Disclaimers: None of these characters belong to me - seriously. However, you will have to read to the end or sneak peek your way to the bottom of this document to see who owns whom. Telling at this point would ruin EVERYTHING. I can honestly say, though, that story is all mine, so.... If you’re still reading my stuff at this point, you pretty well know what you’re getting into. If you don’t have an open mind, why exactly are you still reading? However, if you do read it and you find something you think needs disclaiming, you are still more than welcome to let me know. It won’t change anything, but it may make you feel better. Ugliness will earn you a smack to the back of your head.
Thanks: To Phil, Mac and Jeanne for beta reading this short story for me. They’ve picked up all kinds of dropped letters because Pink and Fluffy tend to leave a trail of them. Their diligence is greatly appreciated. All errors belong strictly to me.
Special Thanks: To Phil for playing poker for me. Otherwise we would have ended up playing Solitaire, and where’s the fun in that?? And for listening to me ramble while dusting on Saturday morning. Who knew Pink & Fluffy would find dust bunnies inspiring?? Oh – and especially for giving me the basis for the riddles... I couldn’t have written them without her input and efforts.
Author’s Notes: The last time I started a Halloween story that ended up a raging epic, things turned out pretty well, so stay tuned and keep your fingers crossed. The Halloween story being told within this tale is mine. The REAL credits page is actually at the end of the story; and the Storyteller’s Cardinal Rule is in effect.
Not So Scary Halloween
”I don’t wanna be Scooby Doo!” Helena pouted, crossing her arms over her chest in a fit of pique. “He’s a *dog*, Dinah... a DOG. And I am soooo not a dog person.” She motioned to herself and let her eyes augment, revealing her obvious feline nature.
“Helena, you lost the toss fair and square,” Dinah huffed.
Helena snorted. “Yeah – about that. How do I know you didn’t TK it in your favor? Hmm?”
Outraged blue eyes met discontented green. “Are you saying I cheated?”
“All right, you two... enough,” Barbara commented as she rolled into the room, her wheelchair making motorcycle sounds as it moved. “You should have gone with Sylvester and Tweety if you wanted to be cartoon characters. At least they would have played to type. Now go get dressed; we don’t want to be late meeting up with everyone.”
“Barbara!” Helena whined even as Dinah moved off to do Barbara’s bidding.
Barbara reached up and wrapped a gloved fist in Helena’s shirt, pulling her down swiftly until their lips were inches apart. Helena squawked and braced her arms on the arms of Barbara’s chair, then smiled ferally as she realized their positions allowed her to appreciate Barbara’s costume in a whole new way. The white tank was tight – tight enough to reveal delineated abs and full cleavage that it couldn’t quite contain. The temporary tattoos were colorful and the leather motorcycle jacket draped across her lap didn’t hide the skin-tight jeans she wore.
“Helena?” Barbara’s voice broke through the haze Helena had fallen into and her now golden eyes met Barbara’s green ones.
“Yes?” her voice low and purring, causing Barbara’s nostrils to flare in response.
“Get dressed, Scooby. The quicker we do this party thing, the quicker we can come back her and have our own private game of trick-or-treat.”
The kiss that was Helena’s answer would have gone on longer had Dinah not screamed in frustration. “Will the two of you stop it already? I don’t have enough life left to get all the therapy I’m gonna need from all your projecting!”
“Deal, Kid. If I’m gonna suffer, then so are you.” Dinah stuck out her tongue, and Barbara laughed then patted Helena’s hip.
“Go get dressed, Hel. It’s time to go trick-or-treating at the House of Mouse.”
“Careful there, bard,” Xena wheezed as Gabrielle pulled the laces of her corset tighter. “It’s not like I have worn this in a while and leather shrinks if you don’t wear it every day, you know.”
Gabrielle just gave her a knowing look and slipped the brass armor plates over Xena’s head, then motioned Xena to raise her arms so she could fasten it in place. A knock on the door caused Gabrielle to stop what she was doing and Xena crossed to the door and opened it to admit Wonder Woman.
“Wow,” Diana breathed softly. “I never thought I’d see the Warrior Princess in all her ancient glory.” Blue eyes met fiery green when Gabrielle cleared her throat rather loudly. “Sorry, my Queen,” recognizing the poise and bearing even though Gabrielle still wore the robe the resort provided. Diana knelt and bowed her head.
“Diana,” Gabrielle sighed. “Rise. You know better than to stand on such formality with me.”
Diana rose smoothly with a sly smile. “I know. But how else would I know you painted your toes shades of a rainbow?” motioning to Gabrielle’s bare feet. When Gabrielle’s nose crinkled up in a smile before she stuck out her tongue, Diana looked at the bed where Xena’s weapons lay in state. “Are those...?”
“Yep,” Xena confirmed as she snapped the sheath into place on her back armor. She slid her sword in with practiced ease and dropped the chakram onto its hook.
“Is that safe?” Diana asked even as she ran the lasso of truth through her fingers.
“As safe as yours is,” Xena replied with a significant glance towards Wonder Woman’s accoutrements. “No one but us knows it’s the real thing.”
Diana nodded. “Fair enough. I just don’t want to get thrown out of the party before we get in the gate. I mean, really... Amazons who can’t even get *into* a party before being thrown out?? What would the sisters say?”
“What happens at Disney....”
“... stays at Disney,” Diana finished, laughing. Then she saw Xena’s eyes widen in appreciation and Diana turned to find the Amazon Queen of lore standing in front of her. The brown leather was soft enough to be velvet except where it was inlaid with gold swirls that highlighted full breasts. The armbands and gauntlets served to accentuate Gabrielle’s sleek muscularity and her six-pack abs were clearly defined above the matching swirls adorning the brown skirt. Calf high brown boots held the sais she wore and the Queen’s shoulder insignia gleamed dully in the lamplight. Gabrielle looked between two sets of blue eyes.
“What?” she asked as she grabbed her cape with her unique sigil pin and snatched up her staff. “Are you two all right?”
Xena grinned rakishly, her eyes glowing in appreciation that even after all their years together made Gabrielle blush. Diana just swallowed hard and nodded. “Yeah. It’s just a little... disconcerting... watching Amazon history come to life in front of you. The stories don’t do you justice.”
Xena snorted. “That’s because she never let’s herself be more than the observer in the background. Despite whatever role she actually played.” She and Gabrielle exchanged glares – this was a millennia old argument between them, and it wasn’t going to be resolved this night either.
“Can I ask why?” Diana ventured. Xena smirked; Gabrielle sighed.
“Because it’s harder to be objective when I am part of the stories.”
Diana rubbed her nose thoughtfully and cleared her throat. “Gabrielle, I hate to be the one to break this to you, but none of your stories are objective where Xena is concerned. Maybe you should visit Paradise Island soon and take a reading tour of the library... your library.”
Gabrielle tuned her glare on Diana momentarily, then sighed loudly. “We need to go before we’re late meeting the Spencer-Rivera family for dinner,” with a telling look in Xena’s direction.
“And I’ve promised to meet up with the military contingent that’s here,” Diana added as they moved towards the door. Xena opened it and gestured the others out in front of her.
“Have you met them before?”
“I’ve talked to Col. MacKenzie a few times and I know of both Cols. Carter and Fraiser. This will be my first opportunity to sit down and talk to them though. I’m looking forward to it.” She paused a moment. “You know about them, don’t you?” she finally asked.
“Probably as much or more than you do,” Xena assured her. “Dite keeps us in the loop about all kinds of things.”
“Which makes me wonder how she missed drawing a bead on Desdemona.”
“Probably because what she knows about all has to do with her love biz thing, and let’s face it,” Gabrielle commented wryly. “There is nothing even vaguely associated with love as far as Desdemona is concerned.”
Both dark heads nodded their agreement and they finished the remainder of their trip to the main building in silence. As they stepped into the air-conditioned building, Diana bobbed her head in respect before separating from Xena and Gabrielle. They watched her meet up with her dinner companions – a dominatrix, a First Prime and an SGC team member.
“Wonder if she knows how accurate Sam and Janet’s costumes are.”
