but she shook her head. "No, I'm not gonna tell how we did it and got away. That's on a need to know basis and right now, you don't qualify as need to know."

Diana shrugged then lay back down on the cot, dropping the chocolate onto her chest untasted.

"I'm sorry," Lynn started, but Diana closed her eyes, effectively cutting off the conversation. Lynn waited a while to see if Diana would change her mind, but eventually, she gave up and moved back to her seat which was slightly more comfortable than the floor she had been sitting on.

Diana kept her eyes closed. Her thoughts turned to Chase and how hindsight made her wish she had sought her out first. She had totally messed up the one opportunity she'd had to prove herself a true Amazon Princess to both her mother and the Nation. Then she grabbed her resolve by its ears and resigned herself to wait. She could still do this. Once she knew who and what she was up against, she would be able to figure out a way to fix her current situation. Until then, she might as well get as much rest as she could manage. Only the gods knew when the opportunity would come again.

Chase had fallen asleep at her desk, and Ty just looked at her for a long moment. When she was asleep, Chase looked much younger, closer to her actual age than she appeared when she was awake. The lines of responsibility softened in sleep and Ty smile as memories of their youth together assailed her. If someone had told her when they were kids growing up together that they and particularly Chase would be responsible for the entire rebellion and the resistance fighters, they would have been locked up to sober up.

Then her thoughts turned darker, remembering the person Chase had become after her mother was killed. It hadn't been pretty and if it hadn't been for the fact that the things she did *had* to be done, Ty would have.... Ty shook her head – she wasn't sure she could have done anything. Frankly she believed that the rebellion was the only thing that had kept Chase alive at the time. It had given her a sense of purpose that nothing else could.

She thought about their conversation in the shower. Of all of them, she wondered how Chase would survive when the war was finally over and they all went their separate ways, because Chase was the only one who let the rebellion become her whole world. She had nothing else.

Ty shook herself from her musings and crossed the small hut to nudge Chase awake. She found herself looking down the business end of a revolver and took an instinctive step back while raising her hands to show she was unarmed.

It took Chase's brain a moment longer to catch up with her reflexes. "Goddamn it, Ty!" she muttered, dropping the gun on the desk and scrubbing her hands through her hair and over her face. "What the hell's wrong with you? You know better than to wake me up like that."

The sharp retort that rested on her lips died there when she saw the sheer frustration and... something unrecognizable... in Chase's eyes. Something was bothering her – something deep. So instead of yelling back, she took a different tack.

"I know, Chase, and I'm sorry. But we got word the plane is about ten minutes out. I figured you might want a few minutes to...." She shrugged. "I dunno – pull yourself together? Who knows how long this interrogation will last, and you did say you wanted to lead it."

Chase shook her head and ran her hands through her hair again. "You're right," she yawned. "What time is it?"

Ty yawned and stretched; she hated the midnight watch. "It's just shy of three am. Let me let you wake up – I'll go grab us a couple coffees from the mess and then we can set things up."

Chase nodded. "Sounds good, Ty. Have them take her to the conference room, but no funny business – none. I don't want any teasing or taunting... or worse. I am convinced she isn't a Nazi – her actions... well, it's a gut feeling more than anything. I think she is on our side, but I want to be sure. Two guards in the room and two more at either door. No one else is to be in the room with her until I get there. Understood?"

Ty nodded. When Chase got a gut feeling, it was usually dead-on right. She wasn't going to question it. "You got it boss. Be back in five."

Chase watched Ty leave, then straightened up the papers on her desk. She had been writing in her journal when she fell asleep and now her attention was caught by the words Amazons and Paradise Island. With a frustrated growl, she slammed the book shut and grabbed a towel to go clean up. It was going to be a very long day.

Lynn had untied her legs when they landed to refuel so Diana could walk around and use the facilities. Diana briefly considered fleeing, but to where? She had no idea where she was and so far, except for being bound, she had no real complaint of her treatment. She decided the more prudent course of action would be to talk to this commander. These were obviously not Nazis. Perhaps this leader could be reasoned with.

Now they were preparing to land again. Lynn had not attempted conversation with her again except to explain what would happen to her if she tried to escape. This time, Lynn merely reminded her not to be stupid and then she felt the plane touch down again. When it stopped rolling, Lynn stood and took Diana by the elbow, helping her to stand and move toward the hatch which was being opened by her other two guards. Then she was marched down the short staircase and out into the vast darkness.

The darkness became what appeared to be a small village, though if she hadn't been looking for something, Diana admitted she probably would have missed it. But she didn't have time to admire it – her captors took her straight into a large building and seated her at the long table before two new guards took their place. Then silence fell while Diana waited on the outcome of her future.

Chapter XXIV

The door closed again and the dim lighting was turned up to a more normal level of brightness. Diana blinked against the harshness of the glare. When she opened her eyes, all she could do was stare.

Chase looked freshly washed and Diana's anger at being brought to this place melted into something else. Suddenly Diana had the desire for the same. For one thing, she wanted out of the Nazi uniform she was currently wearing and for another, it seemed as though it had been forever since she'd had a decent shower.

Chase sat down across from her, looking through a few reports and sipping from a mug. She glanced up and was glad to see that the prisoner appeared to have been well-treated. She made a note to commend the members of the rebellion on following her instructions to the letter.

"Chase?"

The sound of her name whispered from the lips of the woman who currently sat bound before her caused Chase to spew her coffee. She slammed her mug on the table then turned her attention to Diana. Then she hesitated, cocking her head as though listening to an inner voice. Something about that whisper, that inflection was familiar. But that was impossible. She had never seen the woman before and Diana was not a woman easily forgotten.

Chase blinked, pulling her eyes away from the mesmerizing blue that held her own so easily. She stood to her feet and leaned on the table. "Who are you?" asked quietly, "And how do you know who I am?"

Diana stared at her. Why didn't Chase recognize her? Then she noticed that Chase really did have the most amazing green eyes – something she had not seen on Paradise Island. Whatever had inhibited Chase's eyesight there was clearly not a problem here in man's world. Those green eyes had gold flecks in them, Diana realized as they drilled into hers waiting impatiently for an answer. She felt a bit of her own ire return.

"Why am I here?" she whispered harshly. "You had no right...."

Chase slapped both hands on the table. "I had every right!! You nearly destroyed YEARS of work with your stupidity and carelessness!! Who the hell do you think you are anyway??"

Diana rose hastily, kicking the chair out from under her and leaning her still tied hands on the table. Her rage clouded her judgment and she spoke without thinking. "*I* am an Amazon Princess," whispered fiercely, but so low only Chase heard her.

A hand signal from Chase kept the guards from reacting, but nothing could stop the blood from draining from her face. Diana's brows contracted; she hadn't expected that sort of reaction. Granted, the Amazons had become more myth and legend than reality as far as the outside world was concerned, but there was nothing.... Then her anger turned to horror when she remembered Chase's history with startling clarity. Did Orana betray her true nationality to Chase? Racking her brains for that information and concluding from Chase's reaction that Orana must have. Oh gods.... suddenly understanding just how big a pile of shit she had stepped in.

Diana started to speak, but Chase turned away, motioning a guard to her. She whispered a few words and the young woman nodded and left. Then Chase reached down to her ankle and pulled out a long blade. Diana felt the first tendril of fear, and it surprised her. She hadn't been afraid at all during her voyage thus far – even seeing Orana only inspired hatred and anger. But this... seeing Chase holding knife and turning in her direction – she wondered if she had crossed a line that they would never be able to overcome and felt a twinge of despair for lost possibilities.

Then Chase spoke. "Hold out your hands, please."

Diana hesitated; it certainly wasn't what she had expected. Then she extended her hands and watched as Chase carefully slipped the knife between her hands and sliced through her bindings.

"Thank you," barely audible. She rubbed her wrists reflexively.

Chase nodded, looking for signs of rope burn and pleased when there was none. She didn't even turn when the door opened and Ty crossed the threshold. "I want you to go with Ty. She's gonna take you to clean up and get you into something less offensive," gesturing to the SS uniform. "Then you're gonna come back here and we're going to start this conversation over. Please don't try anything stupid; I'd hate to have to order them to shoot you," motioning to the two guards who still stood at the ready.

Diana nodded, accepting that for whatever reason, Chase trusted her on some level despite the seeds of Amazon hatred Orana had planted. Diana knew it was going to take a lot of effort on her part to change Chase's mind, but this would be a good way to start.

"Chase?"

"Do as I say, Ty." Chase motioned to the two guards and they took up positions right behind Diana. Ty hesitated a moment longer, then took Diana by the elbow and gently led her out of the conference room. The guards followed behind.

Chase spoke to one of the guards standing outside the door and watched him scurry away. Then she fell heavily back into the chair and scrubbed her hands over her face. Suddenly there was so much more to consider than simply the possibility of ruined plans.

Ty's grip on Diana's arm wasn't painful, but Diana got the distinct impression that it was only due to Chase's specific instructions and not a desire to be nice on Ty's part. So Diana determined not to give the other woman a reason to change that directive.

They walked into the shower tent – the male guard took up a position outside the door while the female guard entered and stood just inside the doorway. Ty and Diana continued into the changing area and Diana began stripping out of the clothing she had come to loath. Ty opened a locker and pulled out a towel and a small cake of soap.

"Do I need to come with you or...?"

Diana shook her head and accepted the articles before moving to the first showerhead and turning it on. She was pleasantly surprised by how quickly the water warmed but she made it a point not to linger. She didn't think Ty would appreciate it.

For her part, Ty wondered what had happened to Chase. She could easily see that something major had happened to upset her and knew it had to be linked to the woman now busy scrubbing herself clean. Chase had given strict orders on the treatment and welfare of this prisoner; otherwise Ty would have been exerting significant pressure to find out what she needed to know.

Diana shut off the water and dried off quickly, wrapping her towel around her body and moving back to the dressing area. Ty handed her a clean uniform and pair of socks then waited patiently for Diana to get dressed. Then she motioned for Diana to precede her and they headed back towards the conference room. With a little luck, Chase would have recovered from whatever had upset her so badly and they would be ready to continue with the interrogation.

Chase rubbed her eyes and covered her face. She felt like she'd been bushwhacked by any number sensations and she was at a loss to pinpoint a single one. Things she had convinced her self of... been sure were nothing but wild dreams... were now coming back to haunt her with startling clarity. There were sounds and tastes, a few sights, but mostly conversations and scents. And there was something very familiar about this woman.

Oh God... I am losing my fucking mind.

Chase dropped her hands from her face and folded them together, propping her chin on them. There was all kinds of new information for her to consider now, and first Chase need to separate fact from fiction – what was real versus what had only occurred in her mind. And she had the definite idea that this woman could help answer her questions.

Amazon Princess?? Then if what I remember is true, that means....

Chase groaned. Why this? And why now? It had been a lot easier to handle when it had been nothing but oddly questionable dreams.

Her fretting and musing came to a halt when the door opened and the guard returned with two trays of steaming hot food and a carafe of hot coffee. Right behind him was Ty and Diana. The two guards with them took up their posts at either end of the room. Chase motioned Diana to a seat and pushed a tray in front of her. Then she took Ty aside.

"Everything all right?"

Ty nodded. "I was just going to ask you the same thing."

"I'm fine, Ty. I don't think I'm wrong about this one."

Ty sighed. "I don't think you are either. You didn't see her reaction to the uniform when she took it off, nor the way she scrubbed herself. Still, something about her doesn't add up. You want me to stay with you?"

"Nah. Finish your shift and go get some rack time. Go on," Chase urged when Ty hesitated, a pensive expression on her face. "What?" when she stopped with her hand on the doorknob.

Ty shrugged. "I dunno... I'm not sure." She shrugged her shoulders. "I just feel like... I dunno – something's changing - probably not enough sleep and too many strategy sessions. Lemme go get back to work. We've still got a lot to do." She looked like she wanted to say more, but instead she patted Chase on the back and walked out of the conference room.

Chase took a deep breath and turned to face the woman who had unexpectedly thrown her orderly, well-organized world into total and utter chaos.

Diana sat quietly, her exceptional hearing able to pick up every nuance and inflection of the conversation between Chase and Ty. She wondered if it was her own nervousness or something she was sensing from Chase that was making Ty uncomfortable with leaving them alone together.

She was so deep in her thoughts that Chase taking a seat across from her was disquieting. She looked up and caught Chase's eye. Chase gave her a half-smile and motioned to the tray of food in front of her. "It's probably not as good as home, but it's decent enough. You wanna eat it while it's hot, though. Eggs kinda lose something when they get cold."

Diana picked up her fork. She wasn't quite sure what to make of the woman who sat across from her. Chase was still pale, but she had obviously recovered her composure from whatever had shaken her so badly before.

Diana took a bite of the food, finding that Chase had told her the truth – it wasn't bad, especially considering what she had been eating since the start of her travels from the island – but it surely didn't compare to home. Still, it was hot and filling and there was something about it that was also comforting.

She looked up to find Chase seemingly totally engrossed in her meal and the paperwork in front of her. But Diana could see the slight tremor in her hand.

"Thank you," she whispered, wishing not for the first time that she still had a voice. Having not used it in a hundred years, it just wasn't there anymore, and she had no way of knowing if it ever would be again. The slight sound did get Chase's attention, though and she found herself staring into bright green eyes that were much older than the young woman they belonged to.

Chase deliberately put her paperwork aside and focused her attention on the woman who sat across from her. "For?"

Diana cleared her throat, hoping it would help, but her voice remained a mere whisper. She motioned around her with her fork. "This, the shower... everything."

Chase nodded. "I've learned to trust my gut about these things. I don't think you're a Nazi," watching as the blue eyes hardened perceptibly at the term. "Though I'm not sure exactly who or what you are yet, except that you claim to be an Amazon Princess. You wanna expound on that maybe? Share your name?"

Diana nodded, knowing she was going to have to give a little if Chase was ever going to start trusting her. "Diana."

"It's nice to meet you, Diana," Chase said, extending a hand. Diana hesitated, then took it, absorbing the strength Chase demonstrated without hurting her in the process. She idly wondered how Chase managed to maintain such soft hands with all the things she took care of as part of her responsibility in the rebellion.

Chase was making her own mental notes, things she would consider when this conversation was over that would hopefully fit into the puzzle she'd been handed. First, though....

"Now, I want to know what you thought you were going to do in the Reichstag. No bullshit."

Diana was taken about by the harshness of Chase's tone and it put her on the defensive. She straightened up and pulled her hand away. Then she pushed her tray back and folded her hands in front of her on the table, clenching them together.

"I was going to defeat Orana again... I was going to kill her."

"How? How did you expect to defeat her? And how did you expect to get away?" The questions were coolly and logically asked, but infuriating to Diana, nonetheless. "You're not a member of the rebellion or the resistance. I checked. Why would you want to do something like that?"

There was a fire burning in the back of Diana's blue eyes that made Chase sit back reflexively to avoid being singed. "I did it for you, Chase. I did it because of what Orana did to you. She can't be allowed to hurt people like that anymore!"

Now Chase's eyes turned to ice. "Don't. You. Dare!!" she hissed through clenched teeth. "Don't you dare lay the blame for your stupidity on me! You have NO idea what you're talking about." She slammed her fist into the table for emphasis.

Diana never dropped eye contact. "I know everything," she said with a sincerity that though Chase didn't want to believe it, she couldn't doubt. "And what I did was not stupid! If you weren't so busy being self-important here, you'd see that by eliminating Orana from power is the only way to destroy her regime. It is the only way your rebellion can succeed!"

The two guards watching couldn't hear the exchange between the two women, but Chase's fury was unmistakable when she jumped from her chair, knocking it over. They automatically shifted to a more alert position and trained their guns on Diana.

Chase leaned over the table and dropped her voice to the same sibilant whisper Diana was forced to use. "Let me try to explain something in small words even your simple mind can comprehend. What happened to me is none of your goddamned business, though what you know and how you found out is!" She ran a hand through her hair and took a deep breath to calm down. "But we will discuss that later," said with finality. "What you were going to do would not only have destroyed years of work and planning by the rebellion, it would have cost the lives of millions of innocent people. So while I sit over here and be self-important in my outrage, you think about that."

Chase picked up carafe and poured herself another cup of coffee, motioning to the guards to stand down. She was riding an edge at the moment and she didn't want any misunderstandings or unnecessary heroics.

Diana sat quietly processing Chase's words against the knowledge she had been given. Obviously, what had happened to Chase was very private; it would be something she hoped they could eventually talk about between them. But beyond that....

She looked up when Chase poured her a cup of coffee. She wasn't sure she understood the dynamic that was working between them, but she nodded her thanks and picked up the cup. Then she grimaced upon taking a swallow. Chase would have laughed if she still hadn't been so close to anger. She pushed the bit of sugar and cream they had in Diana's direction.

"I know it's not good, but it's all we've got. You may want to doctor it some."

Diana took the suggestion and dumped everything in that she could. She took a second swallow and set the cup down carefully, not sure if she would ever be able to regain a taste for what coffee had become. She hadn't been that fond of it in the first place and this... this was bad.

She looked up to find Chase slumped in her chair drinking her coffee absently and she wondered where her thoughts had led. Nothing here was going the way Diana thought it would and she was questioning her desire... no, her need, to be quite honest... to be in this place with this woman. Her mind told her she was an idiot, but her heart... and her soul... knew better.

"I'm not a Nazi," she whispered.

Slowly, Chase's head swiveled in her direction and she set her cup on the table. Then she leaned forward and folded her hands on the table. "I know," she said meeting Diana's eyes. "Now are you ready to answer my questions?"

"Will you answer mine?"

"You first," Chase countered. "Then maybe we can talk."

Diana nodded and smiled shyly, and Chase smiled in return. The first hurdle had been crossed.

"Whoa, dudes, that was waaaaay too close," Dite said as they took a scrying break. The other goddesses turned and looked at her askance. Hera just shook her head.

"Excuse me?"

Dite gestured to the scrying bowl. "Were you not like, paying attention?? Didn't you watch that radical meltdown those two had?? Hades, any more sparkage from them and we'd need some serious ice baths up here. Whoo!!" she added, fanning herself.

Athena and Artemis both covered their lips to hide the grins they couldn't stop from forming. For all her flightiness, Dite's way of looking at the world was certainly entertaining, and she definitely had her own way of expressing herself. It made for some interesting conversations between them.

"So you're saying this was a good thing?" asked Hestia.

Dite pointed at her. "Virgin, right?" She giggled. "Fer sure it was a majorly good thing, babe. It may take them a while, but they've gotta feel it."

"So their arguments were for show... a bit of foreplay?" Demeter asked. "Humans have not become any easier to understand."

Dite shook her head. "Oh no – their arguments are way real. It may turn to foreplay eventually," she added impishly and watched the older goddesses blush, "but for now they are still working on that whole trust thing. What we have working for us is that their minds may not trust each other, but their souls do."

"You sound so sure," Hera said softly.

"I am," Dite confirmed with confidence. "I may not be into that whole nasty war gig, but the rocking love biz I totally understand. This is a primo love match. We may all be black and blue from a radically bumpy ride before it's all over, but I'm telling you guys, we did good."

The goddesses smiled amongst themselves. For the first time in a very long time, they had reason to. They'd done the right thing, and it had given them all the one thing they had been lacking in... hope. That their favored would benefit from their decision was a big plus. They turned their attention back to the scrying bowl, anxious to see how the next bit would play out.

Chapter XXV

Without warning, Chase stood up and leaned on the table. The guards instantly became more alert, snapping to attention and raising their weapons to a more ready position. Diana forced herself not to react to the guards though it was hard to quell the warrior instincts that had been ingrained in her psyche from birth. Instead she met Chase's eyes squarely, and thought she saw a hint of a twinkle in the back of her green eyes. She felt herself responding and put a lid on it. There would be time enough for that when she knew exactly where she stood. She waited patiently.

"Would you like to go for a walk with me?" Chase invited. Diana blinked at her, unable to believe what she'd heard. Chase smiled charmingly, her whole demeanor changing when the expression. "I don't bite, honestly, and I'll keep the guards back far enough that we can talk privately."

Diana stood and returned the smile with a small grin of her own. "Yes, please. I have been sitting half of forever it seems like." She walked around the table until she and Chase were within arms' length of one another. "Um, can I ask you a question first?"

"Sure."

"Are the guards for your benefit or mine?"

Chase turned until she was facing Diana directly and considered the question for a long moment. "Ya know, that's a really good question." She looked at both of their chaperones then back at Diana. "Tell ya what... as soon I figure it out, I'll let you know – unless of course, you figure it out first."

"Well, if that happens, I'll be certain to let you know."

"Good," Chase answered. "Cause I hate being in the dark about stuff. Now let's go watch the sunrise."

Chase took Diana's hand as she doused the lights in the conference room, waiting a moment to allow their eyes to adjust to the darkness before opening the door into the dark gray of the coming dawn. The guards took up positions two steps behind them – until Chase turned and glared at them with eyes that literally glowed in the dark. It made them stutter-step to a stop.

"Guys, I appreciate your interest, but back-off a little, all right? Diana's not going anywhere and neither of us is in danger. So please give us some space, okay?"

The pair looked like they wanted to argue – they had been given specific directions by Ty and neither of them wanted to be the one to explain to her if something happened to Chase. On the other hand, Chase was the boss, and despite her normally easygoing personality, they had no desire to provoke the side of the woman who had managed to give the rebellion hope because of her passion and focus. Especially since they were beginning to feel that intensity turned their way merely by the look in her eyes.

They exchanged glances and took three giant steps backwards. Chase nodded her thanks before turning to Diana with a raised brow. "Shall we?" crossing the threshold into the approaching daylight and dropping Diana's hand to cram her hands in her pockets. Diana did the same, feeling the cold from the loss of Chase's warmth as much as from the brisk dawn wind.

They walked together in silence for a little while. Diana because she was formulating her what she wanted to say and Chase because she was focused on getting to the small rise where she went to watch the sunrise and think on the days she was awake to see the sun come up.

When they reached the bottom of the hill, Chase motioned to the guards to remain while she and Diana continued up the incline. When they reached the top, Chase asked Diana to wait and moved to a small chest beneath the lone oak that stood to one side of the hill. She pulled a small blanket from the trunk and walked back to where Diana waited, spreading the blanket and dropping down onto it facing the sun.

Then she looked up and Diana and offered her a hand down. Diana accepted the offer and gracefully seated herself cross-legged beside Chase. Chase let go of Diana's hand to point towards the horizon. Diana turned her head just as the sun edged over the horizon and she gasped in pleasant surprise as the blue, purple, red, orange and yellow spread across the sky and reflected in the lake below.

It wasn't home but it was beautiful and Diana felt a peacefulness wash through her that she hadn't felt since leaving Paradise Island. Chase smiled and closed her eyes, relishing the kiss of the sun's warmth on her face. Diana decided to follow her example and closed her eyes, missing the scent of the ocean, but absorbing the smells of freshwater and pine.

Chase felt Diana relax, and once the sun was fully up and the sky was blue, she opened her eyes and turned to Diana. "You ready to talk to me now? No bullshit, no defensiveness – just straight talk – you answering my questions."

Diana nodded. "Yes. But you have to promise to listen with an open mind." Her hoarse whisper was hard to hear in the midst of the morning sounds around them and Chase realized she was going to have to concentrate on listening to be able to hear the other woman's words. She thought about what Diana had said... could she listen with an open mind? Already her judgment was somewhat tainted, her mind clouded with confusion over what she thought she remembered and half-hoped she'd dreamed.

It was funny, really – things she had been so sure of when she'd been shipwrecked on the island Shep had rescued her from had become less clear as time had passed, rapidly acquiring a dreamlike quality and lack of clarity. She looked at Diana, knowing she had never seen the woman before today and yet somehow finding her... familiar. Then she realized by the raised brow and slight smirk that Diana was awaiting her answer.

"I will do my best - that much I can promise, but no guarantees."

"Fair enough," Diana nodded. She knew from her reading that giving her word was a serious commitment for Chase. Diana hoped Chase would be able to keep it if she started getting answers she didn't want to hear, but Diana knew there was no way she was going to lie to this woman. There was too much at stake for both of them to start off with lies between them. They needed a foundation of truth and trust.

"She did WHAT?!?" Hippolyta did her best to modulate her voice but it was difficult to keep from screeching at the news Paula had just presented to her. The queen rubbed her forehead before her fingers pinched the bridge of her nose in an effort to alleviate the headache she could suddenly feel coming on. Hippolyta blew out a breath and sighed another, then moaned when she felt Drea's strong hands kneading the knots in her shoulders.

After a few minutes of silence, Hippolyta raised her head and looked at Paula. "I beg your pardon, Paula. No need to take it out on the messenger. It was just completely unexpected news. Would you be kind enough to repeat that for me one more time? I promise not to yell this time."

Paula smiled and nodded. She had expected the reaction; she had had nearly the same reaction when she'd found out what Diana had done. Of all the foolhardy chances open to her, Diana had definitely chosen the worst one available. But if she was completely honest with herself, in the back of her mind, a part of her was not at all surprised by Diana's choice either – not knowing how Diana felt about Orana's betrayal... of everything.

"I decided, when Diana left, to keep a close eye on her activities. I didn't want her to get into trouble again without some sort of backup this time around. I started observing Orana as soon as she was brought back to our attention and I added Chase to that monitoring when she left us. I kept an eye on both locations once Diana left and surprisingly, she first showed up on my screen in Greece."

Drea smiled. "That makes perfect sense when you think about it, Pol. It makes sense that she'd want to see what for her is living history... a true part of who she is and where she comes from."

"I can understand that, Drea, but then why go to confront Orana? Surely being with Chase should have been more important if Chase is the person to Diana we believe her to be."

"She is."

The heads of queen and council swiveled in the direction of the intruder's voice, then they all knelt when they realized their visitor was a deity. And not just one, but several of them.

"Oh, babes... chill out." When no one moved, Dite threw her hands into the air and looked at the two sisters who had accompanied her. One would think after thousands of years as one of their goddesses, the Amazons would have been able to understand her, but apparently not.

"She means you can get up now."

Dite put her hands on her hips and huffed. "Didn't I like totally say that already?" The room tittered and the Amazon council resumed their seats. Hippolyta motioned around the room.

"Could we offer you... anything?" She was more than a little flummoxed at their appearance. After more than a century of silence, to have them just show up so casually, and here in the council room to the entire council, was entirely disconcerting. Looking around at the faces of her most trusted advisors, Hippolyta knew they were experiencing the same feelings of discombobulation she was.

"Nope. We're fab. We just stopped by to let you know we've been keeping an eye on the radical warrior babe as well. We kinda felt we owed it to her, ya know? Besides, Chase is Diana's soulmate and I absolutely wanna see those two make that love connection again."

Quiet gasps were heard around the room at Dite's casual confirmation of their suspicions. Nubia was the first to recover. "Are you certain, goddess? I mean no disrespect, but they seem so.... I mean they don't.... They are really not...." She finally broke off her confused stammering with a blush.

Instead of being affronted by Nubia's questioning, Dite chuckled. "Fer sure I'm sure, babe. And you're totally right – that's what make this whole set-up so radically cool."

Artemis stepped up beside Dite. "Paula, you have done a wonderful job and I want you to continue to monitor both Chase and Diana. The time may come when they need the Amazons' help, but until that time, no one is to interfere."

"And how will we know?"

"There won't be any doubt - they will ask."

Silence met this pronouncement. Not that they wanted to doubt, but for too long Diana had been independent of them, asking for nothing and accepting help from no one. Finally, Hippolyta voiced their concern.

"Goddess, do you really think Diana would allow herself to ask for help from us? She despises us."

Artemis smiled. "No, she doesn't. She does have some mixed feelings, but mostly they involve hurt and anger... not hatred."

"Besides," Athena broke in. "She's got Chase's influence now as well. That will go a long way towards breaking down her barriers."

"You're just gonna have to have a little faith in the power of love those two share. Now we gotta jet. Be cool, babes!" The three disappeared in a shower of sparkles and rose petals. It was going to take the council a little longer to recover their wits.

"So, Diana... do you have a last name?"

Diana nodded and swallowed hard, turning her attention back to the horizon. Given the kind of luck she'd had so far with Chase, she feared answering this question, but she knew instinctively that lying, even if she had been predisposed in that direction, would have been a bad choice in this situation.

"You wanna share it with me?"

"Not really, no."

Chase frowned. It wasn't the answer she'd been expecting. "Oookaaay. Why?"

"Because you're not going to believe me, and if by some small chance you do, you're not going to like it."

"Hmm," Chase replied thoughtfully. "Okay, well, how about you tell me anyway, and let me decide."

Diana was silent for a full minute before she licked her lips and whispered, "Prince. My name in man's world is Diana Prince."

Chase sat quietly absorbing the words like a blow to her gut. Whatever she had been expecting, this had not been a remote possibility. Diana turned her face back toward Chase when didn't move or make a sound. What she saw was heartbreaking.

Chase's face was cold and bleak as though it had been cast in stone. Diana clasped her hands together tightly to keep from reaching out to Chase before Chase was ready for contact. Instead, she gazed back out at the lake unseeingly and waited for Chase to initiate any further conversation.

Diana lost track of how long the silence lasted; she used the time to meditate and center herself. But she felt the change in the air immediately when Chase shifted her way. Diana opened her eyes slowly and waited for Chase to speak. When she did, the coldness of her tone sent shivers up Diana's back.

"I don't know what kind of game you're playing, but we're going to start from the very beginning. You're going to tell me exactly who you are and where you came from, and then we're going to move on to how you knew my name and everything you know about the Amazon Orana. And finally you're going to explain to me just exactly how and what you intended to accomplish. Do you understand me?"

"Chase... Annabelle," watching Chase's head snap back to her so quickly Diana half expected it to go flying off and rolling down the hill. "I will tell you everything, but you have to be willing to listen. You promised to try."

"As long as you tell me the truth," Chase agreed.

"I haven't lied to you, Chase. Not about anything."

"I know. That's what makes it so hard to hear."

Diana cocked her head at Chase's words, wondering how Chase could know with such certainty that she was telling the truth. She didn't have a golden lasso or any superhuman powers that Diana could see and yet she didn't doubt that Chase knew exactly if she was being lied to. She made a mental note to ask Chase more about that particular gift if Chase was still speaking to her when she was done talking.

Chase rubbed her eyes wearily. "Start at the beginning, please. I don't care how much ancient history you have to share, but start with your name and how it and you tie in to Steve Trevor and work your way forward from there."

"I'll have to go a long way back... more than a hundred years. It will take a little time, but when I am done, you will have all the answers to your questions."

Chase held up a hand and Diana stopped talking. Chase took the radio from her hip and barked out a few simple orders, then sat back and waited. Diana wondered, but didn't say anything, glad for the chance to let her throat rest. She had done more talking since her arrival in the rebel encampment than she had in the last century, and her tongue and throat were swollen from the effort.

Diana heard the approaching footsteps several seconds before Chase detected them. Chase got up and exchanged a few words with the guard before taking the knapsack from them. She waited until they were out of sight before turning back to Diana.

Diana let her attention remain on the water beneath them. She was not looking forward to spending the next few hours talking, regardless of the subject matter – that just made things harder. Diana wished for some water to drink, then blinked in surprise when a canteen appeared before her eyes.

"I figure as thirsty as I am, you've got to be about to die. I can hear the hoarseness in your whisper."

Diana wondered again at the complexity of the woman Annabelle Chaser was and accepted the water with a smile. "Thank you." She took a long pull, relishing the wet and the chill of the water.

"In nineteen forty-two," Diana began without preamble, "a man named Steve Trevor crash landed in what to him was part of the Bermuda Triangle – very close to where you ejected from your plane just a few weeks ago. He, like you, was brought to the Amazon homeland called Paradise Island. What happened then changed the course of history."

Hours passed while Diana talked in her low whisper and Chase sat unmoving to catch every single word. Periodically, Chase would lay a hand on Diana's arm to stop her speech, and Diana accepted every respite offered her. She emptied two canteens and was working on a third when Chase halted her yet again.

"C'mon," she said quietly, standing up and offering Diana her hand. "It's chow time, and with all the water you've been guzzling, I imagine a pee break would be a good idea as well."

Diana nodded, suddenly very aware of just how much water she'd been drinking. She glanced at Chase, grateful for her courtesy. She'd kept Diana supplied with water and given her regular breaks and not once had Chase interrupted or asked a single question. And except for the paleness of her skin, there was nothing to read in her facial expressions.

Diana couldn't stop the yawn that creased her features and made her close her eyes for several long seconds. When she opened her eyes, Chase was looking at her in concern.

"Tell ya what... we'll have a little lunch and then we'll take a break. You look like you could use a nap, and I know I could. After that, well... after that we'll see. We still have quite a bit of ground to cover, and I do have some questions. Once I'm satisfied, if you still want to be part of the rebellion, I'll find a place for you. Otherwise, I'll have someone take you home."

Chase put away the blanket she had been folding up as she spoke, then she waited for Diana to join her. Diana walked over to her slowly, her brow creased in thought. Why was Chase trying to send her away? Couldn't she feel the connection between them? She felt like she was missing a vital clue, knowing her exhaustion was making rational thought difficult. So she simply nodded her head, hoping something would occur to her while she rested.

For her part, Chase was in a turmoil. Diana was telling her the truth; that she was certain of. But her story thus far was so outrageous it was almost impossible to believe. Yet there were parts of it Chase knew there was no way for Diana to be aware of without having actually been there, or being privy to Nazi records. And that brought up so many more problems.

Who was this woman, really? And why did Chase *need* to believe she was just exactly who and what she claimed to be?

It was a very quiet walk back down the hill and through the encampment to the mess hall.

Chapter XXVI

Dead silence accompanied their entrance into the mess hall until Chase glared around the room. Almost immediately, conversation started up again, though all eyes remained on them. Chase sighed. These were all good people. But they were still human beings and their curiosity, especially for something of this magnitude, was impossible to quell or hide. However, she had no desire to suffer through it today, and when their trays were full, she led Diana out of the mess hall and back to her private quarters.

Despite her misgivings, Ty was a good soldier and she had followed Chase's instructions to the letter. The small table and chairs she used to hold small strategy sessions at had been removed and replaced with a single cot barely long enough to accommodate Diana's tall frame. Ty had left the desk and two chairs and it was there that Chase indicated Diana put her tray down.

Diana did so with alacrity, taking the chair beside the desk while Chase assumed her regular place behind it. Chase motioned Diana to begin eating even as she picked up her own fork.

"I hope you don't mind," Chase commented softly. "I am going to keep you with me for the duration. It will just make things easier... for both of us."

"How?" A simple question with a multitude of answers.

Chase chewed and swallowed while considering her answer. "Well, it's like this – most folks here, myself included, are more than a little curious about you. But that doesn't mean you want to have to talk to everyone or answer the same questions about yourself over and over again. I figure you'll probably be more comfortable and more honest if you only have to deal with me one on one. I know I would be." Chase looked up at Diana for confirmation and Diana nodded her head.

"As for myself," Chase continued, "I don't need... well, let's just say I prefer to hear your story privately without having to give explanations to anyone or answer questions I'm not ready to answer yet."

Diana nodded again, recognizing Chase's feeling all too well. There were a lot of things she still wanted to understand and she really didn't want an audience to do it. Diana appreciated Chase's consideration for both of them. She wondered if Chase sensed something between them. Diana thought maybe she did – it would go a long way towards explaining Chase's attitude towards her. She certainly hoped so. It seemed like she had been searching for Chase her entire life and Diana was ready to stop searching and start living. First though, there were a couple little things that had to be cleared up between them, chief among them a matter of trust. Of course, there was also Orana, and any other number of lesser things, but they would get through them gradually as the trust grew. And that would come as they talked and learned about one another.

They ate the rest of their meal in silence, Chase being true to her word about wanting Diana to rest. She was still mulling over the story Diana had given her so far. It made sense in an outrageous sort of way. Chase had never expected their histories to be so entwined; she wondered if that was why she felt so connected to Diana or if it was something more beyond that. It felt like more, but Chase wasn't really sure what to do with the feelings.

So, Chase pushed them aside and focused on the present dilemma, hoping the rest would take care of itself in due time.

When they were finished eating, Chase took Diana's tray and stacked it with her own just outside the door to the small hut. Then she motioned to the small bunk. "I am taking a real risk here – at least according to my colleagues – but I'm gonna trust my gut. I don't think you're gonna up and try to leave." Diana shook her head vehemently and Chase almost smiled. "But I'm beat and I imagine you're pretty much exhausted, immortal Amazon or not."

Diana nodded, her throat still painfully sore. She couldn't remember ever being as drained as she felt now, not even when she'd been beaten unmercifully by Orana. All she wanted to do right now was close her eyes and sleep for the next twelve to eighteen hours. Maybe by then her throat wouldn't hurt so badly. Diana knew they had so much more to talk about, but she really hoped it would be a little later.

"You all right?" Chase asked with concern on her face, waiting until Diana's attention returned to her. "C'mon," taking Diana's hand and leading her the three steps to the head of her cot. "This is your bunk for the time being... at least until we get everything sorted out. Once I get done debriefing you, if you want to be part of the rebellion, you can find a place you're comfortable with."

"For now though...." Chase eased Diana down to the cot. "I don't have any pajamas to offer you, but I promise not to look if you'd like to make yourself more comfortable."

True to her word, Chase straightened up and turned her back, bending over to untie her bootlaces before stripping out of her boots, socks and trousers. Then she climbed into her own cot and plumped up her pillow, still looking away from Diana.

For her part, Diana undressed, amazed by Chase's complete lack of modesty; that was so unusual in man's world – at least the man's world Diana remembered. She crawled into her cot and dropped her head on the pillow. "Thank you, Chase," she whispered before falling immediately into a deep, dreamless sleep.

Chase turned at the whispered voice, not sure if she had actually heard Diana speak or not. But Diana was asleep by the time Chase was facing her, and she decided to follow her example, closing her eyes and dropping off to sleep.

Diana opened her eyes slowly. She wasn't sure what had awakened her but she closed her eyes wanting nothing more than to go back to sleep. It didn't feel like she had been sleeping for very long at all, and yet.... Diana cracked her eyes opened again, confirming her suspicions that Chase was no longer in the cot across from her. She listened intently, realizing she was hearing a harsh whisper just outside the hut. Diana strained to understand the words that were being spoken, but all she could make out was fierce anger in the raspy tone.

She started to get up from her bed to see what all the commotion was about when Chase's voice rang out clearly. "That's enough, Shep!!" Diana was out the door in nothing but her t-shirt and underwear before another word could be spoken and the conversation came to a dead halt.

Dian reached over and grabbed the man she assumed was Shep by the collar and twisted, pulling him closer until they were breathing the same air. He clutched at her arm to no avail, standing on tiptoe to ease the strain on his neck. She never noticed that the entire encampment was watching the proceedings with great interest. And to be honest, she wouldn't have cared if she had known. Diana had sensed a threat to Chase and was reacting purely on instinct.

Diana didn't say anything to Shep, but she really didn't need to. What she was conveying with her eyes and the set of her body was coming through loud and clear to everyone. It would have been hard to say which of the three of them were more startled by Diana swift actions, but Chase was certainly the first to recover from it.

"Diana? Diana, it's okay. Shep wasn't hurting me, honestly. He was just disagreeing with me... loudly." Chase waited until Diana's eyes tracked to hers before she spoke again. "C'mon... let him go. He was just leaving anyway," with a glare in Shep's direction. "Weren't you, Shep?"

He nodded as much as Diana's hold would allow him to. When she turned to face him, Shep scrambled to get away from her. Her eyes had turned into a fiery silver color and he felt the burn on his skin. "Ye... yeah," he choked out. "I... ack... I was," he managed to croak out.

"Okay, Diana," Chase said, laying a hand on Diana's arm and feeling the strength of the shifting muscles it took to hold Shep up so casually. "Let go of him and let's get you tucked back in to bed, all right? I think you could probably use a little more rest."

Diana looked at Chase for a long moment before nodding her agreement and dropping Shep where he stood. He fell to his knees and clasped his throat, rubbing it where the material had pinched, giving him a bruise. The look he gave Diana bordered on murderous, but Shep was in no condition to make good on it. Fortunately for him, neither Chase nor Diana saw it, being too intent on removing themselves from his presence.

Chase was more than a little disturbed – not about Diana's reaction; that had been an unexpected, but rather pleasant surprise. Shep, though... well, that was completely out of the blue as far as Chase was concerned. She had known her choice to interview Diana privately wasn't popular among the members of her colleagues, but she had honestly had not been prepared for Shep's vehement opposition to it. She would have to keep an eye on him, especially now that Diana had humiliated him in his eyes.

Diana was asleep as soon as she settled into the bed. Chase looked at her for a long moment before getting dressed. Then she stepped out from her hut and signaled to the guards who had been dismissed earlier. They were quick to resume their posts at either corner nearest the door and a look from Chase made them understand clearly what their responsibility was. Then she walked towards the conference room, knowing the rest of her contemporaries would join her shortly.

Chase wasn't disappointed. She had just enough time to fix herself a cup of coffee and take her seat at the head of the table before her crew started filing in one at a time. She smiled grimly; Chase knew she could depend on the camp grapevine to call a meeting. After that it was just a matter waiting for them to make it to her.

They took their seats around the table and looked at Chase. She merely folded her hands and returned their looks, waiting for the explosion. It didn't take long.

"You can't...!"

"Why did...?"

"Chase...."

"How dare...!"

"When can...?"

"All right, settle down," Chase said quietly. The noise continued as everyone tried to shout over everyone else to be heard. Chase simply waited until they all ran out of steam. Then she leaned back in her chair with her coffee cup in her hand and let her gaze run around the table.

"Is everyone finished?"

Not surprisingly, Shep stood up and rested his palms on the table. "How could you, Chase? How could you side with someone you don't even know... especially someone like her?!?"

Chase cocked her head, vaguely insulted and more than a little angry. But she clamped down on her immediate reaction and asked in a deceptively calm voice, "Like what, exactly, Shep? You don't know anything about her yet, except that she is a strong, beautiful woman who embarrassed the hell out of you this afternoon because she felt you crossed a line."

Shep slapped the table, his face turning an unhealthy shade of red. "That's not fair, Chase! She shouldn't have special privileges – what do you mean by bunking with her, keeping her in your hut?? She should at least be considered a hostile until we know everything about her! She could be an enemy agent for God's sakes! You're risking too much! What the hell has gotten into you??"

Now she stood slowly and placed her cup carefully on the table. Then she leaned on the table and turned her full fury on Shep, though her eyes were the only things that gave any true indication of her real feelings. Everyone else sat back to wait for the fireworks. It wasn't often that Chase blew, but when she did, it was spectacular to watch.

"Sit. Down."

Shep opened his mouth to protest; then he got a good look at her face, and sat down without another word, his mouth snapping shut so fast he bit his tongue.

"*I* am not the one out of line here, Shep. I haven't made any assumptions, except to assume that ya'll would trust me to do my job... to find out who she is and where she came from and why she was in the Reichstag. But apparently you don't trust me anymore; you think I need to make all my decisions by committee now."

"That's not...."

"Shut up." Her tone made everyone's jaw drop. She had never been so cold towards them before, but no one had ever questioned her like Shep had. Ty shook her head. She'd tried to warn him to leave it alone. There was something between Chase and Diana – she'd felt it when she'd first seen them together and then experienced Chase's attitude earlier that morning. But he'd been so determined to insure that Chase was doing the right thing, Shep had completely disregarded the fact that his actions would be seen as undermining Chase's authority... or worse – treason.

Now they waited for Chase to explode, knowing regardless of how uncomfortable they had been with her decision to debrief the unknown woman alone, it had been her decision to make. And Shep had totally ignored it in favor of keeping his own council and following his own agenda.

"That's *exactly* what you meant," she growled low in her throat. "I told you I would handle this my way, and yet you took it upon yourself to come to my hut while I was trying to sleep and make an crisis out of things you don't even understand." She held up a hand before he could take a breath to speak. "And then... then you get all bent out of shape when you end up looking like a jackass because of it. DON'T," she said forcefully. "Don't try to deny it, Shep. You forget I learned a long, long time ago to tell if people were being honest with me or not. Please don't make this worse by lying to me about it, all right?"

He swallowed hard and nodded. Suddenly, Shep realized just how misplaced his decision to question her on this matter was. Though she wasn't by any means perfect, Chase did have a knack for leadership, and an intuitiveness for this sort of interrogation thing. His misjudgment of her could cost him dearly. He hated that thought – on many levels. Hers was a friendship he counted on and he wondered bleakly why he had risked it. It had all been so clear, made such perfect sense when he'd decided to do it. Now though....

Chase turned and walked to the window, raising the blackout shade and looking out across the compound. There wasn't a sound behind her; they were all waiting to see what she would do next. Chase was still furious, but she was also resigned to their attitude. Shep had made some good points – she was treating Diana differently than she had any other suspected hostile. But she also knew that Diana wasn't like any other suspected hostile; Diana wasn't a hostile at all.

The silence went on so long, Shep felt compelled to break it. "Chase, I'm sorry. I know I was out of line, but you need to understand...."

Chase sighed, interrupting his little speech. "I do understand, Shep. I understand all too well. However, I am not going to justify my decision to you. I shouldn't have to."

Shep dropped his head. "You're right, Chase... you shouldn't. You've done so much for the rebellion, and we do trust you... we all do. It's just we've never been out of the loop before and I don't understand why we are now."

"Shep, either you trust me or you don't. Which is it?"

"We trust you, Chase," Ty answered immediately, and her response was echoed around the table, especially from Shep.

"Absolutely," he confirmed. "To the point that I think I owe your charge an apology." He blushed when everyone turned and looked at him. "What?!?" he whined. The rest laughed.

"I will share this with you all. Diana is not a Nazi... that I am sure of. The rest, well... we're still working on that."

"Do we know what she was doing at the Reichstag?" from Hans.

"She had gone to assassinate the Fuehrer."

Chase's confident declaration caused a silence to fall over the room.

"Very lofty expectations," Hans said softly. "Do you think she could have succeeded?"

"Given where the resistance members found her, yeah, I do. I'm just glad they caught her in time. It would've been ugly if she had. How's that coming, by the way?"

Hans shook his head. "Still working on it. I have to be missing something, but so far, I haven't figured out what."

Chase nodded. "Keep working. That's the last piece to the puzzle. As soon as we have it, we'll be able to bring this to the end. And since everything else is on track, I think I'll go back and try to take that nap I started a while ago. Someone wake me for dinner, all right?"

"You got it, Chase. Go get some rest. We've got things covered," Mitch said. "We're sending Ty back to bed for a little while too. We kinda dragged her out of bed for this little impromptu meeting. I think she'd appreciate another twenty winks or so." Chuckles went round the room at the expression on Ty's face before her head went face first into the table.

It was on that note that Chase left the conference room and headed back to the peace of her hut.

Diana was sleeping soundly when Chase reentered her hut. Chase was careful to be quiet as she undressed and crawled into her own bed. She was exhausted from the hours she'd been keeping in the past few days and yet her mind was in a turmoil over all the information Diana had shared with her. Over and over she played the events Diana had told her about in her mind. It made so many things make sense, but it also gave her more questions.

Chase let her mind wander, remembering her grandmother and recalling only vaguely the stories she had told Chase about Steve Trevor. More, she remembered her mother reading some of those same stories to her before bed. Chase let her mind drift over the private, family details, realizing that so much of it matched to what Diana had shared with her.

Chase had known in her heart that Diana was telling the truth, but it was nice to have it settled in her mind as well. With a smile, she let her attention drift into more pleasant thoughts. And she never realized when she drifted into a deep, restful sleep.

Diana opened her eyes just a slit as she heard Chase's breathing relax into the evenness of sleep and relaxed. The day had been a good one despite its rocky start, and tomorrow promised to be better. Then she smiled and resumed her own slumber, hoping for good dreams for a change.

Chapter XXVII

Chase didn't remember much about dinner though they had wakened her just like she'd requested. She knew she had gotten up and gone to the mess hall with Ty and Hans; knew that Shep and Jen had joined them. Remembered she'd gone over some reports and issued a couple orders just like she did every night. She just didn't remember specifics – what they had discussed or what she'd seen and signed. It was beginning to frustrate her no end because she remembered *everything*. It did wonders motivating her workout though.

"Chase, take it easy," Hams comforted as best as he knew how. "Your mind is on overload right now. It's going to dismiss the mundane and everyday details to hold on to the important things. Whatever you are learning from... Diana, was it?" Chase nodded and he returned her nod in acknowledgement. "So whatever you are learning from Diana is more important right now than what we had for dinner last night and the casual conversation we shared. I promise it was completely mundane; otherwise, I would be able to remember it too." He gave Chase a silly grin and she had to chuckle. Hans was notorious for only remembering those details that pertained directly to his work... particularly whatever current project he was focused on at the time.

Chase rubbed her eyes and picked up her towel and headed for the shower. "You're probably right, Hans. Do me a favor, will ya, and have a couple trays of breakfast sent to my hut in about half an hour? That should give me time to shower and get back and wake up Diana before they get there."

Hans nodded and headed for his own shower. He needed it after trying to keep up with a frenetic Chase. Working out with her on days when she was trying to work through things that were bothering her was murder, something he already knew, but seemed to have difficulty remembering.

Chase stopped short when she entered the shower tent. Diana was in the farthest stall, and Chase debated leaving the woman to her privacy. Then Diana met her eyes briefly. Chase shrugged and stripped, choosing the stall closest to her and letting the water run over her body.

"God, that feels good," Chase mumbled as the warmth started to loosen her muscles. She closed her eyes and lathered her hair. Diana watched out of the corner of her eye for a long moment before shutting her own water off and drying herself.

"Rough morning?" Diana whispered after she wrapped the towel around her body and stepped closer to Chase's shower stall as she made her way back to the dressing area. Chase opened her eyes briefly and gave Diana a smile.

"Hard workout," she answered as she rinsed off the soap and shut off her own shower. "I have someone bringing us breakfast. I actually didn't expect you to be up yet. You were sleeping pretty hard when I got up this morning. How do you feel? You look better."

Diana didn't know whether to be flattered or insulted, so she let the observation pass without comment. She continued to get dressed and sat down to don her boots. Chase took a seat nearby and began to get dressed. She turned her head to look at Diana when she didn't answer. "You all right?"

Diana nodded and gave Chase a smile without speaking. Chase noticed for the first time that smile made Diana go from stunning to drop dead gorgeous and returned the smile without thought. Then she blinked as the thought registered in her conscious mind. Where did that come from? She shifted her attention back to her clothes and finished dressing.

"C'mon," she said to Diana, who was watching the thoughts and emotions track across Chase's features. "Let's go eat, then you can continue with your story. I still have some questions for you."

Diana reached up and took Chase's hand, drawing her to a halt. "Do I make you nervous, Annabelle?"

Chase didn't even flinch at the moniker. Instead she looked down at their clasped hands before meeting Diana's eyes squarely. "No. I'm a little confused... actually, I'm a lot confused about a number of things, but I'm not nervous. At least I don't think I'm nervous," she continued to babble. She paused. "No, definitely not nervous, just confused." She blew out a breath. "I'm gonna shut up now. Are you um... you coming?"

Diana stood not releasing Chase's hand. She was reassured by Chase's evident discomfiture; it was like they were on a level playing field. Now she knew Chase felt something. It was just a matter of finding out what that feeling was.

They released their hands before they stepped through the doorway by mutual unspoken consent. Neither of them wanted to give anyone else a reason to go off like Shep had the day before. So they walked in companionable silence together side by side until they reached Chase's hut.

Breakfast was waiting for them when the arrived and two stomachs growled in tandem as the scent wafted over to them. They looked at one another and chuckled. Then they sat down to eat in relative silence.

When they were done, Chase leaned back in her chair. "Would you like to talk here or would you prefer to walk and talk?" fairly confident in the answer she was going to get back from Diana.

"Walk and talk, please."

Chase nodded as though she had expected that response, which she had. Then she stood and gestured Diana to walk in front of her. "After you then," she said, holding the door for them both. People were less inclined to stare today and Chase was pleased to see that activity around the compound continued at its normal pace. Once more they headed up the hill to Chase's sanctuary.

"So," Chase said as they sank down onto the blanket that had spread out together. "You had gotten as far as Orana taking your place as Wonder Woman," watching the pain reappear in Diana's blue eyes and wanting to take it away. "Do you know," she continued, "I had decided she was a make-believe character? I always figured Grandpa Trevor was probably a little touched in the head... a result whatever happened to him during that time he was gone – when he was on Paradise Island," gesturing with her hands. "I knew he was telling the truth, but it just sounded so outrageous... so improbable."

Chase laughed. "And then something similar happens to me... what are the odds?"

"Do you believe in fate?" asked so quietly Chase had to read Diana's lips.

"I didn't," Chase answered honestly, her own voice low.

"And now?"

Chase swallowed hard. "I am entertaining... possibilities," she said with a shy smile. "But for now, we have work to do. I'm sorry, Diana. I can see the pain this is causing you, but...." She stopped speaking when Diana put a hand on her arm.

"You have a right to know, and I think I need share it. I haven't talked to anyone about this."

Chase blinked. She knew she had kept her own council about what had happened to her, but somehow it seemed inconceivable that Diana had chosen to do the same thing for more than a century. Then again, given the way Hippolyta had reacted to Diana's deception, Chase couldn't really blame her for not wanting to share. It made her angry to think how Diana had been treated by her people, but especially by her mother. She would have to remember to have a word with Hippolyta when this was all over. Diana deserved better.

"All right, Diana. So what happened once Orana left Paradise Island?"

Diana took a deep breath and started talking, Chase sitting quietly to hear her bare whisper.

They took several breaks, as much to rest Diana's throat as for Chase to get her emotions under control, though she was careful to keep her expression neutral. She didn't want to upset Diana and Chase needed to hear her whole story.

When Diana told about her about her time in Orana's torture chamber, Chase bit her tongue until it bled. It bothered her more than her own memories did and she had a much better understanding on why Diana had been so determined to destroy Orana. But Chase still wondered how Diana knew what had happened to her.

Slowly Diana worked her way through her history, glossing over a good portion of the century she had spent exiled. Chase made a mental note to ask more about that time later and focused her attention on Diana's story. She was getting to the part where their paths crossed and Chase was particularly interested in that. She was anxious to find out what of her memories were real and which part were simply dreams her subconscious had created.

Diana carefully watched Chase's face as she described Chase's time on Paradise Island. It was clear to Diana that Chase didn't remember much, or at least didn't believe what she did remember. And though Chase managed to keep a stoic expression on her face, she couldn't hide the twinkle that lurked in the back of her green eyes, especially as it grew exponentially as Diana confirmed her memories as real and not dreams.

Diana paused as she reached the part where Chase left Paradise Island for several reasons. First off, she desperately needed the break as her throat was burning from the pain and swelling the extended talking had caused. Secondly, she wanted to give Chase time to absorb the truths she had just shared. And finally, she really wasn't looking forward to the last bit. It required half-truths and Diana wasn't comfortable with that. But there were some things she couldn't reveal – things Chase would need to figure out for herself... or not.

That was what made it so hard to give Chase only part of the truth. There was no guarantee she would ever figure out the rest on her own, and Diana wanted her to figure it out. There was a lot at stake... for both of them.

For her part, Chase was happy to let Diana sit and rest. Aside from the obvious pain Diana was in, she had given Chase so much to think about... mainly reconciling her memories to a reality and not the dream she had finally attributed them to.

"We're getting close to what brought you here, aren't we?" Chase asked quietly, unwilling to disturb the sense of peace that surrounded them. Diana looked up and nodded, and Chase wondered why her eyes were so guarded. She's afraid? Then Chase thought about how much Diana had opened herself up, and she reached for Diana's hand, inordinately pleased when her hand was accepted with alacrity.

"C'mon. Let's go get you something for your throat."

They walked back into the compound and Chase never let go of Diana's hand, though Diana noticed that Chase appeared to be completely lost in thought. Instead of going to any of the very few places Diana was acquainted with, Chase took a track that led into the side of the mountain the camp was based at.

Diana looked around, taking in the laboratory Hans had set up. She never would have suspected such advancements given what she knew about the rest of man's world. While not nearly as sophisticated as the lab she shared with Paula, there was definitely progress and developments being made in several areas of science.

Chase released Diana's hands to allow her the opportunity to walk around the chamber. Diana made a slow trek, taking in everything and recognizing some of the things Hans was working on. Several of them she and Paula had worked out years before; some of them she had never seen because they dealt specifically with the design of new weapons.

Hans didn't speak, knowing Chase had a good reason for bringing Diana into the lab. He did move closer to Chase, wanted to observe Diana without getting in her way. He folded his arms across his chest and watched as Diana went to one of the chalkboards he had mounted on the wall.

She slowly read the formulas Hans had cascading from one to another, coming back to stand in front of the middle board shaking her head. Diana reached for the chalk, then though better of it. Instead, she walked to the end, back to the center board, then to the end once more. Then she turned around and looked at Chase before she resumed her place at Chase's side.

"Is there a problem, Diana?" Chase asked softly. When there was no immediate answer, Chase took both of Diana's hands in hers and turned until they were completely facing one another. "Diana," Chase said again, "did you see something wrong?" A pause while she waited, then finally Diana nodded.

Hans grunted. Chase glared at him before she smiled at Diana and seated her on one of the lab stools. "Diana, I brought you in here for a reason. From what you just told me, you should be able to help Hans figure out how to fix this problem."

"WHAT?!? Chase, have you lost your mind?"

"Hans, shut up and listen a minute." Chase patted Diana's hands before she released them and turned to face Hans. She was surprised to find, not a look of anger on his face, but one of hurt confusion. "You've been working on this a while, yes? And you keep hitting the same snag, right?"

"Yes, but...."

"Hans, trust me on this. Diana can help you. She's not gonna take over your project, all right? She's not interested in doing that. If she helps you it would be as a favor to me and not because of any personal gain on her part. So let her help you, please? It'll be good for everyone... especially if you can find a solution. Does it really matter if you need help to find it??"

He blew out a breath, though Chase couldn't tell if it was frustration or anger or defeat behind it. "You're sure about this?"

Chase turned back to Diana who was watching the proceeding with great interest. She did want to help; it was one way she could earn trust and show her worth both to the rebellion as a whole and to Chase in particular. However, she also wanted Hans to want her help, not just resigned to it.

"I am," Chase answered.

Hans looked at her for a moment longer, then nodded. "All right." He crossed to Diana. "Can you show me what you saw wrong?"

Diana slid from the chair and moved back over to the middle chalkboard. She went to an equation about halfway down and erased it completely before rewriting it. Hans looked on with bugged-out eyes and dropped jaw. He moved around Diana and looked at the formula she had written.

"Oh my God. That changes everything. That means...." Hans looked at the rest of his handiwork, then took the eraser to it. "Back to the drawing board." He turned back to Diana. "Can you stay? I think we could probably solve this together in short order if you would be willing to help me."

Diana nodded, then looked at Chase. "Hans, she can't talk right now – not even a whisper. Her voice is gone, all right? So any communication has to be written or visual. I'm gonna send someone over with lunch for ya'll and some ice for Diana."

"Don't worry, Chase. I'll take good care of your girl," Hans said, chuckling silently at the identical startled looks he got from both of them. Funny thing though, he noticed... neither of them made an effort to deny it. Chase just shook her head and started out the opening.

"Hans, who's got duty today? Jen?"

Hans checked his clipboard and nodded. "Yes. She's got the day shift and Mitch has the mid."

"Kay," Chase replied absently, already letting her mind move to other considerations. "If ya'll need something, let the duty officer know, all right? I'll be out of touch for a while."

"Chase...." Hans started, but he was talking to empty air. Chase was gone. He turned to look at Diana and shrugged. "Come on, Diana. Let me show you exactly what I am working on here, though I have a feeling you probably already understand it better than I do."

A twinkle in her blue eyes was his only answer.

"All right... does someone want to like, explain to me just what in the *Hades* Diana's radical little problem is? I've never seen that bitchin' warrior babe be so passive... so submissive. It's just so totally against her whole karma, ya know?"

"Yes, but given her last experience in man's world, I think it is to be expected that she would be unsure of herself and her surroundings for a little while... especially given the manner in which she was introduced to Chase there," Athena answered confidently. "Don't worry, Dite. Once everything is out in the open as far as their history together goes, I think you will see the Diana of old begin to make a reappearance. She just needs to relearn to trust her own judgment and have others believe in her again."

"Ya think?" Dite ask, leaning into Athena's shoulder and wrapping an arm around her waist. She smiled when Athena completed the embrace and added a squeeze for good measure. Athena nodded.

"Yes, I really do. It's been a long time since Diana has believed in anything... even herself. It's just going to take her a little time to remember how."

"I hope you're right, sis. This is one bodacious love match I fer shure wanna see happen. They deserve it so much, especially after what we did."

"Yeah, they do," Athena agreed, brushing a kiss across Dite's temple. "That's why it will."

Chase commandeered a jeep and was driving out of the compound a very short time later. She wanted to be completely alone to think, and there was only one place in the whole world where she could find that sort of solitude. No one, not even her compatriots, would bother her here.

The house was in surprisingly good shape considering it had been deserted for years, but it had an air of neglect and abandonment to it that sent an unexpected wave of despair through Chase's chest. She thought she had dealt with this nostalgia years ago, but occasionally it would rear its head to be dealt with again as though it was fresh and new.

She drove past the house and parked in the small field just behind it. The wildflowers were scattered across the open space and she drew in a deep breath of their fragrance. Slowly, Chase slid out of the jeep, her eyes sweeping over landscape that was at once both familiar and foreign to her.

The fence around what had once been the pig pen was falling down and the wire was missing from the chicken coop. The small garden area just behind the house was overgrown with weeds and Chase found herself idly wishing that the wildflowers would grow out of the meadow and closer to the house if only to choke out the weeds that now grew there.

The barn's paint was peeling, and the one door hung by a single hinge. A few shingles were missing, but the walls and roof seemed to be holding up pretty well otherwise. Chase didn't examine the house too closely. There were still too many painful memories wrapped up in the place, and she didn't want to see the changes time and inattention had wrought on her childhood home.

Instead, she turned her awareness back across the meadow to the lone, large oak that stood in the middle of the field. With a sigh and slow steps, Chase made her way through the tall grasses and wildflowers until she reached the base of the tree.

The oak had always been her haven as a child, its branches providing hours of fun or comfort depending on the need. She knelt down next to the small marker, dusting the leaves from the headstone and pulling a few weeds from in front of it. The she leaned back on her heels and pushed her hair from her face.

"Hello, Mama," she said softly. "It's been a long time."

Chapter XXVIII

"I don't really have a good excuse... just the usual. The rebellion... I think we have a real shot at finally winning the war, Mama. We are so close."

"I know, baby girl," from a voice Chase recognized only too well. She closed her eyes and let the warmth of memories envelop her senses. She swore she could feel her mother's fingers riffling her hair, and she let her eyes remain closed even when lips brushed over her forehead. "I've been watching you, Annabelle, and I am so very proud of you."

Chase bit her bottom lip, unwilling to let her tears fall. This was one reason she had gone so long between visits; talking to her mother like this reminded Chase of just how much she missed her mama and how alone in the world she really was.

"You're not alone, baby girl," Mama said, answering Chase's unspoken thoughts. "You never have been. I've always been here with you, even when you couldn't see me."

"I still miss you, Mama."

"I know you do, Annabelle, and I miss you. But it was my time to go, and your time to shine. You're doing such a good job. You're going to succeed, you know. And if you follow your heart, you will find everything you ever wanted."

Chase opened her eyes, not surprised to see her mother sitting beside her, in a manner of speaking. "Mama, right now all I want is for this to be over with. I am so tired of fighting."

"Are you sure that's all you want, baby girl?"

Chase sighed. "I don't know think I know much of anything anymore, Mama. I do want the fighting to be over, and yet it's all I know. It's been my whole life for my whole life. What am I gonna do when this is over?"

Her mother laughed, and the sound made Chase smile. "Baby girl... Annabelle. You're worrying in advance over things you have no control over. Focus on the here and now, and let the future take care of itself in good time. Now, you wanna tell your mama why you really came out here to see me?"

Chase was quiet for a long moment, finally giving into the temptation and resting her head in her mother's lap. Another minute passed, and she felt the corporeal sensation her mother's fingers combing through her hair and scraping her scalp in the soothing manner she had always used on Chase as a child. She smiled as she felt Chase relax into her ministrations.

"Have you seen everything, mama? Do you know everything that has gone on since...?"

"I've seen everything that took place here, baby girl. When you leave this place, well, not here in particular, but...." Chase waved a hand.

"I get what you mean, mama. So you know I was gone for a while, but not where I was or what happened to me then?"

"No, baby girl. That kind of monitoring is far beyond the scope of dead mortals." She waited a beat. "You wanna tell me about it?"

Chase sighed so deeply she stirred the grass. "I wish I could, mama. Despite what Diana said, everything is still just so much confusion in my mind. I know in my heart she is telling the truth, hell, I know in my mind she is telling the truth, but I don't know how to explain it to anyone else so it makes sense."

"Does it make sense to you, Annabelle?"

"Yes, mama."

"Then tell me about this woman, Diana Prince. The rest will fall into place eventually."

"You really think so, mama?"

"I really do, baby girl." There was a long, pregnant pause, before Chase spoke up again quietly.

"Mama, will you tell me about Grandpa Trevor?" Her mama blinked at the abrupt change of subject, but figured there was something behind it. Chase had never been on to shirk her responsibilities or the truth, though she had on more than one occasion postponed telling the truth until she had a clearer understanding of what lay beyond it.

"What would you like to know, Annabelle?"

"Tell me the story from when he was shot down by Nazis in the Bermuda Triangle, and go to the end, please."

Her mother's brow furrowed, but she nodded her acquiescence. Realizing Chase couldn't see her nod, she started speaking in a low, even voice.

"I don't know what Chase has told you," looking up when he caught Diana shaking her head vehemently. Hans had to chuckle at the wry frustration written clearly across Diana's expressive face. "Don't worry about it, Diana. It's nothing personal against you. That's just how Chase is... how Chase has always been, at least since her mother died. She keeps everything pretty close to the vest." Hans looked at Diana and shook his head. "Sorry... I'm not sure why I shared that with you, but...." He turned and looked at her more fully. "Somehow I think you needed to know. It's important you understand that about Chase. God knows we all love her, but she's certainly not the easiest human to be around most days. She's so intense... so focused."

Hans didn't think about what he was saying until he saw the light blush dusting Diana's cheeks and felt an answering one on his own. "Tell me to shut up," he muttered. He could tell by the expression on her face that she was laughing at him, though she didn't make a sound. Her shoulders moved though, and he had to laugh in sympathy.

Fortunately, at that moment, lunch showed up. Hans breathed a sigh of relief. It would give him time to regroup and maybe sort out his thinking. Hans had always been very protective of Chase, but he could tell, even if Chase never admitted it, that she needed someone in her life. Hans could see that Diana was already someone special to Chase and visa versa. So he would help nurture that in any way he could, as long as he didn't betray any confidences or jeopardize the rebellion itself. And for now, that meant he had shared as much personal information about Chase as he could. As private as Chase was, anything more about her would have to come directly from her, but Hans felt at least now Diana would know enough to be able to accept that as well.

Diana took the time to recompose herself also. As much as she wanted to understand, she would prefer Chase to reveal her secrets in her own good time. Now she just needed to convey that to Hans without speaking.

They consumed lunch slowly and in silence and when it was over Hans cleared his throat. "Diana, I probably shouldn't have said all those things about Chase to you. I just want you to know where she's coming from, if and when she does decide to share anything with you. All right?"

Diana nodded in relief. She wasn't about to explain to Hans that she probably knew Chase better than he did.

He breathed a sigh of relief. "Thank you, Diana. Perhaps we should get back to work then." She nodded and together they moved back to the chalkboards. "Okay, as you have already figured out," motioning to her earlier correction, "I've been working on an antidote for the first in a series of diseases the Nazis have developed."

Are they set to be dispersed yet? Diana wrote on the tablet Hans had given her for exactly that purpose.

"Yes and no; that is one reason you were stopped from eliminating the Fuehrer." A cocked eyebrow was a question Hans understood clearly. "One of the things we know about them is that they will be dispersed if any attempt is made on the Fuehrer's life. Since we don't have the antidotes ready yet, we couldn't let that happen. On the other hand, we don't have a release date for a massive scale attack yet; the belief is they are in place for use as a threat more than an offensive weapon. We are hoping to get the antidote finished before that changes."

How did you learn all this? Surely the Nazis have security in place to safeguard these kinds of secrets! Diana scribbled so fast her writing was nearly illegible.

Hans clamped his lips together and shook his head. "They do," he replied, answering the second question. "Just trust that the information is reliable and accurate. We came by it at great cost." Diana nodded, knowing better than Hans exactly what that cost had been as far as Chase was concerned. Hans returned her nod and continued speaking. "So, the real question is, do you think you can help me find the antidotes to the rest of the sequences we have?"

Let's get to work.

"So what can we do to help?" Hippolyta asked as she looked around at a majority of the council. Paula was monitoring the situations in man's world and was doing her best to keep everyone updated on how things were progressing in both cases.

Notwithstanding the loss of Diana on a personal level, Hippolyta was glad to know Diana had found a place with Chase. She hoped Diana would find happiness as a result, because despite their centuries old feud and moreso because of it, Hippolyta sincerely wanted Diana to have happiness. She was just a little frustrated over the lack of action on that front. Things were progressing between Chase and Diana far too slowly as most of the Amazon council was concerned, and Chase's doubts on that front were less than reassuring.

Still, at least they were able to observe bits of Diana's life through Chase's diary. Orana, on the other hand, had gone more quiet than normal. The Nazi press, however, continued to report on things in the regime, and Paula was delving into other, less official, sources of information as well.

It gave them a fuller, clearer picture of life in man's world, but it also made them anxious to be able to do something... to contribute to the end of the conflict. But everyone, especially Hippolyta, knew they couldn't interfere until and unless Diana asked for their help. In the meantime....

"Nubia, I want you to prepare a series of war games for the Nation to participate in. Make them varied and interesting, but ensure that the warriors will receive the training they will need to survive in man's world."

Nubia blinked, then nodded aggressively, understanding the queen's directive as it was meant. "IT will be done, my queen. The warriors will lack for nothing in their training. I would request Paula's assistance in making it as accurate as possible."

Hippolyta nodded and waved her hand. "So be it. Use whatever resources you need to make sure our warriors are successful and return home safely. Make it real for them. We're going to be part of this before it is over, and I want everyone to come home. Now if you'll excuse me, I need to go check on Mala and Drea."

Nubia's brow furrowed. "Is there a problem, my queen? Their absence at the meeting was noticeable."

"Everything is fine Nubia, but I thank you for your concern. Drea needed to take care of some personal business and Mala agreed to be available in case she needed help." Hippolyta didn't mention Drea's almost frantic insistence in taking care of whatever it was immediately, nor did she mention the hurt she felt at being left out of whatever it was that was troubling Drea.

"Then I will leave you to get back to them, and Paula and I will begin working up the war games. Do you have a target date you would like to run them, my queen?"

"The sooner the better, Nubia. I want us to be ready to leave at a moment's notice."

"As you wish, my queen," Nubia said with a bow. Then she and Paula left Hippolyta alone the council room, though it didn't tale but a moment for the queen to follow their lead and exit, heading swiftly for her and Drea's suite of rooms. Even though Mala had agreed to monitor Drea's meditation, Hippolyta wanted to see for herself how things were going.

She understood all too well what Drea was going through even if she still didn't know why, and she wanted Drea to feel her support. Hippolyta smiled. It felt good to be the one giving support for a change instead of the one needing it.

Drea sat in the middle of the meditation chamber, letting the music of the water and the gentle scent of wildflowers relax her. It had been a while since she'd needed to communicate this way and she was a little out of practice. It was even harder now that her true sister was dead, but still she let her thoughts follow her sister's spirit to her resting place. And she listened to the conversation between Jasmine and her daughter.

"Hello, Mama. It's been a long time."

Drea felt the moment Hippolyta entered the room, and she absorbed the love and support that surrounded her. Hippolyta didn't speak, but merely sat behind her and entered her own meditative state, focusing on sharing her love and support until Drea felt she could share whatever it was that she was dealing with.

Drea simply focused on the dialogue taking place in what could have been half a world away.

"We never did find out what happened. Technically, I believe your great-grandfather is still listed as missing in action. His body was never recovered and the Nazis have never claimed responsibility for his disappearance or death. The woman he traveled with... the yeoman, Diana Prince, she disappeared as well. Given where they were last seen, it was assumed they were tortured and then put to death as enemies of the Nazi state. Do you think your Diana Prince is related to your great-grandfather's?"

Chase was quiet for a long time, thinking over what her mother had said, debating what answer to give her even as she soaked up her mother's touch. It was something she hadn't felt since.... Her thoughts came to a dead halt so fast her mind nearly suffered whiplash. She stiffened and lifted her head slightly.

"Mama?"

"Yes, baby girl?" Chase took a deep breath and opened her mouth to speak, then stopped before she could utter a word. Her mother kept up her relaxing stroking, smiling when Chase resumed her semi-sprawled position on her lap. "What is it, Annabelle?" asked tenderly.

"Nothing, Mama, it's just.... When I was gone, I was shot down over the Triangle by Nazis. I was wounded and had to be treated for my injuries there on the island. I just realized how similar the healer's touch was to yours. It was very comforting... made me feel like you were nearby."

The soft touch hesitated briefly at Chase's words. Her mother wondered if it has been merely her touch that had caused Chase to change thought flow mid-stream, or if it was easier for her daughter to focus on something a little more tangible to her at the moment. However, as long as Chase was willing to share....

"I wish I could have been, Annabelle. Are you doing all right now? Would you like to tell me about it?" She resumed her gentle touch, hoping eventually Chase would relax enough to share not only whatever was currently on her mind, but would also answer the question she had posed earlier. Chase was going to need to understand and accept all kinds of possibilities if she was ever to learn the truth... about a great many things.

Chase sighed and was silent for a long moment. "I would. It all ties together and I think you might be able to understand it at least as well as I do, because it's certainly blown my neat, orderly existence all to hell," said with a wry chuckle. "It started several weeks ago when I was the only one available to pick up a package of secret intel...."

Drea listened to the conversation carefully, not even aware of the tears that tracked down her face as several of her suspicions were finally confirmed. It was one thing to believe the veracity of something; it was another thing entirely to be slapped in the face with the undisputed truth. She wondered if perhaps she would be able to speak to her sister when Jasmine was done talking to her daughter. Despite what she had learned through this communication, Drea had so many unanswered questions, and she sincerely wanted to understand everything.

Drea sat still for several moments once the images had faded from her mind. A tentative touch on her shoulder brought a smile to her face, and she opened her eyes to find Hippolyta gazing at her in concern.

"Drea? Sweetheart, are you all right?"

Drea didn't answer verbally at first. Instead, she turned in Hippolyta's arms and absorbed the wordless comfort the queen offered. Hippolyta waited, knowing Drea would speak when she was ready. After a few minutes, Drea looked up to find Hippolyta smiling down on her. She returned the smile and wiped the tears from her eyes.

"All right now?"

"Well, better, anyway," Drea said wryly.

"Do you... would you like to share?" Hippolyta asked hesitantly. She didn't want Drea to think she was prying, but her curiosity was killing her. Whatever the secret was, it must have been of tantamount importance to have caused Drea to drop everything else to attend to it immediately. The fact that dealing with it required meditation gave Hippolyta a good clue as to at least part of what lay behind it.

"I think you deserve to know, Pol. But you need to understand that I don't have all the answers yet. I'll share with you what I have learned. Maybe we can fill in the holes together." Drea stood up and held out a hand to Hippolyta, helping her to her feet and holding her hand as they started out of the meditation room. "Come. Let's take a walk on the beach."

Neither of them saw Mala smile as she exited behind them, heading for the temple.

Chapter XXIX

"When we were in Greece, I had a sister... a twin."

"I remember Jasmine, Drea. She was a good friend... until...."

"... until she moved to Transformation Island after the situation with Diana. Sorry, Pol. I didn't mean to bring up bad memories. It's just...."

"I know you didn't, Drea," Hippolyta comforted her and put a hand on the healer's arm. "I figure it must be important if you're bringing up truly ancient history."

Drea nodded. "It is." She blew out a breath. "You never knew that Jasmine and I were linked telepathically... that we could speak to each other without talking. We didn't use it often once the Nation moved to Paradise Island. We didn't need to. We were in no danger here. But once she left here and went to the other island, it was how we kept in touch."

Hippolyta remained quiet, knowing Drea needed time to put her thoughts in order. They walked slowly through the sand, leaving a trail of footprints behind them. They held hands, and it reminded Hippolyta just how much she missed time like this with Drea. So much had happened to them and been allowed to come between them, and Hippolyta made a vow to herself that that would change. In the meantime, though....

"Twenty-five years ago, she came to me, told me that it was our last communication for a while. The goddesses had spoken to her and asked for a favor. I never knew what the favor was. She made it clear she wasn't able to share and I respected her enough not to ask. We spent the night just talking... reminiscing about everything. It was wonderful. I had never felt so connected to her before. When the sun came up, she was gone."

"For twenty-five years, she was silent. I didn't hear from her and I couldn't reach her. It was like she had just disappeared off the face of the earth."

"Yesterday, Mala sent me a message, asking me to come to the temple. No other explanation, just to go to the temple. When I did, I was met by Athena, Artemis and Aphrodite."

"In the flesh? My goodness, that has certainly changed a lot here recently, hasn't it?" Hippolyta commented nervously.

Drea smiled. It was a little unnerving. After more than a century of silence for the gods to simply suddenly resume their presence on the island without so much as a by your leave was a little hard to swallow – especially since they had caused at least part of the original problem, however inadvertently. However, they were trying to correct their error, and in truth, everyone had missed them.

"Yes," Drea answered simply. "They came to tell me that Jasmine would be in touch with me today, and that's all the information they offered me."

"That's why...?"

"Yes. Since I didn't know where she was contacting me from or when or what about, I figured I would meditate and make it as easy for her as possible." Drea grew thoughtfully silent, and Hippolyta stayed respectfully quiet, though it was hard not to blurt out her questions and urge Drea to finish her story faster. Obviously something profound had happened. Finally, Drea took a deep breath and resumed speaking.

"You have to understand that the link we had cultivated had grown and expanded until we could see what one another saw if we chose to share the pictures. We didn't do it often – we rarely needed to, and it is very exhausting... emotionally draining."

"She chose to share this time?" Hippolyta asked, noting the dark circles under Drea's eyes and the look of fatigue in them. "Oh sweetheart," dragging Drea gently by the hand over to a dune and taking a seat before pulling Drea down to rest against her. "You should have said something."

Drea patted Hippolyta's hands encircling her waist before leaning back into the warm body behind her. "I suggested we walk, remember? But this feels pretty nice too," she added with a smile. "But yes," she said, turning back to the water and watching the waves pound the shore with relentless, repetitive force. "She chose to share. It was... astonishing."

Drea was quiet so long, Hippolyta finally felt the need to prompt her. "What was, Drea?"

She didn't know how long she'd been sitting there, but eventually Drea watched as the darkness transformed into something more substantial. She looked around and felt the breeze blowing the through the wildflowers. Drea took a deep breath and enjoyed the fresh scent, wondering where she was but enjoying the view nonetheless.

"Hello, Drea. Gods, I've missed you. I'm so glad you're here."

"I've missed you, too, Jasmine. I wish I could see you."

"And I you, Drea, but for now this will have to do. We're short on time and there is so much I need to tell you... so much I want to share with you. It is only by special dispensation that we are able to communicate at all now and only because of recent events."

"What? Jasmine, what are you talking about? What happened? Where have you been, and what is going on? I assumed something horrible had happened when you stopped... when I couldn't find you anymore."

Drea felt her sister soothing her soul and she closed her eyes momentarily, absorbing the love she felt flowing from Jasmine to her. It brought tears to her eyes and a smile to her face simultaneously.

"Does being dead count?"

"Jasmine?"

"Shh, Drea. I'll make sure we get more time together later so I can explain everything. Gods, this is so frustrating!! They should have given us more time or a chance to stay in touch once they moved me. I didn't realize how much... though I should have. A part of me has always been lonely, has continued to miss you, even after my baby was born."

Drea was stunned into silence for a long moment. First learning Jasmine was dead, then... "BABY?!? Buh... um... ba... Jas?" The sound of a vehicle droned only slightly louder than the bees that were enjoying the colorful fields Drea could see. She didn't take note, but Jasmine did, knowing she had just run out of time to explain things they way she had hoped to... at least for now.

Jasmine chuckled sadly at Drea's squawking. She knew exactly how her twin felt. "Sorry, Drea. I didn't want to spring this on you like this, at least without having a chance to explain everything first."

"So what's stopping you?"

"My daughter is here."

Drea fell into silence again, and Hippolyta wished she had the ability to see what Drea had seen. She thought about prodding Drea, but the look of sad contentment made her bite her lips instead. She knew eventually Drea would continue her story, so Hippolyta decided that waiting patiently would be a good exercise in patience. She just hoped she didn't have to wait too long.

Eventually, Drea realized she had stopped speaking and she chuckled a little self-consciously and blushed. "Sorry, Pol. I was thinking."

Hippolyta laughed. "I know. Why do you think I didn't disturb you?" Drea glared at her for a long moment before breaking into a sheepish grin. Hippolyta hugged her close. "I'm sorry about Jasmine, Drea. She was a good friend, and a good Amazon." She took a deep breath. "So, you ready to share the rest?"

"There's not much left to tell. I heard footsteps approaching the oak we were standing next to...."

Jasmine was just out of sight of the footsteps and Drea wanted to peek around at the mysterious child. But Jasmine stayed out of sight, waiting for her daughter to perform the ritual she did every time she came to this place. Only when she spoke directly to her mother did Jasmine step out from behind the tree...

... and if Drea hadn't been well-practiced in the art and in complete control of her telepathic powers, she would have been completely expelled from Jasmine's consciousness. Then she focused on the conversation between Jasmine and her daughter, Annabelle Chaser.

"Whoa, whoa, stop... just hang on a minute," Hippolyta said, freeing a hand and clutching her forehead with it. "Let me make sure I've got this straight so far. Your sister Jasmine is dead, but she's apparently been in man's world for a while and had a child. And not just any child, but the child Mala saw as being the key to Diana's salvation."

"That would about sum it up, yes."

"My head hurts now."

Drea laughed. "I know how you feel."

"So what happened next?"

"I blinked, and found myself back in the meditation room. I'm not sure if it was because my time with Jasmine was up or because it was too hard to hold on to the connection with all the revelations. Once their conversation was over, I found myself here again."

"Did you learn anything else? From their conversation, I mean?"

Drea shrugged. "Nothing really tangible, although after finding out Chase was my niece, my mind was in a bit of a muddle." She paused. "I think she's starting to put things together. She was connecting the dots for Jas. She doesn't have the whole picture yet, and she certainly doesn't have a grasp on who Diana is to her, but she is trying."

"Was Diana with her? How is she doing?"

"No, she wasn't, and it didn't come up for discussion."

Hippolyta eased from behind Drea and stood up, then extended her hand down to help Drea stand. "Come. Let's go back to the palace, and I'll tuck you in. Then later we can have a light supper and you can go back to bed and try to recover from this. We can worry about the rest tomorrow."

"You take such good care of me, Pol."

"Not always, and not like I should, but I am going to keep trying until I get it right." Then together they walked slowly back down the beach towards the palace, holding hands and enjoying the peace of being together.

"Okay, that was totally bogus! How did we screw that up?"

Athena shook her head. "Miscalculation on my part. I'm sorry, Dite. I didn't expect Chase to show up quite so quickly, and I certainly didn't expect the connection to sever like it did. I thought they'd have a little more time together."

"No worries, babe. This is all pretty new for us too. We'll figure it out." Aphrodite gave Athena a hug which she reluctantly returned but secretly relished.

Sometimes Athena envied her sister's freedom to express herself so easily. She turned her attention back to the situation. "We have to be careful though, Dite. We don't want to draw Ares' attention to either of them. We're supposed to be fixing the problem we caused... not making things worse."

"As if. Athena, I really don't think that letting those two bodacious babes do their mind thingy is gonna make matters worse. I thought we'd already, ya know, decided they totally deserved this, 'cause the price we made them pay was so radically unfair."

"We did, Dite, and they do. We just need to be sure that through our actions Ares doesn't become aware of Drea and Jasmine or Chase and Diana. The Amazons have been out of his scrying bowl for a very long time. We don't want to remind him of their existence and if we disrupt the flow of things too much, even *he* will sit up and take notice."

For the first time, Artemis spoke up. "Do you really think he has forgotten, Athena? After all, his Fuehrer *IS* an Amazon, though she has long since given up any claim to that title. And he has to be aware of both Chase and Diana, at least on some level. They've both had run-ins with Orana personally since she became the Fuehrer."

Athena rubbed her forehead. "That is exactly my point. It's why we have to be careful. Today was supposed to be a one time thing – a chance to give both Jasmine and Drea a measure of peace about the other, and to get the rest settled so when the time comes, the Amazons will be ready for what is coming." She tapped her fingernails against her teeth nervously before speaking again. "We need to figure out a better way to get Jasmine and Drea together... one that will give them a decent amount of time together but won't alert Ares as well."

"I have a totally gnarly idea."

Two heads turned in tandem to face the blonde goddess and both gave her an identical raised eyebrow stare at her. Then they crossed their arms and waited for Dite to continue. As they listened, their eyes grew wide, and they shook their heads in disbelief.

"Well," Dite asked when she finished laying out her idea. "Whaddya think?"

Athena and Artemis exchanged looks and nodded their heads together. "I think that has got to be the craziest thing I ever heard," Artemis commented gravely, "which is exactly I think it will probably work. No one will expect it. Who's going to be the one to tell them?"

"I will," Dite responded with a serious look on her face. "My idea, so I'll take responsibility for it."

Athena laid a hand on Dite shoulder and smiled at her compassionately. "How about we each take a piece of the puzzle? We'll figure out the details here, and then go to them and get everything taken care of? That way it will get done faster, and maybe we can finally get that happy ending we've been waiting for."

"I so like that plan, Stan. I can totally get behind a righteous happy ending."

Athena grinned broadly, loving Dite's exuberance. "Me, too. Let's get to work."

"I don't like this, Drea. It's dangerous."

"Pol...."

"Drea, it is. Artemis said...."

Drea took Hippolyta's hands in hers and led them over to a window in the temple. Mala had summoned them as soon as Artemis had arrived and they had been sitting in the small prayer room in the back listening to Artemis spell out Aphrodite's plan until Hippolyta's outburst. Artemis watched them go with a small smile; it was nice to see the concern between the queen and her consort. Though they had never lost their love for one another, things for them and for the Nation had been stagnant for too long. This rejuvenation was long overdue and a very welcome result of all the tribulation they had already endured.

Drea faced them both towards the window, wrapping Hippolyta up in her arms and resting her chin on Hippolyta's shoulder. For a little while they simply stood there together, absorbing the comfort the other provided. Finally, Drea started talking quietly into Hippolyta's ear.

"This is something I want to do, Pol, but I won't if it bothers you that badly. I don't want you to be upset or worried. But I don't think the goddesses would have offered me the opportunity if they didn't think it was important."

Hippolyta turned in Drea's arms, ignoring everything around them and focusing solely on her partner. "This means that much to you?"

"Yes, it does. But I won't do it if you're that uncomfortable with it."

Hippolyta bit her lip. "I want you to do it, Drea. I think you deserve to know what happened to Jasmine, and what all this has to do with Chase and Diana. I just don't like the fact that you have to...." Her voice dropped to a whisper. "Drea, I don't want you to die... even temporarily."

"My queen," Artemis finally found a good opportunity to interrupt. "She won't really be dead; we just need to give her the appearance of death to allow her and Jasmine to be together on the same plane of existence."

"But Jasmine really died," Hippolyta retorted with some heat. Artemis nodded her agreement.

"Yes she did, but she also gave up her immortality voluntarily, knowing what the cost was. We are not asking Drea to do that, and we will be here to monitor her."

"I hate this," Hippolyta hissed in Drea's direction, but she didn't release her hands. Hippolyta turned her attention back to Artemis. "I want to be here. I want to help monitor her throughout the entire process."

Artemis smiled. "I would expect nothing less, my queen. Let me make sure we are ready. The sooner, the better for this conversation, I think." She shimmered out, leaving behind a trail of silver sparkles. The other three watched until she vanished completely, and then Mala gestured to the other two.

"Come. I think we should prepare a comfortable space for Drea to rest during the ritual."

Hippolyta and Drea exchanged glances then followed Mala to her private quarters. They didn't know exactly how long they had and wanted to be prepared for Artemis' return.

"Baby girl?" They were both sitting up, on the opposite side of the tree from the headstone with their backs braced against the trunk.

"Yes, mama?"

"I have to go." Jasmine covered Chase's lips before the younger woman could speak. "But I would like to come back and talk some more. And I would definitely like to meet Diana – eventually... once you're comfortable with the idea and have figured out how she fits into your not-so-neat and orderly world," Jasmine finished with a grin and a tug on Chase's short hair. "I love you, Annabelle."

"I love you, mama. I'll be back soon, I promise."

"You better. Otherwise...."

Chase held up her hands and backed up, laughing. "No threats, mama. I promised. I'll be here. A lot depends on how fast things move will the rebellion, but I will come back."

Jasmine noticed that Chase didn't mention Diana, but decided she had pushed enough for one day. Besides, Aphrodite was getting kind of loud in her summoning. She brushed a light kiss across Chase's forehead. "All right, baby girl. See you soon." Then she faded from existence before Chase could respond. She stood a moment longer, then with a sigh turned back towards her vehicle and headed back to the rebel compound.

Chapter XXX

It was well past dark when Chase pulled back into the compound. The guards, ever alert and aware of Chase's explicit instructions, stopped her at each checkpoint instead of simply waving her through. They had learned this rule the hard way and it was something none of them had forgotten.

Chase smiled bittersweetly, remembering the high cost of the lesson. She was just glad that particular lesson had taken with only one teaching. She parked the jeep in the depot and debated for a minute before turning her steps to the mess hall. She'd missed lunch and her stomach was growling loud enough to be heard in the heart of the Reich.

The mess hall was empty except for a few stragglers like herself. Most of them had been busy working through the dinner hour, but Cookie always kept fixings around for those that didn't make it in time for the scheduled meal. Ostensibly, he did it because Chase had given an order for there to always be food available, but they both knew he did it to keep Chase from rummaging around in his kitchen, That had been a lesson *he* had learned the hard way, much to her delight.

The rebellion had had a lot of time to develop the skills needed to provide for themselves, and fortunately, most of the Nazis overseers just didn't care enough to see what was really going on. They had been in power for more than a century; they didn't expect that to change any time soon. So, while not a five-star dining experience, the soup was warm and the bread not too dry.

Chase was left alone to eat in peace, and she sat silently thinking about her encounter with her mother. While it wasn't at all unusual for Jasmine to show up when Chase visited her grave, something had been off this time. Chase wasn't sure what it had been, but it was clear her mother's ghost was agitated about something, and Chase was laying odds it had something to do with their unexpected Amazon visitor Diana.

Like a compass headed north, her thoughts obediently followed that train. Chase knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that Diana was telling her the truth. But to accept that meant she not only had to accept that the things she had convinced herself were merely dreams were in reality... reality... it meant she also had to realigned her perception of the Amazons. And that seemed to be her real stumbling block.

She remembered with startling clarity Orana's cruelty and maliciousness. The woman had taken great pains to make sure Chase knew she was an Amazon. Why? Chase suddenly thought. The idea brought all her motion to a dead stop, and she sat perfectly still for a very long moment as the thought wormed its way into her conscious mind. Why was it so important to her that I knew she was an Amazon? It's not like they are more than a mythical people here in this world... they haven't been more than a myth for twenty-five hundred years. So what is her game?

Her musing might have gone on longer if a touch on her shoulder hadn't brought her back to reality with an unexpected jolt. Inhaling started her movement again, but because of the bread still lodged in her mouth, the action also caused her to choke. The hand moved from her shoulder to her back, and Chase quickly hacked up the bread that had slipped down the wrong way.

She coughed and sputtered for another couple minutes before bringing watery green eyes up to meet concerned blue. Diana didn't speak, but raised an eyebrow in question.

"Are you trying to kill me or am I just lucky like that when you're around?" Chase managed to croak, reaching for her glass. Diana snatched it and slapped it into her hand with a glare. "What the hell is wrong with you?" Chase choked out as water sloshed over the side and into her lap.

Blue eyes glared into green and green glared right back. Finally, knowing Diana shouldn't and really *couldn't* speak and silently acknowledging she might possibly have over-reacted, Chase broke the silence.

"Sorry," she croaked sheepishly. "Rough afternoon." Chase took a deep breath. "Please, have a seat," taking a napkin and trying to sop up the water in her lap. She looked back up at Diana. "Is something wrong? Did something happen with Hans? Wait," she said, holding up her hands when Diana opened her mouth to answer. Chase slid from her seat, wincing when the cold wet hit her warm skin. "I'll be right back."

Diana watched her go, a curious expression on her face. She wondered Chase was up to, but more than that, she wondered what had put the sadness in those green eyes. She propped her chin on her fist and sat back to wait for Chase to return.

Chase went back into the kitchen area, riffling through Cookie's private stock of supplies. He came in halfway through her search, but a look from her stopped his tirade in its tracks. Instead, he offered to help. "Whatcha need, boss?" tacitly acknowledging her leadership.

"Honey. And some lemon juice."

Cookie went directly to the cabinet that housed both and took them out. He set them on his prep table and turned to grab a cup and spoon. "You all right, Chase? You're not getting sick, are ya?"

Chase smiled crookedly as she started mixing the two ingredients together. "No, I'm fine, Cookie. This is for Diana."

"Ah, the notaNazi mystery woman. What's her story anyway?"

"One I'm still working on, Cookie," Chase said warningly. "Let it go."

He held up his hand defensively. "No harm in asking, boss. Everyone's curious."

"I know. They're just gonna have to get over it." She picked up the cup, continuing to stir its contents as she headed out the kitchen door. "Thanks, Cookie," she added, lifting the cup in salute before disappearing from the kitchen. He followed her footsteps until he could look out the small window, watching until she resumed her seat next to the beautiful stranger. Then he shook his head and turned back to his domain, putting things away before going back to his cot to get a little more rest.

Chase set the cup down in front of Diana. "Drink."

Diana raised her eyebrow and raised the cup to her nose to take a deep sniff. She took a tentative taste, then understanding what it was for, swallowed the contents. She closed her eyes as it coated her throat, glad for the respite.

"Better?"

"Much, thank you," Diana whispered, then she slipped the tablet Hans had given her from where she had tucked it in her back pocket. The first two pages were covered in hastily scribbled writing. Chase barely got a look before Diana turned to a fresh sheet. "If you are willing...?"

"Yes, absolutely. Damn," she muttered to herself. "I should have thought about this before." She stood and picked up her half eaten food then motioned to Diana. "C'mon. We'll probably be more comfortable back in my quarters. It's been a very long day... for both of us."

Diana knew how tired she was, having spent the day talking to Chase and working with Hans. But now she took the time to look more carefully at Chase, and she could see the fatigue so clearly apparent in her body language and a sadness in her eyes that was almost hidden. Diana nodded and rose, walking beside Chase for a few steps before retrieving a pitcher of chilled water and a second glass. Then she hurried to catch up, and in silence they retired to Chase's hut.

Chase sidestepped the desk, and went directly to her cot. Now that she had slowed down, her exhaustion was making itself known in her body as well as her soul. With any luck, her mind would get with the program and shut off long enough to let her get some rest. Maybe then her subconscious would work on her current problems and pop up with a resolution.

First, though, she needed to make it through her bit of dinner. And she needed to find out what was on Diana's mind, because the Amazon had to have come looking at her for a reason. She pulled her boots off and slid back against the headboard with a muffled groan. Then she set her plate in her lap and took a bite, chewing briefly before turning to find Diana looking at her with concerned eyes.

"So," she took a deep drink and swallowed before continuing her question. "What's up? Did things go okay with Hans, or...?" At Diana's look of confusion, Chase tried to elaborate. "I figured there was some sort of problem since you came looking for me."

Diana put pen to paper and Chase waited patiently for her to finish her answer. She continued to eat, almost cleaning her plate before Diana passed the tablet over to her. She put a stoic face on, not really knowing what to expect from Diana. She felt her emotions were raw and exposed after the time spent with her mother... especially considering what their discussion had been about.

My time with Hans was fine. We got a lot accomplished I think, and I really enjoyed working with him. He is quite knowledgeable, and he seems to be a good friend of yours... very protective.

Chase looked up at Diana and nodded. "He is. One day I'll have to tell you the story of how we became friends in the first place." Then she turned her attention back to the paper in her hands.

As for the other, I was just concerned. I saw you come in and you seemed a little upset. I wanted to make sure you were all right. I followed you into the mess hall, and found you completely lost in thought. I didn't mean to make you choke. So are you okay?

She got up and put her empty plate on the desk, then reseated herself facing Diana and giving her a thin smile. "I'm fine, Diana... honestly. I just had to take care of some personal business, and that always takes a lot out of me. I'm sorry you were worried," she continued, sliding back into a more comfortable position on the bed.

Diana shrugged, but gave Chase a small smile.

Chase cleared her throat. "How would you like to work with Hans on a more permanent basis?" She chuckled when Diana's eyebrows shot up into her bangs. "Diana, I don't think you're a Nazi, and I do think you could make a significant contribution to making this war end. I don't think making you share anything else is gonna change my opinion of you. A girl's gotta have some secrets, right?"

Diana gave Chase a sheepish smile and shrugged before reluctantly nodding her head. She was caught between relief and disappointment. She really wasn't ready to share her personal reasons for following Chase into man's world, but she really didn't want to have to lie about it either. On the other hand, she got the distinct impression that Chase was pawning her off, putting distance between them. The latter was confirmed when Chase continued speaking.

"Speaking of, though, your quarters should be ready in the morning, so if you want, we'll get you moved in before you start working with Hans in the morning?" She saw the hurt clearly in the blue eyes, but Chase needed the distance right now. Despite the doubts she had about leaving Diana alone in the compound, it was too confusing to have her nearby all the time. There were things she had to work out for herself before they could go any further in their friendship... things Chase had to understand and decide for herself and talking to her mother had brought that sharply into focus.

"I'm not sending you away, Diana. It's not like we won't see one another and you'll make friends much easier with others here if I am not hanging around you all the time. Trust me... a lot of folks here are looking forward to the opportunity to get to know you better. I just thought you might like a bit of privacy... some space to call your own."

"I understand," she whispered, despite the pain in her throat. "I appreciate it." The words had a ring of truth, but it was belied but the expression of betrayal in her eyes. "Goodnight, Chase," Diana whispered. Chase took a breath to answer, but Diana closed her eyes and rolled over to go to sleep.

Chase watched her for a moment before turning of the light. It was a long time before she closed her eyes, and sleep was an even longer time in coming to her.

"All right. I can see way more drastic measures are called for here." Dite turned her head and looked at Athena with an exasperated expression on her face. "What is wrong with those two radical chicks anyway? They are making me totally nuts." She threw her hands into the air and started ranting to herself. Athena just let her go for a few minutes, exchanging smirks with Artemis. Eventually, they bookended the love goddess and took a seat together on the settee, much to the amusement of the other goddesses watching them.

"I hate to say it, but Aphrodite is right. These two... especially Chase... seem to be determined to push one another away." This from Hera.

"Actually, Chase is doing the pushing. Diana is just letting it happen. Can we do something to fix that?"

"I'm gonna do something in a minute," Dite muttered loud enough to be heard. Despite the seriousness of the situation, the gathered goddesses tittered a little bit. "I'm gonna smack those two heads together so hard we'll get a new constellation out of the stars they produce. I'm gonna...."

Artemis grabbed her hands. "Dite, you are going to have to calm down. You know bad things happen when you get worked up like this. You have to have a bit of faith in yourself and them. It will happen."

Dite turned eyes sparkling with tears of frustration towards Artemis. "You totally, rock, babe. You know that? Thanks!"

Demeter cleared her throat. "That still doesn't answer my question though... can we do anything to correct this passive attitude Diana seems to have cultivated?"

"I think we need to see what happens now that Chase has given Diana a bit of latitude. It will be interesting to watch things develop, because knowing these two souls, they will push and pull a little while longer before the finally come together. At least when they finally do, the sparkage will be incredible."

"Don't you mean *if*?" Dite pouted.

"No. They will," Athena said firmly. "They will just give us all gray hair before they do. I think it is a hobby with them." The goddesses all nodded in agreement.

"Now! Now! Now!" Dite said stomping her foot. "I want it to happen now. Just once I'd like for the love biz to totally, you know, go right the first time." She snorted. "As if."

"Keep the faith, sister. They will get there... sooner rather than later."

"They better, or so help me...." As a single entity, they turned back to the scrying bowl to watch the situation progress between Chase and Diana.

Chase was up and out of her hut before the sun had even had a chance to turn the sky gray. She decided a run was in order to try and clear the cobwebs from her mind. Chase ran until the only thing in her thoughts was the rising of the sun and the wind in her hair. She realized she was making things more difficult than they needed to be and she decided to talk to Diana about it. Maybe they could work something out between them. She didn't like the pain and the feeling of betrayal she had seen in Diana's eyes the night before.

She decided to invite Diana to breakfast and made her way back into her hut, only to discover Diana was gone, as was any evidence she had ever been there. Chase looked around blankly, surprised by the pain in her chest that suddenly encompassed her. She placed her empty canteen on the desk with numb hands and dropped heavily into her bunk. This wasn't what she had wanted – she felt like something precious and fragile had just slipped through her fingers and crashed at her feet with no hope of recovery.

Not used to the feeling of having made such a colossal mistake, and not liking the way it felt now, Chase immediately left her hut in search of Diana. What she found made her heart clench for lost opportunities and at the same time smile grimly to herself for her keen insight. Instead of being in her new hut or sitting alone at breakfast, Diana was currently surrounded by Chase's top aides, all doing their best to follow Chase's lead. With Hans' help and because of his enthusiastic outpouring about her aid, they were finding to their delight that Diana was exactly as Chase had promised... someone to be welcomed into their midst.

Ty caught sight of Chase as she stepped into the mess hall and beckoned her over silently with a nod of her head, hoping she would shed some enlightenment on why Diana had been in such a hurry to move out from under Chase's watchful care. In all the years she had known Chase, Ty had never found her to be personally overbearing, even in her intensity, though her focus on work and the rebellion was another matter entirely. She was curious to know what Chase had done to push Diana so firmly away from her... and why.

Chase, however, conveniently ignored the hail, acting as though she hadn't even seen it. Instead, she grabbed a cup of coffee and turned to leave before Ty could repeat her summons verbally. For a brief instant, blue eyes met green, and equal pain was reflected in both of them. Then the shutters went up in Chase's eyes and she left the mess hall without a word to anyone. Ty watched the proceedings very carefully, noting that Diana's eyes closed up as well. No one else was even aware of what had transpired, too excited by Diana's arrival in their circle.

This was not an auspicious start to the day, and from the looks of things, it was only going to get worse.

Meanwhile, Orana was making plans of her own. She had the disturbing feeling that the rebellion was growing stronger. Nothing concrete, mind you... just a hunch. Rumors were making their way to her spies that were causing niggling concerns to gnaw at the back of her subconscious mind and she had determined it was time to take matters into her hands and destroy the rebellion once and for all.

Then there were the photographs. Two days earlier, her breakfast tray had been accompanied by a couple grainy surveillance pictures that had been taken the night of the rally. No one should have been wandering around the Reichstag while she was outside delivering her speech, and yet she held in her hands proof positive that a soldier of the SS, one of her elite guards by the markings she could make out on his uniform, was not only wandering around the building, but had been dangerously close to her own quarters. And she knew for a fact he hadn't been the one instructed to share her bed that night; SS officers were not allowed that privilege. She needed their cunning and their minds, such as they were, in her service. Their bodies didn't figure into the picture at all. Orana couldn't afford to have them distracted fighting over who would share her bed. Besides, it wasn't like men were her first choice of bed partners anyway, no matter how amusing they were. But as long as she shared the wealth around between women and men, no one made mention of the fact that the Fuehrer herself was ignoring cardinal Nazi doctrine.

To top it off, Ares had cautioned her to leave well enough alone. He was busy stirring up tiny civil wars around the globe, and that would effectively keep the rebellion from any serious effort against her or the Nazi regime. Orana chanced to wonder yet again how she had come to mentor Ares, but too much time and too many bottles of alcohol had passed her lips for her to clearly remember. All she knew at the moment was that she was bored and this was something new to worry about for a change.