“I doubt it. She probably knows they are involved in some sort of secret military project and that they are a couple. You know how the government works – the right hand is never aware of what the left hand is doing. And with ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell....”
“True enough,” Xena agreed before they headed into the restaurant.
“Gabrielle!” Emma called out from the table she and her mommies were already seated at. She waved, jumping excitedly when Gabrielle waved back. Gabrielle clasped Xena’s hand and led them through the maze of tables before reaching the booth where Olivia, Natalia and Emma sat. Emma reached out and took Gabrielle’s hand. “Can I sit with you and Xena?” she asked brightly, eyes shining in anticipation.
Xena and Gabrielle exchanged glances, then Xena motioned Gabrielle to slide in. She turned her back to Xena, unclasping the pin on her cape and leaving it in Xena’s capable hands so she could slide into the booth with ease. Olivia’s and Natalia’s eyes widened at the amount of skin she revealed.
“And I thought your costume was ballsy,” Olivia muttered with a look at the French maid costume Natalia sported. Natalia blushed fiercely from both the words and the perusal.
“Oh, I don’t know, Olivia. I think wearing a leash on the belt of a nun’s habit instead of the traditional rosary beads is pretty much putting it right out there,” came Gabrielle’s rejoinder in a teasing tone. “I’d be willing to bet there’s a collar under that wimple.”
Green eyes met unflinchingly – one full of knowing and mischief, the other twinkling even as a blush stained her cheeks. Then Natalia leaned her head on Olivia’s shoulder and their eyes met in silent communication. The red receded from Olivia’s face, leaving her with only a light pink tinge.
“I think we’re going to get along fine,” Olivia said with assurance as her eyes returned to Gabrielle’s.
“I know so,” Gabrielle agreed, nodding her head to where Xena was knelt down in front of Emma. Her mothers turned to watch the warrior’s interaction with their precious Jellybean.
“So this is a real warrior’s sword?” Emma asked as she walked behind Xena, placing her hand on the hilt as she investigated every single part of her costume.
“Well,” Xena hedged, “it represents a real warrior’s sword. It was a necessary part of a warrior’s life in ancient Greece... especially if the warrior in question served as Champion to the Amazon Queen.”
“And that’s who Gabrielle is, right?”
“Right... she’s the Amazon Queen and I am her Champion.”
“Is that why you have a Frisbee?” gesturing to the chakram.
Xena briefly considered explaining the weapon that had once been her signature as much as the pinch had. Then she smirked to herself – there was no way in hell and damnation itself she could do that without creating far more issues than she would ever be able to solve. She nodded in answer to Emma’s question.
“That’s why I have the Frisbee – only Queen’s Champions get those.”
Emma’s eyes sparkled. “That’s so cool. I wanna be a Queen’s Champion when I grow up.”
Xena smiled. “You can be anything you wanna be, Jellybean, but I have to tell you... I think you make a really nice Esmeralda.”
“She’s my favorite; she’s not a princess and she knows that preju... prejudice – treating people bad ‘cause they’re different - hurts. That’s what happened to my mommies, you know,” she confided, her voice quiet enough to actually remain private between her and Xena.
“I didn’t know,” Xena replied. “But I promise that Gabrielle and I would never treat you or your mommies with disrespect like that.
“Oh, I know,” Emma said sagely. “You’ve got good eyes.”
Blue eyes blinked rapidly in surprise. “I do?”
“Um hmm,” the nod firm and instantaneous. “You and Gabrielle both do. I can tell.”
“Well, maybe we can talk about how you can tell sometime.”
“Oh sure. It’s easy.” Emma turned to the table. “Mommy, I’m hungry. Can we eat now?”
“Waiting on you, Jellybean,” Olivia responded, watching with an indulgent smile as Emma smoothly slid into the booth between Xena and Gabrielle. Xena took her seat and they turned their attention to the menus. Their friendship was starting out on an interesting note.
“Hello, Col. MacKenzie,” Diana said as the dominatrix rose to greet her. “Interesting costume.”
“Yeah,” Sam agreed with a wicked grin. “I can’t believe Harm agreed to you wearing it without him.”
Mac gave her a wicked grin in return. “Who said I asked?” She turned back to Diana. “Diana Prince, allow me to introduce you to Colonel Doctor Samantha Carter and Colonel Doctor Janet Fraiser. Sam is here as an Air Force representative in the interests of Homeland Security and Janet is part of the medical community participating in law enforcement.” They shook hands and exchanged pleasantries before Diana gestured them towards the restaurant.
“I imagine we will have plenty to talk about then,” Diana assured them. “Shall we?”
As they entered the foyer of the restaurant, they were met by a trio of superheroes headed out. Bones and Diana looked at one another for a long moment, then Bones shook her head.
“You’re wearing the lasso on the wrong side,” she said bluntly, motioning to her own costume.
“I don’t think so,” Diana replied coolly. “I did a lot of research on this subject.”
“How do you research a fictional character? The television show....”
“... is a television show and shouldn’t be taken quite so literally, sweetie,” Angela said as she pushed her red cape off her shoulders again. “Let’s just go so these ladies can eat, all right?”
Bones nodded, but not without a final look at Diana’s costume. Then she allowed herself to be led from the restaurant. Cam shook her head and gave Mac the once over. Her eyebrow quirked and her lips twitched.
“Yeah, if I had to wear latex, I shoulda gone your route.”
The tension broken, the quartet chuckled their agreement as they watched Batman follow Supergirl and Wonder Woman from the room. Then they followed the hostess to their table.
“Gabrielle, are those Amazons?” Emma asked as she pointed towards the door. Following Diana and her dinner companions were three women dressed in short leather skirts, short leather tops and calf-high leather boots. With them were three more women who looked as though they belonged to a circus as performers – a clown, complete with red nose and big shoes, some kind of glitzy assistant and a bike rider of some sort. They were seated out of sight and Gabrielle turned her attention back to Emma.
“I’m not sure,” she confessed honestly. “But I think they were.”
“You don’t know all the Amazons?”
Olivia and Natalia looked faintly amused at Emma’s seriousness, but Gabrielle accepted the question for what it was at face value.
“Oh, I couldn’t possibly. The Amazon Nation is very large, made up of a number of tribes located all over. I meet with the Regents, but it’s not entirely possible for me to have met everyone. And if they are new members, they wouldn’t have been added to the database yet.”
“You had databases in ancient Greece?”
Gabrielle didn’t even flinch, but simply grinned at Emma. “Yeah – except then we called them scrolls.”
“That sounds neat. Maybe we should go meet the new Amazons. They would probably love to meet the Queen.”
“How about we finish dinner first, Em?” Olivia asked. “We don’t want to be late for the Halloween Party.”
Emma nodded and turned her attention back to the food.
“This is nice,” Sabrina commented as she removed her nose. Kelly set her helmet under her chair and Kris tried vainly to get the short skirt on her red dress to stop creeping up. Emily, JJ and Garcia all slipped into their seats with only minimal pushing and pulling on their costumes and soon the waitress had taken their orders and left them alone again.
“It is,” Emily agreed as she covered Sabrina’s hand with her own. “I’m so glad we got this opportunity to know one another again, Aunt Bre – as well as those we call family,” indicating the others who sat at the table.
“I never would have thought,” Sabrina started, then changed her course. “It really is incredible. So,” she continued, taking a deep breath and willing away the quavers in her voice. “Why Amazons?”
“Because Garcia is an enthusiast,” JJ replied with a smile.
“Well, they’re a thrilling part of history that time has pretty much forgotten about,” Garcia defended.
“I agree,” Kris affirmed. “Wish we had thought of that,” looking down at her assistant’s costume with a frown. “At least that wouldn’t give me nightmares.”
“Bad memories?” Emily asked.
“Rough case,” Kelly answered. “The only thing good about it was we all came out of it intact.”
“Some days, that’s the best you can hope for,” JJ said somberly. Then the waitress appeared with their appetizers and the conversation turned to lighter discussion.