So this puzzle, along with the rumors, made her antsy, and shook her from the complacency that had maintained its grip over her for far too long. Despite Ares' warnings to the contrary, it was time to shake the dust from her boots and do some hunting. Orana felt her blood warm at the prospect. Things were suddenly looking much better for her.

Chapter XXXI

"Are you ready, Drea?" The healer shifted a bit, laying her head more firmly in Hippolyta's lap, nodding when she felt Hippolyta start rubbing her temples. Mala turned her attention to the queen. "Are you ready, my queen?" adjusting the cushions behind Hippolyta to insure her comfort. None of them were quite sure how long this would take. Athena had spoken to Hades and arranged for a safe haven between life and death for the sisters to meet for as long as it took for Jasmine to tell Drea her story.

"As I'll ever be," Hippolyta answered with a wry smile. "I'm a little nervous."

Artemis stroked a hand through Hippolyta's hair and laid her other hand on Drea's wrist, monitoring her pulse. "Don't worry, my queen. We are going to be keeping an eye on both of you. But it's important to Drea and Jasmine to get some closure. Drea needs to understand, and Jasmine needs to share."

"I know. I'm still nervous." Artemis smiled at Hippolyta's honesty.

"That's a good thing, my queen. Now Drea, I want you to relax and close your eyes. Start your meditation. Listen to the water and the chimes and breathe slowly. Let your mind relax and take you to Jasmine." Whatever else Artemis said was lost on Drea as she slipped into another time and place, not hearing Hippolyta's pleading cries for her to breathe.

"Drea? Drea, wake up and open your eyes."

Drea blinked her eyes open slowly, smiling brightly when her brown eyes met their twin after more than a twenty-five year absence. She reached out and took Jasmine in an embrace that lasted long minutes. When they finally released one another, they sat back and simply looked at each other with tears in their eyes.

"Oh gods, Drea. How I have missed you."

"And I you, Jas. And apparently, so much more," said with a tearful chuckle.

"Oh, yes. Let me start at the beginning, but we'd better get comfortable first. It's a long story."

For the first time, Drea looked around the nothing they were standing in. Then she looked back at Jasmine. "All right. I'm open to suggestions."

Jasmine laughed, a full, throaty sound that Drea had to laugh in sympathy with. Things had always been like this between them. When Drea stopped laughing, she looked around again, amazed at the changes that had been wrought. They were in a meadow, much like the one Drea had seen with Chase in it. This one, however, didn't have a house or barn and it did have a river with a waterfall. Beneath the oak tree were two comfortable chaise lounges, and between them sat a table with refreshments. Drea raised an eyebrow in question. Jasmine just shook her head.

"Sometimes it's best not to question what the gods provide. Come... sit. I have a lot to tell you."

Drea remained silent, wanting Jasmine to tell her story in her own way. Soon, her patience was rewarded, and Jasmine began to speak.

"I was furious at Hippolyta for her treatment of Diana, so I decided to move to Transformation Island. I enjoyed it, for the most part. It was peaceful and quiet, and full of scientific research. I missed you, though. I know why you stayed, and I agreed with your decision, but it didn't make me miss you less."

"I had begun to think about returning home to Paradise Island, when the goddesses approached me. It was somewhat unusual. I wasn't at the temple; nor was I meditating or praying. Instead, Athena, Artemis and Aphrodite approached me while I was working... doing research on gene mutation. Anyway, it was all a little bizarre and totally unexpected."

"Jasmine?" I turned around, wondering who dared disturb me at such a critical point in my work. I was stunned to see three of our patron goddesses in the laboratory with me, and would have knelt had it not been for Athena's firm grip on my arm.

"No, Jasmine. You need not kneel before us this time, for we have come to ask a favor of you."

"Of course. Anything."

The three of them smiled at one another then at me and shook their heads. "No, Jasmine. Hear us out first. What we have to ask of you is difficult and treacherous and will have far reaching consequences."

We moved to my office at Aphrodite's suggestion; they conjured their own chairs, though Athena never actually sat down. It occurred to me then that they were all acting a little stranger than usual. Aphrodite was nervous and biting her nails; Artemis was pensive, bouncing her leg and clasping her hands together rhythmically. Athena was worried and paced back and forth across the small space behind the others.

"You deserve to know the whole story, and this story starts more that twenty-five centuries ago... when Diana was granted life. You see, she needed a soul and we searched far and wide for a soul that was deserving and that could fulfill every potential we offered it. And we found that in a soul that was known to the Nation, both as a Destroyer and as a Champion."

"We wanted to give her a second chance. What we didn't figure was that taking her soul out of the karmic circle was going to disrupt... everything. We chose the warrior's soul because it seemed so perfect for our needs, even with its flaws. You see, she possessed the skills, strength and beauty we sought and had a brilliant mind. Unfortunately, that life did its worst to her, and for years she was lost to us – she was Ares' Chosen.

"Eventually, though, she found her soulmate and everything balanced... she became a force for good and an Amazon champion. For a while, that was enough. But things were never easy with them and they were separated by tragic circumstances, but it was with the knowledge, or at least the belief, that they would find one another again in their next lives."

"So when you removed the warrior's soul from the karmic cycle to make her an immortal Amazon princess...."

"We messed up the balance, and removed the possibility of them finding one another again."

"Okay, so how do I figure in to this scenario?"

Athena smiled. That spunk and initiative was one of the reasons Jasmine had been chosen. "There's more. You see, we didn't immediately realize we had caused a problem. Things were fine for the longest time... or so we thought. It was only when Diana started praying for a mate that Dite started looking, and we discovered our mistake."

"It took longer than we expected to find her soulmate; we had to trace her progress from her origins, and we lost her more than once. However, we finally caught her in Elysia between karmic cycles, and she is currently waiting to be reborn."

"So you're asking me to give birth to Diana's soulmate?"

"Yes," Athena acknowledged. "But it's a little more complicated than just giving birth. You see, Diana's soulmate has a lineage that has to be maintained... in man's world." Jasmine's eyes widened as the implications of Athena's words began to make themselves known in her conscious mind. "And there is every possibility that if you bear this child, you might have to give up your immortality to her in the process because of that. We've never actually had a situation like this before, but we want you to be prepared for all contingencies. We actually won't have any sort of control once you leave here. More than anything, we want you to understand the risks... to go into this with open eyes."

"Did they tell you why you were chosen... aside from spunk and initiative? Jas, I've seen Chase. She doesn't look anything like you."

Jasmine chuckled. "She wasn't supposed to. She carries the looks of Diana's soulmate... the one she's always dreamed of... the one her heart remembers. As to why I was chosen... no, not really. I figured maybe it was because I always wanted a baby."

"Did you really?"

"Yes, I did."

"Wow," Drea commented slowly. "I never knew."

"I never said. I knew it wasn't a possibility so I didn't bring it up. It seemed a bit pointless. But I was thrilled when the goddesses offered me the opportunity, and I decided it would be worth the price to be able to fulfill that desire. And Annabelle was a wonderful child who grew into a wonderful woman." Jasmine laughed. "She was quite a handful growing up though." She lifted an eyebrow at Drea. "A lot like us."

Drea chuckled. "Yes, I got that impression in the brief time I had with her. She is very, very intelligent... a lot like you, as a matter of fact. I cannot believe I didn't see the resemblance before." Her forehead wrinkled in consternation. "I wonder why she didn't recognize me. Gods know we *do* look almost exactly alike."

Jasmine shrugged. "I can only make an educated guess, but she told me she was blind part of the time she was on Paradise Island. I think her mind shut down and took her sight with it. It was the only way she could get through what she perceived as an unbelievable prospect and still retain her sanity. Drea, my Annabelle has been through so much in her short life. I'm sure that shutdown was purely self-preservation on her part."

"Good point, and it makes sense. We couldn't find a physical reason for her blindness." Drea nodded her head, her gaze going inward for a long moment. Then she turned her attention back to Jasmine. "So what happened? Obviously you left here and went into man's world. But then?"

"Once I made my decision, it was easy...well, parts of it were. The goddesses got me to the right place. Then it was a matter of meeting Charlie."

"Charlie?"

"Annabelle's father, Charles Chaser. He was Steve Trevor's grandson."

"I see. And did Aphrodite do some sort of love potion or something to make sure the two of you fell in love?"

"I don't think so. It felt... real. Not like it was forced or put on. He was a good man, kind and gentle, and we loved one another very much. We had seven years together before he was taken from me. His death broke my heart, but it nearly devastated Annabelle. She was a Daddy's girl, and Charlie doted on her every chance he got."

"How did he die?"

"Same way I did – Nazi raiding party. He was doing reconnaissance and ended up being in the wrong place at the wrong time." Tears formed in her eyes. "Annabelle didn't even get to say goodbye. By the time the resistance found him, there wasn't much left. I barely recognized him."

"Oh, Jas. Why didn't you let us know? Why didn't you come home?"

"Drea, I couldn't. I couldn't leave Annabelle, and I couldn't leave the rebellion. I had obligations and responsibilities. It wasn't something I could just walk away from."

"Leave Annabelle?? Jas, you would have been bringing her home. She's an Amazon by birth even if she was born in man's world. You both would have been welcome like the long, lost family you were. Gods, maybe we would all have been spared some of the heartache we have had to endure. Maybe... maybe you'd still be alive."

Jas shook her head. "No, Drea. We couldn't come home. That was part of the original plan. I couldn't bring Annabelle back to Paradise Island until she reached adulthood, and then it was too late."

"What? Jasmine, you're not making any sense."

Jasmine bit her lip in thought, then blew out a frustrated breath. "This seemed so much easier before I had try to explain it," she muttered. "It's like this – Diana was a grown woman... an immortal who had been alive for more than twenty-five hundred years. How fair would it be to either of them for Diana to have to wait for Annabelle grow up or for Annabelle have to suffer through her growing pains while Diana was there to see all the ugly details with an adults perspective? Kids are still kids, Drea, and that sort of pressure can be impossible to get by... especially when there is a connection between them from there first meeting. I know you can't see Annabelle, Drea, but this whole thing with Diana has thrown her completely, and she is a capable, intelligent adult now. What would that have done to her as a child??"

"We decided that it would be in everyone's best interest if Annabelle grew up in man's world until she was old enough to make a decision about Diana for herself. But I was killed before that could happen."

"She doesn't know anything about her heritage? She doesn't know she is an Amazon?!? Jas, she hates us – Chase hates Amazons!! She was tortured and nearly killed by Orana!" Drea stopped speaking, trying to recompose herself. "I'm sorry. I don't mean to take this out on you. It's just...."

"... a lot to take in in a very short amount of time. I know. It was something of a shock for me as well. You see, the goddesses have almost no access to life outside their realm; we didn't know about the war or the rebellion, and once I was in man's world, I was on my own. I had to do the best I could with what I had."

"Why didn't they come to me sooner? Why didn't they tell me what was going on?"

"So you would worry more than you already did? Drea, there was no way to contact you, and no way for you to contact me. Only death allowed me to cross into your mind while I was still in man's world. I will stay here until Chase finds her way. Then my spirit can finally go to rest."

Drea was silent for a long moment, considering everything Jasmine had said. "There are so many things I want to ask you about your time in man's world, Jas. But first.... You lost your immortality, obviously. Did Chase receive it?"

"I don't know," Jasmine answered honestly. "I think so. I felt it slip from my body as she was born. But I don't know if that means it became hers as Athena had warned me about – so she and Diana can be true soulmates once more and forever or if becoming such an integral part of man's society meant I gave up all claim to being an immortal Amazon. I'd like to believe I gave it to Annabelle, but there is really no good way to test that theory and I was never in a hurry to try."

Something about Jasmine's droll, yet matter-of-fact answer made Drea laugh. She knew the tension and stress were part of it, and yet she also knew she had missed Jasmine's wit a great deal. It always came at you from around a corner.

"All right, I can see that. So, tell me about your time in man's world. Tell me about how you and Charlie met and about your wedding and Chase's birth... just tell me everything and don't leave out any of the good details."

Jasmine laughed. She had missed Drea's enthusiasm and sharing details of one another's lives. "Well, I met Charlie almost as soon as I arrived. He actually stopped to offer me some assistance and...."

For several hours, Jasmine talked, relaying everything she could to Drea about her life in man's world. Some of the more private things between her and Charlie she kept to herself, but everything she could share with Drea about Chase, she did. It was important that someone know everything possible so that when the time came, Chase would have someone to turn to.

Eventually, Jasmine's voice wore down, and she took a deep draught of the refreshment they had been provided with. It was cold and sweet and soothing and she smiled as it coated her throat and gave her a bit of relief. Drea suspected there was more on Jasmine's mind, and she waited patiently, helping herself to her own bit of refreshment. Her patience and her intuition was rewarded when Jasmine cleared her throat and looked at her with an odd expression.

"What is it, Jas?" patting her sister's knee in a familiar, comforting gesture. "You can ask or tell me anything. You know that."

"I know, Drea. It's just... this is a little awkward."

"Jaaaassssssminnnnnne...."

Jas laughed. "Gods, I missed hearing that. Okay, look. I need to ask you a really big favor – huge, in fact." Then she stopped speaking, and the silence lingered until Drea felt compelled to break it.

"Um... Jas? Are you going to share with me what this favor entails or would you like me to invoke some sort of divining ritual to figure it out for myself?

Jasmine laughed and then bit her lip pensively. "I need for you to go to man's world, Drea, to Annabelle. I need for you to help me tell my daughter about her heritage. I know she will believe me; I have never lied to her... about anything. I just didn't tell her about the Amazons soon enough. I would simply like you to be there as my physical representative. I believe it would help convince her of the truth... help her to put all the pieces together and accept her destiny. And it would give her some support, someone she could talk to about things.

"I'd like that, Jas. Yes. It will give me an opportunity to get to know my niece... as my niece and not as a patient. She was intriguing when I didn't know we were related."

Jasmine smiled and squeezed Drea's hand. "I told you she was a handful, but she was always a good kid, full of life and ideas and imagination. Experience and the war have tempered that a great deal, but it is still there... still part of the core person she is. Perhaps you will be able to cultivate it."

"Once she gets past her anger, you mean."

Jasmine shrugged. "Well, there is that, of course. But with a little luck, that part won't last too long. Be patient with her, Drea. She has known more sorrow in her short life than we did before we left the Old World for Paradise Island." Drea's eyes raised in astonishment. "I didn't share everything, Dre; some things Annabelle will have to share with you... or not. But it will need to be her choice. Just remember that she knows suffering and loss, and the fate of the rebellion rests on her slim shoulders."

"I will, Jasmine. Trust me to take care of her like she was my own. In a way, she is."

"I know, Drea, and I'm glad she will have you in her life. Now, I think it is time for you to go home so you can get started to Annabelle's world. I need to return to my temporary resting place – that is where Annabelle comes to talk to me. That is where you will need to come to; I'll look for your arrival, and then we will have to wait for Annabelle to seek me out."

"You don't go looking for her? You don't want me to?"

"Not unless you want to explain this on your own. Drea, I don't get to roam freely. My place is where Annabelle placed my body to rest. That is where I belong and where I have to stay. It's not all bad; I do get a small window to keep up with her... what she is doing. I just have to wait for her to come to me. Death tends to make some things more difficult."

Drea nodded. "Yes. I can see where that could be a real problem." She paused. "I love you, Jas."

"I love you too, Drea. See you soon."

Drea felt her eyes grow heavy and she let them fall closed. From a great distance, she heard Hippolyta calling her name and she followed the sound until she could open her eyes. She blinked slowly, not surprised to find Hippolyta cradling her face with only inches separating them. The tears, however, were completely unexpected. Drea wondered what had happened in her absence.

Chapter XXXII

"Pol? Hippolyta, what's wrong?"

"Oh Drea, you stopped breathing. I thought you were dead!"

Drea blinked and turned her head towards Artemis. "I was dead?"

Artemis nodded. "Technically yes, but only for a few seconds - less than a full minute. It is how a mortal can pass into the nothing regions of the underworld."

"But I was gone for hours! I didn't remain dead while I was gone?"

"No," Artemis answered with just a hint of exasperation as though she had already explained this more than once – which she had. "You died – that is to say all bodily functions ceased long enough to create the appearance of death. Once you crossed into the nothing region, your body here entered a state of suspended animation." She looked at Mala. "Didn't we explain all this to them already?"

"Yes, Artemis," the priestess answered dutifully. "But it is a very stressful procedure."

"True." Artemis turned back to Drea. "Please accept my word that at no time were you in any danger, and that everything is perfectly fine now. How do you feel?"

Drea smiled and struggled to sit up, a difficult feat as tightly as Hippolyta was holding on to her. She patted the queen's hands as a measure of comfort. Hippolyta offered her a muttered apology and released her hold, gratified when Drea clasped her hand instead.

"I feel really... good. Thank you Artemis, and Aphrodite and Athena," including the other goddesses as they appeared in the temple. "I greatly appreciate the opportunity you afforded to me and Jasmine. I am glad to know the whole story and to understand what actually happened to her."

"Are you going to honor her request of you?" Athena asked. "She told me she was going to ask; we were not monitoring your conversation. Everything that was said was private between the two of you. You deserved that much courtesy."

"Thank you, Athena," Drea replied, bowing her head. "And yes... I gave Jasmine my word."

"Wait... what request?" from Hippolyta.

The goddesses were silent and looked to Drea to answer. Drea took Hippolyta's hands in hers and looked into her eyes before she spoke. "I promised Jasmine I would go into man's world to look after Chase. Pol, you remember what I told you about how she felt about Amazons?" waiting for the affirmative nod. "Well, she doesn't know she is one. Jas never told Chase what her true heritage is."

Hippolyta was stunned and sat blinking at Drea for a long, disbelieving moment. "You are not serious." Silence. "But why? Was Jasmine that ashamed of being an Amazon?"

"No, Pol, no! She simply died before she felt the time had come to share that information. And she has asked me to go to her... to be there to help break the news to her. Perhaps I will even have the opportunity to keep an eye on Diana as well."

Hippolyta considered all the angles, not really finding a downside except for the separation this would require of the two of them. But given how long Diana's soul had been aching for its other half, she supposed she could manage for the relatively short amount of time required for this.

"How soon do you need to leave?" tacitly giving her blessing to Drea's proposed trip.

"Sooner would be best, my queen," Artemis spoke. "But I think we can allow enough time for your consort to get some food and some rest."

"Perhaps I can share with you what happened between Jasmine and myself while we were together in the nothing realm," Drea added, knowing Hippolyta's curiosity rivaled her own. "First, though, I would like a hot shower."

Artemis smiled. She had a weakness for those herself. "Very well, Drea. Come back to the temple when you are ready to depart. Mala will take care of us here until then. We will be waiting to hear from you."

Drea nodded and slowly rose to her feet. Hippolyta held her steady until she was certain Drea had her bearings, then took the hand she was still holding and together they left the temple and headed to the residence area of the palace. The goddesses and Mala watched them out of sight, then turned their attention to passing a bit of time until Drea was ready to go.

"All right, Diana. This is good. This is really good. This could give us such an edge. What made you think of this?"

Diana shrugged, unwilling to admit that it had developed from something Chase had said in their conversations together. It had been nearly three weeks since she had moved out of Chase's quarters and Chase had done an admirable job of completely avoiding her. Ty had given her the understanding that Chase would eventually approach her. She hadn't but had instead made sure that she was completely unavailable. Diana was hurt and angry, but she had determined she was not going to be the one to break the stalemate between them. She had only been abiding by Chase's wishes when she left.

"Diana? You okay? I think you faded on me there."

"I'm fine, Hans," she said softly. Her voice was returning slowly, but she wasn't inclined to use it loudly or often. "Time for lunch?"

Hans glanced at his watch, just as the mess hall bell rang. "How do you *do* that?" he asked, not really expecting an answer. "Come on. I know Cookie had meatloaf on the menu today and he does a pretty good meatloaf, if I do say so." He smiled, and Diana cocked her head in question. "I gave him the recipe. Trust me... you don't want to miss it."

Diana returned his smile and allowed him to take her arm and lead her out of the laboratory. She'd never experienced meatloaf before and was looking forward to this first opportunity.

Across the compound, Ty was knocking on the door to Chase's quarters. When she didn't get an answer, she simply opened the door and crossed the threshold. Chase looked up at her from the desk with very annoyed eyes. "You think that maybe since I didn't answer your knock, I didn't want to be disturbed by anyone, including you?"

"Give it up, Chase," Ty said with more than a touch of sarcasm. "The reason you didn't answer the damn door is because you thought it might be Diana. What the hell happened between the two of you, Chase? One day you were giving orders that we were all to steer clear of her, and the next she is coming to me at daybreak, before I can even get a cup of coffee, asking which hut is hers. And then... then all of a sudden you don't look at each other, you don't talk to each other. Hell's bells, Chase, you changed your whole damn routine just to avoid her!!"

Chase slammed her hands on the table and half rose. "That's enough!!" she roared. "Just back off, Ty. Back off and leave me the hell alone! I've got work to do," resuming her seat and turning her attention back to her work.

"Chase, c'mon. You can't let things go on like this. It's tearing you up, and that's affecting the rest of us! God... when was the last time you ate a hot meal in the mess hall with everyone? Hmm? When was the last time you held a staff meeting?? Would you like me to tell you? Would you? Because I guarantee you the entire senior staff is well aware there is a problem; they know when it started. Even if Diana won't share, even if you won't... we all know there is something going on between you."

"Ty," Chase's voice was tired when it broke into her cousin's tirade. "Just go, will ya? There's nothing you can do here, all right?"

Ty's shoulder's slumped, knowing she wasn't going to get anywhere with Chase in the mood she was in. "Would you like me to bring you over some lunch? Today is meatloaf day."

"No thanks, Ty, but I appreciate your asking. Go on before you miss out," with a waving motion and a small smile, turning back to her work once more.

Ty nodded and walked out the door, closing it completely before she shook her head at Shep and Hans who were waiting at the entrance to the mess tent. Diana had just gone inside with Jen and Mitch to hold a table for them all. Their shoulders slumped much like hers were and they waited for her to cross the compound to join them. Something was going to have to be done about the two of them soon. With their final offensive against the Nazis beginning in just a few days, Chase and Diana couldn't continue to be at odds with one another.

Shep pulled open the door, gesturing for the other two to walk in ahead of him. Just as he made a motion to follow them in, he saw Chase leave her hut and head toward what they had all dubbed "Chase's thinking hill".

Chase went to the hill, but discovered it wasn't a place she could think anymore... at least not about Diana. The last time she had been there was when she had brought Diana with her, and though it had been platonic – strictly business – she found she couldn't clear her thoughts of that brief time to focus on the here and now.

And Ty had been right about one thing for sure – the rift between Diana and herself was affecting everyone and everything in the rebel base camp. She was going to have to do something to resolve it. The question was... what?

Finally, angry at herself for letting Diana become so important to her that this mattered, and at Diana for causing her dilemma in the first place, Chase went back down the hill and checked out a jeep from the motor pool. She needed to talk to her mama.

It had been quiet at the homestead since Drea's arrival. The goddesses had been kind, providing her with a relatively smooth passage to man's world, and laid in a goodly portion of supplies for her in the cupboards once she had arrived. She had been more than a little surprised that they had provided a method of conventional travel to man's world instead of transporting her directly to what had once been Jasmine's home... and Chase's as well. Or at least she was surprised until Athena had explained to her the likelihood of Ares detecting her movement away from the protection of Paradise Island would be greatly multiplied if they used their godly powers to do so. As it was, he had noticed the dramatic increase in their visits *to* the island, though he put it down to the fact that it was the only place any of them had a power base left. How little he knew.

"We will be watching, Drea, but it is impossible for us to interfere in things that happen there. We do not want to draw attention to Chase or the rebellion, because Ares could and would do great harm to the rebellion if he knew where to look for them. And he would take extreme pleasure in separating Diana and her soulmate for eternity. Together, they always managed to defeat him, and Diana never gave her soul to him... even as his Chosen... because of it."

"You will have to be very careful and very patient as well. There is no way for us to tell how long it will be before Chase comes to visit. Losing her mother was very painful for her; she saw it as being her responsibility... her fault."

"That's nonsense!" Drea broke in. "Jasmine told me what happened and Chase wasn't even there. There was nothing she could have done to prevent it, and if she *had* been there, she would have been tortured and killed as well."

"No, she couldn't have done anything to prevent it, and yes, she might have died as well, but she doesn't see that as a bad thing. It was her intelligence report that they were using when her mother was captured, so she feels like death would have been an appropriate reward for her perceived blunder. The truth was, though she won't believe it, that the markers that had been laid out were changed before they arrived at the depot and Jasmine and her team walked right into a Nazi ambush. But Chase sees it as her own failure."

"Athena, why does Chase take such a responsibility on herself? Surely she acknowledges that her mother was a grown woman, capable of making her own decisions."

"As a member of the rebellion, yes, but as a daughter, no... especially since her father always commissioned her to take care of her mother while he was gone. It was the last thing her said to her before he told her he loved her and then went out and died."

Drea shook her head. "Are we sure she is Diana's soulmate? I mean, it seems as though the odds are stacked against them. They both have so many obstacles to overcome personally that...."

"Yes," Dite spoke for the first time, serious in both speech and manner. "Because they won't overcome those obstacles alone – they can't. They need each other to do it... they always have."

Drea nodded, understanding the veracity of the statement when she realized she was watching history – ancient, Amazon history - come alive again. Only this time, Chase's soul had experienced much more darkness than the warrior soul that belonged to Diana. Then she cleared her throat, needing to know. "Did Chase gain Jasmine's immortality? Will we be able to take her home to Paradise Island to live with Diana forever?"

"Well," Dite drawled. "Yes to the first part. Chase did inherit Jasmine's immortality and *if* she survives the rebellion, and *if* she chooses to make that totally happening place home, yeah... absolutely."

"Waitaminute," Drea said, holding up her hands for a time out. "What do you mean IF?? Immortal is immortal is immortal. It's not a pick and choose sort of deal."

Athena took back over the explanation. "Things work a little differently here in man's world and the rules for the immortality you enjoy on Paradise Island are not the same. For instance, you will age here, though at a very, very minute pace. If you study any of the few pictures Paula found of Orana, you will be able to see a slight difference in her appearance, even with the accouterments she brought from the island to protect her. Nothing too remarkable, but it is there if you know what to look for."

"We do believe that you can die here for the same reason, though we also think that it would take an exceptional amount of time and effort. However, this is still just a theory on our part as we have not had occasion to put it to the test."

"As for Chase, she's a wildcard no matter how you play it. Her immortality is inherited, so what rules apply? She grew up just like a normal human child would have for the first twenty-one years of her life. She has not changed noticeably since them. She survived the most horrible forms of torture without dying, so it obviously takes and incredible amount of power and exertion to kill her, but is killing her even possible or did her will simply kept her alive because of what was at stake? We really don't have any way to know until everything plays out to its logical conclusion. Just keep in mind that we are dealing with an extraordinary amount of variables and unknowns especially where Chase is concerned. And Chase is the biggest among them. Not simply because of the immortality, but because of her hatred of the Amazons and her responsibilities to the rebellion."

Drea rubbed her forehead, feeling a sudden unwelcome and unexpected sensation travel from her temple to the base of her skull as a headache began to make itself felt in her nerve endings. "Well," she muttered, "no one said it would be easy, though I certainly never expected something quite so convoluted." She mixed up a tonic and drank it down without flinching... til her tongue realized what it had just been fed. Then she grimaced, noting that her headache eased almost immediately.

"Okay, that is much better," drinking down another glass of water.

"Now, we must go," Athena said as the image of them flickered against the wall it was hosted on. "We will be watching, but there is nothing we can do to help. Good luck, Drea." Then the image went dark before the healer could formulate a reply.

Drea looked around the small farmhouse, careful not to disturb too much. She didn't want to give Chase any more reason to be angry than she was already going to be once she learned the truth about who she really was. Drea chose Jasmine's room as her own. She figured Jasmine would understand, and Chase probably wouldn't appreciate Drea moving in to what was obviously her space.

What confused Drea was the fact that Chase still clearly considered this her home. The house was filled with treasures and mementoes and Drea had discovered, to her delight, a stack of what appeared to be memory books full of photographs. She couldn't wait to go through them. She hoped Jasmine would come around and share some more insight into her life here, though she didn't understand why they had been left behind.

Drea cherished the opportunity she had to spend time with Jasmine, though it wasn't as often as she wanted it to be. Maintaining a visible form took a lot of energy and Jasmine had to rest and regroup between appearances. But Drea passed a comfortable two weeks at the homestead visiting with Jasmine and learning more about, not only her sister's life in man's world, but also about Chase and her growing up.

After Drea's initial introduction to everything in the farmhouse by Jasmine, they spent most of their time outdoors near the oak tree. Drea enjoyed being outdoors and it was easier for Jasmine to be visible there. She seemed to draw strength from where her body had been laid to rest, and Drea had to admit it was a nice place to pass the time and take pleasure in the fresh air and sunshine and wildflowers that surrounded the area.

On the days Jasmine was unable to visit her, Drea still made sure she went out to the oak tree that Jasmine was buried beneath and spent time just talking about things. She decided once everything was settled, no matter what happened, she would continue to talk to Jasmine like this, even if it was from Paradise Island. She felt it brought her closer to Jasmine and found she had missed that. And she got the feeling Jasmine had too.

Drea was sitting under the shade of the tree next to Jasmine's headstone talking one afternoon when the strangest noise she had ever heard made itself know to both her hearing and her nerve endings. It reminded her of the obnoxious sound the flying machines that had landed on Paradise Island had made. It shattered the stillness of the surrounding countryside and got Drea's attention easily.

She watched Chase's progress as she turned into the lane that led to the house and past it into the meadow where Jasmine's body was interred. Chase wasn't paying very close attention to her surroundings here – nothing ever changed here because no one but her ever came to this place.

She walked with her head down, mulling over her thoughts so she could try to get them into some sort of order. She didn't know that her mother could say or do anything to help her, but Chase knew she'd feel better just sharing things with Jasmine. She always had. However, with any luck, Jasmine would be able to offer her some advice to fix things with Diana. Chase knew she had to do something.

Chase was so focused on her own thoughts that she reached the tree before she realized someone else was there ahead of her. She lifted her eyes and saw....

"Mama?"

"No, baby girl," Jasmine answered as her ethereal form emerged from behind Drea before it took solid shape. "This is your Aunt Drea."

"Oh. My. God."

Chapter XXXIII

"This better be some sort of sick, fucking joke! DON'T!!" Chase shouted as Drea started to move within touching distance. "You stay right there."

"Chase, if you will just give me a chance...."

"NO! You cannot *possibly* have anything to say that I want to hear! I don't know what is going on here, and I really don't care. I don't need this right now. I've got way too much on my plate to worry about who you really are or why you're here."

Drea stopped moving and looked to Jasmine for guidance. She'd known Chase was going to be angry, but the proportion of her rage was much greater than either Jasmine or Drea had expected it to be. Drea wondered what exactly had brought Chase to them. Perhaps that would explain why her reaction, though well contained, bordered on furious.

"Annabelle," Jasmine said softly, "let me explain...."

"No, mama," with cold, deliberate calm. "There is nothing for you to explain."

"ANNABELLE!! Sit down, please."

"NO!! No, you lied to me!"

"Annabelle, I never once lied to you. Never! I have always been honest with you, baby girl."

Chase turned her back to Jasmine and Drea and walked away from them. "No," she said wearily, her back still facing them. "You didn't tell me the truth, and that's the same as lying." Her shoulders slumped in defeat. "Drea, I'll bring Diana to see you, as I imagine that is the real reason you're here. Then ya'll can make whatever arrangements you need to return to your home." She turned back briefly and gestured towards Jasmine. "Maybe you can take her home with you, since you obviously belong to each other."

Then she walked away without another backward glance.

"Do you want me to follow her?" Drea asked, watching Chase get further and further away them. Jasmine shook her head and sank to the ground her hands covering her face. Drea followed her down, wrapping her arms around her sister and just holding her, wondering how they were going to fix this.

Chase drove back to the rebel encampment at a rapid pace, deliberately keeping her mind carefully blank. She stopped the jeep in front of the laboratory and hopped out, striding into the work area with deliberate steps. Hans and Diana looked up at the interruption, then at each other in disbelief as they saw who the interruption was. Chase had not been back to the lab since she had originally brought Diana in to talk to Hans.

"Diana, do you have a moment, please?"

The request was so unexpected Diana nodded and moved away from Hans before consciously thinking about it. When she got close to Chase, Diana remembered her hurt and asked coolly in her low voice, "Is there something I can do for you?"

Chase was glad for the cold attitude; it made it easier to maintain her detachment. "Yes. Can you spare me a few minutes of your time?"

Diana looked back at Hans who was watching them with interest even though he couldn't hear a word of the conversation between them. They were at a point in their work where she didn't have to be there for them to continue to make progress, and she admitted to needing a break, even if it required being in Chase's presence for a little while to get it. Chase had never given her a reason not to trust her, so she nodded. "Yes. What can I do for you?"

Chase didn't reply, but simply waved Diana towards the jeep. Then she looked back at Hans. "Staff meeting as soon as I return. Pass the word." An order... not a request.

He nodded, only just refraining from saluting. She hadn't been that harsh since her mother was killed, and he wondered what had set her off this time. He didn't think it was Diana, though; Chase's reaction to Diana had been all over the place with Diana herself, but she had never been harsh with the rest of them because of it. Mostly, she had simply withdrawn from them completely, stonewalling their every effort to talk about it. So something new must have happened to return the recklessness Chase had possessed after her mother's death before she had settled down to lead them.

A hand signal from Chase as she left the lab garnered her a distant escort; someone who knew to follow, but not too closely.

Chase didn't speak when she got into the vehicle. She couldn't think of anything to say that wasn't weak or sappy to her ears and she really wasn't in the mood for either. In a way, though, this scenario would work out better for all concerned. Diana would return home where she belonged, Chase would get her focus back on the rebellion where it belonged, and the war would finally be over once and for all. After that, well, it wouldn't really matter, would it? At least this way Diana would be safe.

"Where are we going?" Diana asked as they left the compound. Though she didn't get the feeling Chase meant her actual physical harm, she had the distinct impression she was being set up for something she wasn't going to like. Suddenly, her trusting Chase seemed like a bad idea.

"Not far," Chase answered briefly.

Diana tried to pay more than peripheral attention to their direction and destination, but her mind was torn in three different directions. She was trying to find a way to break the ice without coming across as begging or condescending, but everything she came up with sounded lame and trite to her mind. Why does that always happen when I am around her? she thought. Any other time or with any other human being, I can be a calm, rational adult. But I get close to her and my brain freezes up. Gods, it shouldn't be this hard. We know each other... our souls belong to one another – they always have. So why can't I just tell her that? Why won't she let me mean something to her? Then Chase's words interrupted her train of thought.

"I'm sorry, Diana. I really am. If things had been different, we could have at least been friends, but...." Chase spoke as they turned into the lane. She covertly checked to be sure the other vehicle was still following, then took a deep breath to finish her apology. "For what it's worth, I never meant to push you away. I wanted... I just... I thought.... Well, it doesn't really matter what I thought now. I think she is waiting for you." She turned the jeep off and pointed to the figure on the porch. "I hope you find whatever it really is you came here looking for. Goodbye, Diana." Then Chase jumped from the driver's seat and into the jeep that pulled up right next to her. Then the driver hit the gas, and the vehicle roared back down the lane the way that it had come.

Diana got out and started running, but Amazon or no, she couldn't keep up with a motor vehicle without Wonder Woman's powers, and she was literally left in the dust as Chase disappeared from view.

Great, she thought, what am I going to do now? She turned and headed back to the small farmhouse, wondering what had brought Drea into man's world.

"What do you think you're doing?" Ares leaned against the doorframe with his arms crossed over his chest. Orana didn't deign to look at him, but dropped her robe and walked into the closet to get dressed. "I asked you a question; I want an answer."

"And I want to go out and destroy the rebellion, once and for all. I don't think I owe you any more of an explanation than that. *I* am the one in charge here, Ares... not you."

"Uh huh," he said, pushing away from the wall and moving further into the bedroom. "And then what? What exactly are you going to do if you destroy the rebellion? Hmm? Are you going to sit around on your ass waiting for something exciting to happen? Hoping I'll come around once in a while to share your bed?" cupping her cheek and stroking his thumb over her lips.

She jerked her head out of his grasp. "Don't flatter yourself, Ares. You're not that good." She tucked her shirt in and snatched up her boots before pushing past him to sit on the bed. He followed her and jerked her chin up til their eyes met.

"Don't push me, Amazon. I am a god, and I own you, remember?" fingering the mark she wore on her neck. "You need me to remind you who is in charge?"

Deciding to change tactics, she stood and ran her hands up his chest. "Ares, I just want to go out and have a little fun. Is that so hard to understand? Come on... we haven't had a really good fight in a long, long time. And I've heard rumors...."

"Oh yeah? What kind of rumors?"

"Well, I'm hearing things about some sort of offensive. My spies haven't been able to pin down anything specific, but there are just too many rumors running around out there for there not to be something behind them. I want to go find a little action."

"Well, baby... you should have said something. You know if you want action, I'm you're man... and I'm *always* ready to go."

She pinched his ass and he jumped, not expecting it. "Wrong kind of action, Ares. I want a fight."

"Well, I've been working on that too. I've got several fights star...."

"No, Ares. I want battles and wars and glory... like it was in the beginning."

Ares scrubbed a hand across his beard and looked intently at Orana. Truth be told, he missed that kind of action as well because it had been so long since they'd had a good fight. But something about the timing of this whole thing wasn't sitting well... not with the goddesses renewed interest in the Amazons of Paradise Island. However.... "You think that's what this is?"

"I don't know yet, but I would like to find out. It's making my fingers prickle."

"All right," he finally agreed. "Just be careful. We don't want this to backfire. We've got a really good thing going here."

She reached up and drew him to her, kissing him hard and passionately on the mouth. "Not a problem. I'm just looking for a little diversion. Now," she said, moving out of his reach and picking up her belt and lasso. "I've got work to do."

"So do I," he agreed. ""But I'll be back." Then he shimmered out of the room, and she walked out, leaving the room in darkness.

"All right – that's it. Countdown starts now. We will commence the operation in forty-eight hours. Everyone's got their assignments. Questions?"

"Yes. Where is Diana and what is her part in all of this?" This from Hans as he was the only one who knew that Diana and Chase had left together earlier and that Chase had returned alone. He hadn't shared that knowledge with anyone, curious to know what had happened between them but anxious to give Chase the benefit of the doubt. She had been his best friend for a long time, and he'd never once know her to act without honor. But he'd never seen her out of sorts like she had been with Diana either.

"There was an emergency in her family, and they came looking for her. She went with them, so I'm guessing she's got some things to take care of that don't involve us or this mission. That's all right – she wasn't really ever a part of this mission to begin with, so we didn't have to make any alterations. Anything else?"

The silence around the room made it seem like there was more that each of them wanted to say... questions they wanted to ask... but they let it go. Chase was focused on the rebellion again, and that is what they needed. As much as they liked Diana, they needed Chase. No one stopped to consider that Diana was what Chase needed.

"All right," Chase nodded, picking up her notes. "Everyone make sure to see Hans before we head out to get their shots and pick up their new armor. No one goes on this operation without both. Move out – we've got a hell of a lot to get done and not much time left to do it in."

She was out the door before any of them could even get up from their seats.

"That is why you're here, Drea? It has nothing to do with me then?"

"No," Drea said, "though of course your mother did ask me to check on you, make sure you were doing all right. She really is concerned." Diana nodded, but made no other attempt to acknowledge acceptance of Drea's words. "Is that how Chase got you here – under the guise of me needing you?"

"Actually she just asked for a few minutes of my time, then she apologized and left me here."

"But she left you a vehicle...."

"... which I cannot drive." Diana bit her lip. "All right, I guess that means I start walking. Would you like to come with me or would you prefer to stay here?"

"Given my choice, I will come with you, of course. Let us have something to eat first."

"Yes, and Aunt Jasmine can explain why she never told Chase about her heritage," glaring at the spirit of the woman who sat in the window seat looking across at the tree beneath which her body lay buried.

Jasmine looked at Diana with eyes that were full of despair, and Diana was inclined towards sympathy for her. But the truth was, she had unwittingly managed to complicate Diana's life immensely and thrown any chance of Chase accepting Diana or her heritage into a tailspin. It made things more complicated, Diana sighed, but not impossible. One more hurdle on the path to being whole again.

"First things first. Jasmine will tell her story for you while we eat, then you and I will head back to the rebel encampment. Do you think you can find it again?"

Diana nodded. Then she took a seat and waited expectantly for Jasmine to begin speaking.

It took Jasmine through their meal and a little longer to finish her telling and Diana listened and ate without interrupting. Drea watched Diana as she listened, noting with interest how she absorbed the details about Chase's life. The sun had almost set by the time that Jasmine finished.

"I didn't keep it from her maliciously, Diana. It just never seemed like a good time to tell her... especially not as a teenaged child... and then it was too late. I ran out of time. I am hoping after she settles down and thinks about it calmly that she will realize that."

"Do you know why she came out here?" Diana asked.

"No. We never got that far." A pause. "I wonder if she suspected the truth or if she came looking for answers about something else." Drea met Diana's eyes. "How are things progressing between the two of you?"

Diana shook her head. "They aren't. She's been avoiding me, but I don't know if it just me or if there is more to it."

"Well, what do you say we go and find out?"

"Drea," Jasmine interrupted before Diana could answer. "Take care of my baby girl, and remind her that I love her – that I never meant to hurt her with any of this."

Drea took Jasmine's hands in her own. "Do not worry, sister. It may take a while to convince your stubborn child of the truth, but we will make Chase understand it eventually. Have a little faith. Diana and I will bring her back here as quickly as we can."

Jasmine leaned forward and brushed a cool kiss across Drea's cheek. "Go with my blessing then."

Then Drea turned to Diana and held out her hand and the two walked out of the house and down the lane, headed back to the rebel encampment.

"My queen??"

"Find a way, Nubia. Given what Paula has been able to record in the last few days in man's world, it has become imperative that we get involved. We *have* to do something. We have stood by unknowing in our ignorance, while man's world has suffered and bled and died under the hand of one of our own. Diana and Chase have both suffered so much to get to this point. I think we owe them whatever help we can provide, but it needs to be now."

"As you say, my queen. But without divine intervention, I am not sure we can arrive in man's world in time to make a difference for them. We're still piecing it together, but from all the data we have managed to cull together something big is coming and it's going to happen soon. Within days, if we are understanding the transmissions correctly."

"My queen, we know for certain Orana is out and about again. Now that we know she is involved in this, we have stepped up our surveillance, but it is still all piecemeal. We do not know if she is out looking for something specific or simply trying to relieve her boredom."

"What of the rebellion?"

"Again, just bits. Short of asking the goddesses, it is all guesswork on our part. But there has been a lot more activity over the past month or so. That in and of itself indicates things are happening. Can we ask the goddesses?"

"I already have," Mala finally spoke. "The queen is right. The time has come for the Amazons to take their place again as the warriors they once were. Be ready tomorrow before dawn."

A cheer went up from the council. Then they scrambled to get and get the warriors of the Nation ready to go into man's world. The time had finally come, and the women of the Amazon Nation were spoiling for a fight. Knowing they were going to support their princess and redeem themselves from Orana put a fire in their bellies the Nazis were going to have a very hard time putting out.

Chapter XXXIV

"Chase, you got a minute?" Ty asked, sticking her head in the door of Chase's hut. Chase leaned back in the chair and gave Ty her full attention.

"Sure Ty," she said, pushing her papers away from her. "What's up? Problems with your preparations, or...?" extending her hands in inquiry. Ty shook her head.

"No, no. Nothing like that. I want to know what really happened to Diana, Chase. I know how she feels about... things," not wanting to reveal a confidence. "I want to know why you made her leave."

Instead of becoming angry, as Ty half feared she would, Chase sighed sadly and crossed over to the small window that looked out over the compound. Everywhere she looked there was activity; to the untrained eye it appeared much like controlled chaos. But to Chase's knowing gaze, it was the steady, forward progress of war preparation. She didn't sense fear, but instead saw excitement simmering just below the surface of the purposeful commotion.

Ty didn't interrupt Chase's musing, sensing the conflict within her cousin, even though Chase kept her eyes on the hustle and bustle taking place just outside her hut. Ty figured her patience would be rewarded sooner or later if she remained quiet; Chase had been like this before – when her father had died and again when her mother had been killed. Eventually, Chase was going to need to share with someone if only to vent before she drove herself crazy. So Ty waited.

"I didn't make her leave, Ty. Someone who is from Diana's home found me and I took her to them." Truth, mostly, as far as it went, but Ty wasn't buying it. She knew there was more. She waited but Chase didn't speak further, and Ty slapped her legs in frustration.

"Damn it, Chase! What the hell is going on with you?? I know there is more to this story than you are telling me. Now, you wanna start from the beginning and just tell me the truth, or you want me to pick and pry it out of you until I'm satisfied??"

Chase almost had to laugh. Ty would do it too; she had before. One thing Chase knew she could count on her cousin for was absolute honesty and a swift kick in the ass if she needed it. Unconsciously, she rubbed her butt and Ty chuckled, forcing Chase to turn and glare at her before smiling sheepishly.

"Start at the beginning, Chase, and tell me everything. Maybe I can help... at least you might feel better for sharing the burden with someone. C'mon. I know something has been bothering you since you came back from... wherever it was you disappeared a few months ago."

Then Ty waited. She knew of Chase didn't share now, she never would, or at least not for a very long time. By then, with a little luck, the war would be over and Chase wouldn't need the focus she needed now. But it would still eat at her until she had nothing left, and Ty didn't want to lose Chase to madness. And this, Ty feared, would be the final push Chase needed to cross the line.

"Do you remember the stories my mother used to tell, Ty? Stories from the old country, she called them - about ancient cultures and heroes and myths."

"Oh yes," Ty answered enthusiastically. "My favorites were always about the Amazons. I loved...." She broke off when she realized what she was about to say and who she was saying it to. "I'm sorry, Chase. I didn't...."

Chase smiled at her sadly before turning her attention back out the window. "Don't be sorry, Ty. I loved the ones about the two who traveled together the best, but the Amazon stories were some my favorites too. At least until...."

"Yeah."

"Anyway, do you remember how real she made those stories seem... like they were real people who lived in real time and had real lives and adventures? Do you remember how much we wanted them to *be* real so we could meet them?"

"Do I? My daddy tanned my backside more than once for going on and on about them when I should have been concentrating on other things. Said the Amazons were nothing more than myths and I needed to focus on the here and now. He said Aunt Jas just made up stories to give us some strong female figures to aspire to."

"For a long time, I figured he was right. Don't get me wrong... I loved Mama's stories, but they couldn't be real, right? Things like that were just make-believe, especially in our world. Then I met Orana, and she made me hate the thought of there being Amazons if they were like her."

"You think differently now." A statement, not a question.

Chase shook her head. "No, Ty. I *know* differently now. Those dreams... you know the ones I had when I first got back from that mission?" looking over her shoulder at Ty and seeing her nod her agreement. "Those weren't dreams, Ty. It really happened. The Amazons, the island... everything."

When she realized that Chase wasn't going to continue, Ty prodded. "How?" Suspecting it had everything to do with Diana.

Chase took a deep breath. "Diana was there. She's an Amazon princess." Her pronouncement was met with silence, and Chase turned to meet Ty's eyes. They were widened and her jaw was slack. Chase smirked just a little and went over to wave her hand in front of Ty's face. It took several passes before Ty blinked and met her gaze. Then she cleared her throat and spoke.

"An Amazon princess?? Oooooookay. Did she tell you this?"

"Ty, trust me when I tell you I know it is true; you know I can sense if a person is lying or not. She told me things she could only have known if they were true and she was there."

"That doesn't make her a princess."

"No, but I have reason to believe that part is true."

"Is that why you made her leave? Because she's an Amazon princess?" Chase shook her head but made no more effort to elaborate. "C'mon, Chase," Ty finally huffed. "You gotta give me something more here. You know I have never been good as guessing games."

Chase walked back over to the window, careful to keep her back to Ty. "No, Ty. I told you the truth about that. An Amazon, the woman who healed me on that island, was at the homestead today when I went to talk to Mama." Ty didn't comment; she knew Chase usually went to back to her old home to talk to Jasmine's grave whenever she needed to talk. It was only very rarely that she would open up to one of them, so as not to appear weak. "Since Diana had made it fairly clear to me that she was here because she had nowhere else to go, I thought it was best to give her the chance to go home when the opportunity arose."

"Uh huh," Ty said dryly. "Did it ever occur to you to *ask* her what she wanted?"

"Ty," Chase finally said with more than a hint of exasperation and asperity in her voice. "She was a distraction for me. I needed her to be gone from here as much as she wanted to be away from me."

"But...."

"Ty, she left here of her own volition, all right? She walked out of this hut and away from me without a word of explanation. No amount of window dressing is gonna change that little fact. But by taking her back to her family, I did what was best for everyone; the timing just happened to fall into place like it did by sheer coincidence."

Ty stood up and stomped her way over to the window. She grabbed Chase by the shoulder and swung her around so their eyes could meet. "I don't believe you," she swore, throwing her hands up into the air. "You are... argh!" words failing her completely.

Ty held up a finger and glared when Chase opened her mouth to speak, pacing back and forth across the small room, her anger apparent in her attitude as well as her actions. "Did it ever ONCE occur to *you* to talk to Diana? To ask her why she moved out in such a hurry? To find out why she really stayed here? It didn't, did it? You let your feelings get hurt over something you won't even acknowledge, much less try to understand. You pushed her away - making sure you couldn't even be friends... because you were afraid."

Ty turned to look at Chase who hadn't stirred at all, her gaze appearing to be completely riveted on the world going on around her just outside her hut. "Chase, are you even listening to me??" anger coloring her tone.

"Ty, are you done?" never removing her eyes from the window.

"Yes, damn it! I'm done." She blew out a deep breath and spoke more calmly. "I'm finished, yes."

"I hope you will respect that what I shared with you was done so in confidence. I would appreciate if you wouldn't share it with the others."

"Chase, even if you had shared something private like that with me – which you didn't, by the way - I wouldn't go out and share it with the rest. I never have. I treasure your trust in me; I'd hoped you understood that by now and felt the same in return." Her voice was saddened by remorse and her shoulders slumped in an air of utter defeat.

"I do, Ty. You know that. I just... this is awkward for me, and I'm not sure why or...." Her brow furrowed in consternation. "Wait, I did share with you. I told you the dreams were real and not dreams and that Diana is an Amazon princess."

Ty nodded. "Yes, you did, and of course I would never share that with anyone. But you still haven't shared why you sent Diana away. Or why you won't talk to her. Or how you feel about the whole thing. Or...." Ty had to stop speaking when Chase's hand covered her mouth. She met her cousin's green eyes, expecting to find anger or frustration... anything but the amusement she found there.

"All right, Ty. All right – I get the point." Her eyes turned serious. "I appreciate the concern, and if I had anything to share, you know you'd be the first to hear about it. In all honesty, maybe I'll have time to think about it and worry about all that later. But for right now, I have to focus on the here and now – the rebellion and winning this goddamn war once and for all. Once it's all over and everything is taken care of, maybe I can worry about the rest... maybe I can worry about me for a change. But I can't let this distract me now. This is about more than just me, Ty; this is about all of us and is critical to our survival."

Ty clasped Chase's hands in hers. "All right, Chase. I can accept that for now. But you promise me... when this is all over and everything is taken care of... you promise me that you will take care of Chase. I want you to be happy. You deserve it so much. You especially," she said, not letting Chase interrupt her, "because you have done so much for everyone else."

"Okay, Ty. I promise. When we're done, I'll try to take some time for me, and figure out what I need to do to be happy. Then I'll go out and do it."

"You promise me that you'll talk to Diana – give her a chance?"

"Ty, I doubt Diana will be anywhere around, but if she is, I promise that I will talk to her and give her a chance," knowing in her heart that Diana was going to be a very long from anywhere Chase expected to be, assuming she survived the coming battle. Because she knew someone was going to have to be the one to take down Orana, and she had already granted herself that special task. She felt she deserved as much, and she certainly wasn't going to put anyone else in harm's way.