“Oh wow,” Lilly commented to Sara as the CSI cum pirate joined her at the table. “Even without being a fortune teller with a crystal ball, I see bad things happening there,” she said with a nod towards the New York contingent that was just coming in the door. Catherine and Sofia turned simultaneously – Catherine lifting the eye patch that went with her pirate costume while Sofia shifted the dreadlocks that made up the wig of her Jack Sparrow get up.
“Uh oh,” Sofia agreed. “No kidding.”
Every New York sports team except the Jets was represented, which in and of itself was a recipe for disaster no matter how good of friends the women were. Even being on the same side professionally wouldn’t forgive the rivalry between their favorite teams. Then Jordan walked in sporting a Red Sox jersey and friendly pandemonium broke loose between them. Wendy shook her head.
“I think it’s a good thing they like each other,” watching all the backslapping going on at the far table.
“One can only hope,” Catherine commented wryly. “Otherwise we may end up having to process evidence for all the assault charges that will be flying instead of going to this party.”
“Oh no,” Wendy complained. “Not after getting into this costume,” motioning to the outfit she wore. “It took me an hour to get this right.”
“Speaking of... what made you decide to go as...?” gesturing to her decidedly non-pirate outfit. “I thought the Vegas crew were all going as pirates,” Sara said, motioning around the table.
Wendy shrugged. “I tried the pirate costume, but it wasn’t working for me. This one just felt right.”
“Maybe you’ve got a dashing Southern rogue somewhere in your past,” Catherine observed with a grin.
“Maybe. I may have to talk to my mother when we get home.”
“Or maybe you could just talk to your doppleganger,” Sofia nodded towards Nikki as she and Nora headed out of the restaurant. Wendy’s eyes met Nikki’s briefly before they both looked away.
“Maybe,” she agreed, but turned her attention back to the meal in front of her.
“You really need to talk to her Nik,” Nora said as she shifted the full skirt of her antebellum dress out of her way again. “How did I ever let you talk me into this?” she grumbled. “I feel like an Azalea Trail maiden.”
Nikki leaned over and brushed a light kiss over Nora’s lips, only to find her own caught and held for a long moment. “You look beautiful, Nora,” she said on a labored breath as they separated. She caressed Nora’s cheek with the backs of her fingers. “Think of this as your private debutante ball.”
Nora snorted. “About twenty years too late. And stop avoiding the subject,” she chided as she watched the crowd part for them and wondered if it was due to her costume or Nikki’s.
“I’m not avoiding anything, darlin’. I’m trying to figure out if I can use any of these voodoo things Darius let me borrow to cast a spell on her,” jangling the bits and pieces of her priestess costume.
“Nikki, just talk to her. I’ll be right beside you, no matter what.”
“Maybe I should ask Queen Victoria to step in,” she said jokingly, nodding her head in Emily’s direction as the red head stepped into the foyer of the main building ushering two teenagers dressed as teenagers ahead of her.
“Looks like the queen may have her hands full at the moment, lover. You might ought to take care of this one on your own.”
Nikki gave Nora a look. “I’ll think about it, okay?”
Nora nodded. “That’s all I can ask.”
Caroline and Cassidy slid into the car waiting under the portico for them and waved at Emily as they sped away into the night. Emily turned back towards the main entrance, only to stop when she realized she was not alone. She put a hand over her heart and glared at the woman facing her.
“Andy! Are you trying to kill me?”
“Why would I want to do that, Em? I just wanted to talk for a minute. I’ve hardly seen you since....”
“Andy,” Emily commanded, holding up a hand regally like the queen she currently represented. “I know we get together for drinks once in a while in New York. I know you do the same thing with Nigel as well. However, that doesn’t change the fact that I cannot be seen associating with you on any level here. Miranda has already made it clear you are to be nowhere in her orbit. Given that I am her first assistant... I’m sure you can see where this is going.”
Andy sighed. “Maybe I should just speak to Miranda directly.”
“NO! No, Andy. If you value our association at all, you will stay away from Miranda.”
“But, Em... I owe her.”
“Perhaps. But if that is so, please owe her on your time – not mine or Runway’s. Even being Agent 99 will not save you from her wrath.” She looked around and then continued sotto voce. “And as Julia Child, I’m fairly certain she has a plethora of knives at her disposal.”
Andy clapped a hand over her mouth. “Miranda is dressed as Julia Child?” waiting for Emily to narrow her eyes and give a curt nod. “Thanks, Em,” she said before she disappeared down the hallway. Moments later, Miranda strode up and looked around suspiciously.
“Did the girls get away all right?”
“Yes, Miranda. The car will be returning for us shortly.”
“Very well, Emily. That’s all.”
“Wow,” Annabelle commented quietly as she looked around at the number of costumes milling around the large space. “I never expected....”
“Me either,” Simone agreed. “But it’s quite interesting. Lots of different costumes. I wonder if anyone else’s are as accurate in their portrayal as ours are,” her voice dry and holding the merest hint of derision. Annabelle reached up and covered Simone’s lips with her hand, smiling when she felt Simone’s lips naturally purse into a kiss that brushed over her palm.
“Simone,” Annabelle said softly. “You are not a villain – and I am certainly no damsel in distress. I chased you, remember? And I distinctly recall you running from me.” She paused a beat and dropped her hand. “Maybe I should have been the villain; you were certainly in distress for a while.”
“Only because I wanted so badly, love, and never thought I could ever have,” Simone whispered as she cupped Annabelle’s face.
“Simone, if you don’t want to miss this party, you’re going to have to stop looking at me like that. Otherwise, I’m going to play the villain and take you back to our room to have my way with you.”
“Promise?” Simone asked with a twinkle in her eye.
For answer, Annabelle grasped Simone’s hand and led them back the way they’d come.
“I canna believe prisoners in the States wear black and white stripes, Nikki,” Helen complained.
“Well, luv, it was either stripes or irons, and I thought the stripes might be easier to manage.”
“I still don’t know why I let you talk me into this,” she grumbled, motioning to her outfit, then the police uniform Nikki wore. “Surely we coulda been more original than this.”
“Oh I dunno, Helen. I think you make a fantastic inmate. I’m pretty sure we could have some great fun with this scenario later,” she added with a rakish smile and waggling eyebrows.
“Keep it up, missy. I’m sure there’s a room to be had somewhere on Property where you can be sleeping tonight.”
“Do I detect trouble in paradise, Watson?” Ash asked as she and Scribbs walked up, tapping her lips with Holmes’ trademark Meerschaum pipe. Scribbs shrugged, struggling to maintain the monocle she’d insisted be part of her costume.
“Couldn’t tell ya, luv,” she replied cheekily, smiling when Ash rolled her eyes.
“Do try to stay in character, Scribbs.”
“Yeah,” Nikki agreed, cutting off any whine Scribbs might have made. “You’re cute, Emma, and Watson suits you.” She leaned in a little closer. “Personally, I always felt Watson actually solved the crimes – he just gave Holmes the credit to preserve his anonymity.”
“Hey!” Ash complained. Helen just glared.
“Careful there, Nikki. You’re already on my list for this costuming idea and I donna have green eyes for nothin’ ya know.”
Nikki zipped her lips and moved back to stand beside Helen, wrapping an arm around her thin waist. Scribbs just grinned widely. “Could be worse, I guess,” Scribbs commented. “We could be dressed like them,” pointing out the Three Stooges that just entered the rapidly filling foyer area.
“Are you sure this is necessary?” Ziva asked as she and her compatriots meandered into the main building. “Why do we need to be ‘stooges’?”
“We don’t *need* to be,” Abby replied practically. “We’re doing it because it’s fun, Larry.”
“My name is not Larry, Abby. My name is....”
“I know who you are, Ziva. But tonight you are Larry. Just like I’m Moe and Kate....”
“... is Curly. Be thankful, Ziva,” Kate said as she worried her bald headpiece onto her hair a little more securely. “You could have to wear this,” cutting her eyes at Abby.
“Oh, c’mon, guys. This could be a lot of fun.”
“Fun,” Ziva repeated dryly. “Aren’t we here to learn as well as network with other law enforcement personnel?”
“Sure,” Abby concurred brightly. “But why shouldn’t we have some fun too?”
“Maybe if we’d come dressed like they did,” Kate said wryly, motioning towards the quartet dressed as the Beatles.
“This was a great idea, Blair!” Tootie exclaimed to the woman who looked suspiciously like Paul McCartney. “I always wanted to meet Ringo Starr and now I get to be him... even if just for a Halloween party,” sticking the drumsticks she carried into her pocket.
Blair smiled. “I’m glad you approve, Tootie. Some of us aren’t quite as enthusiastic,” cutting her brown eyes at Jo.
“Well, Princess, you’re not the one wearing glasses, are you? Besides... the Beatles?”
“Oh c’mon, Jo,” Natalie cum George said with a smile. “Everybody likes the Beatles. It could have been a lot worse – we could have been the Monkees.”
“It could have been even worse than that, Joey,” Blair added with a twinkling smile. “And face it, you look sexy in wire rims.”
“You think so?”
“All right, you two. You’re giving me diabetes over here,” Tootie teased.
“Yeah... what she said,” Natalie agreed. “Besides, I figure it’s just a matter of time before the fights start breaking out among some of our friends,” gesturing towards the sports clad New Yorkers currently exiting the restaurant. “I mean, with all those teams, and a Red Sox besides, it’s just waiting to happen.”
“Maybe,” Blair commented noncommittally. “But where are the rest?”
“Of the teams?” Jo asked, wrapping her arms around Blair from behind. “Honey, that’s all the majors.” She frowned. “All but one. Wonder who’s representing the Jets?”
“No, silly. Where are the rest of our friends? I haven’t seen Alex, Olivia, Abbie or Casey. For that matter I haven’t seen Abbie’s cousin and her friends either... not that I can see much in this melee.”
“We’ll find them. In fact....” Jo motioned to the far door. “Isn’t that Lindsay and her friends?”
Blair squinted and Jo handed Blair the glasses she was wearing. Blair snorted and pushed the glasses back towards Jo. “You’re funny, Joey. Are you talking about the Marx Brothers?”
“Yeah – isn’t that them?”
“Let’s go find out.”
“This was a great idea, Jill... I mean, Groucho.” Lindsay enthused. Jill snorted and Cindy just glared at her. Claire chuckled.
“You just like it because being Zeppo means you can do whatever you want, Linds. It’s not like anyone knows anything much about him other than that he was an agent,” Claire scoffed.
“Oh be honest, Chico,” Jill chided Claire with a wicked twinkle in her eyes and an elbow poke to the ribs. “Linds just likes it because she’s not Harpo – Cindy is,” laughing when Cindy leveled a glare at her. “C’mon Cindy – you’re the one who made the bet. You quitting already?”
Cindy glared again, but said nothing as she shook her head.
“All right, then,” Jill agreed, then turned so the Marx brothers could welcome the Beatles as they approached.
“Hey, Lindsay,” Jo spoke after the initial greetings were complete. “Have you heard from Abbie or Olivia? They were going to meet us here, but with all the women in costume milling about, I’m not sure we’ll be able to find one another before it’s time to get on the bus,” checking the time once more.
“Not since we parted ways earlier this afternoon.”
Jo nodded, having expected the answer. “Thanks, Lindsay.” She hesitated, then continued. “Can I ask how you managed to get the reporter in your little club here to be the silent Marx brother? Seems like cruel and unusual punishment, Inspector.”
Lindsay laughed, drawing the attention of both groups of women. “I had nothing to do with it, Detective. This is a bet between Jill and Cindy. Claire and I are just along for the ride.”
Jo shook her head. “I hope it works out for you, Lindsay.”
“Me too,” the Inspector agreed in a whisper. “The doghouse is a cold, lonely place to be.”
At that moment, Blair came up on Jo’s side and wrapped an arm around her waist. Cindy did the same to Lindsay, laying her head in the crook of Lindsay’s neck.
“The buses are here,” Blair said, pointing out the glass doors.
“Guess we should go then,” Jo said. She looked at her watch again. “Hopefully Olivia and crew will be here shortly.”
“Maybe we should try calling them.”
“We can try, but you know how iffy signal has been here for everyone. Let’s get on the bus and I’ll try from there. Maybe we can ask Xena and Gabrielle to keep an eye out for them too.” With a nod, the two groups headed out the doors, the rest of the women following slowly behind them. It was time to go have some Halloween fun at the Magic Kingdom.
Elizabeth Donnelly stopped short as she approached the bus area where Gabrielle and Xena currently stood checking people in. She gave Gabrielle the once-over and raised her eyebrows. “Amazon?”
“Amazon Queen, actually,” Gabrielle answered with a grin. “And my Champion, of course.”
“I should have thought of that,” Liz complained good-naturedly. “I doubt that leather itches nearly as much as this grass skirt and coconut shells.”
“Probably not,” Gabrielle agreed. “But at least you managed not to be part of the sports phenomenon that seems to have engulfed the New York DA’s office.
“I refused,” Liz stated flatly. “I have seen what sports fever does to otherwise reasonable, intelligent human beings.”
“’Civilized’ war,” Xena commented dryly.
“Exactly,” Liz nodded. “Only when you get a bunch of New York lawyers involved...”
Xena held up a hand. “Say no more.”
“Hey!” Tracey broke in, Ranger jersey draping her lithe figure. “We’re the good guys here, remember?”
“Yeah,” Kelly said. “Prosecuting the offenders,” straightening her Giants jersey.
“Some of us, anyway,” Knicks clad Serena added with a smirk.
Melinda shook her head. “Will all of you just get on the bus before my husband and kids decide they need to bring their Mets supporting selves with us tonight? Bad enough the Red Sox are already here,” bumping shoulders with Jordan.
“Yankee cooties!” Jordan replied, scrunching up her face. Melinda just laughed and slapped her on the back before boarding the bus behind the rest.
“Wonder what happened to the Jets representative?” Gabrielle asked as the last of the Manhattan contingent climbed aboard. Xena shrugged.
“Dunno. I’ve still got several who haven’t checked in, including Lucy and Amy. If they’re not here soon, they’re gonna miss the bus... literally.” At that moment, five toga clad women rushed through the waiting area only to come to a standing halt in front of Xena and Gabrielle, breathing heavily and unable to speak. Xena winced when Gabrielle grabbed her arm tightly, but the expression on the bard’s face made Xena forget about her arm and focus on Gabrielle.
Gabrielle loosened her grasp and cleared her throat. “Sorry... unexpected memory,” she replied softly.
Xena held her eyes for a long moment before being assured by what she saw in Gabrielle’s eyes. Satisfied by what she found, Xena nodded and turned back to the women who were currently looking at the two of them with more than a trace of curiosity. When Xena took in their costumes, she blanched, understanding perfectly Gabrielle’s initial reaction.
“Xena?” Lucy stepped closer, but stopped short of touching either of them. “Is everything all right? You both look like you’ve seen a ghost.”
Xena nodded. “We’re fine. Caesar, right?” motioning to Lucy’s bloodstained costume.
“Yeah... and the Senate that executed me, including my best friend Brutus,” looking towards her armor wearing first lieutenant. “Beware the Ides, ya know.”
“I know. Clever effect with the knives.”
“Thanks – that’s all Amy’s work. It was a bitch, but well worth the effort I think.”
“I think so too,” Gabrielle said as she moved up to stand beside Xena. “Nice work, Amy!”
“Thanks, Gabrielle.” She turned to her former teammates. “C’mon guys – let’s get on the bus so we can get this show on the road.”
“I can’t believe I let you talk me into this,” Max complained.
“Oh c’mon, Max,” Janet said enthusiastically. “It’ll be fun,” tugging on Scud’s hand. He held his helmet under his arm and kept his mouth shut, having long since learned when to speak when these women were together. Silence was usually better for him that way.
“Maybe if you are five,” Dominique snarked, though Amy saw the twinkle in her eyes. She rolled her own in response and waved them ahead of her. “Let’s go... chop, chop.”
Lucy chuckled at all the posturing, watching them mount the stairs one by one. She turned to look back at Xena and Gabrielle. “You sure you two are all right? I know today was a little stressful, but I thought things went well, all things considered.”
“They did, Lucy and we’re fine. Just ready to go have some fun at the Magic Kingdom.”