Ty nodded, not liking the vibe she was suddenly getting from Chase, but unable to do more than accept her word. "All right. C'mon," she said, pulling her towards the door. "It's time for dinner, and I know you're hungry. You missed lunch, and I can hear your stomach growling. Don't bother," when Chase tried to pull free. "I'm not taking no for an answer."

Chase chuckled wryly and shook her head, then followed Ty out the door and across the compound to the mess hall where they were greeted with hails and cheers.

"So what are you going to do when we get there?" Drea asked Diana as they walked down the road in the twilight that was swiftly fading to darkness. "Do you have a plan?"

Diana shook her head. "Not yet. Only that I'm not going to throttle Chase when I see her. Because she did leave me a vehicle to use – even if I don't know how to use it. I think she brought me to you because she wanted to keep me safe and out of the way."

"Is that a good thing?"

Diana considered the question, then nodded slowly. "I think so. From what I know of Chase, it is almost the ultimate compliment. She knows I'm not incompetent or stupid and she expects everyone to pull their weight. So either she is protecting me because she cares about me to some degree or getting rid of me because I am a distraction.

"Maybe a little of both?"

Diana sighed and shrugged. "Maybe. I would prefer if she would talk to me, though. I really want...." She stopped speaking with a blush when it occurred to her just who she was talking to. Drea smiled.

"It's nothing to be ashamed of, Diana. I think it is wonderful that you really want, and even better that you've found the one you really want to with." Drea took Diana's arm as they continued walking down the road. "I've missed this with you. I've missed you." Diana patted the hand that rested on her arm, but she didn't speak. "Your mother misses you too, you know. She has for a long time. She just couldn't seem to find a way to reach you and eventually she stopped trying."

"Drea, I know you mean well, and I know that sooner or later Hippolyta and I will need to come to some sort of an understanding. But not right now. Right now, I have enough to worry about without having to consider any of that. So can we leave it alone... please?"

"I am sorry, Little One. You are entirely correct, of course. You do know that Paula has continued to monitor things here and in the Nazi capital as well as she can. If she has been able to see any of what you say has been going on, Hippolyta will be preparing the warriors to come join the fight." She held up her hand when Diana would have spoken. "It is their fight as well, Diana. We all bear the responsibility for Orana, and no one wants to be left out of providing a solution for dealing with her."

"No, Drea. This is my fight – mine and Chase's. We lost the most to Orana's machinations. I hate to be the one to point this out, Drea, but I doubt very sincerely Chase is going to let anyone but her deal with Orana... especially not an Amazon."

"Does she know... about what happened with your mother?"

Diana nodded. "She knows about everything... except why I followed her here. I couldn't find the words to tell her when we were talking, and then she stopped talking to me. I wonder if I had told her the truth... even part of it... if...."

"If perhaps she might have reacted differently? If something might have already happened between you?" Diana nodded, the motion barely visible in the light of the waning moon. Drea pulled them to a halt and cupped Diana's face in her hands. "Little One, what is the one thing I have tried to teach you, hmm? The one thing you know to be true despite everything."

"Everything happens in its own good time."

"Exactly. Even if we do not understand the reasons, even though we cannot see the big picture, even when we do not agree with what has happened and why," the last bit muttered under her breath, "eventually things do come together of their own time and their own volition." Drea removed her hands from Diana's face and took her arm again, resuming their walk down the road.

"Besides," she continued, "she needs to discover the truth that is the two of you for herself. If Chase had been told the truth about the two of you and then found out she was an Amazon, there is always be a chance she would feel manipulated, and that is never a good foundation for a relationship of any kind – even friendship. At least this way, she knows the truth about her heritage, and the rest will come with time."

"Do you really believe that Drea? Do you think she'll figure it out and accept it for everything it is?"

"Yes, Little One. I really do. Aside from knowing her mother pretty well, and realizing that both her mother and her aunt are brilliant and have impeccable taste, it sounds like she already has feelings for you, daughter. She is not going to pass that up. Her soul won't let her. The down side, and of course you knew there had to be one - knowing her mother and aunt as well as I do, I can safely say she is a fighter, and she's going to fight every step of the way to realization."

Diana chuckled wryly. "Given her original soul, I can believe that. Do you think I am losing my mind over this... maybe being a little impatient with the whole process? I mean Chase and I have really only just met in this lifetime – we've only known one another for a very few weeks when you really think about it... a couple months at most."

"But this is something you have been searching for for a very long time, Diana. And your soul recognized her and your heart knew the truth even before your mind figured it out. Hers is the same way except that she doesn't even realize she has been looking for you through her lifetimes. She just knows there is something about you and for whatever reason, it terrifies her. But she will figure it out. I would be willing to guess that part of her problem is her leadership of the rebellion. Jasmine told me Chase has always been very singularly focused, and it only got worse after the death of each parent and then her incarceration by Orana. She is going to need to learn a new focus."

It was quiet for a long while as they walked along the road while Diana considered Drea's words. She had missed their talks as well as the sage advice Drea always seemed to have well in hand. And with Drea's belief, she felt her own belief reassert itself. She knew Chase felt something. Now it was simply a matter of getting her to see and acknowledge what that something between them really was. But first they had to win this war.

It was just after midnight when they crossed the outer boundary of the rebel encampment. At Diana's request, Ty was called to meet and vouch for them instead of Chase. Ty did a double take when she saw Drea and was introduced to her casually by Diana as 'my other mother.' Instead of asking the questions that dripped off her tongue, Ty reassured the guard with alacrity so the trio was soon crossing the grounds to Diana's small quarters. Diana looked around, easily able to see the preparations that had already been made and were in fact still in progress. She turned questioning blue eyes to Ty and waited for an explanation.

"I'll explain everything in the morning," Ty promised. "But for now, let's just say it's time to wrap up this war and go to bed, all right? Please, Diana. It's been a very long day."

"She's right, Diana," Drea said, placing a hand on Diana's arm. "There will be time for discussion and explanations in the morning."

Diana looked at Drea, noting for the first time an exhaustion she could plainly see written on her face. She nodded her head. "All right," looking back at Ty. "In the morning, then."

But the morning was going to bring even further complication to their lives.

Chapter XXXV

Hippolyta looked around at the homestead in the bare light of the approaching dawn. Though there were obvious signs of neglect, still the place had the look of recent occupation. Despite the repairs that needed to be done, the walk had been swept and the flower beds had been weeded. Hippolyta knocked on the door and waited, then turned to look at her warriors – her warriors – she thought with pride. They stood waiting patiently for her orders and she turned to her advisory council.

"Well, there doesn't appear to be anyone home, though I don't think she's been gone too long." The goddesses had transported them to Chase's homestead figuring to meet up with Drea and going to the rebel encampment together, and to find she was no longer here.... "We will have to figure out where they are and make our way to them. Best guess as to which direction we should go?"

It was only an answer on the wind, but they all heard it as clearly as though Artemis was standing among them when she spoke. East.

So the warriors formed ranks and began a comfortable run east, hopefully towards the rebel compound.

Chase was up before the sun and looking over every aspect of the camp as it continued to make preparations for the final assault. At each place she stopped, listening to concerns and answering questions, helping make things run smoother for everyone. Most of the rebels here, directly under her command, were long veterans of the war against the Nazis. Most of them at one time or another had served on the front line, and all of those that had, had served more than once in the face of death. Those that hadn't were young and scared, and Chase did her best to reassure them as much as possible. And so she slowly made her across and through the camp until she was satisfied that everything that could be done was being done.

Ty, meanwhile, had gotten up as the sun peeked over the horizon of the eastern sky. Given her late night, she felt like she could have slept til noon, but knew that was completely out of the question. She went to the mess tent to pick up some breakfast and then made her way directly to Diana's hut. She had questions she wanted answers to as well.

Ty knocked, but she didn't wait for an invitation before she entered. She didn't want Chase to see her loitering outside Diana's hut, especially with food in her hands. Chase would start asking questions of her own before Ty herself got some answers. Immediately she was met by two blades on opposite sides of her neck until the two Amazons got a good look at their intruder. Drea turned to Diana for advice and Diana simply nodded and removed her own blade from Ty's throat. Drea was only a beat behind her. Ty placed the tray down on the small table.

"We do not rate the courtesy of inviting you in first?" Drea asked in a curt tone. Diana just looked at Ty and waited for her response. She had her own suspicions why Ty had done what she did and was curious to know what sort of explanation she would offer. Ty handed each of them a cup of coffee and a roll before picking up her own and giving Drea a well-thought out answer.

"Under normal circumstances, you would rate that much and much more besides, but we are not under normal circumstances, are we? And I want some answers before Chase discovers you're here. You," looking directly at Diana, "are supposed to be on your way back home to that island. And you," turning back to Drea, "are obviously related to my Aunt Jasmine. So how are you related to Diana and what are you doing here? What are you both doing here?"

"We'll answer you questions, Ty, if you will answer ours."

"Of course, Diana. I told you I would, but please...."

By accident or design, Ty had become her confidante when she couldn't talk to Chase and needed an outlet. Though Diana had only shared small snippets, Ty had proven trustworthy and loyal and able to keep a secret. So Diana told her the whole story, in all its excruciating detail. Everything that was relevant to this situation, anyway – who Drea was and why she had really come and why they had returned to the rebel compound together instead of going home. Ty just covered her eyes as she listened and scrubbed her hands through her hair when the recitation was over.

"Damn sonofabitch!" she cursed, making Drea's eyes widen in surprise. "Is there anything else I need to be aware of?"

"Not to my knowledge," Diana answered honestly. "I have told you everything I know that happened once I left here. I only found out most of this myself yesterday. I knew about Drea and Jasmine being twins, of course, but I didn't know about the rest."

Ty squeezed her eyes shut and pinched the bridge of her nose. "Chase is gonna kill me," she muttered, "just on general principle, much less for knowing things I shouldn't." She sighed. "Well, as long as I am going to have to die because of all this, let me bring you up to date on my side of things." Drea and Diana exchanged glances wondering what they had missed in Diana's narration.

"First and foremost, you have to know that though she didn't always, Chase hates Amazons now because of something that happened to her when she was captured by the Nazis in Berlin some time ago. She never shared with me what happened; only that it was an Amazon who had caused the damage I could see, and obviously the psychological damage I couldn't. Anyway, that's not the important part, though I think ya'll needed to understand – especially you, Diana. It helps explain why she is having problems... um, relating to you."

Diana nodded, understanding far more than Ty was aware of, though her expression gave none of that away.

"You also need to understand that she didn't share with me the fact that she is an Amazon, which means she hasn't come to terms with it. It would probably be in all our best interests if number one, she doesn't know you told me this and number two, you," motioning to Drea, "stay out of sight. Seeing you probably hurts Chase more than she would ever admit to. Aunt Jasmine was her best friend, and her death was agonizing for Chase, especially since Chase still feels a guilty responsibility for it."

"Okay, not to seem cold but what does that have to do with what is going around here now?" This from Drea. "Obviously something big is happening." Diana remained quiet.

"Something big *is* happening. We are preparing for our final offensive against the Reich. This is an all or nothing gamble, and thanks to Diana's and Hans' work, most of us have a huge hope of not only succeeding, but actually coming through this alive."

"You didn't expect to succeed before?"

Ty shook her head. "Oh yes, we always expected to succeed; the actual plan hasn't changed. We just didn't have much chance for survival. Diana's efforts helped change all that. It is one reason we are moving now, and it is one reason Chase took you to Drea, Diana. She cares for you too much to endanger you, though she won't admit that to herself. She claims you are a distraction, which is true enough, though again, she's not analyzing the why behind the distraction."

Diana tilted her head in question. "Do you know something?"

"I know Chase. That's enough," but she didn't say anything else.

"Would you like to share?"

"Nope. I am in enough trouble as it is. Besides, I have enough to worry about with ops prep. I'm not about to get involved in someone else's love life – or lack there of." Ty would have laughed at the way Diana's eyes bugged out of her head if she hadn't been so engrossed in her thoughts. "My big concern right now is how to tell Chase that you are back here. She's not going to be happy."

"Does she need to know?" Drea asked. "If I need to stay out of sight, why can't Diana? I mean if it would make it easier...."

"Drea, even if I wanted to let Chase protect me... which I don't..." with a glare at both of them, "I have a score to settle with Orana as well. For my sake as well as Chase's. I worked hard to make myself a productive part of this rebellion and I am not going to be left out of it because Chase considers me to be a distraction to her for whatever reason." She turned her gaze strictly on Ty and it was all Ty could do not to flinch at the intensity she felt flowing from Diana in waves when she became the sole focus of it suddenly and without warning.

Ty blinked. "Um, Diana?"

" You let me take care of Chase, Ty. I should have before."

" Why didn't you?"

" The million dollar question. Any number of reasons; however, this isn't the time to get into it. I'll talk to Chase and we will work out some sort of compromise." She started to stand when Ty's name was hollered out and the door was jerked open. " Ty, what are you doi... Diana?" Shep stopped short and dropped his head to his chest before blowing out a frustrated breath. " What are you...? Nevermind. This just gets better and better. C'mon, Ty. You don't want to miss this."

Drea stood and Shep finally noticed her presence in the room. His eyes bugged right out of his head. " Holy shit! Jasmine??"

Drea shook her head and extended her hand. " Jasmine was my twin sister. My name is Drea. And you are?"

" Shep. Um, I don't want to seem rude, but Ty, if we don't get out there...."

" Shep, what's wrong?" Ty asked as she took the two steps to the door. " Please excuse us," she said to Drea and Diana. Shep shook his head.

" They should probably come along... at least Diana should." They stepped from the hut as a group and followed Shep swiftly towards the front gate. " There is a woman at the gate who mentioned her by name."

Drea exchanged looks with Diana. " You don't suppose...?"

" One way to find out," Diana said and hastened towards the gate.

Hippolyta couldn't say what made her bring her troops to a silent halt, but without warning she stopped and held up a hand. Immediately, the Amazons stopped running and though they didn't draw their weapons, they were hyper alert to everything around them as they slowly spread out to search the area and find whatever it was that had caused Hippolyta to stop their forward progress.

Erilani saw them first, but only because she literally walked into the outermost guard. He was so well disguised Hippolyta couldn't blame the royal guard for her strangled yelp. Had she been two steps to the left, she herself would have been the one to bump into him.

" State your name and your business," the man commanded as he and several others stepped forward with their weapons drawn and highly evident to block any further advancement. Hippolyta had to remind herself that this was man's world and they had no idea who she or her warriors were. And remembering that these were rebels against the Nazis in a fight for their life, it was no surprise that simple courtesy did not exist for unexpected guests into their encampment.

" My name is Hippolyta. I was looking for a woman named Chase or my daughter, Diana Prince."

" What business do you have with them?" the man asked without batting an eyelash in surprise, though Mala picked up on the slight widening of his eyes at the mention of Diana's name. She wondered what the princess had done to make such an impression so quickly here, though she had always able to captivate people easily before she had become so angry. She hoped to see that charismatic princess again, but first they had to find her.

" I have come as the Queen of the Amazon Nation to offer my warriors to aid the rebellion in the destruction of Nazi tyranny."

This time the man did blink at Hippolyta for several long seconds before he turned his attention to the woman who stood beside him. " Go find Ty or Shep – someone in authority," not wanting to confirm Chase's presence in the camp. " Now!" The woman nodded and ran off, disappearing into the brush with an ease that the Amazons appreciated for the art form it was.

The man turned his attention back to Hippolyta. " You might want to find a place to wait. It might be a little while before anyone gets back here," not mentioning that the gate was just out of sight behind the trees and brush.

Hippolyta smiled. The man was young, but he had strength in his gaze as well as in his bearing, and Hippolyta respected that. She motioned to her warriors, and the Amazons settled down to wait.

The wait wasn't very long, all things considered. Hippolyta rose as soon as she heard the sound of people approaching and the warriors rose behind her as one. The council formed a semi-circle at her back and they waited in silence for the rustling to morph into something more tangible. Shep was in the lead and was the first of the little group to the gate outpost. Directly behind him was Ty, followed by Drea and finally, Diana.

A couple discrete hand signals from Drea kept Hippolyta, and thus everyone else, in place as the quartet stepped closer to the Amazons. Shep stepped forward with his arm outstretched and Hippolyta accepted it with a warrior handshake. He adjusted quickly and introduced himself, then moved aside so Ty could do the same. They had agreed that Ty would take the lead once they had introduced themselves to the Amazons.

" Hello, Queen Hippolyta," she said graciously, bowing her head briefly in respect. " My name is Ty. I believe you know Drea and Diana," motioning to the two women who stood just behind her.

Hippolyta couldn't stop the huge grin that crossed her face. It was good to see both Drea and Diana again. She had missed them greatly for obviously different reasons, but she knew there was business to take care of first. Besides, she had a feeling she was going to like Ty; there was something about her that was refreshing. " I believe you are right, Ty."

" So I understand ya'll want to help us out. Can I ask why you want to help and how you found us?"

" The why is simple – Orana was... is an Amazon, though we've only just recently been made aware of her activities here in man's world. That makes her our responsibility. We'd like to offer whatever assistance we can to help rid the world of her. As for how we found you, well, let's just say we had divine assistance and leave it at that for now. Perhaps when this is all over we can get into the details."

" All right," Ty said. " But Queen Hippolyta, before you commit yourself and your warriors to this fight, there are a few things you need to be aware of. No bullshit now – just honest truth." Hippolyta's eyes widened at Ty's choice of words, but she nodded for her to continue. " First of all, we do not stand on ceremony here. If you join us, you will not be a queen here; you will just be Hippolyta, like I am Ty and your daughter is Diana."

" Next, we have one leader and what she says, goes. We are allowed to voice opinions and ask questions of course, but at the end of the day, when the choice is made, we follow her. If you can't give up both your title of queen and your warriors won't accept orders from another authority, you can't do any good here. You may as well go back to wherever it is that is home for you, because we can't use you here."

Ty waited and finally Hippolyta felt compelled to speak. " Is there anything else?" wondering if Ty knew about Chase's hatred of the Amazons. " I would like to hear all the negatives before I make any comments or decisions."

Ty nodded. She really did like this woman's spunk. If Jasmine had been telling stories about real Amazons – these Amazons – then the woman standing in front of her was nearly three thousand years old. Regardless of the fact that she looked to be a woman of less than middle age, that was a very, very long time to have been alive, and Ty had a sneaking suspicion immortality was not always what it had cracked up to be.

" The last critical thing you should know is that our leader may have issues with the fact that you are Amazons. She was captured and tortured by the Fuehrer... the one you call Orana... and she made it a point to rub her Amazonian heritage in her face. I would like to believe she would be fair and give you the opportunity to prove yourselves, but the fact is there is a lot of hate and a lot of hurt she will have to overcome first to do so."

She noticed Ty was very careful not to mention Chase's name and she applauded her caution, as frustrating as it was not to have her suspicions confirmed, though surely Drea and Diana would not be here if Chase wasn't. Hippolyta turned to her council and gave them a brief word Ty couldn't hear, but whatever it was caused them and the warriors behind them to drop to one knee and bow their heads while waiting for their queen to speak.

" As for the first, I will be happy to be called by you as my consort Drea calls me... Pol. It is much less formal and much easier to say than Hippolyta every time you would like to get my attention. I don't know if the rest of the Nation can remember to call me by anything other than 'my queen' as they have done so for such a very long time, but I give you my word they will try."

" For the second, I had hoped to turn the leadership of the Amazon warriors over to my daughter to lead as she knows each of them and how the skills they possess could best be utilized for the good of the rebellion. But if she has sworn fealty to your leader then we will of course do the same."

" For the last, I have hope that if your leader is the woman I remember her to be, she will remember that we gave her aid in her hour of need and will give us a chance if only for that reason. I believe in her heart she knows the truth. We merely have to guide her to it. So if Chase is willing to let us fight beside you, we will prove ourselves worthy allies indeed."

" Very well, then, Hip... Pol. Let's get you all into the compound and let Chase know we have reinforcements and unexpected allies." The Amazons rose as one before Hippolyta put a restraining hand on Ty's arm.

" Ty, would you mind very much... I would still like to turn over leadership of the warriors to Diana. I believe she will be better suited to, if not lead them into combat, at least give Chase good advice on their placement within your ranks."

Ty looked at Diana whose eyes widened in reaction to her mother's words. It was the only change in her expression. She shrugged her shoulders at Ty who in turn nodded at Hippolyta.

There was no ceremony – no pretty words and flowery speeches. Instead, Hippolyta simply took off her signet ring and slid it onto Diana's finger, then brushed her cheek with the very lightest of kisses before Diana could move out of range. Hippolyta motioned to Ty.

" Well, can we go into the compound now? I am somewhat anxious to see the changes time has wrought in man's world. And I would like a proper introduction to Chase."

Drea took Hippolyta's hand in her own and the council closed ranks around the three women and Shep as they walked the short distance to the front gate. Diana took her place at the head of the Amazon army, and though they didn't make a sound, she could feel the pulsating energy of them cheering behind her. It made her smile.

Harry knocked on the door of her quarters where Chase was finishing up her own last minute preparations. " Come in," she called, checking the status of her armor. Hans had added some extra pieces knowing Chase would be going into the lion's den. She looked up when Harry crossed the threshold and her expression became one of immediate concern.

" Harry? Is there a problem?? Have you gotten news from our outposts overseas??"

" No, ma'am! No, nothing like that. But I think you'd better come outside and see this for yourself."

Chase followed him out of the hut and then stopped dead at the sight that met her gaze. The courtyard was filled with women – Amazon women – and chief among them stood Diana and her mother's twin. She considered her alternatives, and decided a strategic retreat was in order before she said or did something stupid she might regret later. Suddenly, nothing was easy anymore, and this situation was becoming more and more complicated by the minute.

Chapter XXXVI

Orana walked into the conference room, and every man snapped to attention until she put them at ease. They waited until she sat down and gestured at the table before they assumed their seats, and they did so with alacrity. Something about their Fuehrer was different; she exuded an edgy energy that they had only heard about from the oldest elders or had, on the rarest occasions, seen in action – though even then, it had been a residual effect of a particularly nasty torture session. And there had only been one noteworthy session in their lifetime.

This energy was subtly different, however. When Orana had Annabelle Chaser in her custody, she had been first thrilled with her conquest and then furious at being outwitted by someone she considered inferior to her both physically as well as intellectually. Their only saving grace had been that she had been in too much agony immediately after Chase's attack and subsequent escape to do more than give cursory orders; otherwise, the lot of them would have been strung up... or worse.

Then she had been angry, but by the time she had healed, she had moved her focus on to other things and had withdrawn into her own world. It had made them relax slightly. But it was obvious from her attitude today, something had happened to bring back the feared Fuehrer who had originally deposed Hitler and built the Nazi regime into the most powerful war machine the world had ever known.

This Fuehrer had purpose and determination, and marked the return of the legendary Black Widow into their midst. Every single man and woman in the room with her sat a little straighter in their chair. They hadn't felt this kind of excitement before and they enjoyed the tingle that ran across their skin from the energy that skittered throughout the room.

Orana let them absorb the new sensation, letting it build into something of a controlled frenzy. She wanted to infuse the feeling into their being so their desire for it ran hot and strong. In that way, she would be able to utilize it to destroy the rebellion. Because once they had the burning, they would do anything to keep it and tightening her grip on the world would be easy.

She had gotten lax since she had brought the world under her iron grip of domination, and except for the episode with the rebel spy, had been little more than a name used to keep both her army and her subjects in line. Now, it was time to take action to assure that she didn't lose her hold on her regime. This was *hers* and she wasn't about to let any threat, real or imagined, take it away from her.

When she cleared her throat to speak, all heads turned her direction... and flinched at the intensity of purpose that burned in her eyes.

" Rumors have reached my ears that the rebellion," said with a sneer in her voice, " is making a big offensive push against the Reich. But I cannot seem to get confirmation on this one way or another. The signs are there, but I need more details. So, what do you have for me?" looking around the room for some sort of response, not pleased with the lack thereof.

" This is not rocket science, people. I have scientists for that if I want to indulge in that sort of speculation. This is military security. Do you mean to tell me not one of you has any idea of any problems going on in your region? No rebels, no discontentment – everything is perfect."

Her voice and demeanor was calm but none of them were stupid enough to miss the clenching of her jaw or the flexing of her fingers. Finally, one small woman, braver than the rest and a personal favorite of Orana's, rose to speak. Orana nodded towards her graciously and motioned for her to speak. The woman bowed her head in acknowledgement and drew breath to speak.

" Mein Fuehrer, we haven't had any clear cut reports of rebel activity in my region, but we did notice some awkward movement by those we suspect might be rebel sympathizers or resistance members a couple months ago. Nothing we could have arrested them for without causing a panic, nothing we would have even noticed as being odd if we hadn't been looking for it. As it stands, it was only unusual... a little out of the ordinary. And it didn't last very long... a few nights, and then everything stopped again, settled back down."

Orana leaned back thoughtfully. " What happened? What was the change in routine?

" It was more of a rumbling, sort of like the atmosphere change. The people seemed to have a new kind of energy. But it only lasted for a few days, and then it was gone like it had never been. We looked around, checked papers more carefully, searched houses and cars and the like, thinking perhaps someone was being smuggled through, but we never found any evidence of it."

" Was anything else done about it? Any arrests made?

" No, mein Fuehrer. We have nothing but suspicions. The people we have been watching aren't even confirmed rebels. We've continued to watch, but otherwise, short of purging entire villages, I...." The woman shrugged.

Orana sat silently, gesturing absently to the woman to resume her seat. Orana waited, wondering if anyone else would be able to gather the courage to speak. When no one else was forthcoming, she leaned forward. " Ladies and gentlemen, let me make a couple of things perfectly clear for you. We are going to meet back here in twenty-four hours, and in that twenty four hours you are going to dig up every bit of information on rebellion and resistance activities in your area of responsibility. Because when we meet back here, I want names and numbers and locations and any other pertinent data you can find. Am I clear?"

They answered as one body, their volume loud enough to rattle the windows. Orana smiled. She doubted they had been as terrified as recruits as they were at this very moment.

" I don't care how you get it done, just do it. Failure is not an option, ladies and gentlemen. Because I assure you, each and every one of you can be replaced, and there are plenty of good little Nazis clambering for your position, eager to take your place."

She rose, and they rushed to stand as well, snapping to attention and hardly daring to breathe while Orana walked around the table, then made her way to the door.

" Oh, by the way," she paused and looked back over her shoulder at them, meeting each and every set of eyes in the room. " Adelia, I like your idea."

" Mein Fuehrer?"

" Each of you choose a village or town in your region... preferably one that has known or heavily suspected rebel activities... and purge it. Completely."

Eyes widened and jaws dropped. " Co... co... completely, mein Fuehrer? Buh... but we have loyalists in those towns as well. What about them?"

Orana shrugged. " What about them? They are obviously not loyal enough or there wouldn't be any rebels there now, would there?" She exchanged glances with each of them again. " Take care of it. I want reports on my desk in the morning detailing your actions in this regard. Am I understood?"

" YES SIR!!!" The words resonated throughout the room and down the hall as Orana exited and made her way down to her office. For the first time in a very long time, she felt alive. She wondered what other chaos and mayhem she could cause, and she turned her attention to her Reich, feeling enthusiasm rush through her in waves.

Chase looked idly around her hut, wishing she had taken up smoking or drinking or tap dancing or any other number of vices that could be considered a nervous habit – anything to expel some of the panicky energy she suddenly found herself full of. She paced back and forth across the length of her hut before taking herself in hand and breathing deeply.

" All right, Chase. You can do this. You are the leader of the rebellion and you have faced down the Fuehrer and lived to tell the tale. It doesn't matter that the courtyard is full of Amazons. It doesn't matter that your mother's twin is out there with them, and it certainly doesn't matter that...." She blew out a shaky breath. " It *does* matter that Diana is here. Goddamnit! I don't need this right now!" She clenched her hands into fists and dropped onto the bed.

" All right, Chase, all right," she repeated to herself again, closing her eyes and focusing on taking deep even breaths. " You can do this. You can put all of this out of your mind." She sat for long minutes and just breathed – in, out, in out. She took every concern that could interfere with the upcoming offensive and put it away in a box in her mind... something she could deal with later. First her mama and the issues she had only just discovered; then Drea and the Amazons that now occupied the entire compound courtyard; and finally Diana.

That one was harder. There were so many variables involved where Diana was concerned. Things Chase hadn't come to terms with completely herself yet, much less discussed with anyone or admitted to Diana. Memories and feelings and desires and needs – anger and friendship, love and lust.

Only when she heard the door to her hut open did she allow her eyes to slowly open and her thoughts to return to the present. She looked up to find Shep glaring at her impatiently.

" Chase, what the hell are you doing? I know Harry came to get you. What the hell are you still doing in here? C'mon. We have guests and they might be able to give us an unexpected edge."

" I'll be there in a minute, Shep."

" But...."

" SHEP!!"

He backed out hastily and met Ty's eyes. She arched an eyebrow and he shook his head, holding his hands up in the universal 'Beats me' sign then he started back over to where Ty was waiting. He hadn't made it but three steps before being shoved out of the way from behind by Chase. Not hard, but enough to make him stumble, and he ran to catch up.

Meanwhile, Chase had on her game face and she strode confidently over to where Ty waited flanked by Hippolyta and Drea. Diana remained at the head of the Amazon army waiting for the proper time to be acknowledged by her mother as the leader of said force. With luck, it meant that she would in turn be acknowledged by Chase. Anything to break the stalemate and tension that lingered between them.

Ty blew out a breath of relief. She knew Chase was going to be furious by the unexpected arrival of Amazons, but from all indications – mainly the fact that she hadn't yet gone completely ballistic – she was at least going to be cordial, if not accepting of their presence here.

" Chase, I'm glad you could make it. I was afraid you were going to be too busy," Ty's only reproach for the amount of time it took her to arrive after she was summoned. She continued speaking before Chase could reply. " I believe you know Drea," not mentioning the obvious relationship between Chase and Drea. " And have you met Hippolyta?"

Chase extended her hand to Drea, not even a twitch to betray her thoughts. Certainly no one could have guessed the anger and foul words she had thrown at the older woman only the day before. " It's nice to see you again, Drea. And Hippolyta, was it?" she asked withdrawing her hand from the healer's as politely as possible and clasping Hippolyta's briefly. " I don't think I have had the pleasure."

She clapped her hands together. " So what can I do for you ladies? Your arrival here was completely unexpected, so I really can't offer you much – maybe some refreshment?"

Hippolyta exchanged glances with both Ty and Drea. Though they had tried to explain a little of the situation to her on the very brief walk, she had expected... had hoped for a little warmer reception. Though given what Chase's reaction could have been, all things considered, she figured she was ahead of the game with the offer.

Hippolyta nodded and took Chase's arm, ignoring the flinch she could feel shudder under the skin at her touch. She wondered at the cause – if it was her being an Amazon, or the fact that she was Diana's mother, or if there was something more even beyond that.

" Please, Chase. Some refreshment would be most welcome by not only myself, but my warriors. It has been quite a trip here. Besides, it will give us some time to talk about why we have come." Hippolyta halted their progress briefly and turned, signaling to Diana. " I believe you know my daughter and the head of the Amazon army, Diana."

" Yes ma'am, I do," Chase acknowledged with a nod of her head then turned back to Hippolyta. " C'mon. Let's see if we can throw Cookie into a tizzy. I highly doubt he is expecting this large a post-breakfast, pre-lunch crowd for snacks."

Chase and Hippolyta led the way, fully expecting the rest to follow. Ty and Shep did, as did the Amazon council, but Diana and the warriors went to the practice field. No one said a word, but they could see the tension that sang across Diana's shoulders that they were in for quite the workout indeed. They didn't realize that work in the encampment had come to a screeching halt and everyone followed after them, anxious to see what was coming.

It was obvious fairly quickly that Diana and the army had failed to follow them into the mess hall and before they could even begin dialogue, Hans rushed in and slid to a stop in front of Chase. " Chase... you've got to... oh excuse me," he said to the small group of people sitting around the table with her. " But Chase, you need to come to the practice field – quickly."

Chase and Ty exchanged a glance that was the exact replica of the one Hippolyta exchanged with Drea. Then they looked at one another and exclaimed simultaneously, " Diana!"

Chase was out the door before the rest could even get out of their seats, but they were quick to follow. Hans and Shep were the fastest, followed by the council. Ty, Pol, and Drea brought up the rear, not conversing, but simply swapping knowing smiles.

When Chase arrived at the field, she couldn't see anything for all the bodies that blocked her view. However, a simple, deep breath allowed her to project her voice from the depths of her diaphragm and her roar caused everyone and everything to suspend its motion – even the fighters on the field.

" What the HELL is going on here?!? Did someone call an unscheduled break and forget to send me the memo??? Get back to work... NOW!!!!"

The rebels scrambled to get back to their tasks, creating a wide berth around Chase in their haste to return to work. Their exodus slowed the arrival of the others, so they missed the altercation between Chase and Diana.

The army had frozen as soon as Chase started to bellow. It had honestly startled them, having never actually heard that kind of roar from someone so relatively small. Diana had nudged them aside, so by the time Chase finished yelling at the rebels, Diana was out of the circle and waiting for Chase's attention.

Chase wanted to... well, there were any number of things she wanted to do, and the confusion she felt showed in a ripple effect across her communicative face. But she schooled her expression before Diana could express any concern.

" Diana," Chase said, meeting those deep blue eyes but careful not to get too close. " It was unexpected to see you here again. I had hoped you would be on your way home by now." She looked like she wanted to say more before realizing they had an audience that was listening intently. Diana recognized the reason behind her hesitation and motioned to the army to get back to drilling then gestured to Chase, directing her away from the melee.

" Please, let's find somewhere to talk a moment that we won't be interrupted."

Chase considered, then nodded. She knew she had been unfair to Diana because of her own feelings and confusion, and it wasn't fair to continue with that treatment, especially since Diana had obviously returned to help and even brought in reinforcements, though Chase was still a little unclear on exactly how and why the Amazons were here. Besides, Chase had a handle on her feelings for Diana now, right? She had put them away for the duration, and this would be over and Diana would be gone before she actually had to deal with them.

Chase led the way out of the camp and up towards her thinking hill. Everyone knew when she went there, Chase was going for the peace and solitude it afforded her, and only the direst of circumstances would cause them to disrupt whatever bit of peace she was able to find there.

Hippolyta and the rest arrived just as Diana and Chase stepped into the tree line, and Hippolyta made a move to follow when a hand placed on either arm stopped her progress in its tracks. She looked questioningly at Drea and then Ty.

" They are going there for privacy, Pol. We don't intrude on Chase when she goes to the hill. It's the only time she gets a modicum of privacy or peace."

" Besides, Pol," Drea continued. " They are going to have to work everything out for themselves sooner or later. Have a little faith."

Hans and Shep had returned to their duties as soon as Chase had shouted loud enough to be heard in Berlin. The council hadn't been far behind and had watched with great respect at the speed with which everyone moved when Chase commanded it, then with greater amazement at the sparks they could see flying between Chase and Diana as hard as Chase was trying to avoid it.

" Come," Mala said, taking Ty's arm and turning the group back to the compound. " I believe we were going to partake in a bit of refreshment before the late excitement. Do you think Cookie might have had time to prepare a snack by now? I am ravenous." Not really, but it did accomplish what she had set out to, and soon the little troupe was moving back to the mess hall, marveling at the frantic preparations so apparent now that people were working again.

Diana followed Chase, only because the path was narrow and could not accommodate them side by side. Several times, Chase extended a hand to Diana to help her over a rough spot, but immediately released it as soon as she could. Diana held on the last time, just before they crested the hill. Chase tried to pull away again until Diana's low voice stopped her.

" Please, Chase. I'm not going to hurt you. Can't we at least be friends? I thought we were headed in that direction before."

Chase's shoulders slumped in defeat. " We were," she admitted quietly and walked over to the chest to retrieve a blanket before leading Diana to the edge of the hill. Diana accepted two corners and together they placed the blanket on the soft grass, overlooking the water as they had that morning weeks before. Only this time, the awkward history between them was out in the open and sitting like a white elephant, making things even more difficult. Finally, Chase tried to pick up the thread of their earlier conversation.

" Why are you here, Diana? I had expected... I had hoped you would have returned home. It's why I left you the jeep – so you could get to an airfield. You don't have any business here, Diana. This isn't your fight."

Diana's smile was feral, and it sent a chill skittering up Chase's spine. " Oh, this is very much my fight, Chase, for more reasons you could possibly imagine right now. And though I appreciated the thought of the jeep," here her smile became playfully mischievous, " you probably should have taught me how to drive it first."

Chase colored slightly for that oversight. " Oh... sorry. I was mostly focused on getting you out of here," not mentioning Drea or Jasmine, and Diana let it go in the interest of pursuing other avenues of questioning.

" Why?" blunt and to the point.

Chase shrugged her shoulders and shook her head negatively. " It doesn't matter." And she kept her attention on the interesting sparkles the sunlight was creating on the water below.

" It does to me," Diana said softly. When Chase still didn't answer, Diana muttered to herself, " Hard to believe you're the bard here," but it was spoken too low for Chase to understand. Diana took a deep breath and steeled herself for what was coming next. Then she focused her attention on the water as well, and spoke. " Do you want to know why I came here?"

Chase's forehead creased in a frown, and she turned to look at Diana. " I had you brought here... for your safety as well as that of the rebellion."

Diana smiled wistfully. " Yes, but do you want to know why I left Paradise Island and came to man's world? Would you like to know why the fight against Orana is very much my fight? Why I stayed despite everything – even when you made it clear I should leave?"

Chase considered, and Diana let her take her time. Chase knew that with this – this crossing the last barrier of knowledge that lay between them – things would change irrevocably. There would be no way for her to pretend she did not know or understand that there was something between them... even if it was something she didn't want. But having reached the bridge, there was no way to turn back. Things would change between them no matter what decision she made. So she turned her face back to the vista that lay before them, and nodded.

Chapter XXXVII

" Do you remember the stories your mother told you growing up... about the Amazons and their origins?" Chase blinked; this had not been at all the tack she had expected Diana to take, though she couldn't have honestly told what she had expected. Diana waited, giving Chase's mind a minute to catch up, knowing she had caught her completely off guard. Chase swallowed and nodded again, more slowly this time.

" Did she ever tell you the Soulmates' stories?" At Chase's blank look she elaborated. " Did Aunt Jasmine," wincing at the not-quite-hidden flinch that title got her. " Sorry, did Jasmine ever tell you the stories about the warrior and the bard who traveled together across most of the ancient world sharing adventures and doing things for the greater good?"

Now Chase smiled unexpectedly and Diana found herself enchanted by the change in expression. She couldn't help but respond to the enthusiasm she could feel pouring from Chase.

" Oh yes," she replied joyfully. " Those were my very favorites. They saw and did so many interesting things together and they seemed... they were so much a part of each other," she said wistfully. " Even before they became lovers... when they were still just two people getting to know one another... there was something between them."

" Yes, there was," Diana agreed quietly.

Chase smiled again, this time a bit wistfully. " Despite the trials and tribulations they faced together, I always wanted them to be real. What they had together was so rare, I wanted them to be real just to be able to see that kind of – I dunno... it was more than love and commitment to each other. It was a bonding, almost."

" It *was* a bond... they were soulmates."

" You mentioned that before, but I've never heard the term. What are soulmates?" wondering how they had gotten so far afield from Diana's reasons for coming to man's world, but enjoying the conversation nevertheless. Ty was the only other person Chase had ever talked to about the stories her mother had told and she found she liked having someone else she could share these things with – especially since Diana obviously had her own handle on those same stories.

Diana blinked at Chase's question. " Your mother never explained soulmates to you?"

Chase shook her head. " No, why would she? It's not like they were real... they were just stories she told to keep me, and sometimes Ty, entertained and out of trouble for five minutes. She never gave me any reason to think they were more than just stories," the last added bitterly and Diana knew she was treading dangerously close to thin ice. She almost missed Chase's whispered comment, " Those stories made me want to be a storyteller when I was a kid - before the war took those dreams."

" Maybe someday, Chase. The war won't last forever, you know. We're going to win... soon. We just... we need to settle things between us first, so I'm not a distraction and neither of us loses our focus at a critical moment." A beat. " Would you like to know what soulmates are?"

Chase nodded, watching Diana's expression in fascination. She had a twinkle in her blue eyes that was lit by an inner fire and just the tiniest hint of a smile graced her lips. Diana indulged herself in long look at Chase, seeing depths and shadows in the green eyes that gazed back at her. She took Chase's hands in her own and squeezed them lightly before settling in to tell Chase the story of soulmates that had been a part of Amazon lore since time began. She was gratified when Chase returned the clasp and held on.

" Soulmates are a caprice of the gods and a rarity in any world. They are two whole parts to a single whole entity." Diana took a deep breath, seeing the confusion in Chase's face.

" Legend says that at one time, human beings had two heads, four arms, four legs, and a single soul between them. When the gods saw how happy they were, it made them angry. So the gods split humans into two beings and separated the halves they had created, leaving human beings whole but at the same time, incomplete. Most people spend their entire lifetime unconsciously searching for something they don't even understand they are looking for, and only very rarely, and only in some lifetimes, do they find that other half. And when those two halves of the same soul find one another again, the two are known as soulmates."

Diana sighed. That had been exhausting and she wasn't even to the hard part yet.

Chase thought about Diana's words. " Wait... are you saying the two women my mother told stories about were more than just stories? That those women really existed... really loved one another?"

" Yes, they did," with absolute conviction.

" You sound so certain."

" I am."

Chase looked at Diana, searching her eyes intently. " Why? How can you be so sure they were real people – real soulmates - and not just the made up figments of some ancient bard's fertile imagination to make people believe in impossibilities?"

Diana returned the look, and she saw the shift in Chase's expression when it happened; felt the gasp as an indrawn breath. But instead of pulling away, Chase tightened her hold and tilted her head in a way that rang a bell of sweet memory in Diana's soul. She smiled gently.

" I know, Chase. I know because I was one of those soulmates."

Chase stopped breathing. She stopped breathing so long Diana became concerned and then alarmed, and she finally blew air in Chase's face, forcing an instinctive inhale out of her. Then Chase sat there simply breathing while her mind wrapped around the ramifications of what Diana had said. At last she shook her head and released Diana's hands so she could stand up and pace.

Diana simply watched. She didn't feel like Chase was trying to pull away from her as much as she was trying to come to terms with what she had been told. Eventually she came back to where Diana still sat, her attention turned back out at the view. Chase squatted to one side in front of her and waited for Diana's eyes to track to her.

" You... you're... how do... um.... Shit!" Chase scratched her head in frustration. Diana took Chase's hands in her own again and chafed them gently. Then she gave Chase a crooked smile that was at once comforting and familiar.

" Chase... take your time, all right? We're not in a rush here."

" Okay... okay." She dropped to her knees from her crouch and let her gaze drop to their conjoined hands. " How do you know you are one of the soulmates written about in the Amazon chronicles?"

" I have some residual memories from that time – not real memories, but a familiarity... a feeling. It's kind of hard to explain, but it's real, Chase. I know it is, even without the goddesses' confirmation."

Chase just blinked. " The goddesses confirmed...?" She cleared her throat. " Nevermind. If you want to believe that you are the soul of a three thousand year dead warrior, then who am I to say you're not? But what does that have to do with me and the here and now?"

Now came the really hard part. It was obvious that Chase didn't quite believe what Diana was saying about herself being part of those ancient soulmates, though she did think Diana believed it. It was equally obvious from her reaction yesterday as well as her reaction to her mother's name earlier that she was still not all that enamored of being an Amazon. Diana wasn't very confident of the response she was going to get from Chase once she related the rest of her story.

" Chase, I never told you I was the warrior half of the pair... how did you know?" Chase blinked rapidly and swallowed. " But you're absolutely positive of that knowledge, aren't you?"

" I... I...."

Diana released on hand and let her free hand comb through Chase's hair that was being blown into her face by the gentle breeze. " Chase, I know you've had a rough time since I arrived... especially the last day or two. But I want you to consider why that is, and why you know in your heart and in your mind and down to the depths of your soul that I am that warrior."

Silence.

" Chase, I came to man's world for you."

" NO!"

" Chase...."

Chase ripped her hands free from Diana's grasp and stood, rapidly moving to the edge of the hill. She stood staring sightlessly at the water that continued shimmer and sparkle as it moved on its way, all unknowing of the turmoil that was occurring in Chase's mind or the hollow ache in her chest only a few feet above its chuckling trickle.

Diana came up behind her more slowly and put her hands lightly on Chase's shoulders. She felt the tension sing through Chase's body as though it was a tautly pulled bowstring. Diana removed her hands when Chase shuddered at the sensation of her touch and Chase stiffened to the point that the rigidity in her body was painful to look at.

" Chase," Diana said softly as her hands fell to her sides. " I did come to man's world for you. I wanted to give us a chance to maybe at least become friends. After all, we can't get to know one another if we aren't in the same world, right? But I also came to settle an old score. I owe Orana, Chase... for what she did to me; for what she did to you; and for what she did to the world. Even if you weren't my soul...." stopping when Chase flinched again at the implication, and feeling the pain of rejection lance through her. " Even if you aren't...." She cleared her throat and dropped that line of thought. " Let's just say I owe Orana and leave it at that, all right?"

" No," flat and unemotional. " No, it's not all right, Diana. You don't get to just to show up here and start making those kinds of claims... not on me and not on the rebellion." Chase turned to face Diana, poking her with great vigor as she protested Diana's claims with passion. " I don't care what you think you do or do not owe Orana or your reasons behind it. She is not your responsibility. She's mine, and I am going to pay her back in full for every ounce of suffering she has caused. This is personal, and I have earned the right! Do you understand me?"

" No, Chase... I don't," Diana said softly, biting her lip so as not to let her tears fall. " I don't understand why you are so willing to die when you know... you KNOW in your heart and soul that what I told you is the truth. You know we are soulmates – the soulmates of legend finally reunited after nearly three millennia of separation! How can you risk that bond so easily? Do you realize how long we have been searching for one another??"

This time green eyes met blue and Diana flinched at the fire and fury she could so clearly read directed at her.

" How. Dare. You." Chase ground the words out from clenched teeth. " How dare you come here and try to put all of this on my shoulders, Diana. I'm not the one who separated those souls in the first place," refusing to acknowledge in her speech at least that she was the soul Diana had spent her lifetime searching for. " You see, Mama told me all the stories... including how and why the warrior died... how and why the bard was left to wander the world alone. It was only a short length of time that she survived before the pain of grief and their separation caused her to...!" Chase took a deep breath, dropping her chin and turning her face away from Diana once more. Then she spoke again in a more rational tone. " So don't you dare come here all self-righteous trying to dictate to me and put the blame for your loneliness on my shoulders! I'm not the one who left you and I am damn sure not the one who took your soul out of the karmic circle. Go talk to your goddesses and leave me alone."

" No."

" Excuse me?" turning around to face Diana directly.

" No. I am not going to let you throw away our chance at happiness... our chance for peace! Dammit, Chase! I messed up, and it cost us nearly three thousand years apart from one another! I won't let you throw it away for spite before you even consider the ramifications of what you're doing."

" I know what I'm doing. This isn't your decision, Diana. It isn't your choice. It's mine and I'm not willing to be a part of this. For weeks, I have been plagued by thoughts of you – images and feelings and impressions. I have been driven out of my mind trying to reconcile the person I know myself to be with longings and desires and dreams I didn't understand or want. Now you have the gall to stand here and tell me it's not my choice?!? I don't think so."

Diana took a deep breath. " You don't think we have suffered apart long enough? You're willing to give us up forever? For spite?"

" Not for spite," Chase whispered, the fight having drained out of her. " But yes, I am willing to give us up forever, Diana, if it means I don't have to live with losing you again. I can't invest everything I am into that kind of relationship again. I did that once, and something inside me died when you did. I'm not willing to settle for less than everything from me or from you and it's just not possible anymore. After more than two millennia, I've gotten used to living alone. I can live with the empty ache; at least it is familiar. I wouldn't survive a rejoining with you, only to have it taken away again."

Finally, Diana saw a ray a hope. " What if I promise you that won't happen again? What if I can guarantee it?"

Chase smiled sadly. " You can't promise me that, Diana. If we are the soulmates you claim us to be, then you can't promise me that. I've heard the stories, remember? Even without them, I know your heart. It won't let you stand by when there are lives to save and innocents to protect. And you have no assurances of surviving the fight that is coming."

" I do, Chase. I'm an immortal... and so are you. It's your Amazon birthright." Diana's pronouncement was met with stunned silence. " Chase? Are you all right?"

Chase blinked. " Is there anything else I need to know?" her voice an aching whisper that verged on the edge of hysteria. " Please... I'm not sure how many more revelations I can stand before my brain explodes."

Diana shook her head. " Not as far as I know. I have told you everything I know." More silence. " Please, Chase. All I am asking is a chance for us."

" Do you understand what you're asking of me?"

" Yes, but I have to ask, Chase. I have to. We've been apart for far too long." Diana blew out a frustrated breath. " I know the blame for our original separation is mine, and gods, I am so damn sorry for that. But the fact that we weren't able to find one another again until now isn't my fault. It's time for us to be whole again. We deserve a second chance at happiness together, Chase. We deserve it." Diana waited, but Chase didn't answer, instead keeping her attention on the vista below them. Diana sighed and made one last-ditch effort. " I'm sorry, Chase. Maybe I am asking for too much too soon. Do you think we could maybe at least try to be friends?"

Chase didn't move, didn't reply, and this time Diana let the tears come as the rending seared into her soul. She turned to walk away, having said everything she knew to say....

... then stopped when a warm hand gripped her wrist.

Diana looked down. The hold wasn't painful, but it was firm and it made her turn her attention to the woman who held her in such a solid clasp. Chase was still looking out at the view and Diana relaxed, noting the somewhat tranquil expression on Chase's face. There were still lines and concerns, but there was also a noticeable difference, as though she had come to a decision.

" You're going to have to give me some time, Diana. You're going to have to give me some time to consider everything you have said... time to put that against what I know and what I remember and the stories Mama told me about... us. Can you do that?"

" Do you believe we could be an us again... maybe someday?" Diana asked wistfully.

" Maybe someday," Chase answered honestly, knowing the truth in her heart. She turned her face full towards Diana and gazed into her eyes. " But it won't be today or tomorrow. It's going to take time and we're a little short on that right now."

" Chase, for the chance of recovering us again, you can have all the time you need. You set the pace things go." Diana couldn't help it... she reached up and moved the loose hair that blew across Chase's eyes. Chase's eyes fluttered closed and unconsciously she leaned into the light touch. Diana smiled and let her fingers linger only briefly, gently tracing the soft skin before letting her hand drop back to her side. Chase took the hand in her own and held it.

" I know there is something between us, Diana; there has been since the beginning. As much as I have tried to deny it, as much as I have fought against it, I've been aware of it without understanding what it is. I can't keep fighting against it." Chase sighed deeply. " I'm not strong enough to keep fighting, and it is stronger than I am. If you can give me time, I think we can start with being friends again. After that...." Chase shrugged. " Well, we have to get through this offensive first. And we need to end the war. Once we take care of Orana, we will have plenty of time to talk about us."

" We? Does that mean you are willing to let me and my Amazons be a part of the offensive against
Orana and the Reich?"

" It means I am not stupid, Diana. I've learned how to use all the resources at my disposal and to turn away an army of warriors would make me very stupid indeed. Question is, will they follow me?"

" They will follow me, Chase, and I will follow you."

Chase couldn't stop the smile that crossed her face at Diana's words, any more than she could stop the thought that passed through her mind. Would you be willing to walk beside me Diana and let me walk beside you? But she didn't speak it aloud. She was running on overload and she knew it. Too much had happened in too short a space of time. She would need time to consider everything and the implications therein, as she had told Diana. But for now, it seemed they had a firm foundation for friendship between them. There was honesty and that was a good start.

" All right," she said aloud. " Let's go back down and figure out the best way to incorporate your Amazon army into the offensive plan we have ready to go. It is time to bring this damn war to an end."

" I like the sound of that," Diana replied as she bent and snatched up the blanket. She folded it and moved two steps towards the chest before she found her hand caught and held in Chase's. She grinned so big it rivaled the sun, and she squeezed lightly before they walked to the tree together. Then they headed back down the hill, Chase in the lead, only this time she didn't release the hand she held.

Neither of them could have predicted the news that awaited them when they reached the bottom of the hill.

Chapter XXXVIII

Ty noticed the joined hands as they stepped from the trees, but she didn't have time to enjoy the moment. She had actually been on her way up the hill when they had reappeared, and now she hurried over to them with the radio code in her hands. Chase saw her coming and she met Diana's gaze reassuringly before Ty reached them.

" Chase, I was just coming to find you," extending the paper she held. " Diana would you excuse us, please?"

Diana nodded and tried to release Chase's hand, only to find her own held tightly. " No, Ty. Diana is the leader of the Amazon army. On those merits alone, if there have been developments, she's entitled to know. On a personal level, I need her to be part of things."

Ty blinked. She had never expected something like that to come from Chase's mouth. But she knew with certainty that Chase trusted Diana and that there was an underlying reason for it.

Diana blinked as well. Given what she knew of Chase, she hadn't expected such a public declaration, especially so soon after the personal war Chase had fought with herself on the hill. Then it occurred to her that Chase was doing her best to keep her promise. By letting Diana into the inner circle, not only on a military level, but a personal one as well, she was offering Diana trust and the opportunity to start building the foundation of friendship they needed to in order to develop anything deeper between then. Her smile grew exponentially.

Chase returned the look briefly and Ty looked away out of respect. Then she cleared her throat and motioned to the paper Chase still held in her hand. " Um, Chase? You may want to look at that report. The rest haven't seen this yet, and it's...." Ty stopped speaking when Chase's attention transferred to the paper she clasped.

She watched as Chase's eyes tracked through the words and then stop and read through them a second time. Chase's jaw dropped just slightly and she look at Ty in complete disbelief. " Are we sure about this? Has it been confirmed?" Ty nodded and Chase crumpled the paper and dropped Diana's hand. " Goddamn," turning and walking away from them several steps.

Diana frowned slightly. The words made no sense to her; it was just so much gibberish. Then she realized that the whole thing was written in some sort of code she didn't have the key to... yet. She looked at Chase for an explanation.

Chase held up her hand, a silent plea for patience and Diana acquiesced with a nod. Chase moved back towards Ty until they were standing in one another's space. " How long? When did this happen?"

Ty blew out a breath and shook her head. " We don't know for certain. The best we can figure is within the last three weeks." Then she waited for the explosion she knew was coming.

" Three weeks?? THREE WEEKS?!? Why in the hell are we just now hearing about this?? Goddamn it, Ty! This changes everything!!"

" I know it does, Chase. We think it took this long for the news to reach us because it took this long for the damage to be done. We're still getting all the reports in. Look, let me call the staff and...." She turned to Diana. " Is there anyone from the Amazons you need as an advisor or confidante?" Diana shook her head.

" No. Having Chase will be all I'll need. Don't worry, Ty. I am well-versed in the school of war."

Ty didn't understand the remark, but nodded her head anyway. " All right then. Let me go call a staff meeting for thirty minutes from now. That will give you time to bring Diana up to speed."

" Sounds good. Are the Amazons settled?" Ty nodded. " Good. Make sure everyone brings their mission notes. We're gonna have to make some adjustments. We'll see you in half an hour," taking Diana's hand and leading the way to her quarters. She knew it was the most privacy they could hope for without returning to the hill, and there just wasn't time for that.

Diana was patient until the door closed, then she turned to Chase. " All right... what happened to drain the color from your face, Chase? Are you okay?"

" Physically, yes," Chase answered with a wan small. " Let's sit," motioning to the bed. Diana seated her, then poured her a glass of water from the pitcher on the small stand, watching in concern when Chase drained it. Chase let her hand fall between her knees and dropped her chin to her chest for a long moment before she met Diana's eyes and patted the space beside her. " Thanks," she said, putting the glass back on the table.

" One reason, the first reason our offensive was delayed was because of that death cocktail Orana and her team developed. Hans spent a very long time working on an antidote, and of course, you were able to give him the impetus he needed to get over that last hump. Another was the new armor piercing rounds we found out about just before we were ready to launch the last time. The mission that landed me on Paradise Island was in fact the one that gave us the specifics on the ammo that caused us to postpone the operation yet again while we tried to find a way to defend ourselves against it."

Diana nodded, figuring there was a reason for the brief history lesson.

" So twice we have postponed this mission – the mission to finally rid the world of Orana – to insure that a majority of the rebellion survives. Makes sense, right? Kind of pointless to defeat the evil if no one is alive to enjoy it... especially if we simply create a vacuum for another evil to slip into its place with no one left to defeat that one, right?"

Diana nodded again, and again silence fell between them. Diana could tell by the evenness of Chase's breathing, she was forcing herself to concentrate so as to maintain her calm. She waited.

" So today... just now... we get the news that sometime within the last three weeks, Orana had a dozen different villages purged. All over the world and apparently randomly, but twelve different towns across the planet are simply empty shells now. Every living thing – man, woman, child... hell, even the animals were brutally massacred. She is going to make an announcement about it tomorrow night. A worldwide address to show the consequences for questionable loyalty."

A long pause, then Diana spoke. " Gods, Chase. That's...."

" Yeah... because of my hesitation, innocents have been murdered!"

" Oh no, Chase... NO! The blame for this falls squarely on Orana's shoulders – not yours and not mine. What you did was make a decision that kept people alive; she went in and destroyed everything, without a single regard for those who were loyal to her. We will avenge them, Chase... all of them, but especially those who were part of the resistance."

Chase sat quietly, examining her hands while she considered Diana's words. Finally she looked up and smiled. " Thank you, Diana."

Diana smile back. " Any time, Chase. That's what friends do for each other, right? They stick together." A beat. " Now come on. I need something to eat. I only got a bite of breakfast before I got called to go to the gate to meet the incoming Amazon army, and I'm starving."

Chase blinked. " Come to think of it, I could do with a cup or six of coffee. Let me get my notes and we'll swing by the mess hall for a snack before we head to the conference room."

" Does the massacre change anything...?" Diana hesitated when Chase's accusing eyes turned her way. " Not personally, Chase. I know it changes things for you personally. It does the same for me, and I don't even have any real ties to any of the people who were killed."

Chase ran a hand through her hair and scratched the back of her neck in awkward embarrassment. " My fault," she said briefly. " I shouldn't be so damn touchy about things... especially with you. I promised you I would work at us being friends, and...."

" Chase," Diana cut in, placing her hand on Chase's arm. " I know it's going to take a while. Real friendship takes time to develop, and we have several issues to get around besides just trying to be friends. If this is going to be too hard for you to do now, it can wait until we win the war. I will be just another member of the staff."

Chase smiled wryly and shook her head. " Much as we'd like to think we had some semblance of control going on here, it just never works like that. Besides, I need to get past this and the only way that's going to happen is with a lot of awkward and embarrassing moments between us for a while. You're right... I've got a lot of baggage, and it would be really nice if we had time to go through it all and have things nicely settled between us before we had to go to work. But we don't have that luxury. We also don't have time for you to coddle me through it. All right? If we're gonna be friends, you're gonna have to learn when to step back and when to give me a swift kick in the ass."

Diana looked at her boots, then in the direction of Chase's ass, then at her boots again before she let her gaze drift back to those green eyes, stopping long enough at her ass again to warrant a smirk and a twinkle. Only supreme self-control kept her from blushing.

" Gotcha. A swift kick in the... <ahem> ass. Would you like me to do so now?"

Chase did a double take to see if she was serious, then caught the mischief in those eyes that was signaling for her attention. " Not literally," she growled, then grabbed Diana's hand and tugged her towards the mess tent. Now she needed more than coffee.

" Back to my question," Diana said as they crossed the threshold. " Does the massacre change any of the logistical planning? Did we lose operatives or launch sites... things of that nature?"

Chase shook her head and took a swallow of the coffee, grimacing at its bitter taste. She glared in Cookie's direction and he held up his hands in apology, then he began assembling a tray of food for them. Chase turned her attention back to Diana who had watched the interplay between her and Cookie without comment. She put the coffee down to add something... anything... to it to make the taste a little more palatable, noting that Diana was still stirring.

" Not that I can tell at first glance. But then the missive Ty gave me was very general in its message. She should have more details for me when we get to the conference room." She paused when Cookie approached. " Thanks, Cookie," accepting the tray he offered her.

" Sorry about the coffee, Chase. You got the bottom of the pot. Um... am I supposed to do anything special about all them women?" Chase and Diana both looked at him dumbly and he hastened on. " I mean, they didn't eat or drink anything while they were in here. Are they gonna need something different from the rest of the troops or...?"

Diana chuckled. " No, Cookie. Like every other warrior you know, they will eat whatever you put in front of them. Unlike Chase here, most of us don't go foraging for food if we don't have to," earning her a hearty laugh from Cookie and another glare from Chase. " Just call them when you're ready to feed them. I guarantee you they'll come and eat."

" I know where you live, ya know," Chase growled. Diana bit her lip to keep from chuckling, but that didn't keep the sparkles out of her eyes. Cookie didn't exercise Diana's control and guffawed loudly, holding his belly. Chase popped him, but that only caused him to laugh louder. " I remember a time when I had a semblance of control here. What happened to that exactly?" she muttered as she made her way to the door, shaking her head and continuing to mumble to herself.

Diana and Cookie exchanged glances and grins, then Diana hurried after Chase's retreating figure.

" We have a problem," Ares said as he orbed into Orana's bedroom. She was busy getting dressed for the worldwide appearance she had scheduled for later that evening.

" Don't you ever knock?"

Ares snorted. " Why should I? Not like I haven't seen it all before."

" That's not the point, Ares. A little respect here wouldn't be out of line, ya know." She shook her head at his dumbfounded look and tucked her shirt in. " Nevermind, Ares. What's the problem? I know this isn't about the purging I did, even though it took longer than I wanted it to. You already expressed your pleasure about that tactic... several times and in a variety of positions."

Ares smiled. " And I look forward to a repeat in the near future. But business first."

" What business, Ares? I purged twelve villages and towns across the planet. I've collected information on the resistance that will enable me to put the fear of... well, *me* into them. I am presenting my ultimatum tonight. Everything is on track, because the rebellion and the resistance won't give up without a fight; you know that as well as I do. What could be more important than that?"

" How about an Amazon Princess?"

Orana froze mid-motion. It took a solid minute before she took a deep breath and only then did she turn her head to meet Ares' eyes. His head was cocked and one eyebrow was raised and he was wearing the infernal smirk she despised so much.

" Excuse me?" she questioned. " What did you just say? Are you telling me...?"

" You remember that lovely bit of Amazon flesh you lusted after for millennia? The Princess who considered you a friend and mentor and nothing more, despite the obvious desire you had for her? The one you stole the title of Wonder Woman from and then proceeded to beat and humiliate within a inch of her life...."

" ENOUGH!!!" Orana roared.

" But I was just getting warmed up," Ares whined. " It gets better."

" Shut up, Ares, and get to the goddamn point!"

" My, my... such language. Which do you want me to do – to shut up or get to the point?"

" Get. To. The. Point." She ground out from between clenched teeth. " What does *she* have to do with anything... especially the coming fight with the rebellion?"

" She's been spotted."

" Spotted? Where... here in man's world?"

" Yes, here in man's world; and even better... here in Berlin."

Orana's eyes glowed, a combination of hatred and lust. The look made Ares shiver in arousal as well as the tiniest kernel of fear. " Where is she? When did you see her?"

" I was reviewing some of the scrying records. You remember we talked about those odd photographs you got with breakfast? I did some looking around – at least at some point in the last three weeks, she's been here."

Orana considered his words carefully. " You think she may be what was causing the stir a few weeks ago... the one Adelia was talking about?"

He stroked his beard thoughtfully. " I think it bears looking into. If she's here, it could complicate things immensely."

" If she's here, I will find her. She won't be able to resist the temptation of trying to defeat me again. And when she tries, she will be mine."

" Orana, don't lose focus here. If Diana is here, the odds are she is part of the resistance or the rebellion. Please don't underestimate her... or them. If you don't take them seriously...."

" I take them seriously enough, Ares. I just plan to thoroughly enjoy my conquest of Diana... *all* my conquest of Diana, as well as the final, humiliating defeat of the resistance here and the rebellion overseas. My overseers have grown lazy. I will put the fear of the Fuehrer into them as well as the rest of the world. And then I will crush them all."

Ares watched Orana with more than a hint of concern in his eyes. She was sounding less and less like the woman he had mentored upon her arrival in man's world, and more like an obsessed madwoman. Then he lost that train of thought when she rubbed up against him like a cat in heat.

" However, tomorrow is soon enough to worry about conquering and destroying. After the announcement is made, Adelia will be coming back here to celebrate with me. Would you like to join us?" A hard, fast kiss was her answer, and Orana pulled away with a laugh. " Then let's not keep the people waiting, war god. We have more important business to take care of tonight."

He reached for her cape and placed it on her shoulders. She pinned it together at the neck with an emblem she had crafted for herself alone – one that showed her Amazon heritage as well as her power as the Nazi Fuehrer. An intriguing image and not one she flaunted about very often.

Ares opened the door and offered his arm. Orana accepted and they walked out and down the hall towards the square where everything had been prepared for Orana's worldwide announcement.

Chase rubbed her eyes. " We can't postpone this again."

" But Chase...."

" NO, Ty. I know the risks. But if we don't go now, it may be impossible. You know and I know that given the facts, the Fuehrer is going to do her damnedest to twist this to make it work for her. We got lucky – she has gotten so sloppy and arrogant, she managed to destroy more of her own loyalists than she did resistance members. But if we don't move now... show them that we mean business about this... WE may be the ones that destroy the rebellion."

" She's right, Ty. It's a show of assurance more than anything. Otherwise, people start to lose faith. Then what?"

Ty looked around. " Diana?"

Diana sat quietly for a long moment, looking around the council room. What she found was reassuring. These people had worked long and hard together; they had a confidence in each other's abilities that had been hard won. They had even expressed confidence in her after seeing the Amazons train with and without her that morning. She understood Ty's concern; regardless of how careful they were or how well they planned, people were going to die. But there would never be a better time than the present. At least implementing the plan and moving towards its completion would give hope. And sometimes, that was the best weapon to have on one's side.

" If we're taking a vote, I say go now. We can improvise as things unfold, but this offensive offers hope. If we're not moving when Orana makes her announcement, we could lose an immeasurable level of confidence. And without that...."

Chase nodded her agreement and waited for any more input. When none was forthcoming, she looked around the room. " All right. Send out the signals for them to make preparations for our arrival. We start leaving in an hour in fifteen minute increments; one of you to each wave."

" What about you, Chase? We only have five waves going including the Amazons. We sent for another cargo plane as soon as they arrived. It should be here with just enough time for us to refuel, flight check it and load," Mitch answered her unspoken question. Chase nodded her approval.

" Good job, Mitch. I'll be flying the Tiger. Hans has made some improvements on it for me. I should be able to leave last and arrive first." That statement got lots of raised eyebrows. " Make sure each of you gets something to eat and meets with your squad leaders. Explain everything in detail. I don't want any screw-ups. We will have a final briefing with everyone in the square just before takeoff. Let's go people. We have a war to win."

Chapter XXXIX

" Hey, Chase... you got a minute?" She sighed and turned to find Shep behind her; she stopped walking long enough for him to catch up. Then they resumed their movement towards the lab that had been Chase's original destination. She had sent her staff off with a nod; Diana had understood her unspoken request and had gone off to check on the Amazons. She wondered why Shep hadn't taken the hint. Even Hans had rushed ahead to be sure to have things ready without interfering with her train of thought.

They went about ten steps without Shep speaking and Chase stopped walking and looked at Shep impatiently. " Shep, is there something I can do for you? You have things to take care of before we leave and so do I."

" I just wanted to make sure you were all right. You've been all over the place lately and Jen and I have been more than a little worried about you. Especially since you ordered us to move in broad daylight. Chase, are you sure about this? It's so dangerous."

" Shep, if you can't do this, tell me, and I will find someone who can. I don't have time for your doubts."

He didn't answer immediately and Chase turned to walk away. His hand on her arm stopped her progress and she looked down at his hand before looking at his face. Shep took his hand off her arm slowly and dipped his head.

" Sorry, Chase. It's not doubts... it's concern. I don't know who or what Diana is to you, but something happened to you during that week you were gone. And it only got worse when Diana got here. I just want to know that you're all right... that you're ready for this."

Chase smiled and took Shep's arm, turning them around and walking them back towards the center of the encampment. " Shep, I appreciate your concern and I do understand where it is coming from. What is or isn't between me and Diana is private and has nothing to do with the rebellion or this offensive. We have to leave in the daylight so we get there in the dark. Don't worry, Shep... I have worked the schedule and the flight paths to draw the least attention possible to our departures. But we need to arrive after dark so we can traverse the countryside safely."

He nodded, knowing Chase was absolutely right.

" Trust me, Shep. I've made the adjustments to compensate for the changes, all right?"

" All right, Chase... thanks."

Shep saluted and took off at a fast jog to get back to the hut he shared with Jen. She had promised to pick up lunch for the two of them while he talked to Chase. Chase turned back and made her way to the laboratory, anxious to get this offensive started so they could get it over with.

Hans stuck his head out the door when he heard the footsteps. He wondered what had taken Chase so long to follow him, but a look at the frustration on her face kept his mouth shut until she spoke.

" Hey, Hans. Sorry for the delay. You got the stuff I asked for?"

" Yes. Chase, are you sure about this?"

Chase smiled wryly at Hans, then gave him a brief, reassuring hug before retreating enough to look at the things he had laid out for her perusal. " I'm as sure as I'm gonna get, Hans. No time for doubts and second guessing."

" But Chase, the fuel is untested outside the lab, and we've only tested the tweaks we did on the motor in short flights."

" Have a little faith, Hans. We do good work together. We always have. I'm gonna come back and tell you what a rush it is to fly that fast, and then you're gonna go joy riding... maybe even invite Ty along for a little thrill."

He blushed slightly, but nodded his agreement. " All right, Chase. I'm gonna hold you to it. And I will tell you, if you make me worry like I did the last time you went off... if I have to come over there and save your butt, I will call you Annabelle until the day I die."

Chase mock-shuddered, appreciating the banter for the stress relief it was. She picked up her armor and the few special accoutrements she'd had him add strictly for her. " That's reason enough for me to bring her home without a scratch." A beat. " Thanks, Hans. Hold down the fort for me, will ya? And don't let that Amazon Queen and her council run you ragged."

" They're staying here?!?"

" I guess. Since she handed over the leadership of the army to Diana, I doubt she's gonna be going. I haven't really had a chance to find out. But if they do stay, be nice, but not indulgent."

Hans smiled. " Got it. And you be careful. I want to visit that farm of yours... maybe learn how to milk a cow or sow oats or bake bread or whatever it is you do on a farm."

Chase looked down at her hands and smiled sadly. " All right, Hans. When I get back, we'll see about making a farmer outta you. BUT, you have to ask Ty out, too." She held up her hands before he could protest. " If I have to teach you how to farm, the least you can do is ask the woman to dinner."

Hans chuckled. " Chase, if you both come back, I'll ask her out. I enjoy my laboratories too much to be a real farmer." He opened his arms for a hug and she stepped into the embrace. " Thanks for being my friend, Chase, and thank you for saving my life."

" It was a life worth saving, Hans, and I'm proud to count you as a friend."

Hans kissed both cheeks and released her, and Chase picked up her gear and left without a backwards glance.

Chase crossed the threshold into her hut... and stopped dead. On her desk sat a steaming hot bowl of soup and two thick sandwiches accompanied by a tall glass of what appeared to be iced tea. She blinked at it a minute, fully expecting it to disappear. When it didn't, she looked around for company, but she didn't have that either.

She carefully placed her equipment on the bed, then turned back to the desk. There was a note next to the napkin and she picked it up with a smile. Figured one of us needed to make sure you got a chance to eat. See you shortly. Diana

Chase smiled at Diana's thoughtfulness and thought about cramming a sandwich into her mouth on her way to the showers given how hungry she suddenly found herself to be. She shook her head. Her enjoyment of the meal was warranted given the time and effort Diana had made to insure she had a meal to eat before they left. Instead she covered the soup bowl and snatched up her towel and clean underwear. She would set a world's record for getting clean, and then come back to her hut and enjoy the meal with a rarely felt luxury.

Chase rushed through her ritual bathing, though she was careful to follow every step. She was even completely dry before slipping into her clean clothes, but she moved with greater speed than she normally used. Then she was back in her hut enjoying soup that had cooled to a comfortably warm temperature and eating sandwiches so big she could barely take a bite out of them.

Ty briefly wondered what had happened. She had never seen Chase go in and out of her traditional shower that quickly before, but then the Amazons came back in from the direction of the river obviously scrubbed clean. Ty shook her head, speculating if Chase realized her ritual to be clean before an upcoming mission was based in Amazon tradition. Then she shrugged and decided it didn't matter as long as it worked Chase's normal voodoo magic.

Ty nodded at them on her way back to her hut, needing to go prepare her armor and dress before time ran short. The Amazons filed into the mess hut with single-minded determination. Diana broke apart from them and headed towards Chase's hut.

" Diana?" She sighed and her shoulders dropped, before she turned and face her mother. She waited quietly, unwilling to address Hippolyta as her mother and uneasy about calling her by her name after being put in charge of the army.

Hippolyta was a little disappointed that Diana didn't address her at all, but she was gratified that Diana held her gaze evenly and without rancor. That was something that hadn't happened in over a hundred years, and Hippolyta let herself relish the experience... until Diana's gaze became piercing and one eyebrow arched sharply.

" Oh... my apologies, Diana. I just wanted to ask if it was all right with you if I went along on this mission as well. Not as the queen and not as your mother," she continued before Diana could protest. " I would like to go as an Amazon warrior."

Diana blew out a breath and turned away from Hippolyta. The truth was, she could understand Hippolyta's desire to go. She had been one of their greatest warriors before the Nation had been relocated to Paradise Island. Diana had actually been a little surprised that Hippolyta had handed over leadership of the army for this mission.

" Why did you make me the leader of the army for this operation?" not turning around to look at Hippolyta as she asked the question. " You would have gone as the queen and as a warrior."

" Diana, I have made a mess of everything I have done in the last hundred years where you are concerned, but not about this. This is your fight, Diana. You deserve the right to lead the army against Orana. You, more than anyone, have the right to retribution – not just for what she did to you, but for what she did to your mate as well. I would never stand in the way of that."

" Chase is not my mate," fiercely, turning to look at her mother with a burning look in her eyes.

" Maybe not yet, daughter, but she will be."

The confirmation was unlooked for and it unexpectedly warmed Diana's heart just a little. Hippolyta saw it, but she wisely contained her reaction, not wanting it to disappear on her account. Instead, she answered the plea she could just see hidden at the very back of Diana's eyes.

" I've seen the way she looks at you." Hippolyta took a deep breath. " Diana... daughter... I wouldn't lie to you about this. Despite everything else I have managed to do wrong, I wouldn't lie to you about anything. Trust me, Diana, please." A brief pause. " I know there are some things between us that no amount of time or apologies or regret will ever be able to repair. But you can trust me, Diana... especially about this."

Diana blew out a deep breath and turned back towards Chase's hut. " I won't stop you from joining us on this offensive. You are one of the best warriors the Amazon Nation ever produced, and I am not stupid enough to not utilize every asset at my disposal. I'll leave the decision up to you."

" I would like to go, Diana; I just don't want to make things tough for the army with my presence. Not that I think they would have difficulty following you; you're a natural leader and a greater warrior than even I was. But it is hard to break thousands of years of ingrained protocol and tradition."

Diana remained silent, not wanting to influence Hippolyta's decision, but she did turn to look at her.

" How would you feel if I went as an assistant healer?" Diana didn't answer and Hippolyta realized she wouldn't. Diana really was leaving the decision completely up to her, and somehow, that knowledge made the choice easier.

" I think I will stay here and prepare for the victory party, because you know if we leave the rebels in charge of that we will get...." Here she made a face. " Coffee and fried sugar bread."

Diana smirked. " You mean donuts?"

" I suppose. Now really... where did they come up with such a thing?? No – I will stay here. Amazons *know* how to throw a good party, and no one is better suited for doing that than the queen, right?"

" As you say," Diana agreed without actually committing herself.

" Good! Then it's decided." Diana nodded and started for Chase's hut once more. " Diana...." She stopped walking but didn't turn around. " Thank you for giving me the choice. I appreciate the consideration."

Diana didn't answer except to nod again, then she walked away with a purposeful step. Hippolyta smiled, watching her go, thanking the goddesses for sending Chase to Amazons and Diana to Chase. Already Chase had changed Diana's attitude towards her mother and for the first time in a long, long time, Hippolyta was looking towards the future.

Knock, knock.... " Chase?" Silence. " Chase, it's Diana." Still no answer. Diana bit her bottom lip in contemplation, then opened the door a crack, just to see if Chase was actually in the hut. What she found surprised her.

Chase was sitting at the desk, eyes half closed in meditation. The dishes in front of her were bare of food, including crumbs and the napkin had been neatly refolded and was covering the bowl. Chase didn't move when Diana slipped into the room, and Diana took the opportunity to remove the tray from the desk. When she turned back to Chase, she found bright green eyes focused intently on her.

Chase didn't speak; she simply held out her hand and Diana took it. Chase led her around to sit on the only clear corner of the bed, then released her grip and folded her own hands together. " What can I do for you, Diana? Shouldn't you be getting ready? Have you eaten?"

" Nothing... I just wanted to make sure you ate. I am ready, and yes... Cookie fed me while he was preparing your tray."

" You just wanted to make sure I ate, huh? Well, I did and it was very good. Thank you for thinking of me. I would have just grabbed a couple trail bars to chew on the way out."

Diana smiled and looked around nervously. Chase was exuding a raw energy now, a feral sense of danger that Diana was accustomed to wearing, not seeing in someone else, and Chase didn't even seem aware of the change in her demeanor.

" Diana, are you all right?" wondering why Diana seemed so uncomfortable. The question was full of concern and it made Diana smile. Diana straightened and put her warrior face on, letting her own dark energy rise to the surface. Chase watched the change take place and shivered in pure reaction. Diana turned and gave Chase a feral smile.

" I am fantastic, thank you for asking. I can't tell you how I'm looking forward to this."

Chase grinned. " You don't have to – I know."

Diana motioned to the bed. " Yours is different. And you have more accoutrements."

Chase nodded. " The parameters of my mission are a little more restrictive than everyone else's. I have to prepare for it a little differently."

Diana looked over each piece of Chase's equipment, noting the thicker guards she had added to her thighs and back. She picked up the belt that held half a dozen syringe vials, and understood instantly just exactly what Chase's plan was and just exactly how close to Orana she would need to get. Diana turned and met Chase's eyes squarely.

" You are planning on coming back, right? Because if you're not, I am coming with you."

" Actually, I was planning on you coming with me regardless."

Diana blinked and then scooped Chase into her arms for an exuberant hug. " Thank you, Chase."

Chase smiled and returned the embrace fervently. Whatever doubts she had about herself and about the Amazon situation and even about the upcoming mission, this felt right.

They pulled apart after a long moment and Chase held on to Diana's hands. " Diana, you have proven to be a worthy ally and a very capable warrior. Even if we weren't trying to be friends... even without our souls having a past together or you having a personal reason to extract justice from Orana, I know you are the best choice for a partner to watch my back. All the rest just gives you added incentive."

Diana didn't respond verbally, but the fierce light in her eyes and the feral smile on her lips was an answer all its own. Without warning, she leaned down and brushed her lips over Chase's, feeling Chase freeze before she pulled back.

" Sorry, Chase. I just...."

" Shh...." Chase said, covering Diana's lips with her fingers. " It's all right, Diana. I'm just not... I'm not ready... I'd like to be, but...."

" Shh...." Diana said, returning the favor. " My fault, Chase. I didn't mean to, it's just... that's the first time in forever that someone - that *you* - has looked at me with such trust and confidence and...."

" Diana?"

" Hmm?"

" You're babbling." Diana blushed and Chase chuckled. It was nice to know Diana was as discombobulated as she was about the whole situation between them. " That's okay, Diana. I think it's cute," and got to watch the slow blush travel up Diana's face.

" But I've got to get ready to go and I'm running short on time. Maybe we can finish this when we get back?"

" You bet we can," Diana smiled. " I'll see you in the courtyard?"

" Ten minutes."

Diana pulled away from Chase and left before she could do anything else rash. They had a war to finish and an Amazon to destroy. Then they would have plenty of time to investigate this wonderful, giddy feeling that felt old and new again at the same time. And there was no way on hell she was going to let Orana or anything else on earth stop that from happening.

Then Chase stepped from her hut and a cheer went up from the hundreds of rebels gathered in the square. It was time.

Chapter XL

" Damn, it's dark out here," Ty mumbled, walking carefully to keep from stumbling and sliding through the mud. The darkness and rain had been their friend when they had arrived over the continent. It had enabled them to fly beneath the radar perimeter around the capital and drop in closer than they had hoped. Just as well, since the weather was making it very slow going to get into position for the announcement Orana was going to make later that evening. Ty was glad they had fifteen or sixteen hours to work with. She was afraid it would take them that long to get into place, and even with the sleep they had all gotten on the plane, they were going to need some rest to fight effectively tonight.

Chase had been the last to leave the rebel compound, and no one had seen her since. Her plan had been ingenious, though and Ty knew Chase was somewhere ahead of them.

It was an eerie feeling. Ty knew she wasn't alone, but due to the rain and the darkness and the silence surrounding her, she felt isolated. She wiped the rain out of her eyes and blinked rapidly. Then she checked her watch and smiled. With any luck, she and her squadron would reach their safe house within the next few minutes and then they would have the daylight to rest in before darkness fell again and they made the final short journey to the barracks they had been assigned to destroy. Ty only hoped they were as successful as Chase's plan had shown they could be.

Shep and his unit were making their way to the northernmost resistance stronghold. It was slow going in the darkness, but he had peace about this mission. Chase had planned well, and the changes she had made along with the addition of the Amazons had put the odds firmly in their favor. Not just to put an end to this war, but for most of them to survive it to begin a brave new world together.

His biggest concern was that no one except Chase was privy to what Chase's part in the plan was, and no one had seen her since they had departed the compound. He sent a prayer up for her safety, then picked up his pace. Making this work depended on him and his team making it into the stronghold before daylight; it was up to them to coordinate the rest of the world for the attack. In silence they pushed on, keeping to the trees and the bushes so as not to be seen by the dim moonlight that cast its waning light over the land.

Diana was torn between concern and anger. She hadn't been allowed to ride in the plane with Chase; Hans had forbidden it and given his reasoning, Diana had been unable to argue. The modifications they had made to the airplane had been based strictly upon Chase's height and weight specifications. So Diana had ridden across the ocean with some of her Amazons.

That hadn't been bad; it had helped Diana forge a deeper bond between her and the leaders of the Amazon army. To their delight, they found that the warrior princess they remembered had returned to them at last. And they were excited by the prospect of being led by her. Their part in Chase's plan was right up their alley.

But Diana hadn't seen Chase since they had arrived on the continent. They had been the first to leave as they had the farthest to travel on foot; Diana knew that Chase had been the last. They had missed the worst of the weather so far which had helped them make good time towards Berlin. Chase had promised to find her, and Diana believed Chase had meant her words. Yet they had been traveling for several hours on foot and she had seen neither hide nor hair of Chase.

" Do not worry, Princess," one of her captains commented quietly. " She will find you."

Only the warrior stoicism Diana wore kept her startlement from showing in her expression; even her eyes were kept carefully blank. She did turn and look a question at the woman who spoke, recognizing her as a priestess of the temple. The woman nodded when she realized Diana knew who she was.

" I believe, Princess. I have faith in what you are to be together."

" How does that help me in the here and now, Anya?"

" For there to be a future, there must be a foundation of trust. If she breaks her word to you now, how can there be trust between you? Therefore, she will find you." A beat. " I've read the stories, Princess. I know who she is... and who she was... and who she will be once more."

" Does everyone? Is this common knowledge?"

" No, Princess. The only reason I am aware is I helped Mala with the research when you started asking questions about soulmates. I helped her put all the pieces together." Diana nodded, but didn't speak. Anya felt compelled to reassure her further. " Princess, no one within the Nation knows beyond the council and myself, and I would never betray that trust. Besides, this news it not mine to share... it's yours, if and when you feel compelled to do so. I wouldn't have mentioned it if it wasn't obvious to me that you were searching for her and that search is taking your attention from our mission."

The rebuke was mild, but Diana felt it sharply. She nodded briskly. " You're right, Anya. Thank you for the reminder. I'll keep my mind focused and trust Chase to keep her word."

Anya might have answered, but suddenly Diana stopped walking and held up her hand. The Amazon army halted and melted into the trees as a Nazi patrol made its was towards them. The soldiers had no time to appreciate the fact that they were dead men walking, as in very short order, they were simply dead men. The Amazons dropped in behind them, snapping their necks and letting the bodies fall silently to the ground. Diana looked at her hands, clean of blood, and wondered how there could be no mark upon her for the life she had just taken. She thought she should feel some sort of guilt or remorse for the death she had caused, and maybe later she would, but for now she only felt relief and gratitude for her skills and being alive.

The flick of her wrist and the Amazons cleared the road, moving the men out of sight and up into the trees where they wouldn't be found. Mankind had lost the ability to think and fight three dimensionally and the Amazons were happy to use that to their advantage. Then they started back towards Berlin at a double time jog. The brief fight and subsequent clean-up had cost them precious time and even with the head start they'd had, they were going to be cutting it close. And since they were infiltrating the capital city itself, they definitely wanted to be in place before the sun came up.

Diana sent a prayer up for Chase's safety, then she picked up the pace, the outline of the buildings coming into sharp focus. Diana felt the fire stir in her blood and smiled. She was looking forward to this.

Chase drew a deep breath. Even though it was dark out, the square in front of the Reichstag was well-lit as though in defiance of the resistance and any rumors of a rebellion uprising. There were a number of workmen trying to accomplish several different tasks. There were some who were scrubbing and cleaning the streets around the square. Others were busy painting the buildings and polishing the brass fixtures. A third group was busy stringing wires and lights in preparation for Orana's announcement that evening.

Chase sat in the bell tower over looking the square. Behind her sat the tower guard, asleep at his post, compliments of Chase's and Hans' efforts in the lab. If it had been later in the day, he would be dead, but she couldn't risk the exposure... yet. Soon it wouldn't matter, but for now, discretion was definitely the better part of valor. Chase had to live long enough to take care of Orana.

Her vantage point gave her an excellent view of everything going on below, which would be extremely useful when the Amazons arrived. Chase looked at her watch, squinting in the waning moonlight, then nodded in satisfaction. She could just make out the beginnings of a lightening of the sky in the east. And only because she was looking for it, and knew exactly what to look for did she see the Amazons enter the city. She wondered if Diana would find her before she could get to Diana.

Chase smiled. Diana had been cute about her frustration in being separated from Chase after Chase had assured her they were going to go against Orana together. Only when Chase promised to find her before she went after Orana did Diana relent and leave with the first wave.

A commotion in the square caught her attention and she looked out to find Orana outside investigating the progress that had been made by the workers. They doubled their speed, not wanting to be punished for lax or shoddy work. Surprisingly, Orana simply looked around, pointing out a few things that remained and then turned and walked back into the Reichstag with studied nonchalance. It was obvious to Chase that she was trying to give an appearance of calm control. She wondered if the woman who was Fuehrer had any idea how truly despised she was or how hated her reign had become.

Chase's eyes continued to watch the preparations being completed at a fairly quick pace while her mind wandered back to the stories that had been passed down through her family for generations – since they had happened a hundred years before when Orana had become the Fuehrer.

When Steve Trevor had returned from Bermuda, rumors followed of a woman who had the strength of ten men, the speed of a moving car and the ability to stop bullets. But before any investigation could be done, their spies reported the same phenomenon taking place in Berlin. Only this woman was taken directly into the heart of the Reichstag to meet with Hitler and his generals, and she never came out.

Instead, she became first Hitler's confidante and enforcer, then, according to rumor, she became his lover and advisor. Eventually, Hitler faded out of the scene completely, dead from causes that didn't bear close examination. It didn't actually matter; by that point, Orana had a firm grasp on the entire Nazi regime, and the generals cowed or they died.

She did lead the Nazis to victory, but victory was not at all what they expected it to be. Things did improve some, but never back to even pre-war standards, and for a people who had expected to be at the top of the world once they won the war, that was quite a blow to morale. They had expected to be living in luxury, but except for a very few, the people toiled hard everyday for the bits they had – just as they had always done for centuries. To have lost sons and daughter to such an outcome made them bitter, but the relaxation of restrictions had made them less than eager to upset the applecart either. It was easier just to live with the known than to step into the unknown again and perhaps have yet another war with less-than-favorable results.

Orana had also signed an agreement with Japan that allowed them regency of the Far East territories for a large chunk of the profits. The Japanese had argued briefly, but Orana had been glad to show them the error of their ways and they had capitulated rather quickly after that, understanding well that part of the pie was better than no pie at all. It was easier to let the Japanese fight and die for the bounty she received. Her advisors had argued against such action, feeling the Nazis deserved all the pie. They had seen the futility of such an idea at the end of a noose. She didn't have the time or the patience to explain it to men too stupid to understand it without being told anyway.

Exterminating the Jews in Europe had robbed the Nazis of many of the minds and skills they had once depended on, and there had been no recovery from that devastation. Thousands had escaped and disappeared, but millions had died. Only because Orana felt it a waste of resources and manpower did any of the race survive – mostly in America. This too caused hard feelings as many felt that the Jews and the blacks and all the rest who failed to fit the Aryan mold should be rounded up, and either completely wiped out or made to serve the regime as all who lived beneath Orana's boot had to.

Most felt the same about those who lived in America; because of their indifference to the plight of the English and the French, no supplies had been given to them and few Americans had joined the fight to keep the Nazis from overrunning the European continent. The Nazi people firmly believed there should be some benefit for them for the supposed prosperity that remained in America despite the war. The Americans had been mostly unwilling to fight and die and instead allowed themselves to become subjugated with only Nazi overseers to keep them in line. This kept the land from being destroyed and the people from dying, because for the most part, the overseers were lenient in executing their responsibilities as long as they got fed and the first choice of companionship in whatever town they happened to be checking on.

Such conditions had allowed the resistance to grow, and the rebellion to flourish. Now the time had finally come to change things, Chase thought grimly.

While her thoughts had been occupied with the past, the present had been turning to daylight around her and now the sky was full of color and light. With a glance at the guard who remained asleep, Chase left the bell tower and headed across the roofs of Berlin in search of an Amazon princess.

Dawn found each of the rebel groups tucked safely away into numerous safe houses scattered across the European continent and into Russia and Great Britain. When darkness fell, they would all be moving again. But for now, the people of Berlin and Paris and London and Moscow went about their daily lives, unaware of the changes brewing just beneath the surface.

Chase walked the roofs above where she had last glimpsed the Amazons, knowing precisely where they were supposed to be and noting with satisfaction that there was no way to find them unless you knew where to look. She found the building and crept in, unnoticed by the guard who stood watch. The Amazons were scattered throughout the old warehouse, hidden in plain sight on the outskirts of the city. They had concealed themselves inside, though Chase had no difficulty finding them and slipping around them without being seen or heard. She realized then that the skills her mother had taught her were Amazon skills and she smiled grimly. That kind of confirmation wasn't something she was looking for, but it allowed her to slip right up to Diana... only to be caught and held by sparkling blue eyes when Chase reached out to touch her. Diana caught her hand and held it lightly.

" I promised you, didn't I?"

Diana smiled and nodded. " You did. I'm glad you made it. Are you all right?" Her words were whispered and she leaned up on one elbow. She could see the exhaustion in Chase's eyes, remembering that while the troops had all had the chance to sleep on the flight over Chase had been going full throttle since early the previous morning. She tugged on the hand she still held lightly clasped in her own and pulled Chase down beside her.

" Diana!" It would have been more of a protest, but it was hard to squeal when you were forced to whisper to keep from waking up the rest of the room.

" Hush!" smiling when Chase glared in her direction, but didn't move away from her. " Chase, you've been working for over twenty-four hours. You need to get some rest before we go after Orana tonight."

" But...."

" Shh!" Diana commanded. " You're taking care of everyone else... let me take care of you."

Chase smiled, feeling a familiarity at Diana's words. " Isn't that supposed to be my line?"

" Normally, yes... but not this time. You're the warrior leader and I'm the Amazon princess. Something kind of karmically circular about the whole situation, isn't there?"

Chase yawned, their combined body warmth and her exhaustion making her almost too sleepy to comment - *almost*. But she had enough of her bardic ancestor in her to warrant giving Diana an answer.

" Somethin'" she mumbled before allowing her fatigue to assert itself and closing her eyes.

Diana waited until she felt Chase's breathing deepen and even out in sleep; then she shifted, trying to get more comfortable without disturbing Chase. She froze completely and held her breath when Chase snuggled into her, wrapping around her like an earthbound octopus and grounding Diana in a way she hadn't been in more than twenty-six hundred years. She smiled at the bittersweet feeling of familiar intimacy that wash through her being at the feeling of having Chase in her arms. Diana wrapped her arms around Chase, and closed her eyes in sweet contentment.

Anya watched a moment longer, then closed her eyes, sending up a prayer of gratitude to the goddesses, hoping they were watching over the Nation and could see what was happening between Chase and Diana here in man's world.

The other five goddesses watched in disbelief as Aphrodite gyrated and shimmied all over the room. It had been a long time since they had seen her do a happy dance that no one recognized it for what it was. They weren't sure if Aphrodite was happy or in pain, though judging by the look on her face, pain wasn't an issue. Finally Athena couldn't stand the gyrations any longer and took Dite by the shoulders to bring her to a screeching halt. Dite glared at Athena, and blew her blonde curls back out of her eyes.

" Whaddya go and do that for?"

" Are you all right?"

" I am awesome, babe... simply fab. But thanks for asking."

Athena rolled her eyes and prayed for patience. " Aphrodite, why were you wiggling around like that? Did you find an ant bed or something?"

Dite snorted. " As if. Nah, babe. Check the radical scene I scryed across." She pointed to the bowl and Athena changed the focus and threw the image up on the wall for all of them to see. They all gaze at the reflection for a long moment, then the other five goddesses got up and started doing happy dances of their own. Dite just laughed joyfully and joined in.

Darkness had fallen but was not quite complete when Diana woke Chase from her sleep. She had spent a few moments simply looking at her, easily imagining the times they had shared like this before. Unlike her predecessor though, Chase woke with a single touch. She looked at their positions tangled up together and immediately moved out of Diana's arms. Diana felt the cold immediately with Chase's withdrawal, but she plastered a smile on her face.

" Chase...."

" Sorry," Chase muttered. " I don't know...."

" Chase, it's okay. Thanks for keeping me warm."

Chase nodded, still a little embarrassed by her clinginess. " All right... what time is it?" Chase looked at her watch and nodded in satisfaction. The Amazons were already up and dressed, eating from the rations they had brought. Shortly, they would be dispatched by Diana to their assignments. Ty and her squad should already be working, eliminating the soldiers in the barracks and assuming their duty stations in the square.

Diana handed Chase some of the rations her mother had brought along from Paradise Island, and Chase smiled at the newly familiar tastes that met her palette.

" Thanks. This is good."

" Anytime. This is an old family recipe and they're a Nation favorite – we actually dry fruit specifically for these."

" Well, whoever came up with them was pretty clever."

" Thanks," Diana said cheekily, then got up before Chase could question her further.

It was unnerving to see her sisters dressed as Nazis, but this group was taking the place of the technicians who were supposed to be running the sound and camera equipment for Orana's big announcement. The rest had already moved out to hide in the shadows; they would help infiltrate the Reichstag and work with Ty to prevent any of the Nazis in the square from leaving. This was not a hit and run mission – they were out to seek and destroy.

" All right, sisters. It's time. Each of you has your assignment. Whatever you do, make sure that this broadcast doesn't go anywhere but to the people in the square. Chase has people infiltrating the control room, but work under the assumption that they won't make it... if we kill it at the source, the rest is moot. It is a fail-safe for us. We want to control what gets broadcast."

" Watch for the signal. When you see us move in, that will be your cue to start recording. We want Orana's downfall broadcast." A brief pause that was so silent heartbeats could be heard. No one had expected Chase to speak since Diana was their princess and defacto leader. " Thank you all," Chase said quietly. " Good luck."

" The goddesses watch over you, sisters," Diana commended. " We would see you all safe and Orana destroyed when this is over."

They couldn't roar; stealth was too important to their mission. But they raised their fists triumphantly, shaking them in unity until, at Diana's signal, they went from darkness to darkness, each of them intent on the fight to come.

Chapter XLI

When Orana stepped from the Reichstag onto the square, Diana noticed an immediate hitch in their plans. A hand on Chase's arm and a lift of Diana's chin were enough to alert Chase to the new danger. Diana wondered privately how her mother had known to anticipate this possibility, and thought back to their brief exchange just before Diana boarded the plane.

" Diana? Could I have a moment please?"

Diana was still brooding, fuming over the fact that she had to travel to Berlin without Chase. However, she was trying not to take that frustration out on anyone and that included Hippolyta. Despite the issues that still loomed largely between them, Hippolyta was truly making an attempt to reach out to her daughter, and Diana could appreciate the effort. In her secret heart of hearts, Diana wanted Hippolyta to try again, but she would never be caught admitting that in the light of day – not until they got some of those issues ironed out. Still, she wasn't going to discourage Hippolyta's efforts because of something neither of them had control over. So she took a deep breath and turned to face Hippolyta with a neutral expression on her face.

" What can I do for you?" she asked politely. " Surely you don't need party tips from me?" with just the slightest hint of a smile on her face. Diana hadn't been known as a partier even when she had been sociable. The trace of mischief in her eyes caused Hippolyta to chuckle.

" Um, no. I think I can handle that. No, this is much more serious," reaching for Diana's arm, not letting her touch fall short, not sure if Diana would welcome it. Instead, she pulled a blade from her side sheath and extended it to Diana.

Diana accepted the blade, and looked at it with confusion clearly written across her features. The knife was made of bone – from the handle to the tip of the blade. Diana frowned... if she didn't know better, she'd have thought it was....

" Dryad bone?"

Hippolyta nodded gravely. " Yes. It's the only way we have of killing an immortal. You need to take it with you."

" Mother," she addressed Hippolyta unconsciously. " I can't kill Orana... not with this. I would never deny Chase her right to extract revenge from Orana after what Orana did to her. Chase deserves her vengeance as does the rest of the Nation."

Hippolyta shook her head. " No, Diana. This isn't for Orana... I'd like her to face Amazon justice. No, this is on the off chance you run into any other immortal deities." Hippolyta blew out a breath. " You know Ares was the only god who did not offer you a blessing at your birth, and we believe he mentored Orana when she arrived in man's world. If that is true, then there is every possibility he will be around at some point. I don't want you to go in there unprotected, because if he sees you... I just don't want you to have to go up against him without a way to defend yourself."

" You really think he'll be there?"

" I honestly don't know, but in this instance I would prefer to err on the side of caution."

Diana looked at Hippolyta for a long moment before nodding and putting the blade into her pack. Then she boarded the plane without looking back.

" Fuck!"

The whispered expletive from Chase brought Diana from her musings with a jolt. She raised an eyebrow and Chase smirked, though she couldn't stop the blush that crossed her face. They were slowly making their way towards the Reichstag itself across the same rooftops Chase had walked hours before when she'd been searching for Diana. They planned to be inside waiting for Orana when she returned. Given the number of people on the stand with her, there would be plenty of time to get in and disable her security and safety measures before she returned. This was obviously supposed to be something of a celebration to reinforce Orana's message of who exactly was in control.

" Sorry," she muttered. " Is that who I think it is?" Diana nodded. " Dammit! That changes everything."

" Maybe not," Diana commented softly. " I don't think he knows we're here. He isn't looking around for anything; he just seems to be enjoying the adulation from the handpicked audience. He can't scry here so he won't be able to find us."

" Doesn't matter, Diana; he is still an immortal... still the god of war. And when we go after Orana, he'll still be able to defeat us with the flick of his wrist."

" Not this time," Diana answered confidently. She stopped moving and slid the pack from her shoulders and opened it, showing Chase the blade that rested inside at the top. There was no change in Chase's expression, no sign of recognition at the significance of the object it held inside.

" I'm sorry... I don't get it; guess I'm missing something pretty important, huh?"

" That's okay, Chase. We'll have plenty of time for you discover everything about your heritage later," Diana assured her with a smile. " This is a dryad bone knife."

Now Chase blinked in recognition. " Waitaminute – you mean the kind of bone that can kill a god? But how...?"

Diana slipped the pack back on and they readied themselves to start the next phase of their mission. They had reached the roof of the Reichstag and moved inside. They didn't see Ares look around with a frown on his face. Fortunately, he couldn't see them either, and after a long moment, turned his attention back to the general who was presently singing the praises of Orana and the Reich.

" My mother, and we know it can kill immortals and lesser gods. Not sure it can destroy Ares given the powerbase he has, but it will hurt him. Given his history, if we can manage to hurt him, he will disappear. He's never been one to stick around when the odds aren't in his favor."

" All right, but that means we're gonna need to split up... at least for a little while."

" Maybe not," Diana said again. She looked down. " The records are spotty, but given what I know of Orana from before she came here, she will celebrate her 'victory' when this announcement is over. If you noticed, the set-up out there was for some sort of party; obviously there's at least part of her Amazon heritage she's kept."

Chase looked at her askance. Diana smirked. " I'll explain it to you later." She looked around and her whisper became nothing but mouthed silence. " Ready?" Chase nodded and motioned to the guard on the right. Diana returned the nod and watched as Chase counted down on her fingers. Simultaneously they moved and in seconds, two guards were dead, compliments of broken necks. They didn't make a sound and Chase and Diana were quick to move the bodies out of sight. Then with a glance at one another, they padded silently through the halls, disarming the cameras and leaving a string of dead guards hidden in the recesses as they made their way towards the lab.

" This was just the first, my friends! From this day forward, the rebellion will be systematically destroyed. We will annihilate every village and town that harbors rebels and resistance members and when we are done, we will set our own house in order! We will go after the Jews! We will go after the Negroes! We will go after the homosexuals! We have been lax too long... but no longer. We will wipe out everyone who does not fit the mold of an ideal member of our Supreme Race!" She naturally didn't mention it also meant the destruction of their one semi-ally in the Japanese. Time enough for those details later, after their obvious enemies were eradicated. " And when we are done, we will have a New World Order! The Third Reich will be stronger and better for the purging! It is time we realize the dream of prosperity we fought and struggled for! It is time we reward the faithful!! It is time we take care of our own... no matter the cost to the rest of the world!!"

The specially chosen audience stomped and cheered. And the Amazons manning the cameras carefully captured it all, though not a word of it was broadcast beyond the square. Mitch had made it into the control room, and sent out a technical difficulties message to the outlying stations, thought they understood the meaning clearly enough. What it meant – reading between the lines – was that Orana wanted complete control over what went out to the masses and would need time to edit it accordingly. They had no way of knowing that Orana wouldn't be editing anything at all.

Eventually, Orana held up her hands and the crowd dutifully quieted and waited expectantly. " So this is a celebration of the beginning of a new era in the Reich. Please, join me in commemorating this event and enjoy the refreshments provided here. VICTORY!!"

At this the crowd roared and returned her salute. " VICTORY!!! Zieg HEIL!! Zieg HEIL!! Zieg HEIL!!!"

Orana stood and absorbed the adoration of the crowd for long moments before she allowed them to disperse to the tables that had been set up around the square. Those on the stage with her removed themselves to join the party at her nod, leaving her alone with only Ares for company staring out at the gathered throng. He put his hands on her shoulders and she stiffened, but he didn't pull away. Instead he began kneading with all the strength in his hands, and he felt her relax into his touch almost immediately.

" What's the matter, baby? You're too uptight for a warrior who has conquered like you have... especially one with such great battle prospects on the horizon."

Orana shrugged and leaned back into him. " I don't know, Ares. Something doesn't feel right. I expected more of a reaction from the rebellion. I expected *some* sort of reaction from them at any rate. And yet, I got nothing, and it's making me antsy. I cannot honestly believe they would let something like this go by without making some sort of effort to stop it. I made sure the world knew I was making an announcement tonight; I even let leak what happened to those twelve villages."

Ares dropped his hands from her shoulders and let one run over his beard. " Well, considering the fact that the rebellion has been around for a century, give or take, I'd say it was one of two things. Either they have already gone underground in preparation for the latest siege OR they are biding their time waiting for the right moment to strike – some time when you are distracted and won't see it coming."