“So let’s go,” she replied, motioning them ahead of her.
“Wait! Wait! Are we too late?”
Xena jerked her head towards the bus and Lucy got on board. Then Xena and Gabrielle turned towards the latecomers joining them at almost a full out run.
“So we’re all right now?” Abbie asked Casey as she rose naked from the bed. Casey held her eyes carefully, her smile genuine but conservative.
“I think we will be. As long as you talk to me, Abbie. You can’t just leave me out of things and expect everything to be all right.”
Abbie sighed and dropped her head, her hair hiding her face. “I know – I’m sorry.”
Casey sat up and took Abbie’s hands in hers. “Don’t be sorry, Abbie,” Casey said, ducking her head to meet deep brown eyes with bright green ones. She smiled gently. “Just improve.”
Abbie smiled. “I’m trying.”
“I know,” Casey said, leaning up capture Abbie’s lips for a long moment. When she pulled back, they were both breathing heavily. “Now, as much fun as making up with you is, I think we owe it to ourselves and our friends to let them know we’re going to be okay. Besides, I’m dying to see you as a Longhorn cheerleader. So move it along there, missy. We’ve got to take showers and before you say it – no we cannot shower together. We’d never make it.”
Abbie grinned rakishly, then pulled away slowly to strut across the room to the bathroom. “Your loss,” she proclaimed before she disappeared around the corner. Casey flopped face down on the bed and groaned aloud.
“She’s going be the death of me, but what a way to go.”
Now they were racing towards the buses, knowing they were in for a boatload of teasing from their friends... especially if they were waiting specifically for Abbie and Casey to arrive. They reached Xena and Gabrielle and bent over to catch their breath. Gabrielle smiled, her eyes twinkling when they met Xena’s.
“Well, we found our missing Jet,” indicating Casey’s jersey. “I think your friends were about ready to put out an APB for you two.”
“Sorry... we....” Abbie stopped when Gabrielle held up her hand.
“It’s all right. But since you’re the last to join us, if you’ll just get on board, we’ll be on our way.”
Abbie took Casey’s hand and they stepped into the buses to the accompanying hooting and hollering of their friends. They blushed and found their seats. Lindsay came up beside Casey and leaned down to whisper in her ear.
“One day you’re gonna have to share your secret. No one else has been able to get into that cheerleading outfit since she graduated from UT.”
Casey turned Lindsay’s head until her lips met Lindsay’s ear. “I never kiss and tell,” she stated. Lindsay just howled in laughter and made her way back to her own seat. Then the buses pulled out, headed for the Magic Kingdom.
“Did you hear from Alex and Olivia?” Gabrielle asked Xena as they took their seats.
“Yeah – apparently they are the victims of a fashion emergency.” Gabrielle’s eyebrow spiked and she grinned. Xena returned the look and chuckled. “I had the same thought, but I’m not asking. They’re all adults – we don’t have to be responsible for them.”
“Always a bonus for us.”
“Yep. Anyway, they should be joining us shortly.”
“Good. We’ve got pictures of everyone else,” holding up her digital camera. “It’s going to make for a fabulous memory book when we’re done. What about Sam and Brooke?”
”Sam told me they’d meet us there. Seems she has a surprise for Brooke.”
“Yeah... I do.”
“You know what they’re all thinking,” Olivia said as Alex re-laced the corset she wore.
“Yes, and just so we’re clear, Detective, I have absolutely no problem with making them all correct in their assumptions,” leaning forward and brushing a kiss over the juncture of Olivia’s neck and shoulder.
“Don’t tempt me, Counselor. If the lacing hadn’t broken on this thing to start with, we’d have had time to indulge on all sorts of interesting scenarios,” she added, wiggling her eyebrows.
“Well, if it had only happened once, we might have had time for indulgence. But having to replace the laces twice was a little over the top... even for us,” Alex supplied with a smirk. “Are you sure the eye isn’t cutting you now?” referring to the object that had not only cut two sets of laces, but also managed to drawn blood from otherwise smooth skin.
“Yeah, it’s all good,” shivering a little when Alex trailed her lips over her backbone. Olivia cleared her throat. “All done?” with only a slight squeak.
“Sure ‘nuff, ma’am,” Alex replied with an almost courtly bow, a slight drawl peeking out of her normally precise diction. Olivia chuckled.
“You’ve been talking to Abbie,” she teased.
“Maybe she offered me a little coaching,” Alex allowed, stomping her feet to settle her jeans around her boots before placing the Stetson on her head. She snatched up the badge she’d acquired just for her costume and pinned it on. Then Olivia cleared her throat shyly. Alex turned and her eyes widened.
“You like?” Liv asked, preening slightly under Alex’s admiring gaze.
“Very much,” letting her eyes trace up Olivia’s old west madam’s costume. “Something to be said for a corset.”
“Other than they are an invention of the devil?”
“Yea for the devil,” Alex muttered then swept Olivia into her arms, kissing her hard and fast before taking a step back and offering her arm. Olivia blinked rapidly.
“You sure a respectable officer of the law wants to be seen in the company of the town madam, Sheriff?”
“It would be my privilege, Miss Olivia.”
“In that case,” Olivia said as she gathered her purse and took Alex’s arm, “maybe you should call for our horse and buggy so we can get to this shindig before it’s over.”
Alex’s brows went to her hairline.. “Shindig, Liv?”
Olivia shrugged. “When in Rome....”
“All righty then, little lady,” Alex drawled, whipping her cell phone out of her pocket and making a quick call. “Let’s get to this shindig so we can have us a little fun.”
Olivia’s eyes bugged from her head and Alex chuckled at her reaction. Olivia smirked and shook her head, then tugged on Alex’s arm, leading them out of the room and towards the pickup area. Their night was starting out on a high note.
“Bout time you two joined the rest of us,” Jo snarked as Alex and Olivia passed through the turnstiles. The rest of the women from both conferences were milling in front of the Mickey Mouse floral portrait beneath the Main Street train station, and they cheered while Alex and Olivia blushed.
“C’mon, you two,” Casey said, motioning them over. “Gabrielle wants a group photo before we go in, and we’re waiting on you.”
“Not just them,” Xena said, as she heard the slight sound of approaching horses’ hooves and singing. She hoped this worked out. She’d made quite a few phone calls to lay the groundwork for Sam once she’d asked for help. She motioned to Gabrielle who in turn looked at the myriad of women waiting mostly patiently for her instructions.
“If you could all line up on the bleachers, we’re awaiting the arrival of one more couple. Then I can get a couple pictures and you’ll be free to go enjoy the Halloween party.” The women cheered, even as they arranged themselves on the bleachers that had been set up specifically for them. Some knelt or sat across the front and others climbed atop the stone wall, kneeling and standing until they were all positioned within the lines Gabrielle had set.
By that point, they all heard the sound of singing, and they automatically quieted to listen, turning their heads to find the source of the music. Then a horse drawn carriage stepped through the passage beneath the train station and a number of women covered their mouths in surprise as they realized what was happening.
The driver could have been part of the coach for all the notice that was taken of him. Instead, everyone’s focus was on the couple dressed as Aladdin and Jasmine as they rolled to a stop in front of the large group. But what was surprising was to find that Sam, dressed as Jasmine, was singing to Brooke, who was currently sporting a blush that could be seen despite her tan.
When Brook grasped the fact that their ride had stopped moving, she looked around, understanding immediately that she and Sam were the center of attention. She rose from the carriage and pushed the steps down, alighting first, then offering her hand to Sam, who continued to sing to her as though completely unaware of their audience.
She started to lead them towards the group before being jerked to a halt. She turned sharply, ready to say something to Sam, when she saw Sam kneeling before her. She covered her mouth as comprehension of what was really going on hit her between the eyes, even as the odd thought flitted through her mind that she hoped Sam wasn’t kneeling directly on the asphalt.
“Sam?” her whispered voice so quiet Sam saw more than heard her name fall from Brooke’s lips. She ended her song, the silence stunning in its completeness. Then she smiled at Brooke in what she hoped was a reassuring way, though the tears in her eyes were making it hard to tell. She blinked rapidly to clear her vision, noting the matching tears in Brooke’s eyes.