Orana bit her lip in thought. " I suppose. It's just that my thumbs are prickling and I hate that feeling. I especially hate feeling like those cretins have gotten one over one me."

" Nobody's gotten anything over on you, babe," Ares said, putting his hands lightly on her waist. " It'll be their funeral when they do make a move because we are going to be ready for them. They won't even know what hit them." He felt her laugh under his touch and allowed his own dark chuckle to bubble up. " Now, c'mon... you and I have some serious business to attend to," rubbing up against her.

Orana permitted a small, satisfied smirk to cross her lips. " We do indeed, and Adelia should be waiting. Let's go."

Diana and Chase worked in tandem together without exchanging a single word. It was as if they had been doing this together forever, they were so smooth in their interactions. Diana went through the crude computer records while Chase disarmed the first of three self-destruct mechanisms Orana had set throughout the Reichstag. These were the triggers that would set off other devices hidden around the globe, and Diana's searching had turned up the locations of those. Finding them would be one of their first tasks once Orana and the Reich were finally defeated.

First though, they had to destroy the lab and make it to the kitchen to take out the second bomb. That would be more difficult as there should be people working and that meant more killing because there were no innocents here. And Chase was tired of killing; she had been doing it since she was twelve years old. However, it had to be done, so with a signal to Diana, they soundlessly slipped into the kitchen and within minutes, there were six more dead. Diana moved the bodies into freezer while Chase disarmed the second trigger bomb.

Fortunately, since the food had already been prepared and a majority of it had already been set out for the event outdoors, they weren't interrupted and in short order, they were walking down the hallway to Orana's private chambers. This was the tricky part.

Orana was more than a little paranoid and had the most state-of-the-art security she could manage... not that it was anywhere close to what Diana and Paula had developed. So cracking through it was fairly simple. The guards were dispatched easily enough; they simply weren't expecting intruders to be wandering around that far inside the inner sanctum.

There were no bodies to move; Orana kept the guards in her hallway out of sight. Diana disarmed and unlocked the doors – they like the rest of the alarms were set to Amazon milestones and markers. Then they slipped inside Orana's suite. It got harder from here. First they had to disarm the cameras and the monitoring stations in her office area and then they had to move on to the bedroom. The third mechanism was on the bed and it was the one device that connected to each of the triggers around the world. That meant it could still detonate the self-destruction devices Chase had not disarmed yet.

The cameras and monitors were a cake walk for Diana and once they were disabled, they crossed the office floor and stood listening at the bedroom door for a long moment. When they didn't hear any sound coming from within, they opened the door slowly then looked around the empty room.

Chase gave a sigh of relief, relaxing just slightly. Given the rollercoaster ride her life had been lately, she half expected some sort of hidden surprise. But this time, it seemed, their intelligence had been right on the money. Even Ares unforeseen presence hadn't changed the outcome of their work and very shortly, all hell was going to break loose outside the Reichstag as well as at other Nazi strongholds around the world. When Orana left the square, Mitch would let Shep know; then resistance fighters across the globe would attack the Nazis in full force. The Amazons in the square were looking forward to that event, but then, so were the rest of the rebels.

Chase went to the far side of the bed while Diana stayed on the near side, both of them carefully searching for the final trigger device. Without warning, the bathroom door flew open and a very naked Adelia stepped out and strutted towards the bed. She was halfway there before she realized she was not alone... and not with the couple she anticipated sharing the night with.

" Who are you?? What are you doing here??" She froze, and that hesitation was what cost Adelia her life. Chase reacted immediately and the first needled vial of Orana's evil poison struck Adelia in the heart. The effect was abrupt and Adelia fell to the floor, clutching her chest in agony and gasping for air. Unlike Orana's version, meant for prolonged torture, Hans had concentrated the mixture so death was almost instantaneous.

Chase and Diana exchanged glances, and without a word they scooped Adelia up and tucked her into the bed to die. It would save them from having to clean up the mess before Orana and Ares returned. Then they went back to their search.

Much to their surprise and chagrin, there were two triggers and they were tied together by a complicated series of connections beneath the bed. They looked at each other and with soundless sighs, slid beneath the bed.

Diana watched Chase's actions, mimicking her precisely. Chase nodded her approval and together they disarmed the last of the self-destruct mechanisms. Then the door to the bedroom opened and Ares and Orana stumbled in, tossing bits of clothing carelessly around the room.

Diana opened the pack she still carried and removed the dryad blade, then motioned to Chase, who shook her head violently. " Why?" she mouthed. Instead, Chase gestured to her side of the bed, asking Diana to follow her out. She figured it would buy them a little extra time. Meanwhile, Orana and Ares separated long enough to notice Adelia was already in the bed waiting for them.

Ares chuckled. " Guess she's anxious, huh? But what is that smell?? It smells like...."

" ... death. Something's not right; wait, did you unlock the doors when we came in?"

Ares answer was interrupted by the sound of gunfire in the square and several things happened at once. Orana crossed to the window, heedless of her partial nakedness. Diana and Chase rose from beside the bed simultaneously. Orana turned, the needle of the poison vial piercing her chest. She wailed and dropped to the floor, writhing in agony. Chase rushed over to Orana and snatched the belt of strength and the golden lasso from around her body.

At the same time Chase threw the vial, Ares saw Diana and hesitated, caught unaware by her presence here in this room. That hesitation gave Diana the opening she needed and she tossed the blade in Ares direction. He didn't move, incorrectly assuming it was of no consequence and wanting to drive that point home by allowing the blade to penetrate his skin even as he threw a fireball full-force into Diana's torso. Diana crumpled and Ares screamed as he realized just exactly what he'd been hit with.

Chase turned from Orana as Ares pulled the blade from his gut. He threw it at her in his rage, but Chase ducked it easily, having already been in motion to cover Diana's body. He held closed his wound with his hand and shimmered out of sight, needing to find a private place of power to heal.

Chase took Diana's face in her hands and cradled it carefully, completely unaware of the tears streaming down her face. " Oh no, you don't," she said angrily. " NO! You don't get to leave this time. You promised me a future! You promised me forever, Goddamnit!! Don't you *dare* fucking die on me now!!" She reached down and picked up the accoutrements she had dropped in her haste to protect Diana's body from further attack. " Look, Di... we got them away from her."

" Not for long," a weak and shaky Orana said. She was holding a gun pointed in Chase's direction. " I'm an immortal, remember? You can't kill me... even with that lovely noxious poison I created. Uh uh," she said, blinking rapidly. " Hands where I can see them."

Chase placed the belt and lasso onto Diana's chest, glad to see it was still moving, albeit slowly. Then she turned and stood, and in a movement too quick for Orana to process, threw two more vials – one that hit her in the belly and one that embedded deep in her thigh. Orana dropped the gun to reach for the vials, only to fall to the floor again. This time, Chase got up and stuck the two remaining deep into her spine, watching without feeling as the woman stiffened in anguish.

Then she moved to kneel back down at Diana's side, scrambling through the backpack trying to find a way to fix the damage Ares had done. Her heart cried out to goddesses she wasn't even sure existed, hoping for a miracle from somewhere to keep Diana alive.

Chapter XLII

Diana blinked her eyes opened, then closed them again, groaning at the intense pain lancing through her chest. She took as deep a breath as she dared - pretty shallow, considering – and opened her eyes again slowly, seeing nothing around her but empty space. She frowned; the last thing she remembered was... " Chase!!" She struggled to sit up, then dropped back to a reclining position when pain and vertigo made the effort impossible.

A hand came into her line of vision, easing her down with a gentle touch. The cool cloth on her forehead was both familiar and comforting. She closed her eyes and concentrated on breathing, willing the pain to subside. Where was she? And why? And how did she get here anyway? Then a voice cut into her musing. " Take it easy, Diana. How do you feel, Princess?"

The voice was recognizable and yet not as she remembered. " Drea?"

" No, Princess. Open your eyes."

Diana blinked open her eyes and forced them to stay open, then blinked again when a face came into view. " Aunt Jasmine? But how?? You're dead and I'm...." breaking off as the implications of what she was saying sank into her mind.

" ... going to be if you don't make up your mind to be differently."

Diana moaned. The pain was making it hard to focus and harder still to think clearly. Jasmine waited; she needed Diana to be full cognizant of what was going on around her. She felt when Diana turned to her meditation for relief, and after a few eternal minutes passed, Diana relaxed and turned her attention back to her aunt.

" Gods, this hurts."

" I'll bet it does," Jasmine agreed pragmatically. " It looks pretty nasty."

Diana looked around at the emptiness again. " I have to tell you, Aunt Jasmine, for an afterlife, this place leaves a lot to be desired... especially if it hurts like this all the time."

Jasmine smiled at her sadly. " This isn't the afterlife... at least not yet. This is an in-between – a place between life and death, and as long as you can feel the pain of your injury, you are still alive in the real world. Once it's gone...." She let the thought trail off.

Diana smirked wryly then grimaced. " Guess I should be counting my blessings then, huh? 'Cause this hurts like a bitch." She closed her eyes again, missing Jasmine's startled look at her choice of words. " What am I doing here, Jas?" feeling a wave of lethargy wash over her. " Better yet... what are you?"

" Well," rinsing the cloth and gently applying it to Diana's face and neck. " I'm here because you are. You're here because Annabelle is refusing to let your soul go and your spirit is refusing to let your body die while she holds on."

" So as long as she holds on, I'll live, but as soon as she gives up I die?"

" That depends on you."

" Huh? Aunt Jasmine, I know I'm not running on all cylinders here, but life and death has never been about choice – especially when a god takes a pot shot at you."

" Do you want to live? Would you be willing to give up your title, your immortality, to live as a mortal woman in man's world with my daughter for the rest of your natural, normal life? Not as a warrior hero or an Amazon princess or Wonder Woman, but simply as her mate?"

" In a heartbeat, Aunt Jasmine. I have missed her... so much. I would give up everything to be with her again."

" Then live for her, Diana. Make the decision to live for her... and then do it."

" Simple as that?"

" Simple as that."

Silence reigned for a while after that. Jasmine continued to bathe Diana's face and neck and Diana simply lay still trying to breathe through the pain. In all of her immortal life she couldn't remember hurting like this and she wasn't really thrilled with the prospect of doing so now – even knowing she had suffered as badly or possibly worse in her last trip through the karmic cycle. Finally, though....

" Aunt Jasmine?"

" Hmm?"

" Will you tell me about Chase? What she was like growing up – things she did?"

Jasmine laughed... a full bodied laugh, and Diana smiled in reflexive sympathy. " You want to hear stories, hmm? Well, Drea is the only one who's heard any of those before, but sure. I imagine I can remember a few things about what Annabelle was like growing up."

Diana laughed briefly, then curled up into herself as agony pierced her body in reaction. " Ow, ow, ow."

Jasmine smiled compassionately. " A little less laughter, maybe? I'll try not to tell the more outrageous ones, though for the first few years of her life she was a mostly quiet child. Very bright, and she certainly had her moments, but.... Her best friends were her books and her daddy. When he died, she changed. My Annabelle - my brilliant, quiet daughter – became a hellion. That's when she started going by the moniker Chase. And she started taking unimaginable risks. She was seven years old."

Diana opened her eyes and looked at Jasmine in shock. " Chase became a rebel fighter when she was seven?"

Jasmine nodded. " Little things at first, and against my wishes and explicit orders she did. I knew, even though she was unaware, that she had a different destiny to fulfill, but nothing I was able to share with her was enough to deter her strength of purpose. I knew she was resolute about avenging her father's death, but looking back at it, I wonder if perhaps she became so reckless because of who she was."

" You mean as your daughter... as an Amazon?"

" No, I mean as your soulmate – one half of a whole. Maybe her father's death showed her the unexplainable loneliness in her soul. I know it left a huge hole in her heart and in her life."

" How could you let her do that, Jasmine? How could you let her run the risk of being killed?? After all it took to get her here...." Diana shook with anger and pain and frustration. " After how long we've been apart from one another, you just let her...."

" No, Diana. I didn't just let her." Jasmine's head dropped. " But I couldn't stop her either. I tried, you have to believe that, and up until the time she was twelve, I had a little success. There were only a limited number of jobs she could do, and most of those required her to simply walk information from one point to another. No one suspected a cute kid like her to be dangerous." Jasmine met Diana's eyes, both sets filled with tears. " But she was the most stubborn, hardheaded child ever born, though given her soul and her heritage, I don't think she could help that." They exchanged watery smiles.

" What happened when she was twelve?"

" Annabelle killed her first man."

" At twelve?!?"

" Yes. She discovered a double agent living among us. It was how she found out about Hans, but that's another story. Anyway, he tried to rape and kill her and she killed him first, but not before she got proof of his duplicity. They lauded her as a hero."

" What happened then? And what is the story about Hans?"

" She became more involved in the rebellion then, started doing a lot more undercover work. And as bad as I hated it, as much as it scared me... gods, Diana – she was the best operative we had. She found out things... well, she's the reason the rebellion is winning, the reason the war will soon be over. Her determination to find Hans is the reason we were able to, and he was one of the few that understood and appreciated her mind first. Together they were able develop many of the weapons and advancements the rebellion has."

Silence. Then Diana broke it. " Then what?"

Jasmine sighed. " Then I died. Just after Annabelle turned seventeen, I was sent out on a mission based on intelligence she had gathered. I was killed, and Annabelle... Annabelle went a little crazy."

" Is that when she became the leader of the rebellion?" Diana asked, knowing what the partial records Paula had managed to cull had said, but curious about the truth.

Jasmine shook her head. " No. Paula's records – those she managed to find – were accurate. Annabelle took on the impossible missions. She went out and met with resistance groups, formed new cells and started a network between them and the rebellion in America. She really was the glue that brought and held everything together."

" Kind of like what she's doing for me now."

Jasmine nodded. " A little bit. What she did for the rebellion was business; what she's doing for you is completely personal. I have never seen her put anyone or anything ahead of the rebellion like she has you, Diana."

Diana blushed. " Then why am I still here, Aunt Jasmine? If she's holding on to me so tightly that I'm not dying, why am I still here?"

" I don't know, Princess. Close your eyes and focus. Maybe she's just waiting for you to decide to come back to her."

Diana nodded, then took Jasmine's hand in hers and squeezed it. " Thanks, Aunt Jasmine. Do we... may I ask for her hand? Can we have your blessing?"

Jasmine returned the squeeze and smiled into Diana's eyes. " Diana, you have always had my blessing. Just promise me that you'll protect her and love her with everything you are. She is fragile underneath that core of strength she's got and she has had those walls up for the better part of her life. She really doesn't remember what it is to look at life with the wonder and amazement of a child. You will need to be patient and teach her, but above all else, you will need to love her. Love is not something she's permitted herself in far too long. It is one reason she keeps pushing you away – one reason she asked for time. She has no idea what to do with all she feels for you."

" Loving her is easy, Aunt Jasmine. It is part of who I am, and who she is to me. The rest we will make up and learn together as we go. Thank you for giving birth to her, Jasmine, and for loving her. You gave up everything for her... so we could have another chance to be together. No wonder Chase is such an incredible woman – she had an incredible mother."

Jasmine leaned down and brushed a kiss over Diana's cheek. " Go to her. And kick Ares ass once for me, all right?"

Diana chuckled and nodded. Then she closed her eyes and focused her attention on Chase and the feelings of panic she could feel rising from her direction.

Chase growled when she couldn't find any first aid supplies in the backpack. She snatched up the communication device she and Hans had developed for emergencies and took a deep, calming breath to keep from screaming at Mitch.

" Mitch, this is Chase, over."

This is Mitch, boss. Go ahead, over."

" Mitch, I'm in... we're in the Fuehrer's room and she's been subdued. I need... I need a squad to take her into custody and... and I need the Amazon healer, Drea. I need her fast, Mitch. Hurry, over."

There were a million questions he wanted to ask, but he shoved them aside for the moment. He could feel the urgency in her controlled voice. He figured he'd get his answers soon enough. " Will do, Chase. The squad will be easy; the healer will take a little longer, but I'll find her, Chase. I'll see to it personally, over."

" Be quick, Mitch... and thanks. Out."

Orana stirred and Chase turned her head, then grabbed the lasso. Much as she hated to leave Diana's side, there was no way she wanted to be caught unaware again by the Amazon Fuehrer. Chase wasn't deliberately cruel, though she certainly wanted to be – given what both she and Diana had suffered at Orana's hands. However, she wasn't gentle in her treatment of Orana and she trussed her up like a calf, tying her hands and feet together with the lasso looped around her neck so that any movement by Orana to free herself resulted in her choking. At the moment, though, Orana was in pain too intense to allow her to struggle. Simply breathing was unbearable.

Chase left her where she lay, semi-naked and in agony. A thought occurred to her and she slid into place beside Diana. She took the belt of strength and looked at it a long moment, then apologized to Diana softly for any pain she might cause. Then Chase semi-wrestled the belt around Diana's slim waist, doing her utmost not to further damage Diana's burned and bleeding torso.

When that was done, Chase sat back on her heels and looked for something else she could do. She spotted the dryad knife sticking from the wall where Ares had thrown it and grabbed it, shoving into the backpack with the rest of the things Diana had brought. Then she went into the bathroom looking for something... anything... that might help.

Chase tore up the bathroom quickly, then realized as she looked at the lone bottle of aspirin in the medicine cabinet that she didn't know enough about Diana's immortal body or the damage an ancient god's power could do to be able to treat her without possibly inflicting further injury. Frustrated, she blew out an exasperated breath and grabbed a washcloth from a folded stack, wetting it before rushing back out to kneel beside Diana's prone body.

The silence and lack of distraction narrowed Chase's focus to the pain she was feeling for Diana. Without analyzing the need, she cradled Diana's head in her lap and started talking to her in soft, soothing tones while gently wiping her face while they waited for help to arrive.

" Diana? C'mon, baby. You can't die on me... not now. You promised me, remember? You promised me immortality; you promised me we couldn't die... that we would be together forever. You don't want me to have to come looking for you in the afterlife, Di. I promise you if I have to, I will make your afterlife completely miserable. I swear I will."

Chase took a deep, shuddering breath to keep from sobbing. She didn't need or want anyone to witness the privacy of her pain. " Don't make me go through this again, Diana. I won't survive the separation this time. Despite the fact that we are new to one another in this lifetime, Diana, my soul remembers. Regardless of my repeated denials to myself and my trying to keep some distance between us, there are parts of me that know and recall who and what we were to each other... before. Please don't leave me to that aloneness again."

Chase tenderly wiped Diana's face and neck, letting her fingers trace the features that were so familiar and yet that she was just coming to know. Diana was an admittedly beautiful woman and in spite of her disheveled state, Chase was honest enough to admit to the surge of animal attraction she felt for her. She smiled wryly.

" Ya know, I was attracted to you almost immediately; that was one of the things about you that scared me senseless, if I'm gonna be completely honest about it. I've never really been drawn to someone like I am to you. Not just the physical, though you are gorgeous," Chase said with a blush, " but your mind and your soul are equally appealing. Come back to me, Diana, and I promise not to push you away again."

At that moment, a mixed squad of Amazons and rebels entered the room and froze, taking in the scene with practiced eyes. Seeing Chase completely preoccupied with Diana, Ty immediately assumed command of the unit, directing their efforts. Some of the Amazons went to Orana, marveling at the binding Chase had contrived for her. They were much rougher in their handling of Orana than Chase had been. They removed the lasso and secured her in the forged shackles Aphrodite had given them. Then they took up positions to guard the woman until they were ready to move her out.

Another small group began constructing a travois to carry Diana wherever they were directed and hoping it would be soon. Some of the things they had seen in the Reichstag were more than a little disturbing, and they were anxious to remove themselves and the injured Princess from the vile evil they felt emanating from the place.

A third group assumed a perimeter around Chase and Diana, providing them with both protection and security. Ty was in this group and she dropped to one knee next to Chase, putting a hand on her arm and waiting until Chase dragged her eyes up to meet Ty's.

" Chase?"

" Ty, where's Drea?"

Ty shrugged. " I dunno, Chase. Mitch sent us over and we got here as quickly as we could. It's a mess outside. Not to worry," she added quickly, seeing immediate concern in Chase's eyes. " We have things under control. We ran into more pro-Nazi forces than we expected to, but they are being dealt with. According to the initial reports, quite a few battalions of foot soldiers are simply surrendering. Daylight will give us a better idea of where things stand, but for now, we seem to be ahead of where we expected to be at this point."

Chase nodded, but didn't respond otherwise, her attention focused on the still body in her lap.

" Do you have any orders, Chase?" Ty prompted. She hated to ask, but they still had work to do, and like it or not, Chase was the one in charge of it until and unless she removed herself from the responsibility.

" Yes. Put the soldiers who have surrendered under the command of the resistance leaders whose jurisdiction they are quartered in. They are *not* to be tortured or killed; they will need to be tried and sentenced accordingly once we have things under control. Anyone that fights back or tries to run away dies by their own choice – kill 'em all," said flatly with no emotion.

Ty's eyes widened, but she nodded her agreement. She hadn't expected such unemotional disassociation from Chase at their moment of triumph, but victory seemed to have lost its savor in light of what had happened to Diana. " I'll get the message to Mitch and Shep." She motioned to the woman cradled so carefully in Chase's arms. " How's she doing?"

Chase looked up at Ty briefly before returning her attention to Diana. " Still breathing, but I don't...."

Whatever else she had been about to say was interrupted by the arrival of Drea and Mitch. The healer made her way to Diana's side, stifling a cry when she saw the damage Ares had done to Diana's body. Immediately she dumped her bag of supplies out and began barking orders to those who were standing around as if waiting for instructions; they started doing her bidding as quickly as her directives were issued. Ty removed herself from the area and went to have a word with Mitch. The war was still raging around them, despite the calm at the center here, and they had things left to do.

" Don't worry, Chase. I'm not going to let my daughter die. She has too much left to look forward to in this life."

" I'm sorry, Drea. I never meant for something like this to happen."

Drea smiled, even as she winced at the wound that covered so much of Diana's upper body. Drea could only imagine the pain that was causing her. " I know you didn't, Chase, and Diana knows that as well. Putting the belt around her was genius – that will actually help her heal. It channels her immortal strength, something she wouldn't be able to tap into here otherwise."

" Will she be all right, Drea? Can you make her better?" The last was a plaintive whisper and it tugged at Drea's heartstrings. She smiled with all the confidence she could muster.

" She's survived this long by your combined wills; I don't think making her better will be a problem. You both want it too badly. We need to get out of here though. I want her moved to the triage unit we have set up until we are ready to go home. If you could manage to get the location of the invisible plane out of her," motioning to Orana, " that would help immensely. I'll explain it to you later," seeing Chase's uncomprehending look.

" I'll see what I can do for you. Can you... give us a minute?"

Drea nodded and rose. " Anya, let's get the litter ready. We're going to need to move Diana to the triage unit in the warehouse." She gestured the rest away from the couple to give them a little privacy.

" Diana," Chase leaned down and whispered into her hair, wrapping one arm around Diana's collarbone and running the other the length of her arm to clasp their hands together. " I've got to go out there and finish what we started, but I'll be back soon, I promise. We have unfinished business between us, so you damn well better straighten up and fly right. I expect you to be up giving orders by the time I get back, and I'm not gonna be gone very long, all right? I love you, Diana. Come back to me now."

Her eyes didn't open and her breathing didn't change, but Chase felt Diana's grip tighten briefly. She smiled into Diana's hair and brushed a kiss across the top of her head. " That's my girl," she whispered. Then she eased out from behind Diana's body and headed out to finish up the business they had started together.

Chapter XLIII

" Ty!"

" Chase? What are you doing out here? We've got this under control. You need to get back in there with your girl. We can handle this, honestly."

" I know you can, Ty. But I also know that the resistance needs to see me, even if it's only briefly. They expect it... I can't be hiding out taking care of someone they know nothing about. Leaders don't have private or personal lives, ya know."

Ty smirked. " Well, you never have before. Guess that means I'm gonna win that bet, huh?"

Chase ducked her head and spoke softly. " She touches my soul, Ty, like nothing or no one ever has... in this lifetime anyway."

Ty crinkled her forehead at Chase's wording, then shook her head and pushed on Chase's shoulder. " G'wan. Go do your leadership thing so you can get back to Diana. The rest of us can handle the details, all right? Let us do our part, too."

" Ty, if it was up to me, I'd let ya'll finish the whole damn thing without me and the hell with the consequences. But we have all fought too long and too hard to get here to lose because of my selfishness. Make sure Orana is moved to the torture room in the basement, and keep her guarded and manacled to the wall at all times. I'll be back shortly to take care of moving her for judgment."

Chase turned and walked off before Ty could formulate a reply. Ty watched her go, then started whistling, a somewhat incongruous sound given the gruesomeness of her surroundings. But even that ugliness couldn't dampen her spirits at seeing Chase complete. Then she headed back into the Reichstag to carry out Chase's orders.

Chase scampered around the square, dodging the random gunshots that still rang out across it, though there had been very little resistance to their coup so far. They had planned well; however, they all expected there to be at least one serious fight from the Nazis once they were able to organize something against the rebellion. It was Chase's job to try and insure that didn't happen.

She rounded the corner and realized she was in trouble almost immediately when she ran into a leather-clad chest. She backed up just enough to look into brown eyes that flamed with hatred before a hand covered her mouth and the world disappeared around her.

Ty jogged back into the Reichstag unimpeded by anyone or anything since Chase and Diana had secured the building. With a very few words on her part, the Amazons formed an honor guard for Diana while the rebels surrounded Orana to transport her down to the torture chamber. She exchanged a few words with Drea, then went with the rest of the rebels down to the basement. She was going to take responsibility for Orana personally until Chase arrived to take over. Orana was going to be the final piece of business the rebellion took care of before the resistance governments took their place in the new world order.

Meanwhile, the Amazons made their way unmolested to the triage unit Drea had set up in the warehouse area they had been quartered in. It was a little unnerving – almost as though the Nazis were chasing something else or had disappeared underground. But they didn't take time to consider the reasons for their easy passage; they were too happy to get Diana back under cover.

As soon as they arrived, the Amazons spread out, having already been given their instructions by Drea before they left the Reichstag. Soon, everything physically possible had been done for Diana's body and it was time to focus their spiritual energy on healing her as well.

Anya took her position at Diana's head and Drea stood at her heart. Mala took Diana's belly with the belt of strength and Nubia was located at her feet. The remainder of the Amazons, except for those assigned guard detail, filled the spaces in between the four placed strategically at Diana's power points.

First Drea, then Nubia, Anya and finally Mala placed their hands on Diana's body and the rest linked them together. Then they started channeling their immortal strength into Diana's body through the belt of strength. And before their eyes, Diana's immortal body began to heal from the damage Ares had done to it.

Though visible, it was a slow process and they faltered when Ty came rushing in frantically close to the end. It took them nearly another hour to finish, and by then, Ty was beyond frantic and the Amazons were exhausted. Diana's sleep had turned natural. She would need a good stretch of normal sleep, but when she awakened, she would be as good as new, and possibly better, given the fact that she was wearing the belt of strength.

The Amazons scattered throughout the warehouse to catch a few hours of sleep themselves and Drea moved to talk to Ty. When Ty explained the situation, Drea dropped her head into her hands. Ty tugged on her arms, trying to convey the sense of urgency she felt, until finally Drea sat her down and clarified the realities of the circumstances surrounding Diana's healing. They would move as soon as they were able, but there was nothing to be done until Diana woke from the final stages of the healing sleep she was currently in. Ty recognized the truth in Drea's words, knowing Chase would never forgive either of them if Diana was put in harm's way unnecessarily. Ty explained what the rebels were doing, and how Drea could contact her once the Amazons were able to move out.

Morning was just peeking over the horizon before Diana stirred. By that point, the Amazons had gotten a short few hours of rest and were already geared up and ready to return to the fight. Drea had shared Ty's emergency with them, and they desperately wanted to be out helping in the search and not here waiting for instructions from their princess. But they were loyal, well-trained troops, and so they waited.

Diana's blinked her eyes opened slowly to let them adjust to the streaks of daylight shining in the roof vents, fully expecting to see Chase's green gaze waiting for her when she woke up. Instead she immediately focused on the uptight, pensive looks of the Amazons surrounding her and shot up into a sitting position. She closed her eyes momentarily to allow her equilibrium to catch up to her body's motion, then she turned to sit on the edge of the pallet.

" Report!" The command was whispered, but the fierceness behind it was felt by every single one of them and every Amazon eye turned to Drea. The healer took a seat beside Diana and touched her forehead with the concern of a mother before taking Diana's hands in her own.

" How do you feel?"

" DREA!!"

" All right... what do you remember?" trying to gauge where she needed to start from.

" Orana and Ares...." Diana looked down at her chest. " He tried to kill me, but Chase wouldn't let me die. I talked to Aunt Jasmine, and Chase told me...." Diana looked around before letting her eyes and her voice drop. " Drea? Where is Chase? She promised to be right back. I heard her. And I know the damage he did to me had to take at least a little while to heal, even with...."

Diana blinked rapidly. " Where did the belt come from? Is Orana...?" Diana trailed off and rubbed a hand over her eyes and face. " Drea, please... report." Her voice was a mixture of confusion, frustration and defeat.

Drea blew out a breath. " All right – short version? You and Chase managed to defeat Orana and injure Ares. Then you were brought here for healing and Chase went out to assure the rebels about things." Drea swallowed. " She was supposed to go from the Reichstag to the control room; Mitch was going to broadcast her words to the rebellion. She never made it."

" What?!? What is being done??" Diana grasped Drea's arm so tightly, the healer had to bite the inside of her lip to keep from flinching. Drea eased Diana's grip from her arm and held her hand, rubbing her thumb lightly over Diana's knuckles.

" Shh, Little One. The rebels have been out all night searching. Unfortunately, they haven't found anything – not a trace."

" What are the Amazons doing?"

" Waiting for your orders, Princess." She held up a hand to stop Diana from exploding. " Breathe, Diana. We all needed rest once you were healed; it took a lot of energy to repair the damage Ares did. None of us has been up very long, and we decided to wait for you once we did."

Diana took a deep breath and nodded her head. " All right. Nubia," motioning her mother's advisor. " I want you to take the army and work with Ty... try to find any sort of clue what might have happened to Chase. Someone had to have taken her for a reason – odds are the Nazis have her somewhere and are looking to trade her for Orana. So we need to find out who took her and where they have her before they start making demands. We can't give them the upper hand; it has taken too long for the rebellion to get it back."

" By your will, Princess," Nubia nodded. She and the rest of the council had been very impressed with her leadership. She had made sure Chase was aware of the Amazons strengths, then had handed out assignments, trusting in their training to get the job done without her having to hawk over them every second. That's what had enabled them to defeat Orana.

" Diana, if Nubia is leading the Amazons in their search, what are you going to be doing?"

Slowly Diana stood to her feet. " I'm going to go talk to Orana, and then I'm going to find Chase."

" Diana, wait...." Drea stood up and held Diana's arms. " If you're doing that, why don't you simply lead the Amazons? Why are you going alone?"

" Because I'm not going as Princess Diana." She removed Drea's hand from her arm. " I am going as Wonder Woman."

Diana stood in front of the safe in the Fuehrer's room for a long moment before twirling the dial with long, tapered fingers. Thanks to Chase, Diana already had the belt of strength and the lasso of truth, even if Chase hadn't realized exactly who and what they represented at the time. She was simply aware that Orana never took it off because it made her invincible, having been told so by Orana herself during her time in captivity. Part of Diana was surprised Orana had kept the costume, but a bigger part of her knew that Orana considered this her greatest trophy. Hence her reasoning for keeping it protected in the safe.

Avoiding people to get to Orana in the torture chamber and then to her rooms had been simple enough. Practically everyone was out searching for Chase, and Diana was beyond ready to go do her part... especially since she now knew exactly where Chase was. She only hoped she had guessed right about Wonder Woman's abilities against a god, or this could turn out to be a very short, very ugly rescue.

She swung the door opened and held her breath. Everything she'd once earned, everything she needed to be Wonder Woman was here, and Diana removed each piece reverently, then donned them and covered the outfit with her civilian clothing. She needed to get out of the Reichstag as Diana Prince, just as she had arrived, so she tucked the tiara into her shirt and resettled the belt and lasso at her waist. Then she walked back out the door, headed for the temple to retrieve Chase.

" Well, well, well," Ares taunted. " Not all that tough now, are you, miss thing? You wanna explain to me how a bit of nothing like you has managed to destroy the best thing I had going in a very long time? Do you realize how long it will take me to rebuild anything like the Reich was? It will take months just to get Orana back into a position of power."

His tone was conversational enough, but the hatred that burned out of his eyes belied that tone. Chase didn't deign to answer him, refusing to give him the satisfaction, which only served to make him angrier. He backhanded her for the umpteenth time, watching dispassionately as another trickle of blood ran from yet another cut on her face caused by his hands.

They had been hours at this and Chase had yet to speak a word. In some ways it made Ares angry, but in others, he couldn't help but admire her fortitude.

Chase was shackled to a wall in the temple Orana had consecrated to him years before. It was at the edge of the city and off the beaten path. By the time the search parties got here, assuming they even found it, Ares and Chase would be long gone. He had only come here because he was still weak and suffering from the effects of the dryad blade. Only his need for revenge on Chase had prompted him to leave his sanctuary in his still weakened condition. He would take care of Diana and his sisters when he was stronger.

For now, though, he was content to torture her physically with his bare hands, taking a rest between blows to recuperate. He walked back over to his throne and collapsed into it, holding his belly.

" You know," he suddenly said conversationally, breaking the silence that had fallen over them like a pall. " I just realized something - I don't need Orana anymore. I was going to force them to trade her for you, though of course, you would have been dead by the time they actually got to you. But I really have neither the time nor the inclination to bother with all the effort it would take to make things work with her again." He chuckled at his own twisted sense of humor. " However, I think I can destroy you and the rebellion at the same time by using this little coup of yours to my advantage." Ares rubbed a hand over his beard. " Hades, I *know* I can. Sometimes, I am just sheer genius in action."

Chase maintained a bored, disinterested look on her beaten face, though fear gripped her heart and a sinking feeling formed in the pit of her stomach. She had the unhappy feeling she knew *exactly* what Ares was hinting at, and could only hope she was wrong.

" Just imagine how your friends will feel when they find out that you used them to become the next Fuehrer. Any sort of rebellion will be dead in the water. And the Nazis will think the slaughter tonight was just a purging to get rid of the dead weight in the government and it will be *easy* to bring the rest back in line because of it." Ares laughed. " I think you actually did me a huge favor."

When he got no reaction from her whatsoever – not even an attempted glare - he lifted a hand to heal her enough to make her cognizant, thinking he had done too much damage to her for her to appreciate the irony that was going on. And more than anything, he wanted her to appreciate the fact that he was going to defeat her with her own so-called victory. Lifting his hand from his belly, though, very quickly brought home the fact that he was still in quite a bit of pain himself, and he hissed as the wound stretched and bled sluggishly with his movement. His hand dropped back to cover his belly and he stepped back from Chase a pace.

" However, I'm going to go rest a recover for a little while," he said with a groan. " This damnable thing is not healing and I'm going to need all my strength to put this plan into action. You just...." He twirled his wrist at her a few times. " Hang around and think about things. I'll be back." His mocking laughter lasted longer than the sparkles that marked his disappearance did.

When she was sure he was gone, Chase let her shoulders drop, allowing her wrists to support her weight briefly. Her broken ribs were making it nearly impossible to breathe and she wheezed slowly through her busted lips as she tried to find a position that wasn't agony to be in. Every change in position made her lightheaded though, and clear thinking was becoming more impossible by the moment.

" Aww wight, Chase," she slurred out loud. " This is a helluva mess ya lann'd in an' no'ne's gonna bail yer ass ou'. I's all upta you so kick star' those few brain cells ya got lef' an' figger a way oudda here. Ya got yerself inta this so yer on yer own wid this 'un."

" I wouldn't bet the farm on that if I were you, Annabelle," came a familiar voice out of the darkness. Chase strained to see past her bloodied, swollen eyes, and when the figure stepped into the light, Chase couldn't do anything but blink before letting a silly grin cross her face.

" Hi, Di. Ya look diff'rn't. Wha's with the costume? Who ya s'posed to be? An' how'd ya fin' me, anyway?" She grimaced in pain as she shifted to see better.

" Annabelle, I need you to focus. My name is Wonder Woman, and I've come to get you out of here." She knew the use of Chase's first name and that of her own alter-ego would get Chase's attention quicker than almost anything else. And Diana didn't want Chase to inadvertently alert Ares to her presence – not yet anyway. She wanted Chase free from the shackles and ready to escape this dreary place before possibly having to encounter Ares here.

" Wunner Wom'n? Huh... ya look a lot like my frien' Diana. She's more'n my frien' though," Chase's voice dropped conspiratorially. " She's my soulmate," each word clearly and carefully enunciated.

Diana gently cupped Chase's broken face in her hands. " What does that mean to you, Chase? Is that important?" She knew it was unfair of her to ask Chase in her current condition, but Diana needed to know that Chase felt the truth in her heart and soul, not just understood it in her mind.

Chase's brow furrowed in concentration. With all the damage Ares had inflicted on her, thinking and rational thought was becoming more difficult; having someone who looked so much like Diana asking her questions about her relationship with Diana was even more confusing. But she forced herself to concentrate on giving Wonder Woman an answer.

" Very 'po'tent," she slurred. " Mos' po'tent thin' in m'life."

Diana smiled. " Most important thing in my life too, love," the last whispered under her breath. " Come on... I've got to get you out of here," breaking the shackles that held Chase and catching her in strong arms as Chase fell forward with a groan. Diana cradled Chase against her chest and just held her tightly for a long moment and Chase relaxed into the warmth.

" Wunner Wom'n? Where's D'ana? Is she okay?"

" Diana is just fine, Annabelle. I'll explain everything to you as soon as we get out of here, I promise, all right?" A sound from behind her made Diana tense and mutter an ancient curse under her breath. Then she turned to face the mocking smirk the god of war wore to hide his own pain and discomfort.

" Don't tell me you're leaving so soon, Princess. We haven't even had a chance to get acquainted yet. Surely you weren't going to leave without saying hello."

Diana eased Chase to the floor. Wonder Woman or not, there was a dark part in her soul that was looking forward to this. Ares was going to go down and it was only fitting that she was going to be the one to do it. Sometimes it rocked to be the Amazon warrior princess.

Chapter XLIV

" I'm flattered, Princess. I certainly didn't expect you to get all dressed up for me. Though in all honesty, I didn't expect you to get up at all," he said with a sadistic chuckle. Then he dropped into his throne chair with a grimace. " I must be losing my touch."

Diana didn't deign to answer, choosing instead to simply glare at him. He was the first one to look away.

" So why are you here? Surely you didn't come here expecting to walk off with my new Fuehrer. Chase and I have a new future to begin together. You certainly don't think I'm just gonna to let you come in and destroy that just because you put on a skimpy little costume, do you? Please, you could have at least donned the leather if you wanted to impress me."

" I'm not here to impress you, Ares. You're not worth that kind of effort. Now," stepping closer to him and putting her hands on her hips. " I'm going to pick Chase up, and we are going to walk out of here free and clear. And you're going to leave us and the rest of the rebellion alone."

This time Ares doubled over in laughter, stopping almost immediately and clutching his stomach in pain as agony rolled through his body in unaccustomed waves. " Damnation, that hurts! How is it that I am still suffering here even though I'm a god and you, immortality notwithstanding, seem to be fully recovered?"

" Karmic revenge?" Diana smirked.

" Don't push me, Amazon. I am still the god of war."

" And? I'm not still recovering from a god's blast and I'm not the one bleeding like a stuck pig from a dryad blade."

His reaction was fast, but it was also predictable. Diana's response was completely unexpected and left Ares gasping for breath. He lifted a hand and Diana didn't flinch. Diana didn't move, even when he let loose with a volley of fireballs, except to bring her wrists up in front of her chest. She deflected the barrage right back to Ares and he flinched beneath the repercussion of power that hit him on the return.

Diana watched dispassionately as Ares fell off his throne and hit the ground face down. He moaned a long moment before he went completely silent, and Diana nodded in satisfaction. Then she turned back to Chase who had closed her eyes. Diana's ire grew when she was reminded of the abuse Ares had perpetrated on Chase, but she put it aside temporarily. She was more concerned with getting Chase out of Ares' temple and back to Drea's healing skill. It wasn't like Ares was gong to be able to come after them any time soon.

Diana knelt down and slid her arms around Chase's body. When she stood up, Chase moaned and blinked her swollen, bloodshot eyes open. " Wunner Wom'n? W'ere we goin'?"

Diana smiled down at Chase. " We're going to find Drea to heal you, and then we're going to go home."

Chase struggled as much as her battered body would allow her to do, and Diana cradled her closer to keep them both from toppling over as she walked out of the dark sanctuary and into the sunlight of morning. Chase tried to beat on Diana's chest, but her injuries made it more of a tapping than anything else. But it was enough to get Diana's attention focused on Chase.

" We can' leave yet," Chase said , shaking her head slowly from side to side to emphasize her point. " We can' leave til D'ana is okay."

" Diana is fine, Chase. *I* am fine. Drea and the Amazons healed me."

Chase squinted, though it was hard to tell the difference as swollen as her face was. " D'ana? Yer Wunner Wom'n? Then h'come...? Why...?" She put her head down on Diana's shoulder. " My head hurts."

" I know it does, sweetheart. Let me get you to Drea and we'll talk about all this later, okay? I promise. I'll explain it all when you feel better."

" 'Kay... I'm gonna res' now." And she was out before Diana could formulate a reply. Just as well, Diana thought, since I have no idea what I'm going to say to her about this. Then she picked up her pace and moved into a jog, heading back into the city.

The rebel watch saw her before she got into the square and they sent up the alert. By the time Wonder Woman reached the square, every rebel and every Amazon that wasn't involved in clean-up and repair was waiting. Four Amazons met Wonder Woman with a litter and Diana tenderly, reluctantly placed Chase's body on it. Ty was at her side immediately and covered her mouth with one hand while the other clamped on to Wonder Woman's wrist.

" Who are you and what happened to her? Oh God, Chase!" She turned accusing eyes to Diana. " Did you do this to her?"

" NO!" Diana cried out in horror. " I would never... not to anyone – especially...." Diana swallowed the words she wanted to say. " I am called Wonder Woman and my job is to defend freedom and protect the innocent. Ares did this to her; the Amazons called me in to help with the search."

" You're an Amazon?"

" Yes, I am. And any of the Amazons here will vouch for my character. But first, do you think we could let Drea start her magic on Annabelle? I'd really rather she didn't have to suffer any longer than necessary. Ares was brutal."

Ty nodded and stepped aside to allow Drea to approach the pallet. Drea did a cursory examination and motioned for the Amazons to lift the travois. " I'm going to take her to the infirmary." Both Ty and Wonder Woman nodded.

" Do your best for her, Drea. I will be back to check on your progress shortly." Drea gave her a succinct nod that was also like a bow, then the Amazons moved off towards the infirmary at a double time jog.

" Where are you going, Wonder Woman?" Ty asked. There was a nagging familiarity about the woman, but Ty knew if she had ever encountered this particular Amazon before, she would have remembered.

" I am going to go talk to Orana. I have some questions and she has the answers."

Ty nodded. " I see. Think I'll come along. I have a couple questions myself."

Diana sighed. She had been afraid of something like this. Orana would expose her and she didn't want that. If she was going to stay in man's world with Chase, she couldn't afford to lose the secret identity of her alter ego. It had been simple when she had snuck into the dungeon in the early part of the morning. It had just been her and Orana, and her only objective then had been to find Chase's location. Having Ty along now would only complicate matters immensely.

However, there wasn't a good way to put her off, at least not out here in the open, so Wonder Woman nodded her head, and Ty gave a signal to the rebels to return to their work. Then together she and Ty began to make their way into the Reichstag and down to what had once been Orana's torture chamber and was now her prison.

They walked downstairs together and once they were out of sight of the first set of guards and before they got to the next set, Diana slid the lasso off her belt and wrapped it around Ty's torso. " Ty, when we get to the door, I want you to wait outside for me. You can say that you accompanied me downstairs for Chase, all right? But I need to see Orana alone."

" All right."

" And as far as you're concerned, all your questions got answers... at least for the time being." Ty nodded and Diana removed the lasso from Ty's body, coiling it and reattaching it to her waist before Ty came back to her surroundings with a start.

" Sorry, Wonder Woman... what was I saying?"

" You were just bringing me up-to-date on the progress that has been made here." They stopped in front of the dungeon door before Diana could continue. Ty nodded at the guards.

" Let her pass. She needs to speak to the prisoner." Both guards snapped to attention. " I'll wait here for you, Wonder Woman."

" Thank you, Ty," Diana responded, before she opened the door and crossed once more into the room that had haunted her nightmares for more than a hundred years.

Orana lifted her head and sneered when she saw who her visitor was. " Diiiiannnnnna," she drawled in a screeching tone that scraped raw every nerve Diana had left. " So good of you to come visit me in my loneliness. Still pretending to be a hero, huh?" jutting her chin out in Diana's direction. " Too bad you had to *take* it from me instead of earning it for yourself. Although," Orana chuckled hatefully, " I guess I took it from you first, didn't I? I never cared about being a hero, though. I just wanted to get away from you and your oppressive mother, and being able to steal Wonder Woman right out from under you just made my victory that much sweeter."

Diana bit her lips until they bled. She wanted to beat the shit out of the woman who hung before her manacled like the animal she was, but it was neither the time nor the place for her to exact that kind of revenge. Instead, she decided to get some answers she needed – some for her own personal closure and some just because.

She took the lasso of truth from her belt and for the first time Diana saw fear in Orana's eyes and she wondered. Orana had been brutal in her adherence to the truth, even when she had disregarded every other principle she had been taught to revere and respect. So why was the woman who had given up her Amazon heritage to become a ruler in man's world suddenly so afraid of the truth?

Orana pushed back into the wall as though by doing so she could keep Diana from using the lasso. " No, no, no... you can't do this to me again. I have rights you know, Diana. You can't just come waltzing in here and take the answers you want from me. You can't use the lasso against me." Diana ignored Oranas' ramblings and looped the lasso over Orana's head. Then her ramblings turned to screams of outrage. Fortunately, Orana had built her torture chamber well and the walls were soundproof. And Diana and Chase had put the cameras out of commission when they had destroyed the lab, taking perverse pleasure in the destruction.

Diana held the lasso firm, letting Orana scream and squirm until she wore herself out. It didn't take very long actually – the poison was still saturating her system and causing untold pain and damage to her body and internal systems... including her mind. Finally, Orana's head dropped to her chest in defeat.

" What do you want to know, Diana? Isn't it enough that you won? There – I said it... you won. You beat me. Are you happy now or do you have to rub it in? You never seemed the vindictive type," Orana taunted, " though I suppose a century of anger and hatred could change a person."

That statement was a little too close to the truth and Diana clamped her lips together briefly to keep from lashing out. Then she spoke in a calm voice.

" Why, Orana?"

" Why what, love? Come on, Diana. You've got to be more specific than that if you really expect me to give you an answer."

It hadn't been the question Diana had intended to ask first, but since she had.... " Why did you really want to be Wonder Woman? Why did you give up your birthright... your heritage... to become the Fuehrer in man's world? Why do you hate me so much? I thought you were my friend."

Orana leaned her head back as if in contemplation, because these were the questions she didn't really want to answer. But the lasso compelled her to tell the truth and the desire to speak burned in her soul until the words just poured from her.

" I wanted to be Wonder Woman because you wanted it so badly. I *knew* it was you under that mask, just like I knew you wouldn't be able to stay away from those games. Competition is too much a part of your make up, and your entire future was at stake. I wanted to mess that up."

Diana expected as much, but it didn't make it any easier to hear. She waited for Orana to continue. Orana waited for a reaction from Diana, but it never came. Finally she gave a disgusted sigh and resumed speaking.

" As for the birthright... the heritage... what birthright? Being an immortal? I'm an immortal here in man's world, and here, I don't live by someone else's ridiculous, archaic rules. I make the rules here; *I* am the boss. As for being an Amazon – what exactly did that get me? I was never quite the best once you came along. It was always 'Diana this' and 'Diana that'; I was always in second place – me... the one who taught you everything you knew! I made you who you were and what did I get from you in return? Nothing... that's what!!!"

" Here, I was *never* second best! I kicked ass and took names and then I took over the world. I got everything." Orana took a deep breath and gave Diana a sick smile. " I'll tell you a secret," dropping her voice to a whisper, forcing Diana to take a step closer. " I knew who Annabelle Chaser was when she was captured. I knew she was the soulmate you had been waiting for."

Diana's hand clenched on the lasso and the muscles clenched in her jaw. But Orana had leaned in even closer... as far as her shackles would allow, and Diana knew Orana wasn't finished speaking.

" She was important to me as the leader of the rebellion, but she was of immeasurable value to me once I knew who she was supposed to be to you."

" You KNEW?" The whisper was ground out between her clenched teeth.

" Oh yes, my dear... DEAR Diana. I knew. I had done my homework. I figured there had to be a reason you were so drawn to Steve Trevor that you were willing to risk Hippolyta's wrath, so I started looking. Imagine my surprise when I found out there was actually something to that whole soulmates theory you had always played into. So I had people looking for her." Orana grit her teeth together. " I was going to destroy her."

" Oh," she continued without missing a beat, " I knew that killing her would have made her a martyr to the rebellion, but it would have been worth it just to know I had succeeded in keeping the two of you apart. I was going to make her suffer, and then she was going to die. But she got away from me before I could finish."

Diana reacted from her heart before her mind had a chance to engage itself. She transferred the lasso to her left hand and pulled back hard and fast with her right. Then she cut across Orana's face, catching her in the jaw and feeling the bones shatter beneath her fist. The second hit went to Orana's belly and the third brought a crunching sound from the ribs Diana broke. Then she took a deep breath, and two steps back, never losing her hold on the lasso. There was a sense of dark satisfaction on Diana's face as she looked at the damage she had done and could see the pain in Orana's broken face.

" Why? Why do you hate me so much, Orana? I never did anything to you, except look up to you and respect you."

" Exactly!" Orana hissed.

Diana frowned. " What do you mean?" her brow furrowing. " How could respect make you hate me?" Her question was met with silence and Diana tightened the lasso painfully until it bit into Orana's skin. " I want an answer."

Orana rolled her eyes and took a shallow breath to respond, having already learned the hard way that deep breaths were out of the question. " Gods, Diana... are you really that stupid or just that naïve?? I wasn't about to let you have something I couldn't... especially since you never wanted what was right there in front of you."

A look of disgust crossed Diana's face, but Orana didn't see it. She had closed her eyes and was lost in her own little fantasy world.

" It would have been so perfect, Diana - you as the princess and heir apparent with me as your consort. I would have done anything for you... anything to be with you." Her brown eyes popped back open and they were filled with the venom of hatred. " But I wasn't good enough, was I? No – you didn't want me... you didn't want *anyone* that way. You had expectations of finding your soulmate. Why should you get to have a soulmate? None of the rest of us did!! What made you so goddamn special?!?"

Orana forgot her pain in the heat of her anger and took a deep breath, spittle and blood flying from her mouth as she continued to rant. " So I decided I was going to take away everything from you – your good name, the respect people had for you, your chance to be Wonder Woman, even your goddamn supposed soulmate if I could manage it – whatever it took to make you realized you were no more special than the rest of us. To make you see me!!! To make you love me!!!"

Diana's face hardened. " When I leave this room, you will no longer remember that the Amazon princess, the woman who goes by the name of Diana Prince, is actually Wonder Woman." Then she pulled the lasso from Orana's torso and carefully coiled it up, keeping her back turned to Orana until the task was completed. When she turned, her face was set into hardened lines and her eyes were chips of ice so cold, Orana couldn't control the shiver she had in reaction.

Diana walked right into Orana's space, so close that the ex-Fuehrer could feel the heat emanating from Wonder Woman's body, but not quite touching, then she leaned in until their faces were only a hairsbreadth apart.

" Not even if we were the only two people alive on the whole planet," Diana said succinctly.

Diana stepped back from Orana with a grim expression on her face and walked to the door. She reached out for the handle, then hesitated before opening it. " Where's the plane?"