“Tears, Princess? I haven’t said anything yet,” she teased, trying to lighten the tension in the air. Brooke tried to glare, but the smile on her face and the tears in her eyes made it a less than effective gesture. Instead, she stuck out her tongue and Sam laughed aloud.
“We’ve been a long time getting to this place in our lives. I imagine some here don’t think so – I mean we are kinda the kids in this group of successful women. But you know and I know what we’ve been through just to get here.”
Brooke nodded and Sam swallowed before she continued. “And with that being the case, in front of all these witnesses, I wanted to ask you to make this permanent... with me, I mean.” She pulled a ring from her top and held it up for Brooke’s inspection.
Brooke shook her head and extended her hand. Sam frowned, a little confused. Brooke leaned down slightly. “I don’t want to look at it, Sammy. I want to wear it.”
Sam’s face was suddenly wreathed in smiles and she slipped the ring onto Brooke’s ring finger, then felt her own hand being tugged on. “Does this mean yes?” laughing when Brooke rolled her eyes and nodded emphatically. She allowed Brooke to pull her to her feet and turned to the crowd watching them with bated breath. “She said yes!”
The crowd erupted in cheers with a few exceptions and Sam took Brooke into her arms to seal the deal. The kiss was long and sweet and there were whoops and catcalls going on long before they finished. When they came up for air, Gabrielle teased them, just a little bit.
“Um, before I have to send you two back to the hotel to finish your engagement celebration privately, would you like to join the rest of us over here for a couple of pictures? I think everyone else is ready to go trick or treating and start their scavenger hunt.”
Sam and Brook blushed, but made their way to stand with the group. Gabrielle handed her camera to the Disney photographer who stood waiting patiently, then she and Xena joined their friends. Then Mickey and Donald came over to lead them to Main Street; it was time to party.
Their closest friends had been the last to leave the front entrance area after admiring the ring Sam had given to Brooke and offering their congratulations. Now they stood alone debating their options.
“No one is going to care if we go back to our room now, Brooke. We did just get engaged, after all. They probably *expect* us to,” Sam added with a grin.
“I know, Sammy. But you really wanted to come to the Halloween party and to take part in the poker run scavenger hunt Xena and Gabrielle set up for us all to participate in; our teammates are waiting for us. And I don’t mind. It looks like a lot of fun... all of it. Besides, we have all the rest of our lives to celebrate together. We should enjoy this opportunity while we’re here. We can continue our private celebration when we get back to our room.”
“Guaranteed, sweetheart. Appreciate every minute of every day, remember?”
Sam just pulled Brooke’s head down until their lips met for a long time. When she released her, she took Brooke’s hand in hers and together they walked towards the shops on Main Street.
“Barbara? How did you manage motorcycle sounds on your wheelchair?” Emma asked as they slowly made their way up Main Street collecting candy and looking for their clue giver as they went.
Barbara smiled awkwardly, not exactly sure how she’d managed to wind up close to the only child associated with either convention. Then she remembered Helena’s advice to her earlier. Just treat her like she’s a mini-me, Red. You’ll be fine. She hoped dearly that Helena was right, but decided that either way, she could make an effort.
“Well, I drew out the designs and built the prototype, then Scud installed it for me this afternoon.”
“Jellybean, are you bothering Barbara?” Olivia asked indulgently.
“Oh no, Mommy. She’s telling me about the sounds her wheelchair can make. She built a pro... a proto....” Emma looked at Barbara for help.
“A prototype... a working model,” Barbara responded.
“Well, I like it,” Emma approved. “I think it sounds cool.”
Barbara leaned forward, stage whispering to Emma loud enough that the rest could hear her. “Me too,” she confessed with a grin.
One of the storytellers caught Emma’s eye and she wandered over to hear his tale. Olivia and Natalia excused themselves to follow her and Barbara and Helena watched them go before they continued their slow track down the street.
“That was really nice of you, Red, especially teaming up with them and all. I know you’re not really comfortable with kids her age.”
“While it’s true I prefer my wards to be a little older and more mature, Emma seems to be quite grown-up for her age. Besides, I just remembered your advice and treated her like a mini-you.”
Helena smiled, looking insufferably pleased with herself for a long moment before she realized what Barbara had actually said. “Hey!” she objected, trying to hold a pout and a glare simultaneously. Barbara chuckled and shook her head, watching as Dinah approached them with what appeared to be their first clue.
“That Emma’s a pretty smart kid – her storyteller Stan was our clue giver.” Dinah laughed. “I don’t think the rest have caught on yet though.” She opened the envelope in her hand, then scrunched her brow in an annoyed frown at the printed words as Emma and her mommies rejoined them.
“Well?” Helena asked impatiently. “What’s it say?”
Long ago, poor manatees
Were mistaken for these maidens of the Seas;
The song of this Maiden who lured with her voice -
Find her hideaway to make your choice.
“I think I know what it means,“ Barbara said, looking at Emma and smiling when she nodded her agreement when they headed towards Fantasyland. “Have you got our card, Emma?”
“Yes,” holding up an eight of hearts.
Barbara nodded in satisfaction. “Good girl. C’mon.” It was time to do some riding, card collecting and clue finding.
“Are we certain this is where we need to be?” Ziva asked her teammates as she looked around the insanity known as Fantasyland. Abbie and Kate exchanged glances and Emily, JJ and Garcia just grinned. Having worked with NCIS on occasion, they weren’t surprised by Ziva’s skepticism. Sabrina, Kelly and Kris just accepted the question at face value.
“According to the clue we got on Main Street,” Kris answered. “Now we just have to find the clue giver here, and we can get our next card and move on to the next land.
“At least we don’t have to go into ‘Small World’.” Emily commented dryly, eliciting laughter and groans from the rest of her teammates.
“I think Xena knows what a hazard that would wind up being with as many law enforcement women as are attending her conference. That’s just asking for an incident.”
Sabrina nodded emphatically, though it didn’t stop her eyes from twinkling with good humor. A hand on her arm caused her to look at Kelly and she raised an eyebrow in question.
“How about there?” motioning towards Ariel’s Grotto.
The large group walked briskly to the back of Fantasyland, finding the Disney cast member they needed with relative ease. They collected their playing card and clue and moved to a table to open the envelope, but not before hearing the cast member radio their chosen card, the two of clubs, to another cast member.
“What was that all about?”
“I think each employee we have to talk to has their own deck, so as cards get drawn from one deck by the different teams, they have to be pulled from the rest of the decks to keep the equivalent of fifty-two cards.” A beat. “Read the clue, Bre.”
6-2-6 everyone knows -
In time, saves nine, the saying goes;
But a Mouse in outer space? Who'd have thunk
There was money to be made in selling space junk?
“So what does it mean?”
“I think it means we need to go here,” Kate said, pointing to a spot on the map she held. “I think we’re supposed to go to Star Traders.”
“It means we’re going to Tomorrowland,” Abby confirmed with enthusiasm.
The NY ADA team, as they had taken to calling themselves despite the presence of Liz Donnelly, Melinda Warner and Serena Southerlyn, had just succeeded in finding their second clue and next playing card in the Stitch Emporium in Tomorrowland.
“What does it say, Tracey?” they clambered as she struggled to open the envelope.
Diamonds, rubies and Pearls of Black
Sail the waters... don't turn your back;
La Casa Del Tesora is your stop;
No map is needed, X marks the spot.
“So what does that mean?” Kelly inquired.
“And can we ride Space Mountain while we’re here?” Serena asked plaintively.
“NO! No riding til we win this poker run. We only have three hours to do the scavenger hunt. Once we’re done with that, we can do whatever we want with the time we have left. But if we want to win, we’ve got to focus,” Casey stated firmly.
“You know, I wonder what the prize is,” Melinda wondered aloud.
“I think there must be more than one,” Liz contributed thoughtfully. “With all the participants, I can’t imagine there isn’t enough for everyone on a team.”
“That’s all well and wonderful, ladies, but it’s not getting us any closer to a solution. Do we *really* want to let anyone else beat us?” Tracey posed to the rest.
“Good point!” Abbie replied. “I for one will never hear the end of it if either Olivia’s or Lindsay’s team does better than we do.”
“Reason enough for me,” Casey assured Abbie with a smile. “And I think I’ve figured this out,” looking at the rest expectantly. “We need to go to Adventureland.”
“I’m not quite sure why I decided to attend this event,” Miranda grumbled aloud, though mostly to herself. “Of all the ridiculous, childish....”
“Excuse me? Are you Miranda Priestly?” a woman dressed as the Queen of Hearts asked the woman dressed as Julia Child. “I’m Blake Marler. We’ve spoken several times,” she added as she offered her hand. Miranda accepted the hand firmly as she acknowledged her identity as well as Blake’s. Sensing the other woman’s discomfort, Blake continued speaking.
“I was wondering – I’m not really dressed for riding very much,” indicating her costume, “and since neither of us seem to be interested in playing the scavenger hunt that’s going on, I thought perhaps you might like to join me for a cup of hot chocolate,” gesturing to the nearby kiosk. Cold blue eyes gazed thoughtfully at her. “Or maybe coffee, if you prefer?” Blake smiled when a spark of warmth flitter through ice at the mention of coffee.
“That would be acceptable,” Miranda agreed. “Emily,” calling to a red-headed woman Blake hadn’t even noticed despite her Queen Victoria costume. “You’re dismissed for the moment. Go,” Miranda waggled her hand in the general direction of the park away from her. “Have some fun or something. Just return to me when I call for you. That’s all.”
“Yes, Miranda. Thank you, Miranda,” Emily replied before moving into the darkness and out of sight. Miranda nodded and then turned to Blake.
Emily was just out of sight of Miranda when Andy stepped into her path. She clutched her chest dramatically and took a step back to keep from plowing into the other woman. “Andy?!? What the hell?? Are you following me?” She narrowed her eyes. “You better not be stalking me, Andy... or Miranda either one. I’ll sic Serena on you.”
Andrea, who had been holding up a hand to slow Emily’s diatribe, didn’t know whether to look affronted or amused at Emily’s outburst.
“Emily, take a deep breath before you hurt yourself or worse. I’m not stalking anyone. I just bought a piece of fudge at the confectionary shop,” holding up the box, “and saw Miranda wave you off. I thought you might want to hang out together until she calls you back,” Andy finished with a shrug.
Emily looked at her suspiciously for a long moment before nodding her head briskly. “Very well. You just insure that your fudge,” curling her lip derisively as she said it, “stays far away from me. I cannot afford to get the slightest smidge of anything on this dress. Nigel will have a come apart.”
Andy rolled her eyes. “Nigel will be fine, Em, as will your dress. I promise to keep my fudge well away from you.”
“Very well,” Emily repeated with a hint of satisfaction in her tone. “Let’s go before Miranda changes her mind.” Without further ado, they moved deeper into the Magic Kingdom.
“You know, Ash, this wasn’t really what I had in mind for you when I sent you to Berkeley as a journalism major,” Doris said plaintively to her daughter currently dressed as a cast member at the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction.
Ashlee rolled her eyes at her almost unrecognizable mom who was decked out as the hobo clown Emmett Kelly. While it made a much better disguise than her fedora ever had, Ashlee could see why Doris had never gone for a casual look – she was much too flamboyant and dynamic and outgoing for casual... hence the reason the hobo costume was so effective in hiding her.
“Mom,” she whined. “I told you – I’m just doing this to help out during the Halloween parties. Besides, this is kinda fun... I like it.”
Doris just rolled her eyes and shook her head. “I thought I had raised you better than to be a pirate.”
This time Ashlee just snorted in laughter. “This from a politician??”
“Watch it, little girl,” Doris threatened, eyes twinkling in delight. “I am still your mother.”
“Yes... yes you are. And you should be happy I’m doing so well here. Mom, I didn’t quit school; I’m here as an intern working in the PR department of a major corporation – of Disney! I’m meeting people and making contacts and getting some practical experience outside of Springfield, where I have to prove my merit to the people I work for and with.”
Doris cupped Ashlee’s face gently. “I am happy for you, Ash, and so very proud of you. You’ve done so well for yourself in spite of me and I’m glad about that. But it also makes me a little sad. I feel like I’m still missing so much of your life.”
Ashlee held her mother’s gaze for a long moment. “Let me make a phone call, then maybe we can spend the evening together.”
Doris nodded, her smile bright even though her eyes were filled with tears. Whatever else, she had been right to come here – to see for herself how her daughter was doing. She only wished it hadn’t been such a last minute trip for her; then maybe they could have made some plans together. After a moment, Ashlee closed her phone and turned back to her mother.
“It’s all arranged. My boss Di will be here in a few minutes to relieve me. She wants to meet you.”
Doris cocked an eyebrow. “She does? Why?”
Ashlee chuckled knowingly, but gave a shrug. “Maybe she just wants to meet the woman who raised such an incredibly bright kid.”
“Uh huh,” Doris agreed skeptically, but settled in to wait and see for herself.
The women from Las Vegas and the women from San Francisco, along with Lilly Rush, had decided to join forces to defeat their numerous east coast counterparts. Now they stood crammed into a large half-circle in the middle of Adventureland trying to figure out where they had to go from the Pirates of the Caribbean shop that the ride exited into.
“This makes no sense,” Claire grumbled, passing the clue to Jill who lost it to Lindsay when she snatched it out of her hands.
“Do you mind?” she fussed as she grabbed it back. “I was looking at that!”
“Inspector here,” Lindsay muttered loud enough for the group to hear. “I do puzzles like this every day for a living, ya know.”
“So does Sofia and Lilly and I don’t see them seizing this clue like it was evidence or something. And Lilly even has a crystal ball we could consult.”
“But not a cousin from Texas she just *has* to do better than or never hear the end of it,” whining.
“All right you two... enough,” Catherine broke in before the argument could escalate. “We’re supposed to be on the same side here.” Both women met her glare before having the decency to look abashed and mumble their apologies to each other and the group.
“Claire, why don’t you read it aloud,” Sara asked before the silence grew too awkward.
With five to choose from, who do you seek?
Blonde or brunette, with whom do you speak?
As princesses go, she's one of the best -
Choose the correct one; go on, be our guest.
“Great – that means what exactly?”
They started mumbling among themselves, except for Cindy, who couldn’t speak. Instead, she started gesticulate wildly, trying to garner some attention. Instead, they all remained focused on the clue in Claire’s hand, hoping it would yield more information than she had offered.
Cindy moved around the CSI’ers, not knowing any of them well enough to force their attention. Instead, she tugged on Lindsay’s arm, only to find her hand caught and held as Lindsay pulled her tighter into her body and returned her attention to the clue at hand. Frustrated, Cindy jerked her hand free from Lindsay’s and stole the clue from Claire.
All eyes turned to her with varying degrees of menace in them, and she returned their baleful glances with fire, hands firmly planted on her hips. Finally, Jill caught a clue.
“She knows the answer,” waiting for Cindy to nod emphatically. “Why didn’t you just blow the damn horn??”
Cindy glared at Jill until the other woman looked away.
“So tell us,” Wendy demanded impatiently.
“She can’t,” Lindsay said without even the hint of a smile in her voice. “Harpo Marx never spoke, and she and Jill have a bet on.”
Catherine rolled her eyes. “I’m surrounded by five-years-olds,” she mumbled under her breath, though Claire was close enough to hear her and chuckled in sympathetic agreement. “Cindy,” Catherine said aloud, “why don’t you lead us to our next destination?”
With a look of fierce pride and determination, Cindy nodded, and soon they were following her to Toon Town Fair.
Wendy put a hand on Sofia’s arm and the blonde detective paused expectantly. “I’ll catch up in a few,” nodding her head in Nora’s direction. “I need to take care of something first.”
Sofia nodded. “All right. Call me when you’re done and I’ll let you know where we are.”
“Thanks, Sofia. If I can’t reach you, I’ll wait on Main Street. You have to come out that way to leave.”