Orana blinked. That certainly hadn't been the segue she'd been expecting and it took her by surprise – enough that she blurted out the answer. " At the temple... in the back area behind it." Then a sneer formed on her face. " Not like it matters – that plane will only answer to me."

Diana looked over her shoulder with a smirk. " Apparently not, or you would have summoned it already." She opened the door when Orana's voice stopped her one more time.

" What's to be done with me?"

" You will stand trial, and if I have my way, you will walk the gauntlet as a mortal being. I figure there are enough Amazons and rebels eager to have a shot at you that you will be dead long before you get close to the end."

" Do you get to take another shot, or do the three you already gave me count for something?"

" I will not hit you again. My contribution to your punishment will not be physical." Then she crossed the threshold and closed the door firmly behind her, leaving Orana alone with her thoughts and the implications of Diana's words.

Chapter XLV

" So, we've had a few more casualties than we expected, but we have also managed to capture or kill a majority of the Nazis – far more than we expected by this point in the engagement. A huge contingent of their regular army simply surrendered. We're waiting for Chase to decide what to do with them. The officers will be tried and sentenced for their war crimes, but we didn't make a provision for their army to simply... give up."

" And Annabelle has to decide?" Wonder Woman and Ty were walking slowly back towards the warehouse that now served as the hospice for the rebels who had been injured during the offensive. There hadn't been many, but it had been more than enough and the medics and Drea had had their hands full. For now the area around the Reichstag was secure and the focus was on settling the rest of the empire as quickly as possible so they could get the provisional governments in place, although Ty had the distinct feeling Chase was going to have been much more accurate in her estimate of how long it would take than the rest of the team had been. She hoped not, though. She wanted to go home and start having a real life.

" Well, yeah," Ty shrugged as she answered Wonder Woman's question. " Whether she likes to admit it or not, Chase is the defacto leader now – not just of the rebellion, but of, essentially, the world. The rebellion and the resistance all take orders from her."

Diana blinked at the enormity of what Ty has just said, but otherwise neither her face nor her voice gave any hint of what she was thinking. " How does she feel about it?"

Ty shrugged again and shook her head. " You'd have to ask her to be certain, but I don't think it was ever her life's goal... to be a world leader, I mean. She was always pretty set on destroying the Nazis." She paused a beat before she turned the focus of the conversation to Wonder Woman. " So, who are you really, and how did the Amazons come to claim you?"

Diana smiled wryly. She understood Ty's curiosity, but it didn't make it any easier to answer her questions honestly. " I really am Wonder Woman, and I have been the Amazon champion for a long time. We came as soon as we knew of the troubles humanity was facing in man's world. I am glad we were able to make a contribution towards helping."

There was a feeling of finality in Diana's tone and Ty bit back the questions she wanted to ask. Despite Wonder Woman's apparent friendliness, Ty got the distinct impression pushing her would not go over well. And the Amazons were great allies.

Fortunately, they were interrupted by one of the lesser commanders, and Ty stopped to take care of the problem while Wonder Woman continued on her way to the hospice. She never saw the startled expression on Ty's face or the speed with which the rebels started moving. Diana was focused on getting to Chase.

When she crossed the threshold, heads turned and the Amazons present gave her the barest nods of respect, but otherwise, life continued as normal in the infirmary. Only Drea moved from the notes she was recording on the files that littered the makeshift desk and rose to greet her.

Diana stopped briefly to talk with each of her Amazon sisters that had been wounded in battle before she continued her journey to Drea. When she reached the healer's side, Drea took her arm and led her to a cordoned off area. Here, hidden by the improvised curtains they had hung to give her privacy, Chase lay in solitary splendor with two Amazon guards outside the curtain to insure her privacy. Her green eyes were nearly swollen shut from the beating Ares had given her and she was bandaged more places than not from the cuts and broken bones he'd inflicted as well. Diana turned to Drea and lifted her eyebrow in mute question.

Drea sighed and spoke softly so the others around them would not hear. " She took quite a beating, but she is healing well. It's going to take a few days, though. Immortal or not, she is not Wonder Woman and doesn't have the belt of strength for us to channel healing energy into her."

Without hesitation, Diana reached for the belt that she wore around her waist, only to be stopped by Drea's hands. She shook her head wordlessly and Diana returned the look with a venomous stare of her own. Drea kept a grip on her, but shifted it to merely holding Diana's hand. Diana returned her attention to Chase's severely beaten face.

" Why, Drea? She needs my help!"

" As do so many others here," motioning around the room beyond the curtain. " Diana," saying her name so low even the princess nearly missed it, " you want to keep your alter ego of Diana Prince a secret from the world, correct? So you can remain here with Chase in man's world and still be a contributing part of is as both Wonder Woman and Diana Prince, right?"

" Of course, but...."

" No buts, Di... Wonder Woman. Aside from the fact that if you heal her you would need to heal the rest, you have somehow managed to completely disorient Chase about who and what you are. And until you clear things up with her in that regard, you can't risk going against her wishes... whatever they are. Besides, you can't heal the rest for several reasons. The Amazons don't have that kind of strength for one thing, and none of the rest of these people are immortal. The belt will only heal an immortal – I'm not sure Chase is ready to share that with the world."

Diana's shoulders dropped. " It hurts me to see her like this, Drea."

" I know, Little One. Do you know how to hide your identity? No, wait... your mother never showed you that, did she?" Drea muttered, coloring slightly for her slip. " Sorry."

Diana shrugged. Somehow, standing as Wonder Woman in the costume she had earned those long years ago made the pain and anger she had felt since then recede. Having finally found Chase and knowing how Chase really felt was what gave her happiness. " S'all right."

Drea looked at Diana, seeing she really didn't mind, then she realized where her eyes were focused. She put her fingertips on Wonder Woman's chin and brought Diana's attention back to her. Drea couldn't stop the grin that crossed her face or the widening of it as a blush traveled up Diana's face. " You've got it bad, huh? It's good to see. Now," clearing her throat and keeping her voice at a whisper, " let me show you how to make Wonder Woman become Diana Prince."

The whispering was too low for Chase to understand the words, but it was loud enough to make her curious. It made her want to open her eyes, but she found it took a lot more effort than she expected it to. When she finally managed to open them a slit, she had to blink in disbelief and the pain of that caused tears to run down her face. When she opened them a second time, everything was blurry and she closed them with a moan.

It was the moan that caught Drea's and Diana's attention.

Drea squeezed Diana's hand and gestured her towards the bed before she slipped out of the curtains, moving the Amazons away from them just enough for Diana and Chase to be able to talk without being overheard.

Diana, now sans her Wonder Woman costume, walked to the bed and took a seat on the edge. She let one hand cover Chase's while smoothly moving blonde bangs off her forehead before letting that hand cup Chase's cheek.

" How do you feel, Chase? You took quite a beating."

" Ow."

Diana smiled gently. " Yeah... is there anything I can...?"

Chase shook her head, only just moving it. " D'ana, m'confused."

Diana let her hand move from Chase's face and through her soft hair. It came to rest on Chase's neck and she gently kneaded the muscles there. " About what, Chase?"

" You... and Wunner W'man."

Diana nodded and sighed. " Yeah, about that...." Chase didn't move, but it looked for all the world like she crooked her head in question. Diana blew out a breath of frustration. " I'm sorry, Chase. It's my fault you're confused now, and it's probably making your head hurt worse than it should be."

" Hmm?"

" I'm not helping make this any clearer am I? All right... let me just start from the beginning. Then you can ask questions if you have any, okay?"

" 'Kay."

" Okay," Diana said again, standing up and pacing the room with her hands to her lips for a long moment before taking a breath to begin speaking. " First, I need to show you something." She twirled slowly clockwise and Chase could literally see her clothes dissolve, leaving her clad only in the costume that made her Wonder Woman. Then she spun again, this time counterclockwise and Chase watched her civilian clothing reappear and Diana Prince standing in front of her once more. Then Diana reached for the buttons of her shirt, and Chase blushed a furious red as Diana disrobed in front of her. Once her mind kicked into gear though, she realized what Diana was showing her and she sat up just a little before understanding what a really bad idea that was.

Diana moved back to the bed and help Chase ease her body back down to the bed, and Chase reached out a hand and brushed it against bare skin, watching in fascination as the skin and muscle rippled under her light touch. She brought her eyes up to meet Diana's, startled by the raw passion and lust she saw burning there behind the love that never wavered.

" S'rry," Chase mumbled through still busted lips and bruised jaws. She started to pull away and found her hand caught by Diana's in a firm grip.

" Don't be sorry for that, Chase. Never be sorry for that."

" 'Kay," chase agreed quietly. " How?" gesturing with her fingers to Diana's exposed skin and bra. The Wonder Woman costume was no where in sight.

Diana shrugged. " Mind over matter. It is there when I need it. Since the title was originally supposed to be mine, it is merely a matter of making it become a natural part of who I am. Now that I have claimed it... started making it a part of me... I only need to imagine it and it becomes real. It will take a little practice and Drea said that actually I need to spin with more force for it to work the way it is supposed to, but eventually it will be second nature for me. I am better protected this way. No one will know that Diana Prince is really Wonder Woman."

" Why? Why'dja lie t'me?"

" I didn't, Chase... not really. Amazon Princess Diana, Diana Prince and Wonder Woman are all the same person. They're all me. But no one but us can know about it. If I'm going to be able to stay here with you and have any sort of normal life and still be able to help people like we do, then no one else can know." She read the question before Chase could even open her mouth to speak. " The Amazons are sworn to secrecy, Chase, on penalty of death. And they will all be returning to Paradise Island as soon as we are done here. That is their home, after all."

" Bu' why me?"

" Two reasons – one, you have to get used to referring to me as Wonder Woman when I am functioning in that capacity. And two, it seemed like the quickest way to get your attention and make you focus on me so we could get out of there safely without catching Ares' attention. Futile as it turned out, but...." Diana shrugged her shoulders and waited for the question she knew was coming... the one she felt guilt for.

" Didja plan it... t'fin' ou' ho' I really felt 'boutcha?"

" NO!" Diana shook her head vehemently. Then the shaking stopped and her eyes dropped to their still joined hands, not noticing her unbuttoned shirt as her attention was focused on what was going on between them. " No," she said in a much softer tone. " The two reasons I gave you are the truth. I wouldn't for the world have ever had something like this happen to you, Chase... not for any reason. I did take advantage of the circumstances, though, once you started talking to me as Wonder Woman about me as Diana, and for that I apologize. It was completely wrong of me to do that."

Chase didn't want to let Diana's hand go for fear of sending the wrong message, but she did want to see Diana's eyes and with one arm bound and in a sling it didn't leave her much choice. " D'ana, loo' a'me. You owe me tha' mush."

Diana did look up slowly until their eyes met. There was no condemnation in Chase's glance... only confusion, and she managed to hold her eyes steady on the green that had captivated her from the first. Chase tried to smile and discovered that was a bad idea as well. Instead, she conveyed her reassurance through her gaze and the strength of her hand hold.

" Why? You din' trus' me?" the hurt clear in her voice.

" No, love, not you," unconsciously seeking to reassure. " I didn't trust me," her voice so quiet Chase was straining to read her lips. " You have to admit my track record hasn't been that great where we're concerned. But when you told me that I was your soulmate... something snapped in my brain. I needed to know you were sure so I didn't mess things up again. This is too important to both of us for me to rush in... and I really want this to work. I mean... if you do," dropping her eyes again.

She really didn't feel up to this, but since they had started.... Chase tugged on Diana's hand, finally jerking hard enough to pull Diana off balance. Diana squawked and threw an arm out to keep from collapsing on top of Chase's body, tempting as that thought was. She looked at Chase with a mixture of angry frustration and confusion.

Chase tugged again, not as hard this time but hard enough that Diana got the message. " Chase, are you sure?" laying down tentatively and wrapping herself reverently around Chase's body. Chase threaded their fingers together.

" I'm sure, an' I do," she mumbled. " I knew'n m'heart, bu' seein' you hurd made i' real fo' me. I don' h've to be 'fraid or preten' indiff'rence."

Diana brushed a kiss across Chase's forehead. " Not this time, love. You only have to believe in us."

Chase didn't answer and when Diana looked down at her face, she smiled at the expression of happy contentment she could see in spite of the damage Ares had done to her. Then she leaned her head against Chase's and closed her eyes to join her in sleep. They never heard the commotion that erupted around them until it was brought directly to them, and by then, something fundamental had changed for them again.

Ty skidded into the hospice and almost immediately ran into Drea. " Ty! What's the matter?? You can't be running through here like that; we have injured that are trying to rest and recuperate!"

Ty bent over at the waist and tried to catch her breath. She been running since she'd separated from Wonder Woman nearly an hour before. " I know, Drea," she wheezed. " Where's... where's Chase?"

Drea put a restraining hand on Ty's arm. She'd looked in on them only moments before and what she'd seen had heartened her soul. " Diana's with her, Ty. They're resting. What's wrong? Come... let me get you something to drink. You look like you're about to collapse."

" No time," Ty replied, shaking her head but allowing Drea to lead her to a chair.

" We'll make the time then. You're exhausted, and we cannot afford to lose another leader right now. You've got to remain strong and take care of yourself until Chase is ready to resume command of the operation. Now, drink this."

Ty accepted the proffered glass and down about half its contents in a single draught. " Thanks, Drea. I feel better already." She shook her head again. " I don't know how Chase has stood this all these years. She makes it look so easy, but if she doesn't get up and take charge soon, I'm gonna pull my hair out. And I don't think that is gonna help me in the looks department that much."

Drea laughed softly. " Well, you haven't lost your sense of humor yet. That, at least, is a good sign."

" What sense of humor?" Ty muttered. " I was being serious. Being in charge sucks."

Drea nodded. " Sometimes it does, yes. But I'm sure that wasn't the emergency that sent you rushing in here like your feet were on fire."

" No, you're right," Ty said heavily, draining the cup. " The Nazis are mounting an offensive. Several of their best, key battalions were not in the city when we captured it yesterday, and unlike a majority of the army, they have decided to fight."

" Where are they now... how far away from the capital?"

" Reports put them about half a day away at their top speed. They should be here by dark."

Drea nodded. " All right... I'll make a deal with you. You go back out there and take charge – make whatever arrangements you need to make to get things ready for a fight and in return, I'll take care of getting everyone moved out of here to whatever location you choose. Well, everyone but Chase and Diana. Then about an hour before sunset, or when you think the enemy is about an hour away, we'll wake them. Hopefully by then, Chase will have had enough rest to have healed somewhat."

A frown crossed Ty, face. She had seen the injuries Ares had inflicted on Chase. There was no way she was going to be healed from that in just a few short hours. Drea sighed and stood from the hard chair she had been sitting on.

" Come... let me show you something."

Ty rose obligingly and followed Drea to the cordoned off area where Chase and Diana lay hidden from prying eyes. The healer pulled Ty in front of her and simply pointed. Ty gasped and blinked as she saw something, despite what she hoped... despite what she *knew*... she never quite thought she would. But the picture they made together brought a smile to her face. Then she frowned in confusion and took Drea by the arm, leading her back to the desk where they could talk privately without being overheard.

" What did you do to her?? She is healing much faster than is natural. Does this have something to do with her being an Amazon like you and Diana??"

Drea smiled sadly. " It has everything to do with it."

" Good!" Ty exclaimed emphatically. " It's about time she got something good out of being an Amazon. And way past damn time she found someone to share her life with. Thanks, Drea. If you want to start moving the wounded over to the Reichstag.... It really is a fortress and the easiest place for us to defend. I'll be out working on troop placement, so if you could send any able bodies you can spare, I'd appreciate it."

Then she was gone before Drea could formulate a response. So instead, she started calling out orders of her own, hoping this wouldn't take too long or do much damage to the rebel troops. Already she counted many of them as friends, even in the very short time they had been in man's world, and she didn't wish any of them harm. But she had a bad feeling that this was going to be ugly.

Chapter XLVI

The earth shook and the windows rattled and the sounds of tank and artillery fire shattered what had been peaceful contentment up to that point. Chase blinked her eyes open, drawing in a breath of a familiar scent and closing her eyes again... before her mind caught up with the rest of her. She would have jerked upright if not for the arms that tightened around her and held her in place.

" Shh," Diana crooned. " It's okay, Chase. Take your time. You don't need to be moving around like that until we're sure you've healed a bit. Besides... you belong here."

Those words, more than the rest, calmed Chase and Diana felt her relax within the circle of her arms.

" All right... first things first." Another blast and another shuddering of the building from the repercussion. Diana brushed her lips over Chase's forehead. " Good... no fever. How do you feel otherwise?"

Chase thought about it. " Tired," she said honestly. " Really sore," lifting a hand up to touch her not-so-swollen face. " Ribs are still painful and my arm is... hmm.... Though at least my jaw doesn't feel broken anymore, and my lips have stopped bleeding. Nice not to slur like a drunk when I talk. "

The surface under her bobbed with movement when Diana laughed silently and Chase was reminded just exactly where she was lying... again. Then she wondered how she ended up half on top of Diana; she was certain that was not how they started out.

" Do you feel like you can walk?" The somewhat distant whistling of another mortar shell being lobbed towards the city. " Because we really do need to start making tracks for the bunker soon. Ty has already been by here three times."

Chase started to ease up, but Diana kept her arms around Chase, so they sat up slowly together. " Any dizziness?" Chase shook her head slowly, not wanting to risk it happening through her carelessness. " Okay... let me slide out of the bed before you stand up, all right?"

" All right," Chase whispered. Having Diana wrapped around her was doing all kinds of interesting things to her senses and she didn't have time to analyze or enjoy them at the moment. Diana slipped from behind her and perfunctorily straightened her sleep rumpled clothing before turning to offer her hands to Chase.

Chase stood slowly on slightly unsteady legs, then she took a breath and winced before she released Diana's hands. " Doing okay?"

" Yeah, mostly." Chase met Diana's eyes. " Something else we're gonna have to talk about later." Two explosions, one right after the other and much closer than any of the previous rounds, blew the windows out of the warehouse and knocked Diana and Chase to the floor. " Um... do I have some clothes here? 'Cause I sure don't wanna have to run out of here with my ass hanging out."

" Yeah... yeah. Ty brought your stuff by," handing Chase a backpack and scooting away from her without ever meeting her eyes. " I'll just...." motioning to the far corner of the curtain, " ... be over here with my back turned buttoning my shirt," having just realized her own undressed state.

Diana was so shy and cute about giving her some privacy, Chase was amused. Then she realized even as much healing as she had done in a few short hours, the broken bones she had received at Ares' hands were still broken. She was going to need help getting dressed.

" Um... Diana? I, uh... <ahem> I need... I need a little help."

" What? Oh, yeah... I, uh... I guess you would. Um... what would you like me to do?" Diana stood up from where she had been sitting and turned to face Chase who was still on the floor. " Oh, gods, Chase. I'm so sorry. I should have realized...." extending her hand down to Chase, then realizing it would be better if she picked Chase up. " Wait."

She spun slowly and became Wonder Woman again, then knelt and lifted Chase into her arms and gently placed her on the bed. Then she twirled back into Diana Prince and picked up the backpack. " That's a pretty cool trick," Chase said with a smile. " Can you help me get this gown off and get a shirt on, please? I don't think I can manage."

" Yeah, sure. Can you stand up again? I should have thought of that."

Chase slid from the pallet and turned her back to Diana, her skin tingling where Diana's fingers trailed when she untied and pushed the gown to the floor. Then Diana dug into the backpack and pulled out the clean shirt Chase had brought with her, easing it gently up Chase's broken arm and trying to control the tremors in her hands and ignoring the fact that Chase was naked from the waist up.

The ribs made getting the other sleeve on difficult at best, but finally the shirt was on and Diana left Chase to button it up on her own while she turned her back to Chase to try to regain a little equilibrium. Diana turned her focus on the backpack and pulled the trousers from it. Then she took a deep breath and turned back to Chase, handing them over her shoulder.

Chase took them and shook them out, then bent over to put them on... and froze. " Ow."

" Chase!" Embarrassment forgotten, Diana moved immediately to stand in front of her. " Chase, put your hands on my shoulders," bending to accept Chase's hands. " Now, I am going to straighten up slowly, all right? Then you can sit down on the bed and I'll help you get your pants on." Another bomb dropped, this one even closer and bits of the ceiling fell on them as they tried to protect one another.

" C'mon, Diana... we gotta get outta here before this whole damn place falls." Diana reached down and eased the trousers over Chase's feet, sliding them quickly up the muscular legs. Running footsteps didn't deter them and Diana was bent over with her head at Chase's waist pulling the trousers over Chase's hips when Ty rushed in the door.

" Oh-whoa... my goodness!" Ty blinked and blushed and skidded to a stop all in one movement. " Well, I'm glad you're dressed... mostly. How ya feeling? You up to moving?" A tremor shook the building and Diana casually finished fastening Chase's trousers then quickly slid socks and boots onto Chase's feet before giving her leg a little pat. Ty picked up the backpack.

" Not much choice. Let's move," Chase said, walking slowly and stiffly, but unaided. She figured she'd need every step to wherever Ty was leading them to work the stiffness from her joints. Then she noticed the slump of Diana's shoulders. " Thank you," she whispered, tucking her hand in the crook of Diana's elbow before she turned back to Ty. " Report!"

" The Nazis have mounted a counteroffensive. So far it has been less than successful, but they have managed a few lucky shots. They are really just coming into range for them."

" And for us? What's our status?"

" The wounded have been moved to a secure bunker inside the Reichstag and I doubled the guards around the ex-Fuehrer. The resistance has brought up the caches of weapons they have been stockpiling and they've provided serious reinforcement in personnel. They have been placed in two lines across the front perimeter and we're waiting your orders."

" How far out are the Nazis?" They stepped from the warehouse and Ty could feel the silent cheers from the rebels scattered throughout the city as they saw Chase walking on her own. A number of them had seen Chase being carried in that morning and rumors had abounded about her condition. To see her up and about so quickly gave them all an added confidence in themselves and each other. Even with the victories they had already won, there was something about Chase that just inspired them to even greater heights.

In answer, Ty handed Chase a pair of binoculars, easily allowing her to bring the formidable line of tanks headed towards them at a snail's pace into up close and personal focus. " All right... this is what we're gonna do...."

Chase released Diana's arm and took her hand instead, slowly walking together towards the Reichstag even as she stared issuing orders for the rebels' next offensive.

Immediately the courtyard became a flurry of activity as the tanks, artillery and troops prepared to go out and meet the Nazis head on. The only thing Chase didn't know was of Mitch's plan to record it all for posterity. That decision would be costly.

Darkness was falling across the land and night was coming on rapidly, a fact that Chase planned on taking full advantage of. Because though her troops were enthusiastic and riding a high over their first victory, they were also untested in this kind of battle. Hit and run was their forte and this promised to be something much different, so she was going to use every advantage she had at her disposal. And this included fighting in the dark.

On the plus side, the Nazi troops had grown complacent, and were as untested as her soldiers were. She could only hope their leadership was as conceited as their Fuehrer was, because that was a weakness she could exploit. Besides, she still had the vicious little surprise she'd had prepared for any resistance that popped up; it would be up to them whether or not it got used.

Diana watched in fascination as Chase directed her troops with negligent skill while never losing contact with Diana at any time. It was an unexpected twist to the woman she had learned about through ancient scrolls and more recently from Paula's computer reports. No longer the Bard, Chase was a full-fledged warrior and Diana wondered how their lives would mesh as warriors, conveniently forgetting that her soulmate had been more warrior than bard when they had been separated twenty-six hundred years previously.

Once every squadron except the Amazons had their new assignments, Chase turned to Diana. " I need you to choose your best scouts to go ahead and find the leader of this offensive. We're gonna give them one chance to surrender."

" And then?"

" Then we're gonna kill them all."

Diana swallowed hard but nodded. If their intelligence was correct, and she had no reason to think otherwise, this unit was responsible for the annihilation of three of the villages Orana had ordered destroyed. On the one hand, she admired Chase's determination to offer them mercy first; on the other, she simply wanted to destroy them and be done with it.

" I'd like to lead them."

Chase nodded. " I expected as much. Just be careful. The rest of the Amazons can be spread out here, here, here and here. I have noticed they are expert marksmen, and these places will give them the best vantage point for taking out the enemy if they choose fighting over surrender."

" You want them to fight, don't you?"

" Yeah, I do. This is the elite... the part of the army that thrives on torture and slaughter. I'd like to pay that violence back in kind," Chase replied in a natural voice, but the light that burned in her eyes was intense in its hatred of the enemy that had done so much damage to so many for so long.

Diana nodded. She, more than most, could understand Chase's need for revenge. She just didn't want that need to turn on Chase and cause her to become that which she despised the most. Diana beckoned her squadron leaders inside to give them their orders, and the Amazons smiled in satisfaction. Short of hand to hand combat, an art form of war that seemed to have faded with mankind's technological advancements, they were best suited for picking off the enemy one at a time. And they relished the opportunity to be in the thick of the fighting.

Nubia and Leona were chosen to accompany Diana as scouts to find the leader. Nubia had been their best before they had moved to Paradise Island, and she had maintained her skills as much as the island would allow. She had always been ready to participate in scout training and did so whenever her otherwise hectic schedule would allow. Leona was Nubia's first choice.

And so the small team moved off towards the front lines, melting into the darkness in plain sight. Chase stood watching the empty space from the darkened doorway of the Reichstag, letting her heart follow Diana where the rest of her could not. She didn't even hear Ty's approach until her cousin was standing right beside her.

" She'll be all right, Chase. She's got too much to lose not to come back to you." Chase nodded, but her eyes didn't leave the inky blackness that stretched out towards the Nazi front line. Ty shook her head and chuckled softly. " You really do have it bad this time, and I for one am glad to see it."

" We all are, Ty," Mala answered as she came up on Chase's other side. " This has been a long, long time in coming."

Ty accepted Mala's words without recognizing all of the nuances behind them. Then she decided to ask the priestess about something that had been bothering her since earlier. " Mala?"

" Hmm?"

" Can you tell me about this Wonder Woman character who just popped up today? I realize she must be a good guy by the way that Drea deferred to her and all, but there is something about her that just bothers me no end. She reminds me of something or someone, and I'm not sure what it is."

Chase didn't move, but Mala felt the tension flow through her at the question. She closed her eyes briefly and whispered a prayer to Athena for wisdom. Then she opened them and faced Ty, ready to tell her the Amazon story of Wonder Woman.

" Many years ago, the Amazons needed a champion and a call went up to the gods to provide one. They gave us Wonder Woman... a culmination of all that is good and right about Amazons... about all women really. She is beautiful and soft like a woman, yet has the strength of ten men and the courage of a lion. She can run like the wind and fly like a bird and fight with the fierceness of a tigress. She has the heart of a warrior and the soul of a poet. She is the epitome of what we strive to be."

" So you're saying she's not just one person, but many?"

" Something like that, yes." Mala answered coming as close to lying as she dared.

" Maybe that's why she reminds me of someone I know... she *is* someone I know. She is the culmination of several someones I know. Thanks, Mala." A pause. " So if she is the Amazon champion, where is she now?"

" She will be here when we need her to be. She is adjusting to her new role as a protector of the greater good here in man's world."

Ty nodded thoughtfully and clapped Chase on the shoulder. " I'll be waiting for your signal." Then she moved back into the darkness towards her unit.

Mala blew out a breath and felt Chase relax at the same time. " That was interesting," Chase commented. " Is there a reason she can't see the truth?"

Mala smiled and nodded. " Yes. She's not supposed to, and she really doesn't want to know."

" I don't understand."

Mala sighed and took Chase's arm, leading her out into the night. Even though they had been alone on the steps of the Reichstag, Mala felt more comfortable discussing this while they were moving. There was less likelihood of them being overheard.

" When Diana is simply Diana, she projects an air of calm control without drawing undue attention to herself. Think about it, Chase. The reason people noticed her when you brought her into the rebel encampment is *because* you brought her into the rebel encampment like you did. No one really noticed her otherwise, except for the change she made in you."

" What do you mean no one noticed her, Mala?? She's gorgeous! How can anyone miss that??"

Mala chuckled. " You see that because you see who she really is. You see her with your heart and not your eyes." A beat. " Chase, think about it a minute... Diana Prince keeps her hair in a braid, she wears loose clothing... she doesn't do anything to make people take notice of her. But when she becomes Wonder Woman, everything about her draws attention – her looks, her strength, her costume. No one sees the similarities because no one thinks to look for them."

" Makes sense," Chase agreed slowly. Then she turned her attention back towards the darkness Diana had disappeared into. " I hope she'll be all right," Chase whispered.

Mala wrapped an arm around Chase's shoulders and steered them back towards the Reichstag and the command center. " Not to worry, Chase... she's Wonder Woman."

When they were out of sight of the rebel encampment, but still too far away to be seen by the Nazis, the three Amazons came to a halt. Then Diana twirled slowly and Diana Prince became Wonder Woman. Nubia smiled.

" It is good to see you as the hero you should have always been, Princess."

Wonder Woman smiled. " It feels right, Nubia. Thank you. Now let's go see if the Nazis are going to surrender or if they're up for a fight."

They slipped into the trees that Orana had allowed to grow up around the capital and quickly made their way around the encampment to the back. They knew instinctively that is where they would find the leaders of this offensive. The snippets of conversation they were able to catch showed them the soldiers thought it was some sort of set up by the Fuehrer to crush the rebellion and bring the resistance back in line.

It was easy to pick out the command tent. It was as though the generals were flaunting the fact, sure in the knowledge that this was but a game for them. The Amazons were able to drop down behind the tent undetected and slipped around to the front. Nubia and Leona took care of the two guards who stood casual duty in front of it, then Wonder Woman stepped into the tent, causing the laughter and revelry to come to a complete and utter halt. The two Amazons walked in behind her, causing the now silent jaws to drop.

" What is the meaning of this? Who in the hell are you?" the eldest and most decorated of the men growled out.

" Sit down."

" What?? Do you know who you are speaking to, woman?? We are Aryan soldiers of the Third Reich. We take orders from no woman save the Fuehrer!! Guards!!"

Before they could blink, Wonder Woman put the pinch on three of them and had the lasso around the old man. " Now you sit down and you shut up and you listen to me." She turned and glared a Look at the other three who were clawing at there throats. " Same goes for you three," removing the pinch. " One stupid move and I'll put it back on and let you die."

Nubia and Leona exchanged glances. " Guess she kept a little more of her original soul than we got to see on Paradise Island," Nubia muttered. Leona just nodded and kept her attention on the men in front of her.

The four men sat very still and very quiet, and Wonder Woman let her gaze linger on them for a long moment before she spoke.

" All right, gentlemen. One chance. One chance to give me the right answer. One chance to surrender. Otherwise, the rebellion is going to destroy you."

Chapter XLVII

Stunned silence before the eldest burst into coarse laughter and the others followed suit. They looked at Wonder Woman incredulously and then the laughter rolled until tears streamed down their faces. Wonder Woman casually looped the lasso back on her belt and looked at the two waiting Amazons.

" I guess that means they want to fight," she said casually, shrugging. " Well, gentlemen... when you're dying and before Hades takes your souls to hell, I want you to remember that you were given a choice - and you chose poorly."

The older man took a chance a rose, his hand on his holster. A slight motion from Wonder Woman kept Nubia and Leona from moving. Diana put her hands on her hips and waited. The general pulled his Luger and pointed it in her direction. The three younger men didn't move; they had felt the pain on the pinch and didn't want a repeat.

" Did you just threaten me? You, who had to come here in strange clothing and play at being a warrior like a man??" He laughed again. " If you're the best the rebellion has, if you're the best the Fuehrer can come up with to test us, we will have no trouble defeating you and bringing the resistance back into line."

He pulled the gun from the holster and even took the time to aim. Diana never moved, never flinched. But when he pulled the trigger, he found the bullet he shot ricocheting back towards him, though he had no clue how she had managed it with the motion of her arm. He hit the ground even as the other three men hit the deck as well. When they finally got up and dusted themselves off, Wonder Woman and her Amazon friends were gone.

They looked around at each other and the eldest man spoke gruffly. " Well, if this is what the Fuehrer has in store for us tomorrow, I predict we will be sharing drinks together before dinner," chuckling. He raised his glass, not noting the furtive looks the others exchanged before raising their own. Suddenly, their victory didn't seem nearly as assured as it had only moments before.

No one saw Wonder Woman walk back into the city; she had long since honed her stealth skills to the point that even the best Amazons couldn't find her, even on Paradise Island, if she didn't want them to. Getting past standard rebels troops was child's play.

She slipped into the Reichstag without being spotted by anyone... only to find Chase's eyes fixed on her as she crossed into the room Chase had chosen to use as a command center. Diana stopped short, caught by surprise. No one had ever been able to find her when she became part of her surroundings, so to have Chase sitting behind the desk, arms crossed, looking at her for all the world like she expected Diana to be where she was completely disconcerting.

Then she glimpsed the shock and desire in Chase's green eyes as she finally got a good look at Wonder Woman. " Well, at least now I understand what Mala meant," Chase commented. Diana looked at her askance; Chase saw the question in Diana's eyes and waved it off. " What was their response?"

Wonder Woman shrugged. " About what you expected. They laughed... thought it was a joke... or some sort of preparedness test from Orana. Apparently they either haven't heard or have chosen not to believe the reports that huge parts of the army have already surrendered."

" All right then... let me go give the army their orders. It's time to kick some Nazi ass."

" I'm going with you, Annabelle."

" I know. But why does Wonder Woman call me Annabelle? Diana calls me Chase."

" One of those little things people tend not to see past. If Wonder Woman is more formal than Diana Prince, people tend to overlook any similarities in tone and inflection."

Chase nodded her understanding then stood slowly and took Wonder Woman by the elbow. " Let's go, Wonder Woman. I want this fight to be over and a good leader goes with the troops."

" You're right... she does. We always rode at the front of any fight."

" Well... you did," Chase said bitterly. " But I did eventually learn that lesson."

" Annabelle...." A beat. " Chase...." pulling them to a halt before Chase could open the door. " It was never a lesson I wanted you to learn. But I'm glad we will be going together side by side in this fight. I think it is important for both of us."

" I think so too."

Another short pause. " Can I ask you something?" waiting for Chase to nod her head. " How did you know where I was? When I came in the room... you were waiting for me – you knew right where I would be – how did you know that?"

Chase thought about it and shrugged. " I don't know. It was a feeling as much as anything. I just... felt you there – and there you were."

Wonder Woman thought about that for a long moment, then a brilliant smile graced her features, causing an answering smile to appear on Chase's face. " I like the sound of that." She pulled the door open. " Let's go get this over with. We have a life to live that doesn't involve war and fighting." Diana wouldn't have believed Chase's grin could have gotten any bigger if she hadn't seen it herself.

" So what did you do with Nubia and Leona?"

" They, along with a few other chosen Amazons, are scattered in the trees to pass information back to us until we move beyond them. Then they will join the fighting lines following the tanks."

" You know people... friends... are going die," Chase commented softly as they stepped out into the darkened square. " Maybe I should have tried harder to avoid a fight."

Wonder Woman pulled them to a stop and turned Chase to face her. " Maybe you should trust that not only is this army *ready* to fight... they need to fight. Annabelle... Chase," dropping the formality Wonder Woman used for the more intimate address Diana favored in an effort to make her point. " They have all been waiting a long time... a lifetime... for this fight. Most of them are spoiling for a fight. Even with the risks.... They knew what they were getting into when they chose to be part of the rebellion."

" You think so?"

" I know so. Fighters are fighters, Chase, and I grew up surrounded by Amazon warriors."

Chase sighed. " I know you're right, Wonder Woman. I just wish there was a way to do this without watching friends die... though I have no such compunction about killing those bastards out there. They deserve whatever misery we can inflict on them for what they've done."

Wonder Woman nodded. " Everyone here feels that way, Chase. Let them have their fight."

Chase nodded, then smiled. " You're getting the hang of knowing when to kick me in the ass. Thanks."

Diana chuckled soundlessly. " I've always been a quick study. And you're welcome."

Then they stepped into the control room where the unit commanders were waiting for final instructions.

Ty had already moved the tanks into a semi-circle formation in the forests on either side of where they expected the Nazi convoy to travel, and now they were just within firing range of the encampment. The big artillery was left to cover the middle and the walking troops were scattered throughout the machinery. In the darkness, they couldn't be seen and thanks to Hans and Chase, most of the machinery movement couldn't be heard very well, either.

" I want the artillery to start at midnight. That will give the tanks the chance to move up closer; then on my signal, the tanks will fire while the troops move in behind them. The Amazon scouts got a general layout of the Nazi encampment. Make sure your gunners know where to target and your troops know where and when to move. This has to be coordinated between all units to keep our losses to a minimum."

" What about the enemy?"

Chase shook her head. " They were given their chance to surrender. Kill 'em all." She looked around at her commanders. " Make sure your soldiers know that. No one lives." Chase drew a deep breath and met each of their eyes. " This is the battalion that wiped out the three villages closest to the capital. No one lives. Now move out. The artillery attack begins at midnight."

Each leader checked their watch before nodding at Chase and staring briefly at Wonder Woman before heading back to their unit. Chase had introduced her briefly - This is Wonder Woman. She is here to help us. So there was a curiosity, but even more there was a nervous energy that made them anxious to start. She figured they would be demanding answers *after* the fight, but for now, they trusted in Chase's judgment.

Chase put a hand on Ty's chest to halt her exit after the rest had gone. " Chase?" looking down at the hand stopping her.

"Where's Mitch?" Ty looked around in confusion as though just realizing that Mitch wasn't in the control room. " Ty, how are we supposed to coordinate an attack if we have no comm officer? Where's Mitch?"

" I dunno, Chase. I really don't. I've been so busy with my own stuff...."

Chase removed her hand. " It's okay, Ty. You've done really good holding things together."

Ty smirked. " Yeah... we're gonna need to talk about my raise when this is all over, 'cause bald is just not my look." Chase laughed. Wonder Woman looked a little perplexed until Ty spoke again. " Now I am going back to my unit before I get left in charge again." She mock shuddered and slipped out of the control room into the darkness beyond.

Chase and Diana exchanged smiles, then Chase moved over to the techs who were in the room past where they stood, monitoring communications between the units as well as keeping in touch with Shep. " Sonny, where's Mitch?" questioning the senior tech.

Sonny shrugged, continuing to mark on the clipboard he held. " He took a camera and headed out after those Amazon scouts you sent out earlier. We haven't heard from him since." He looked up at her muffled curse and tucked a hand under her elbow. " Chase? You all right? You look kind of pale."

" Yeah, Sonny... thanks. Did he say *why* he was doing that?"

" He wanted a recording for posterity or some such."

Chase blew out an exasperated breath. " I'm gonna kill him myself," she muttered. " All right, Sonny... you're in charge here. You're gonna have to coordinate everything in Mitch's absence, and you'll be in touch with me at all times. Got it?"

" Gotcha, boss. Everything is on track and we'll be ready here when you give the word."

" Thanks, Sonny." Then Chase left the inner room and took Diana's arm, walking side by side with Wonder Woman as they walked out the door.

" You need to find Mitch. It is very possible he knows your secret. Find him and do whatever you need to do to protect yourself."

" Even if...?" turning Chase until they were facing one another and letting her hands rest on Chase's shoulders.

" Even if," covering Wonder Woman's hands with her own. " Mitch is my friend, but you are the other half of my soul. And if I have to choose between you, he will lose every time. But I also know, given who Wonder Woman is and what she stands for, you have to have a way to kick ass without killing him. Besides, he abandoned his post to do this. He's in trouble with me as it is; he needs his ass kicked."

" What are you going to be doing?"

" Kicking Nazi ass. I'll be at the front. Come find me."

" You bet I will."

They gazed at each other for a long moment before Chase let her hands fall and Wonder Woman's hands dropped to her sides as well. Finally Chase blew out a nervous breath and reached for Diana's hand, drawing her back into the empty, darkened Reichstag. When they reached the office, Chase closed the door behind them and turned to face Wonder Woman.

" Do you think you could be Diana for just a minute?"

A look of confusion crossed Wonder Woman's face, but she nodded and twirled, replacing her costume with the normal clothing that Diana Prince wore. Then she looked at Chase for approval. " Is this what you had in mind?"

" Yes," Chase answered breathlessly, stepping into Diana's personal space. " Yes," she said again. " Because there is something I wanted to do and I needed Diana to be here." She stepped closer again, until their bodies were just touching along their lengths. Chase ran her hands delicately up Diana's torso, feeling her shiver beneath her touch and smiling when Diana dropped her hands to Chase's waist. The closeness between them made everything else – bruises, broken bones, everything – irrelevant.

" Chase?" Diana whispered hoarsely. " Do you know what you're doing to me?"

" I hope so. I hope it's close to what you're doing to me," seeing her hands shake lightly as she raised one to gently stroke Diana's face. " You are so beautiful," watching Diana's eyes flutter closed as her fingers traced features that were at once strange and completely familiar. Diana's lips trembled when Chase's fingers lingered over their softness and her hands slid around Chase's body to cup her behind firmly. Diana pulled their bodies together so tightly light couldn't pass between them and she ducked her head willingly when Chase urged her down.

Their lips met briefly at first, the touch so tentative it was like a butterfly's wing. A second, then a third brush before Chase pulled Diana's mouth tighter to her own and opened her lips so their tongues could meet.

Time stopped. Their exploration of one another was neither rushed nor urgent; instead it was savored. Each texture and flavor was discovered slowly and appreciated at leisure before a lack of oxygen forced them apart. Even then, their separation came only with great reluctance and after several smaller kisses and nips. Finally, breathing heavily, Diana leaned her forehead on Chase's and they stood together absorbing one another's scent and rocking slowly back and forth.

" You know what this means, don't you?" Chase asked in a whisper when she could finally speak again.

" It means you're a great kisser and I want to do that again as soon as possible?"

" Well, that's good incentive for getting this fight over with immediately if not sooner," Chase muttered, " but no. That wasn't what I was thinking. It sure is a good idea though," Chase said in a tone so wistful it made Diana chuckle silently.

Chase pulled back slightly to look into Diana's eyes, only to find herself snared by the love and passion that were reflected in the blue gaze that held her. She cleared her throat and blinked rapidly, trying to get herself back on track. Then she returned her eyes to Diana's, a little shyness in her glance.

" No, love," she whispered finally, feeling a blush color her face with the use of the endearment. " This means forever."

" Oh, Chase," Diana whispered back, tears forming in her eyes faster than she could blink them away. " We've always meant forever. But as far as I am concerned... forever is just the beginning for us."

The only answer Chase could give to that was another kiss which went on until hands started tentative explorations as though of their own free will and moans were being swallowed to keep them from escaping. With a whimper, they pulled apart, and Chase gently wiped the remaining tears from Diana's cheeks and traced her kiss-swollen lips with still trembling fingertips. Then Chase bit her lips to keep from squealing when Diana's hand squeezed her ass cheeks, kneading them to the rhythm of their heartbeats.

" You're making it *really* hard for me to focus. I told Ty that would happen."

" Told Ty *what* would happen?"

" That if I ever fell in love it would be all I could think about and everything else would simply fall to the wayside."

" Good," Diana smirked. " Nice to know that works both ways."

" You have no idea how it's working right now," Chase said softly, feeling Diana chuckle again. " But right now, we've got to focus on what's going on outside. We have the rest of our lives to concentrate on us. And trust me, I want lots of time and privacy to explore this with single-minded intensity." She reached back and took Diana's hands in hers. " I'm known for that, you know."

Diana leaned down and kissed Chase hard and passionately. " So am I. I love you."

That got a smile from Chase. " And I love you. Now, get Wonder Woman back, please so we can get outta here and go home."

Diana twirled and Wonder Woman reappeared. Then they joined hands again and headed out of the Reichstag together, separating when they reached the bottom of the steps. Electricity crackled the air around them and a rumble of thunder answered it. Chase looked up at the darkening sky and shook her head. Looked like they'd all be wet before this attack was over, but it couldn't affect the warmth that flowed through her veins at just the thought of Diana.

" Whoop, whoop! Whoop, whoop!" Aphrodite spun in a circle and waved her arms over her head. The rest came in from various points in the palace to see what all the commotion was about. Athena took Dite by the shoulders and halted her movement.

" What happened?? Are you all right??"

" Oh, babe... I am so fab, it's radically illegal in places. I think my hair got singed, though." She pulled blonde curls forward to try to look at the ends. " I don't see anything. Can you see anything, The?"

Athena pushed the blonde hair Aphrodite had thrust in her face away with a huff of impatience. " I see curly blonde hair that's going to be shaved off until you are bald if you don't get it out of my face. Now what is wrong with you?"

In answer, Dite replayed the images of Chase and Diana in the scrying bowl. And then it was like the oxygen had been sucked right out of the room. Hera, Hestia, Demeter, Artemis and Athena all exchanged glances, then they turned to the smugly smirking love goddess. They cheered, and Aphrodite laughed. Gods, it felt good when a plan finally came together.

Chapter XLVIII

The rain started about fifteen minutes before Chase gave the signal to start the attack, and it wasn't just rain... it was a torrential downpour. Lightning lit up the sky, but apparently the rain had driven the watchers in, because no cries of alarm went up to alert the Nazi encampment of their approach.

At the stroke of midnight, Chase gave the sign and the artillery began its first round of shelling. The hits were extremely accurate and on target, logistics having painfully worked out the details from the information the Amazons had been passing back to them for the last few hours. Screams of pain and terror could be heard over the shelling, then calls went out from the encampment, ordering the Nazis to return fire.

Immediately, Chase signaled the artillery to move back and the tanks moved in from either side. Slowly and methodically the rebels started decimating the rest of the weaponry the Nazis had, but the Nazis were able to get off several good and several lucky shots. Those caused screams of anguish and terror to rise from the resistance side of the fight. But most held it together and waited for Chase to lead them forward for the final part of the attack.

Drea rushed from one wounded soldier to the next, doing her best to ease their suffering through healing or giving them the peace of a merciful death. Mala traveled with her, relaying Drea's instructions to the medics who were completely inexperienced in this arena, and though Drea's last battlefield encounter had been millennia before, her hard-won experience wasn't something she was likely to forget either.

She shuddered as she surveyed the damage man's machines had inflicted on the next soldier she approached and touched several pressure points on the woman's body to ease her into the afterlife. It was meant as a kindness; much more humane than allowing her to suffer for long, untold minutes bleeding out her last as her entrails spilled from her open guts.

" You all right, Drea?" Mala pitched her voice so only the healer could hear her in the melee. " Gods, this is something you just never get used to, is it?"

Drea shook her head. " I hope I *never* get used to this, Mala. The day I do will be the day I die inside. Come... we need to hurry. There are so many of them and the damage...." Drea shook her head again. " Even at our most ruthless, we were never this unfeeling in killing."

" That is because we faced our enemies, my friend, like the warriors we were – like the warriors we still are. Very few do that anymore." A familiar cry went up from Chase, and the rebels rushed forward to meet the Nazis face to face. Mala smiled wryly. " Unless you have a warrior leader like Chase is. But then she, like her mate, is one in a billion."

Drea would have smiled at the sentiment, but she reached her next injured body, and gasped when she turned the body over... only to find Nubia staring back at her, her dark eyes glazed over in intense pain. What Drea saw made her want to puke her guts out again, but she swallowed against the bile that rose in her throat and went to work, wrapping the stump that was now her right arm, then moving on to the less damaging injuries.

Drea hoped this offensive would be over soon.

Chase spared a thought and a prayer for Diana's safety, wondering what had happened that Wonder Woman had not joined her yet. Then standing defiantly, she let out the warrior cry her mother had taught her when she was still a small child. She charged forward to meet the Nazi troops coming towards her, feeling the strength of the rebellion and the resistance at her back.

She had long since lost the sling, hating its restrictions and now she put the plaster cast to good use, using it as a battering ram as she pushed her way through the lines, killing without mercy or hesitation. She let her mind shut down and functioned automatically; that was how she had learned to cope with the brutal savagery war required.

A majority of the troops behind her were green, never having done much real fighting. Hit and run raids had been a mainstay of the resistance, but they didn't require up close and personal encounters with the enemy. Still, they plugged on, following her with faith and determination. They would deal with the nightmares later.

Wonder Woman walked slowly over the same path she had traversed with the Amazon scouts as Diana Prince a very short time ago in an effort not to miss anything. If her instincts were correct, and they usually were, Mitch would have followed the route they had taken in an effort to chronicle everything. The big question was how close behind them he had been and what he had seen and more importantly... recorded.

It was hard to keep her mind focused on her search, though... especially with the tingles from Chase's kisses still running through her body sporadically. Aside from the heat it caused in her blood, there was a little confusion. Given Chase's reluctance to even be friends mere days ago, Diana was at something of a loss to understand Chase's sudden about face. And she found her mind puzzling over the new developments in her relationship with Chase instead of paying strict attention to what was going on around her, and only her innate warrior senses kept her from tripping over Mitch's body.

Wonder Woman knelt at the rebel's side and felt for a pulse, closing her eyes when she couldn't find one. She couldn't find an immediate cause for his death, but she did note that he no longer had a camera. Diana sighed – she should have known it wouldn't be easy. A click behind her made her stiffen and she loosened the lasso from her belt before turning to find a gun pointed in her direction.

The man grunted at her and motioned with the gun, but Diana studiously ignored him and put her hands on her hips, giving him a glare complete with raised eyebrow. He motioned again, pointing the gun at her; she didn't move. He pulled the trigger, not even realizing he had signed his own death warrant.

Wonder Woman cocked her arm angling it to catch the bullet and ricochet it right back into the man's chest. She watched understanding dawn in his face even as he fell dead in his tracks. Diana reattached the lasso to her belt then turned towards the Nazi encampment, even as the first blasts of artillery headed for the same.

Now all of Wonder Woman's attention was focused on getting back to the tent she had visited previously, though she did abstractly notice the furor and confusion the rebel attack was causing. The four men she had encountered earlier rushed out of the tent into the melee barking out orders in harsh German. It was obvious from the scuttling about throughout the whole compound that these units were unused to challenge. It made it easy for Diana to work her way back to the four who had rejected her request for surrender.

The old man was the first to see her and ran at her, his face contorted in rage. Diana didn't hesitate, but snapped his neck before he could even pull his Luger. The next man had his weapon out but not enough time to react when the bullet he fired wound up inside him instead. The third man jumped on Wonder Woman's back, surprised to find himself flying over her shoulder and landing hard non his back. Then Diana put the pinch on him and ran towards the fourth man who had scrambled towards a tank.

With studied nonchalance, Wonder Woman grabbed the gun barrel and bent it. Unfortunately, the Nazi officer commanded the gunner to fire, not knowing the damage that had been done to the gun. And Diana didn't have time to move before the tank exploded.

Chase ran through the Nazis, noting there were as many running from her as there were scrambling to fight. With shouted orders, she sent the groups of rebels running behind her after the enemy soldiers that were scurrying to get away. When she'd given orders to kill 'em all, she'd been quite literal. These bastards deserved no mercy, and that was what they were going to show – no mercy.

She felt a burning in her thigh, but in a distant, far off way. She noticed many of the Nazis were fighting without the use of firearms, which was perfectly fine with Chase. As far into the combat as she was, she had long since run out of ammunition and was fighting with fists and blades.

The fires created by their shelling provided ample light and a flash of color caught her attention. Chase quickly gutted the man in front of her before heading for what her instincts told her was Diana.

Chase clotheslined the first Nazi that got in her way and broke the neck of the second with an elbow to the back of his neck. Then she was kneeling beside the red, white and blue costume she spotted, just as Diana coughed and moaned.

Chase let out a sigh of relief and helped Wonder Woman sit up. She let her hands wander over Diana's body impartially, urgently reassuring herself that Diana was all right. Diana put her hand on her head. " Ow. Annabelle, did you get the number of the tank that shot me? Gods, that hurts."

Chase moved Diana's hand from her forehead, glad for the fires that were burning that allowed her to see the blood streaming from beneath the tiara. Chase removed it carefully and saw a long cut at Wonder Woman's hairline to go along with the numerous smaller cuts that peppered the side of her face. Without hesitation, Chase ripped part of her shirt off to wipe the blood and Diana shoved the tiara back in place and pulled Chase face down into her lap...

... then lashed out with one long leg and her free arm to kill the man who had been charging them with a blade. Chase heard him fall and turned her head to see him, then looked up at Diana. " Thanks, Wonder Woman. And as comfortable as I am here, I think we need to go."

Diana smiled. " I'm with you, Annabelle."

Chase rolled off Diana's lap and slowly stood then offered her hand down to Wonder Woman. Diana's attention was caught by the bloodstain in Chase's thigh, then by the hole in the same spot. " Annabelle, are you all right?" motioning to the wound in Chase's thigh.

Chase looked down and nodded. " I'll be fine. C'mon, Wonder Woman," yanking Diana to her feet as she spun to kick at the woman rushing them. Then they went back to back, taking on all comers. Kicks and punches flew in a frenzied flurry accompanied by the sounds of breaking bones and the gurgles and rasps of death as one by one the Nazis were demolished and they were the only ones left standing in their area.

They looked around, then at each other. " You all right?" asked simultaneously.

Wonder Woman nodded. " I still have to find Mitch's camera. I found him dead on my way here, but no camera. I suspect it's in there," motioning to the large tent behind them.

" The command tent? Let me give some orders out here and I'll join you. I need to go through the papers to make sure we haven't missed anything else."

" You think you have?"

" No, but I do think I'm gonna find proof of everything Orana talked about. I don't want history to judge me merciless for executing her."

" Given the crimes she has committed against humanity for the past century, Annabelle, I don't think history will judge you as anything less than a hero and liberator."

" I'll be happy if history forgets about me, Wonder Woman. Heroes have a responsibility to history, and I'm tired of being responsible. I've been responsible for most of my childhood and all of my adult life. I just want to go home and live for a while."

There was so much that Diana wanted to say, but as Wonder Woman, she couldn't. Instead, she took Chase's hand and squeezed it gently, then turned and stepped into the command tent. Chase waited a beat then she turned back to the troops that were gathered together awaiting further orders.

" All right, people. Let's get to work. We need to get this area cleaned up and secured. Those of you with injuries, make sure you get seen by a medic before you get to work, but remember the longer this takes, the longer it will take for us to go home. You three," motioning to two rebels and an Amazon, "gather your units and start a burial detail for the enemy dead. One mass grave will suffice. You two," gesturing to another rebel and Amazon, " the fires need to be put out and the machines need to be dismantled. Now, where is Ty? And where did the healer set up?"

" Chase, this is Drea. Can you hear me? Does anyone know how to work this thing? Hello?"

Chase looked at the radio on her hip and chuckled. It was a little humorous listening to Drea try to work the radio, then wondered why the healer needed her and how long they had been trying to reach her. She pulled it off her belt and clicked it. " Drea, this is Chase, over."

" Oh thank the gods," Drea said. " Chase, is..." a hesitation, " is Wonder Woman there with you?"

" I'm headed back to her, Drea. Is something wrong, over?"

" Um... if you could come to the hospital we have set up back here, please – it's not urgent, but it is important."

Chase bit her lip. " All right, Drea. Let me go get Wonder Woman and we'll come find you. See you in a few minutes, Drea. Chase out." She waited a minute then clicked the radio again. " Sonny, this is Chase, over."

" Sonny here, boss. Go ahead, over."

" Sonny, I need you to send a jeep to the command tent here. It's in the back of the fighting area. Just tell the driver to look for me, all right? Over."

" Gotcha, boss. I've got someone headed your way as we speak, over."

" Thanks, Sonny. I'm out."

Chase clipped the radio back to her hip and took a step, wincing as the gunshot she'd taken to the thigh earlier made itself felt with the receding of adrenaline from her body. " Ow," she muttered, looking down at her leg. " Damn, that hurts." Than she grit her teeth and put the pain out of her mind and put her game face on. Despite her desire to be otherwise, she still had to be a leader for a little while longer. Chase moved back towards the tent and ducked inside.

" I was beginning to get worried, Annabelle. Is everything all right?"

Chase shook her head. " I'm not sure. Drea radioed me... asked that we get over to the hospital. Said it was important. I called Sonny for a jeep. Did you find the camera?"

Wonder Woman nodded. " Yes. They were apparently watching whatever Mitch recorded when the attack started. I destroyed the film and I found all sorts of official orders, including," passing a sheaf of papers over to Chase, " a battle plan based on Orana's last speech."

Chase looked through them quickly, skimming the contents before nodding her head. " That's exactly what this is." She looked up and smiled into blue eyes. " Nice work... thanks, Wonder Woman."

" Anytime, Annabelle. I have many skills."

Chase cocked an eyebrow into her hairline. " Careful. That sounds vaguely like a promise and I'll remember it."

Wonder Woman grinned rakishly. " I'm counting on it."

A raucous honking broke the tableau between them and they turned towards the tent flap. " That'll be the jeep," Chase commented, scooping up the papers while Wonder Woman snatched up the camera. " I'm gonna have the driver give us a ride to the hospital and...."

" Chase? Chase, this is Drea. Are you there?"

" Drea?"

" Chase? I need you to get here quickly. Now it's urgent."

She and Diana dropped the stuff in the jeep the Wonder Woman hopped in the back with it while Chase slid into the front seat. " Get us to the hospital, George. And I want you to wait for us."

" Yes ma'am," hitting the accelerator and causing the jeep to lurch forward. Then they were racing the short distance to where Drea had established her field hospital. It was a short trip and George had barely touched the breaks before Chase was stepping from the vehicle...

... only to have her leg crumple out from under her when her foot touched the ground. Only her own quick reflexes and Diana's hand on her arm kept her upright. Wonder Woman didn't say anything, but her eyes spoke volumes and Chase nodded to show her that she was all right. Then they moved off together to enter the large tent.

It was quiet inside, noticeably different from the controlled, noisy chaos outside. The only sound was whispered instruction from Drea to her staff and the soft sounds of movement as they shifted around the space in an effort to carry out her orders and make their patients more comfortable.

There were far more bodies in the tent than Chase wanted to see and her shoulder slumped slightly as the weight of even more responsibility settled squarely on her shoulders. " Drea." She called out softly, though it was loud enough for every conscious person in the room to turn her way. " Report, please."

Drea handed the tray she had been carrying to the young medic who was accompanying her and left him with instructions before moving to the other end of the space, her healer's eyes assessing even as she moved to stand beside them. A motion of her head brought Mala to her side.

" Mala, if you would please attend to Wonder Woman...." The priestess nodded and took Diana's hand, leading her away from Chase. Chase started to protest until Drea put a restraining hand on her arm. " It's all right, Chase. Mala is going to tend to her wounds and take her to see Nubia and the other Amazons who were wounded. I promise you she is not going far. There is someone else who needs your attention immediately first. And I will tend to your leg. Come."

Chase followed, a sinking feeling in her gut. She had a really bad feeling about what was coming.

They rounded a small, curtained off area, and the truth hit home hard... hard enough that Chase collapsed at the side of the pallet that held Ty's body. The movement jostled the cot and Ty moaned at the wave of pain that coursed through her. Chase scrambled up and took Ty's hand in her own, shuddering at the coolness of Ty's skin against hers. She brought it to her lips and kissed it, tears welling in her eyes.

" Oh God, Ty. What the hell happened to you?" She turned to Drea. " Leave us," she ordered quietly before turning back to Ty. " You can't die, Ty. I promised Hans he could take you for a joy ride in that new plane."

Ty squeezed Chase's hand lightly and spoke in a whisper so low, Chase had to lean in to hear it. " Wrong place, wrong time," she wheezed. " Sorry. This wasn't in my plans either. I left a letter for you in my stuff at home though, just in case." Ty paused to cough, speckling blood on her cheeks and chin in the process. " We did good, cuz... we won."

Chase smiled at Ty through her tears and kissed her fingers again. " Yeah, we did. Don't you wanna maybe stick around... see how things end?"

Ty gave her a weak smile. " At least I got to see I won my bet with you," Ty answered breathily. " I'm so glad you found Diana, Chase. It makes me glad to see you finally happy... finally whole. Be happy together, Chase. You deserve it so much." Ty shuddered. " I'll be watching – don't make me have to come back and haunt you."

Chase gave Ty a sad chuckle. " I'll do my best. Say hi to Mama for me, all right? I love you, Ty. You've always been my best friend."

" Love you, Chase," Ty whispered on the wind, and with a final breath, she was gone.

Chapter XLIX

" Nubia?" Diana exclaimed as she came around the corner and into the curtained off area the Amazon elder had been ensconced in. " Oh my gods," dropping onto the stool beside the bed. " What happened?" She didn't even notice when Mala removed her tiara and began doctoring her head wound. Her attention was totally focused on the injured woman lying in the cot in front of her, cradling the stump of her arm. Nubia gave her a weak, pain-filled smile.

" Wrong place, wrong time, Princess," she muttered. " Ty saved my life... but it's costing her hers."

" Nubia?" The question was filled with more alarm than either of them had expected from the compassionate but stoic persona of Wonder Woman. Even Diana as the princess had rarely shown such emotion, although she had certainly been much more prone to it recently. But Diana knew that the loss of her only family would devastate Chase, and she had already been through so much.

Nubia shifted, then flinched, as another wave of pain washed through her. " Nubia, you need to lie still," Mala chided. " If you need some more pain medication, let me give it to you, but you can't be moving around ripping all those stitches out."

Diana's forehead creased. Why was the woman still in pain? Nubia answered her question unwittingly. " I know, Mala, but I want D... Wonder Woman to know what happened so she can share it with Chase. She deserves to know. I'll take the medication when I'm done."

Mala just gave Nubia a look and a nod before she turned her attention back to tending to Diana. Nubia had refused to share the story with anyone but the princess, insisting she deserved to her a first hand account from someone who was there.

" When the fighting started, we were in the trees, passing back intelligence and positions, helping the rebel forces hit their targets with increasing accuracy. It really was... quite the thrill, being back in combat again," Nubia admitted a bit sheepishly. No matter how civilized the Amazons had become, at their core, they were warrior women and they sometimes missed the fire and adrenaline rush fighting and physical danger gave them. However, after today, the craving would be muted for a very long time to come.

" Or at least it was until Hades itself became part of our world."

Nubia was quiet so long, Wonder Woman was force to prompt her finally. " What happened, Nubia?"

" The Nazis started fighting back, and since we were the closest to the fires the rebels had caused with their firing, we were the easiest to target. I remember...." She shook her head. " Not much, actually. I thought it was a rock." She blew out a frustrated breath. " Something got thrown at me and I caught it, intending to throw it back. The next thing I knew I was laying on the ground; my arm was gone and Ty stood over me taking on all comers."

Nubia swallowed, trying to gather her thoughts. " I still am not real clear on what happened after that because I was fading in and out of consciousness. I do know that Ty called for the healers, called for Drea before she moved on, but once the first wave of fighting passed over us, she continued to push forward into the fight, despite being injured herself."

Mala finished dressing Diana's wound, patting her arm before stepping out from the cubby to retrieve some pain medication for Nubia. Wonder Woman's attention never shifted from Nubia's face.

" How badly was she hurt, Nubia?"

" I do not know, Wonder Woman. I do know she was bleeding rather profusely when she left my side."

Diana blew out a breath. " Nubia, do you mind if I change here?" asked softly.

" It would be my honor, Princess."

Wonder Woman slowly spun counterclockwise and Nubia watched in unguarded fascination as she morphed into Diana Prince. Mala stepped back in through the curtain just as Diana stopped twirling.

" Princess," she said in a hushed undertone. " Are you sure that was wise? After all...."

" After all, Chase needs me. Now, if you'll excuse me.... Nubia, thank you for the information. I want you to rest and conserve your strength. I think Paula and I will be able to do something to make you whole again. I promise we will start working on it as soon as...."

" Diana, go to Chase. We can worry about my arm later."

Diana gently touched Nubia's uninjured arm. " Thank you, Nubia. I wish...."

" Will you go already?" Nubia joked weakly.

Diana smiled and stepped out of the curtained area and headed the short distance to the far corner where Drea was standing in front of the only other curtained area in the hospital.

" Drea?"

The healer shook her head. " Chase asked for privacy. I haven't even had the chance to look at that wound on her leg yet." Diana patted Drea on the arm and crossed into the cordoned off area that Chase was behind.

" I asked to be left alone." The words were a harsh whisper.

It stung. But instead of letting it hurt, Diana chose instead to move up behind Chase and wrap her arms around the tense shoulders. Chase flinched for a long moment before relaxing into the embrace of the firm body behind her. She maintained her posture for several minutes. Diana didn't say a word, but just held her... until she felt the tremors start. Then she turned Chase in her arms until the blonde head was resting beneath her chin. And Diana simply held on and let Chase cry.

" She was my best friend," Chase said eventually.

" Was she the last of your family?" not mentioning Drea and the Amazons. She wasn't sure how Chase felt about being an Amazon, and besides, it wasn't the same as the family she had grown up with. They were the people Chase knew and cared for. She didn't really know the Amazons yet.

" No... she had a brother, but even though we get along for the most part, we always seem to be at one another's throats over one thing or another. I think he was jealous that Ty and I were best friends and he was just...."

" Just what, love?" Diana asked, intrigued.

" I don't think he was happy that it was always us and him. We loved him and he knew it; but it was always us versus him and we always sided together. He thought since he was the oldest, he should get to make the decisions for all of us."

Diana chuckled lightly. " Oh, I can only imagine how that went over with you and Ty."

Her memories overrode her sadness momentarily and she laughed softly with Diana. " Yeah. He ended up hanging from his underwear in that big tree in the front yard at the farm for trying," tilting her head back to see if Diana knew which tree she was referring to. This time Diana laughed out loud.

" I'm not even going to ask how you managed it."

" Well, let's just say that Shep was pretty surprised as well."

Diana blinked in response. " Wha... bu... Shep?? Shep is Ty's brother?"

" Yeah. Not there was ever much family resemblance except for the way they acted towards each other. As they got older, they tended to keep an eye on one another, even when they were fighting with each other. And now I get to be the one to tell him that I got his sister killed."

" NO!" Diana turned Chase in her embrace until she could cradle her face tenderly and gaze into exhausted green eyes. " No, Chase. You don't get to take that away from her. She chose to be part of the rebellion; she chose to protect and defend. You can't take that choice away from her."

Chase watched her carefully, wanting to be convinced.

" Chase, war is ugly. People suffer and die and get hurt beyond out ability to repair them. You've lived with this all your life."

" But...."

" No buts. We don't have to like it, but it is the truth. The only difference this time is it's very personal for you. But you can't deny Ty her right to choose; otherwise, you not only negate her choice, but the reason for her suffering and death. This struggle was about freedom and part of freedom is having the opportunity to choose for yourself. Don't make her sacrifice meaningless."

Chase nodded, knowing Diana spoke the truth. " I won't," she whispered. " But now I gotta go break the news to Shep and then to Hans. They deserve to hear it from me. Then we've got plans to make and work to do. And one ex-Fuehrer to serve justice to."

" Have you decided what her punishment is going to be?" knowing Chase was well within her rights as the supreme military commander to execute whatever field justice she felt was fair, up to and including killing Orana with her bare hands. But somehow, Diana didn't think Chase was going to go that route. As much as she wanted to exact personal vengeance, Chase knew this was about justice for the world. Everyone had suffered because of Orana.

" She's going to walk the gauntlet, and I'm gonna offer Shep and Hans first crack. If she survives to the end, I will make the killing blow."

Diana nodded. It was an acceptable compromise, even if it meant Diana didn't get to beat the snot out of Orana herself. She figured even the Amazons would approve of Chase's decision; it meant most of them would get to take a shot at the woman who had betrayed them, and Diana felt they needed that sort of closure.

She stood up and extended her arm down to Chase. " Come on. I'm not going to let you do this alone." Chase smiled in gratitude and accepted Diana's arms, then felt her leg collapse out from under her as she tried to put weight on it.

She bit her lips to keep from cursing, not wanting to desecrate Ty's deathbed, but feeling the pain of her wound rip through her body in an unexpected wave. Fortunately, Diana's instincts were right on the money and she caught Chase before she could hit the ground.

" Drea!"

It wasn't loud, but it was commanding and Drea moved instantly. Assessing the situation with a single quick glance, Drea guided Diana out of the partitioned area Ty was in and over to the next cot. " Mala, I need you now."

Diana put Chase down and would have backed out of the way had it not been for the firm grip Chase maintained on her wrist. She looked down and Chase grimaced up at her. " Please stay and take my mind off this, 'cause it hurts like a sonofabitch."

Diana blushed, but nodded and pulled a stool over and sat down, never losing the eye contact she had with Chase. They talked, though neither of them could have told what they discussed when all was said and done. But it allowed Drea and Mala to repair Chase's leg with minimal fuss and damage. When she was done, Drea patted Chase's good leg and squeezed Diana shoulder before leaving them alone, knowing that Chase was anxious to get back to work.

Sure enough, as soon as Chase realized Drea was finished patching her up, she sat up and slid from the cot gently. She eased her weight onto her injured leg and scowled, but continued until her weight rested fully on both legs. Then she offered Diana her hand and they exited the hospital without a word. Drea knew her business and was doing everything she could to ease the suffering of those around her. And those who were beyond her help were being reverently laid out at one end to be placed in caskets for the trip home.

That was the hardest part of being a healer, but she squared her shoulders and took the responsibility, doing her best for those who had given their all.

" Sonny?" Chase said as they entered the comm room. " Get me Shep on the line and then clear the room. Take fifteen minutes and grab a sandwich and a pee break, all right?"

" All right, boss. G'wan, boys," talking to the rest of his crew. I'll be out in a jiff."

The communications crew nodded and left with a salute in Chase's direction. Sonny jiggled some connections and twisted the dials, eventually hearing Shep's voice crackle over the wires. Then Sonny handed the headphones and mic over to Chase, and slipped out of the room, closing the door behind him to insure Chase the privacy she wanted.

" Chase, this is Shep, over."

Shep, this is Chase. I have news... and it's not good, over."

She heard him sigh before he answered and figured he knew what she was going to tell him. " Go ahead, over," he said in a resigned voice.

Chase closed her eyes; this wasn't easy no matter how it got done. Then she felt Diana's hands on her shoulders in support and drew a breath to speak. " Ty's dead, Shep," Chase said bluntly. " She died a hero saving others, but she's still dead. I'm sorry." Beat. " Over."

She could hear his upset, though his tears were silent. " I'm sorry, Shep," Chase reiterated. " I would have prevented this if I could have, over."

" Shh, Chase," Shep comforted. " I know that. I remember how close you were. We'll be in the same place soon and we can talk then, over."

" Actually I want you to get here ASAP. Put things in place like we discussed, then get here. We're going to have a military gauntlet before we go home, and you deserve the right to take a shot at her, over."

" No, Chase. I need to stay here." He took a shuddering breath. " It's gonna take all we've got to get everything coordinated and I'm not gonna leave it to chance just to get revenge for something that can't be changed. You hit her for me, cuz. You always had a meaner right than I did, over."

Chase made a choking sound in her throat that could have almost passed as laughter. " All right, Shep. We'll see you at home then, and we'll have a drink together for Ty, over."

" I'd like that, Chase. Pain in the ass that she was, Ty was still my little sister." He paused and Chase heard him swallow hard. " I'm gonna miss her, over."

" Yeah, I know, Shep. Me too." She paused. " Can you connect me to Hans? Over."

Chase heard Shep slip into his rebel persona. " Do what I can, boss, but it'll take a while. I'll call back when I get ahold of him, over."

" Thanks, Shep. Chase out."

Sonny was waiting outside the closed door when they emerged from the comm room. " Sonny, I need you to get all the resistance leaders on the line. I want plans for the provisional governments in place yesterday. And when Shep calls back, ring me in the Reichstag office. Oh, but first, call the unit leaders to my office. We need to make sure folks get some sleep."

" Yes ma'am. I'm on it," turning to his work. Chase and Diana slowly made their way to the office in deference to Chase's injured thigh.

The next few hours went swiftly as watches and schedules were set and guidelines for provisional governments worldwide were put into place. Chase was glad for the months of intense preparation they had spent hammering out the details for the new provisional governments. Although some changes would have to be made due to the loss of key personnel and the surprising number of troops that had simply surrendered, a majority of it was ready to be implemented.

" Are there any questions?" Her question was met with silence along the radio relay Sonny and Shep had set up for her. " All right then. Take care of the war criminals first. Then get with one another about separating the units and spreading them out across the world to work off their servitude sentences. If it's possible, no more than five men from the same unit should be in the same town. Mix them up as best as you can. That will make it harder for them to try to organize anything against us."

" Do you really think they will, Chase? So many of them were quick to surrender...."

" I think it is best not to take any chances. We're worked too long and sacrificed too much for this victory. I want this to stick."

Affirmations across the board. " I think a majority of our problems will be solved when those who have been convicted of war crimes are executed. It's hard to follow if no one is leading."

" True. What about the slaves? Are all the resources in place for them as well?" Not that there were many left... comparatively speaking. Instead of deliberate genocide, Orana had taken those who did not fit into the Nazi philosophy, and worked them to death. Some did survive and breed another generation of slaves, but most succumbed to the squalid conditions, poor diet and hygiene and brutality of their captors.

" Yes. We already have plans in place to try and transition them back into society. We expect to have some difficulty though – these people were all born into slavery; it's all they know."

Chase nodded, though no one but Diana could see her. " I know. We'll do the best we can. We can only do so much."

" Chase, what about the Japs?"

" I think you'll find they have been taken care of much the same way that the Nazi's have. I was in touch with both our Indian and Chinese counterparts before we started our offensive. They were scheduled to go at the same time we did, and without the Nazi support in place...."

" When will we know definitely?"

" I am expecting word at any time. As soon as I know something, I will pass it along. For now, though, we need to focus on securing our own positions."

" And the Fuehrer?"

" She will walk the gauntlet at dawn tomorrow." Chase's answer was hard and firm. " Once justice is served, we will make our announcement and let the world know that things have changed and how."

" And then?"

" And then it will be time for the provisional governments to begin their recovery and transition processes. I will be going home."

There was a cacophony of protests, and Chase held up her hands for silence, even though no one could see her. She leaned back into the strong body behind her, absorbing the strength Diana offered her wordlessly. When the noise finally died down, Chase opened her mouth to speak again.

" Guys, I'm not disappearing into a black hole or anything; you'll still be able to find me if you need me. I am just taking a step back from leadership. I've been doing this my whole adult life. We did what we set out to do, and it's time to allow people to be able to make their own decisions."

She didn't say the words, but they could all hear the need in her voice. Even without the details, every faction leader and in fact, most of the rebellion knew bits and pieces of Chase's story – enough to know she of all of them deserved whatever bit of peace she could find.

When she was sure no one else was going to comment, Chase gave her final instructions. " Make sure you're each prepared for the broadcast tomorrow. Shep and Sonny will be in touch with details as soon as we have them. Good work, folks. We couldn't have asked for a better offensive."

A knock on the door concluded the conference, and Chase took a deep breath to fortify herself for the coming conversation with Hans. This one promised to be more difficult than Shep had.

Chapter L

It was unnerving, actually. Hans took the news calmly, as though he had expected the news. Chase was confused and concerned, but there was little she could do separated as they were by ocean. He refused the opportunity to participate in Orana's punishment, citing his greater desire to be home to welcome Ty and lay her body to rest. Chase accepted that; it was one reason she was anxious to return.

" I need to be sure that the shifts have changed and people are getting some rest. Tomorrow is going to be busy."

Diana wrapped her arms around Chase's shoulders and held on tightly. " What about you, love? You've carried this for so long...."

" I know, baby. But it's just for a little longer. And then we can go home and have some peace together… have a real life." She leaned back into the embrace, loath to give it up, but almost ashamed of her neediness. She'd never expected to be so drained – tired perhaps or elated from victory, but all she could dredge up was a hollow emptiness.

" Chase, I'm worried about you." Diana could sense the depression, but wasn't sure if Ty's death was the only thing behind it or if there was more to it. Worse, she didn't know how to fix it. " Come. Let me pamper you just a little. We both need to eat and get some rest. Our burdens won't seem so heavy in the morning."

Chase didn't argue, but nodded her head wearily and stood up... or would have had her leg not chosen that moment to cramp and collapse under her. She sank back into the chair with a hiss. " Goddamn it!" She blew out an impatient breath. " Give me just a second," she said quietly to Diana. " I think I've been sitting too long; the muscles are frozen."

" Do you trust me?"

Chase didn't even hesitate long enough to think about it. " Yes, absolutely."

Diana knelt and began kneading the area around the wound, careful not to touch the actual bruise on Chase's thigh. It wasn't easy, but she managed and after a few minutes, Diana felt the knots loosening beneath her skillful touch. Chase had leaned her head against the chair back and had closed her eyes, allowing Diana's touch to heal without allowing her own preconceived notions to interfere with the process. She could feel her whole body relaxing for the first time in what felt like forever.

Diana smiled. " Better?"

Chase nodded, accepting Diana's outstretched hands as she slowly rose to her feet once more. " Even my arm and ribs feel better." The pain she had felt before was virtually gone and Chase looked her question at Diana.

" I told you – I have many skills," Diana answered with only a tiny smirk. Chase mocked glared at her and waited. " Actually, it's an ancient Chinese form of healing and therapy. Roughly translated into English, it is called acupuncture. It's the ability to...."

Diana stopped speaking when Chase's fingers covered her lips, only just resisting the impulse to kiss them and raising an eyebrow in question instead.

" Don't. I'll just think of it as your special brand of magic. Thank you for caring."

This time both brows went up and she gave in to the temptation of kissing Chase's fingertips. " Chase, I more than care. I love you."

Chase felt the tingle of those lips on her fingers course through her entire body, and she allowed herself the luxury of a few stolen moments, tracing the planes and features of the face that was growing more precious to her every day. There were still a lot of holes in her memories and even more unanswered questions, but Chase could no longer deny the truth of her feelings – towards Diana or the whole soulmate theory. Facing the separation of death again had brought home some elemental truths that Chase no longer had the will or the energy to deny. She was ready to just be happy together. Diana's eyes widened as she watched the change take place and recognized it for what it was.

With her good hand, Chase slid her fingers into Diana's hair and tugged her forward until their lips were just touching. " I love you too," she whispered before claiming the prize that was hers... and always had been.

The kiss was slow and sweet and hot, and Diana knew if she didn't back the intensity level down a few notches, odds were very good that they'd get caught in a very compromising position. Not that she was ashamed of the love they shared together – quite the contrary, but how they chose to express it was something very private and personal to her. They weren't a peep show or a circus act.

Still, the kiss went on for a few minutes before Diana pulled away to breathe. She let her forehead meet Chase's and they stood wrapped together in their embrace. They didn't hear the knock on the door until it opened and Sonny stuck his head in. He paused, awkwardly, then stepped into the room.

" I'm sorry to intrude, Chase." Sonny hesitated just inside the door, his discomfiture obvious. Chase turned from Diana but they refused to release one another completely, so with clasped hands and slow steps, they approached him.

" You're not intruding, Sonny. What's up?"

He kept his eyes locked squarely on the floor in front of him. " I just wanted to let you know that Rickie monitoring in the comm room and Shep sent an all clear message before signing off."

" Thanks, Sonny. You gonna go get some rest now?"

" Yes, ma'am – soon's I get something to eat." His eyes never moved from the floor. Chase cocked her head in question, then made a decision. This kind of prejudice had been one of the things they had been fighting against.

" Sonny? Are you having a problem... with Diana and I being a couple together and all, I mean?"

Bright brown eyes snapped up to meet hers. " No ma'am!" he stated vehemently. " Not really, I mean... I've never really seen two girls together before, but mostly I was trying not to intrude on your privacy. I'm pretty sure I was interrupting."

" All right, Sonny. Thank you for your honesty. Go grab a bite and get some rest. Tomorrow really is gonna be a busy day for us."

" Yes ma'am," meeting both their eyes shyly before returning his gaze to the floor. " Goodnight."

When the door closed, Chase leaned into Diana for a moment. Instinctively, Diana wrapped an arm of support around Chase's waist, gratified to feel a return pressure around her own. " Come on, love. Let's go find a place to settle down and get a little rest. My head hurts," Diana said softly, finally admitting to Chase something she would never have admitted to another soul. Chase turned then and reached her hand up, pushing Diana's hair aside to reveal an ugly lump and a neat row of stitches.

" Oh, baby," wrapping an arm around Diana's waist now and easing them out the door. " I'm sorry. I didn't know... I mean I didn't realize... I just...."

" Chase, shh. It's okay, mostly. It's just been a really long day and things are just catching up with me."

Chase could certainly agree with that. They had been going since before dark the night before and it was well into late afternoon. Almost everyone had been able catch some rest; they had instituted Chase's rotations as soon as they had been issued. Unfortunately for Chase, there was no one but her until the provisional governments were put into place and the power transferred from rebellion to legitimate authority, and that had taken the better part of the day.

But now... finally... she was close to being done as she ever had been, and all Chase felt was weariness and a sense of profound relief. " C'mon," she said to Diana. " Time for me to return the favor."

They reached the outside steps before they were stopped by Mala. " Come with me," she said imperiously. " We have dinner prepared for you as well as a place for you to get some rest." She motioned for them to go back into the Reichstag with a twirl of her fingers and then put her hands on her hips when they didn't comply immediately. " Let's go, you two. The sooner I get you settled, the sooner the rest of this bunch will get back to work."

Chase and Diana exchanged glances before turning their attention to the courtyard, realizing that everything had stopped while all eyes focused on them. Blue and green eyes widened simultaneously, then met with a comically stunned expression.

" Um... Mala?"

" Chase, you're a hero. What did you expect?"

" I'm not a hero!" she growled fiercely.

Mala started to contradict her, but a look from Diana stopped the words before they could form on her lips. Instead, she motioned them back inside the Reichstag, and now Chase shook her head.

" Mala...."

" Chase, trust me. We thought you and Diana might appreciate a little privacy together."

" That sounds wonderful," she answered frankly, clutching Diana's hand and missing the blush that ran up her face. " But why are we going back in here?" indicating the Reichstag with a measure of distaste. " Privacy or not, I really do not think trying to sleep at a desk is going to be very restful, and the only bed I saw in here I wouldn't touch," remembering Orana's chambers all too clearly.

" Chase, trust me when I tell you that Amazons have become creatures of comfort in the last few millennia, and they prepared a place for the two of you with that in mind. It isn't Orana's quarters or even anywhere near it." A pause. " You've done so much for so long; let others share the burden now. Hero or not, you've carried a lot of the rebellion on your shoulders. It's the main reason things are moving so rapidly and the transition has progressed so smoothly so far – you put some good, well-thought out plans into place."

Chase was more than a little embarrassed. Diana came to her rescue.

" Come on, Mala. Lead the way. It's been a really long day."

Mala nodded and led them back inside and down the corridor Chase knew went towards the guest residence quarters. She didn't argue; already much of what marked the Reichstag as the Nazi stronghold was gone. And she knew herself well enough to know she needed food and rest. The world would have to wait.

Mala opened the door and several comforting scents followed. Chase and Diana crossed the threshold into the room and Mala closed the door behind them, leaving them alone and in peace to investigate the comforts that had been provided for them.

There was a fire in the fireplace and hot food on the table, and opening the door on the far wall, they found a well-appointed bathroom. Diana and Chase exchanged tired but amused glances. " I guess the Nazis were as fond of their comforts as the Amazons, hmm?"

Diana rolled her eyes. " Given who their leader was...." she said, letting that thought lie. " Besides, you've seen how most people have been living here. You know how the rebels have been living. I don't think they have had these kinds of luxuries; they were for the privileged few."

" Isn't that still true? I don't see the masses in here enjoying all this."

Diana took Chase by the hand and led her back over to the table. " Let's eat; if I know Drea, she will be while shortly to check up on us and give us a report."

Chase nodded and started eating the stew, only just noting that it tasted good. They ate in silence for a few minutes before Chase noted Diana wasn't eating much. " Diana? Are you all right?"

" My head is bothering me a little bit."

Chase noticed her pallor and cursed herself silently. She pushed back from the table and came around beside Diana. " God, I've been so selfish. Let me take care of you."

" You don't have to...."

" I know, sweetheart, but I want to."

Diana let Chase lead her into the bathroom, then stood watching as she started the bathwater running. It was oddly disconcerting; Chase was still hobbling slightly and with her face still bruised and her arm still in a cast, her movements were slow and awkward. Diana rubbed her temple, trying to ease some of the pain away.

" Chase, what changed?"

" Huh?" Chase whirled to meet Diana's eyes.

" I mean, just a few days ago... it has only been a few days right?" She waited for Chase to nod. " Well, just a few days ago, we were working on just being friends. Now we're... well, I think we passed friendship and moved into something deeper."

Chase turned away from Diana to look for a towel, placing it on the counter before she nodded her head. " We did," she agreed softly. " Before – before we came here, before this fight, I had time... time for anger, time for thought, time for argument and consideration and logic. Ares made me realize that I was assuming too much - throwing away an opportunity I might never get again... especially since we were in the middle of a war. And staying angry over things past that I can't change... it suddenly dawned on me I was being stupid and selfish."

A frown crossed Diana's face. " I don't understand – you've been at war all your life. Not that I'm complaining," she hastened to reassure Chase. " I'm just a little confused."

Chase smiled sadly. " So was I. It is one thing to know something here," tapping her forehead. " It's something else again to have it brought home to you here," putting her hand over her heart. " I never had anything to lose before... not like this anyway. When I was hanging on the wall getting the crap beaten out of me, I decided if I got out of there, I wasn't going to be stupid and selfish any more. I was going to give us a chance to be an us... if you were still willing... because I remember what it felt like...." She let her words trail off, but Diana knew exactly when Chase was referring to.

Diana didn't answer verbally, but cupped her hands gently around Chase's face, drawing their lips together and sucking on her tongue until she felt Chase collapse against her in surrender. Diana had meant it to be a gesture of reassurance. Then Diana felt her knees start to buckle when Chase's hands began to wander across her body.

Diana leaned against the counter and Chase leaned into her as their lips separated. " I never knew it could be like this."

Diana combed her fingers through Chase's hair. " It will only get better, love. I promise you."

A knock on the outer door brought them back to the present and Chase noted the tub was nearly ready to overflow. She reached over and shut off the valves. " Why don't you get in the tub and relax? I'll go take care of the door. Then maybe we can finish dinner and curl up in that bed together?" Diana nodded.

" I'd like that, very much." There might have been more, but the knocking sounded louder and more insistently. Diana shook her head and gently pushed Chase towards the door. " Go. If it's Drea, she'll come in anyway if you don't answer the door soon."

About that time, the door opened and Drea slowly stuck her head in the door. " Chase? Diana?" she called out softly. She didn't want to disturb them if they were otherwise occupied, but then there was that mom gene that had decided to kick into overdrive. And despite everything, there were certain formalities that needed to be observed. Although looking at Chase now....

" Drea, come in. What can I do for you? Please," indicating the chairs in front of the fireplace.

Drea watched Chase carefully, noting her pallor and her limp. She reached up and took Chase's hands, easing her into the chair beside her. " Let me take a look at you, Chase," she said in her no-nonsense healer voice. " How do you feel?"

Chase considered the question while Drea rechecked her wounds, and decided there was no answer she could give that she felt comfortable sharing. So she remained quiet. Finally, Drea realized that she wasn't going to get an answer and sighed.

" All right. What are your intentions for my daughter?"

Chase jerked out of Drea's grasp. " You're walking a very fine line, Drea. What is between Diana and me is private, and it will remain that way until we decide otherwise. Do I make myself clear?"

" Absolutely, Chase. But you need to know that since Diana is the Amazon Princess, there are rules and protocols that will have to be followed."

Chase stood, heedless of the fact that her bandage was unraveled. " Get. Out."

" But...."

" GET OUT. I will not tolerate that sort of disrespect of her. Not from you – not from anyone."

" But, Chase... I didn't...."

" Drea," Diana said from the bathroom door. Even from that distance she could feel the anger rolling off of Chase in waves. " Do us all a favor and go. We can talk about this tomorrow. There is nothing more any of us can do tonight. Leave us, please." She didn't say it aloud, but her expression clearly said Trust me.

Drea nodded and rose, walking silently back to the door. " I'm sorry, Chase. I didn't mean any disrespect – to you or to Diana. This is new to all of us." She cleared her throat when she reached the door. " I actually came to tell you that everything is ready for tomorrow. Everyone who can be here will be here to participate in the gauntlet, and then the two of you will be returning to America."

" And the Amazons?"

" Diana has asked that we remain here a little while longer. We have much we can contribute, and possibly, a few things to learn as well." They had all been glad when Diana had given them their directives. It served a number of purposes and more than anything else, showed Diana was a true leader and caretaker of the Amazon Nation.

" Thank you, Drea. I assure you my intentions are honorable and once I have spoken of them with Diana, I will speak to both you and Hippolyta. But she deserves to know first."

Drea smiled and Chase felt the heat from Diana's blush. " Goodnight," Drea said before closing the door behind her.

Chase watched it close with a sense of satisfaction. Then she turned and took Diana's hand, leading her over to the bed. " C'mon. It's time to pamper you a little and I'd like to sleep in your arms tonight."

" That sounds wonderful. I have a feeling that will be the best medicine I could ask for."

Chase smiled. " Me too."

Chapter LI

The silence the next morning was deafening. There simply was no sound at all. No birds, no wind, no nothing. Just absolute quiet.

From the Reich steps as far as her eyes could see, Amazon warriors and rebel and resistance soldiers lined both sides of the road, each of them anxious for their chance to dispense a little justice. Some had sticks or clubs, a few had cats or chain; most had chosen to use their fists, though. Chase stood motionless on the top step waiting, sword strapped to her back. All eyes were turned to her, waiting as well.

Sonny had reset the cameras to record Orana's execution. There had been a debate about it, but in the end they had agreed on the necessity. Once the gauntlet was complete, Sonny had orders to put together a compilation beginning with Orana's speech a few nights previous, and a short collection of her well documented and her hidden atrocities against humanity. Once that was done, it would be aired, along with her summary judgment and execution. Everyone might not be able to participate, but they would certainly be able to attend after the fact if they chose to.

Diana had chosen not to participate as Diana Prince, but as Wonder Woman, and she had the distinct pleasure of escorting Orana from the dungeon to the Reichstag steps. Chase more than anyone understood her need for this sort of closure and had merely acquiesced to her request with a nod. So Diana became her alter ego and Wonder Woman walked unimpeded to the torture chamber. Only when she got there did she see the presence of guards, and they nodded their heads respectfully and opened the door to let her pass through. She wondered briefly, but correctly assumed that Chase had called down and issued instructions.

Two of them followed her in while two more remained at the door. She loosened the lasso from her belt and almost gently wrapped it around Orana's shoulders. Then she looked her directly in the eye. " No trouble, Orana. Not for me and not for her. The people have earned their justice."

" Whatever," Orana said mockingly. " It's not like you care, Wonder Woman. You're only concerned with...."

" Don't," Diana cut in, her eyes flashing fire. " Just be quiet. You will have your chance to speak before sentence is pronounced."

Orana opened her mouth to speak, but Wonder Woman yanked hard on the lasso and she lost the desire. Then the two soldiers loosened her manacles from the wall while keeping her bound and chained. " Walk."

Orana did so, though Wonder Woman could feel her resistance. A dark part of her relished that; the warrior part that demanded vengeance and justice. The rest of her felt a sadness, a resignation for what had to be. Paradise Island had bred this evil – if they couldn't keep it out of their sterile environment, what hope did humankind have to defeat it?

They stepped out of the Reichstag into the bright morning and Orana blinked instinctively. She thought briefly of struggling, knowing her guards were having the same issue with their sight. Then she shrugged. She expected a dramatic last-minute rescue and decided it would make a better story if she didn't put a fight up. So Orana walked to the edge of the step to stand beside Chase with Wonder Woman holding the lasso that still bound her and four rebel guards. She raised her chin defiantly and smirked in Chase's direction.

" Well, well," she finally said, pushing through the lasso's power to speak. " Isn't this nice? You rounded up the entire rebellion in one place for me to annihilate."

Chase didn't respond, but she could feel the incredulousness emanating from the entire throng that was waiting for Orana to walk between them. Her bravado was astounding or her madness was that complete; no one was quite sure which it was.

At any rate, Chase stood in cleaned and pressed camouflage, her bruises lurid against the paleness of her skin as she faced the former Fuehrer.

" Orana, Supreme Fuehrer of the Nazi Third Reich, you stand before representatives of each of the peoples of the world who have suffered under your oppressive rule accused of tyranny and crimes against humanity. How do you plead?"

Unexpectedly, Orana laughed – a high, shrill sound that was grating on every last nerve. Only Chase and Wonder Woman refrained from flinching. " Humanity? Who gives a fuck about humanity? Mindless animals waiting to be led. You sure this isn't personal for you, Annabelle?"

Only a slight clenching of her jaw gave any indication how close to the mark Orana had hit, but the Amazon saw it. " It is, isn't it?" She turned her head towards Wonder Woman, then back to Chase. " It's not about what I did to you, though is it? This is about what I did to *her*, isn't it?" She laughed again. " Gods, this is just too special. This has nothing to do with justice for these people. It has nothing to do with humanity. This is personal."

Chase's expression never changed and her attention never wavered, and when Orana was done speaking, she took a breath. " Do you have anything rational to say in your defense or is vitriolic diatribe all you have left to share with the world?"

Orana rolled her eyes but remained silent.

" Very well," Chase said after a long minute of complete silent. " As leader of the rebellion, and by the authority vested in me by the provisional governments now in power across the world, I hereby declare you guilty on all counts and sentence you to walk the gauntlet. Sentence to commence immediately."

Orana sidled up close to Chase, the lasso giving her just enough leeway. " You'd like to think this will be the end, wouldn't you? Don't you know I'm immortal, Annabelle? You can't kill me... and I have friends in high places, remember?" A jerk on the lasso pulled her out of Chase's personal space and she met Wonder Woman's burning eyes with a sense of contempt and a tickle of something familiar in her memory. Then it disappeared as quickly as it had emerged, washed away in a haze of anger and bloodlust.

" This isn't over, Annabelle Chaser!!! Not by a long shot!!!"

Wonder Woman jerked the lasso again and pulled Orana down the stairs with her. " You will walk the gauntlet, Orana," she commanded quietly, knowing she would be compelled to obey. " And you will die today. I promise you that... because it *is* personal for me," she added in an undertone, saying the things she knew Chase couldn't allow herself to acknowledge publicly. " Now walk," giving her a gentle shove. " And may the gods have mercy on your soul, because no one here will."

Orana took a deep breath, certain of her rescue. Then she began her walk between the rows, confident she would be walking out at the other end unharmed.

The first blow came as something of a shock. To say she was surprised... taken totally unaware... would have been an understatement of massive proportions. There was no holding back, and though each of them only took one hit, there were enough of them that a single hit from each of them added up to quite a lot of strikes against her body. Orana was beginning to feel them – the lash of a whip, the bite of chains, the bruising of knuckles and clubs. Harder and faster they came until her only focus was the pain and where the next one was coming from.

" ARES!!!" she screamed. " ARES!!!" It was obvious from her cries that she fully expected an answer from him. And it was equally obvious from his silence there no help was forthcoming.

From his position in front of his scrying bowl, Ares watched impassively, a hint of disdain curling his lips. He had expected better from her than crying for help. Well, he decided with a shrug of his broad shoulders. It's been a nice long run. I was getting bored with her anyway. Maybe I can find some real trouble to stir up when this settles. Then he turned back to watch Orana's final humiliation.

Halfway through the line, Orana fell, unable to walk any further. At Chase's signal, those who had already had their shot at her took a step back to allow a line to form for those who hadn't yet dispensed justice. Person after person hit Orana until she didn't even emit sound when the blows landed.

When the last soldier had taken their hit on her body, they formed into lines creating a large box around Orana. Chase stepped forward into the open space and waited. Slowly, much slower than she had anticipated, Orana lifted her head just barely off the ground and peered at Chase through eyes nearly swollen shut. The grin she gave was a twisted grimace and the blood that filled her mouth just made her expression horrific. Orana tried to chuckle, but the sound was more of a choking.

" I told you you couldn't kill me."

Chase didn't answer, but gestured to two soldiers, one Amazon and one resistance fighter. They jerked Orana into a kneeling position, extending her arms away from her body. Terror dawned in her eyes as she realized what was fixing to happen, but she no longer had the strength left to struggle. Chase removed the sword the Amazons had offered her for this occasion from its sheath, and held it up in front of Orana for the barest moment. Orana's eyes widened in recognition.

" Justice has been served," Chase pronounced as she drew the sword back and swung with every ounce of strength and fury she possessed. " But this is personal," she whispered as she watched Orana's head bounce off her shoulders to land a few feet away from her body. " You don't get to hurt her ever again," Chase growled too low for anyone else to hear.

With a nod, the two dropped Orana's body. Then they resumed their places back in line and waited for Chase to speak. She looked around trying to come to grips with the fact that it was really over – Orana's death closed a personal chapter in her life that had been open since their first face to face encounter. She finally took a deep breath and spoke.

" Bury her in an unmarked grave. I don't want the predators around here to die from exposure to the poison that she is. Make it deep. Everyone else, go back to work. There's still plenty of work to do to put things right again and you all have your assignments."

No one moved and Chase looked around with a raised eyebrow. " Um... today, people." Instead the leader of the local resistance stepped forward and placed his hands on Chase's shoulders. Then he leaned forward and kissed her cheeks.

" Thank you," he said simply. Then he stepped back and snapped to attention, the troops surrounding them doing the same thing. Word had spread of Chase's imminent return to America and no one could begrudge her the desire or the need to withdraw from the forefront of the rebellion. In fairness, it was very likely that the world's governments would defer to her as long as she would allow it. So much had depended on her for so long and even the newest foot soldiers had heard of her exploits. By removing herself from a leadership position, it would force them to make their own decisions and take the responsibility for them.

But regardless of all the rationalizations, they would miss her presence and her leadership – they knew it and so did she. So she allowed them this opportunity and absorbed the gratitude and love she could feel flowing from all of them. It eased the pain and guilt she had carried for most of her life. Chase lifted her eyes to meet Wonder Woman's and found compassion and understanding.

Chase turned in a complete circle and looked at all the soldiers who stood at attention around her. Then she turned back to the Reichstag and the woman who waited there patiently for her to return. Chase made her way through the crowd that parted before her and up the steps. She turned and faced the troops and smiled.

" Good luck, my friends. Dismissed," she said, giving them her last formal order. They cheered and watched until Chase and Wonder Woman disappeared into the Reichstag; then they broke into their respective groups and went back to work.

Mala and Drea were waiting for them when they arrived back in the room they had shared the previous night. Wonder Woman spun and instantly became Diana Prince once more. Then she walked over to stand behind Chase, lightly wrapping her arms around Chase's shoulders despite the blood spattered across her clothing and meeting Drea's and Mala's over her head.

" What can we do for you ladies?" Diana asked to break the silence. It wasn't so much what she said but how she said it that made the two exchange glances before turning back to Chase and Diana.

" We just wanted to make sure you were both doing all right. It's been a long few days for both of you and Chase looks like she's about ready to collapse." Drea focused on Chase. " May I check your injuries again before you leave?"

Chase shrugged. Suddenly she was overwhelmingly tired and wanted nothing more than a hot shower and twenty-four hours of uninterrupted sleep. Drea watched it happen and offered her hand to Chase, a little surprised when it was accepted so readily. Chase maintained the grip she had on Diana's hand and they made quite a little procession going into the bathroom.

" Chase, would you like some privacy to take a shower?"

Chase shook her head. " I don't have anything clean to wear and there really isn't time." She unbuckled her trousers so Drea could look at the stitches again. When she released Diana's hand, Diana moved over to the small linen closet and removed a wash cloth, wetting it in warm water before crossing back to Chase's side.

" You have time," Drea assured her. " We haven't started loading bodies onto the planes yet. I am sending all but the most critical cases back to America. There are a few we can't try and move yet."

" Thanks, Drea, but I just want to take Ty home. Are you done yet?" she asked before turning to smile her thanks at Diana when she finished wiping Orana's blood from her face.

Drea chuckled. " You're not big on patience are you, Chase? That trait you definitely inherited from your mother." She cleared her throat when Chase stilled completely. " I'm not quite done. I don't like the look of these – they're red and more swollen than I am comfortable with. I'm going to open them; it may hurt more than a little. Would you like something for the pain?"

" No thank you," Chase said shortly. " Just do it so I can get out of here, please."

" May I ask what your hurry is, Chase? Most people in your position would be overjoyed to have the power and responsibility you hold right now."

Mala held Diana in a soft, inflexible grip, knowing Drea wanted to talk to Chase semi-privately as it had been made clear to both priestess and healer that neither Chase nor Diana was willing to let the other out of her sight. Diana turned to look at Mala, and the priestess cupped her face in the comforting manner of old she had used so many times before. Unspoken conversation passed between them and Diana relaxed subtly. Nothing untoward would happen with them all standing in the same room. Mala closed her eyes briefly in thanks, then combed Diana's hair away from her forehead to check her stitches as well. Not surprisingly, they were nearly healed.

Chase winced when the stitches popped open, allowing a rush of blood and pus to rush out the opening. Drea clucked her tongue and let it run, taking the infection with it. When the bleeding slowed, she rinsed it with water and Chase finally replied to her question.

" I have had this power and responsibility all my adult life, Drea. I did what needed to be done to finish the job that needed doing; I don't want to do it anymore, and everyone knows that. They knew it going into this operation. But the longer I stay here, the longer they will continue to depend on me... expect me to take the lead in every decision that needs to be made. I need to go home and let them figure things out for themselves. I can't keep doing it for them."

" Even if it is for the greater good?"

" Even if. My whole life has been in service of the greater good. I don't have anything left to give."

Drea nodded and though it looked like there was more she wanted to say, she remained silent until the blood ran clear from the cut. Then she looked towards Diana. " Come sit behind Chase, Diana. I need to pour alcohol on this and it's going to hurt."

Diana took her place behind Chase and held her while Drea poured more than half a bottle of alcohol on the wound. Then she packed it and wrapped it up, giving Chase instructions on the care of it once she got home. Then she took Diana by the arm and led her out of the bathroom to give Chase an opportunity to dress and her a moment to speak to Diana privately.

" Diana, are you sure you shouldn't remain here with the rest of us? Your mother did make you the leader of the Amazon army."

" Drea, my place is at her side. You know that. Why are you suddenly being so difficult about this?"

Drea rubbed her forehead. " I'm not sure, honestly. I think I'm on overload. I know you need to be with her, but we need you here as well."

" No you don't," Diana said frankly. " Not really." She held up a hand before Drea could argue. " I have already given my orders to the Nation; no one needs me to stay here babysitting to make sure they are carried out. Drea, these are Amazon warriors – they were Amazon warriors hundreds of years before I even came into existence. I think they can handle themselves. And Chase needs me, Drea, like I need her. Maybe you should figure out why that bothers you so much."

" I can see what it has done to Chase's soul. I don't want it to do the same to yours."

Diana smiled. " Drea, Chase is healing my soul, and I am healing hers. Where she goes, I go."

" And where Diana goes, I will go, Drea," Chase said as she came out of the bathroom followed by Mala. " I'm not playing her or taking advantage of her or stringing her along for my own use and pleasure. If she felt she needed to stay here for any reason, we would. I'm not sure what I have done to suddenly warrant your distrust, but I think you need to adjust your attitude about me as a person and about Diana and me as a couple. I'm not going anywhere, Drea. I am here for the long haul."

" No matter what?"

" Forever, Drea. And that is just the beginning for us."

Without warning, Drea straightened as though a burden had fallen from her shoulders and she grinned while taking Chase into her arms for an almost smothering hug. Chase was startled and it showed in the expression Diana read so easily in her eyes. However, she returned the fervent embrace and hope Drea would see fit to explain. Mala chuckled silently at the tableau playing out in front of her.

" Thank you, Chase," Drea said as she pulled back. " I just wanted to hear it from your lips. I wanted to know this was your choice."

" Drea, I may be slow, but I am certainly not stupid," not admitting to Drea the stupidity she freely admitted to Diana. " Even when my mind was arguing, my heart and soul knew. Diana was never *not* my choice," speaking to Drea but never letting her eyes leave Diana's.

Mala cleared her throat. " So this means we will have an Amazon wedding soon then, yes?"

Diana and Chase colored equal shades of red, but their eyes stayed locked exchanging silent promises with each other. " Yes," they answered in a simultaneous whisper, moving into one another's arms and forgetting about their audience for a long spell of time while their lips met in passionate affirmation. Only Drea's throat clearing separated them though they leaned their foreheads together and breathed the same air.

" Guess I need to see about getting a supply of chocolate body paint then," Mala commented. Then she and Drea exchanged glance