“Good luck,” Sofia offered, then followed her friends across the park. Wendy turned and headed towards Nora Delaney, hoping she could get a few answers.
Nora’s mumbled language under her breath would have caused the delicate Southern flower she was currently portraying to blush six shades of red in fifteen seconds when she realized Wendy was approaching her. As it was, Wendy managed almost three full shades herself, even with her darker skin tone. Nora looked around for Nikki fruitlessly once more before Wendy stopped in front of her.
“Can I help you...?” leaving it an open question as she glanced up into the face of a woman who practically mirrored her lover.
“Wendy... Simms.” She motioned to the stone bench Nora was sitting on. “May I, Miss...?”
“Delaney... Nora Delaney.” Nora sighed silently and wondered what karma god she had offended. “Please,” she offered politely. She waited a few moments for Wendy to say something, and when nothing was forthcoming, she prompted, “Was there something I could do for you, Miss Simms?”
“Tell me about your partner.”
“Um – no.”
“Miss Simms, if you want to know about my... my partner, then you’re going to have to talk to her directly. I told her that I would be by her side if the two of you decided to confront one another, but I damn sure am not gonna be some sort of conduit between you! Do I make myself clear?”
“Crystal, Ms Delaney. I’m sorry to have troubled you,” Wendy added with a hint of bitterness as she rose. A hand on her arm made her pause and she looked down into Nora’s green eyes.
“Miss Simms... Wendy. It’s not that I don’t think you’re entitled to know about one another, given the circumstances. Personally, I think you both deserve some answers to the questions seeing one another has obviously raised for you both. However, it’s not my place to answer them, and I will not betray her trust like that. If you really want to know her, you’re going to have to speak to her.”
Wendy held Nora’s gaze for a long moment before nodding her agreement. “You’re right.” She paused. “Will the two of you join me for breakfast tomorrow? I know it won’t give us much time before the convention starts, but we have to start somewhere.”
Nora nodded. “We’ll be there.”
“Thank you, Ms Delaney,” clasping the hand briefly and lifting it to her lips in true dashing rogue fashion “I’ll look forward to it.”
She disappeared without another word and Nora held up her hand before Nikki could speak as she stepped out from behind the tree she’d been hidden by. “Notta,” she said softly. “Not one word, Nikki.”
Nikki leaned over and brushed a kiss over Nora’s cheek. “Thank you, Nora,” she whispered softly. She put an arm around Nora and smiled gently when the blonde head came to rest against her shoulder. Then they sat back to watch the world pass them by... just for a little while.
“Isn’t there a law against princess stalking? There should be a law against princess stalking!”
Jo wrapped Blair up in a hug from behind before the irritation could grow into a full-blown rant. “Chill, Princess – no one’s stalking anyone... especially not you.”
“Or you either,” Sam whispered to Brooke. Brooke just leaned over and kissed Sam softly.
“All right you two – break it up... break it up,” Olivia protested. “You’re making the rest of us look bad.”
“Jealous, Detective?” Sam asked boldly with a twinkle sparkling in her brown eyes as they met her match. Before she could reply, Alex walked away from Belle holding up an envelope and their next card in a sign of success.
“Nope. I already got my girl.”
“You fooling around on me, Madam Olivia?” Alex asked, peering intently over the rim of her glasses. Olivia shook her head.
“Not at all, Sheriff; I’m a one woman woman.”
“Good thing,” Alex commented. “I’d hate to have to run you in.”
“All right, all of you – enough!” Jo roared. “Before I need insulin!”
The group snickered at her and she shrugged. Tootie nodded towards the still sealed envelope. “What’s it say?”
Alex popped the seal and read the clue aloud.
Ride down the Mountain at a screaming dash,
Brave the briars that end in a Splash;
Then enter the Briar Patch just like ol’ Br’er...
Tar baby’s gone - c’mon, take the dare.
“Say,” Natalie spoke up for the first time in a while. “Isn’t Splash Mountain based on The Song of the South?” waiting for the heads around her to nod slowly. “And isn’t that about Uncle Remus and the Br’er characters?” More nodding as Natalie opened her map. “Then I think we need to head to Frontierland.”
“Frontierland it is.”
“You’re kidding me, right?” Max asked as she looked around the Br’er Rabbit store. “Who comes up with this stuff?” slamming a Br’er Rabbit plush figure back onto the shelf and crossing her arms over her chest in a fit of impatience.
“C’mon, Max. Chill a little. It’s supposed to be fun,” Janet offered even as she cuddled deeper into Scud’s embrace. Lucy smirked, rolling her eyes in his direction before she turned to greet Amy as she returned with Dominique, envelope in one hand and playing card in the other.
“Problem?” Amy asked Lucy quietly.
“The usual,” she said as Dominique got the envelope open. “Does Max even know how to relax and have fun?” grumbling as she buried her nose in Amy’s neck.
“C’mon, Lucy... cut her a little slack. She’s trying.” Amy kissed the top of the dark head, smiling when she felt lips brush a kiss over the crease of her neck. She turned her attention back to her former D.E.B.S. teammates. “So what’s the verdict, guys?”
“Not far for a change, I think,” Dominique mock grumbled, though Amy could see the enjoyment she was getting out of the scavenger hunt. She read the clue aloud.
For your next clue you need to know
Where lies the object from Pass and Stow;
Search for the Tree and find the Lights,
Thirteen in all – that shine in the night.
“I think you’re right,” Max agreed grudgingly. “Liberty Square?”
“That was my thought as well,” Dominique confirmed.
“All right then, troops – let’s move out.” The D.E.B.S. fell into line automatically. Lucy and Scud exchanged glances, then twined their finger with those of their respective girlfriends before heading out of Frontierland towards Liberty Square.
“This has been just lovely, Diana,” Ash commented as they exited the Hall of Presidents. “Thank you for inviting us to trail along with you.”
“We were glad to have you join us,” Diana assured them as Janet, Sam and Mac nodded their agreement. “It’s been a lot of fun.”
“Shall we see what our last clue says?” Helen asked as she opened the envelope.
“Well, I think it’s safe to say we should be headed back towards Main Street,” Nikki said. “We’ve got all our cards, such as they are,” fanning them out in her hands and indicating the pair of Aces she held. “So we should be going to wherever they have us meeting to finish this thing.”
“She’s right,” Janet agreed as she accepted the clue from Helen. “Listen to this.”
Take your cards and take your clues,
You played the game and paid your dues;
You seek a memento from an old Red Sox
Find a ball signed by a cunning old Foxx.
“I think that takes us back to the hot dog stand on the corner, doesn’t it?” Mac asked.
“Not quite,” Sam replied. “This is some sort of memorabilia, so we should probably look for that. That should be where Xena and Gabrielle are.”
“Either way, we should be moving back towards Main Street,” Diana said. “We can figure out the details as we go.”
“That sounds wonderful,” Scribbs said as she started towards the bridge leading back to Main Street. “Besides, I dunno about the rest of you lot, but a Coke would certainly hit the spot right about now.”
“So we’ll go turn in our cards and then what?” Ash asked.
“Then I vote we go have a bit o’ fun, riding the things we missed durin’ our hunt,” Helen offered.
“I can get behind that plan,” Mac commented with a grin. “How ‘bout you guys?”
The rest nodded agreeably, then they stepped onto Main Street and headed to Casey’s Corner. It was time to finish the game.
Xena looked at her watch. “They should start showing up here soon – it’s getting close to the three hour mark. Do you want me to meet them downstairs?”
Gabrielle shook her head. “I’ll go. I want some lemonade,” seeing blue eyes light up. “I’ll send one up with the first two players.”
Xena leaned over and kissed Gabrielle passionately for a long moment. “Thanks, love.”
Gabrielle winked as she moved away from the window and headed for the conference room exit. “Thank me later.” Then she stepped out and closed the door behind her, leaving Xena to continue her vigil of Main Street from the second level window.
“If I didn’t know any better, Diamond, I’d say you rigged this,” Max grumbled good-naturedly. She had finally relaxed and was enjoying herself, though she didn’t think it would do to let anyone else know how much fun she was actually having. She looked down at the cards in her hand. “I mean really – how else did we end up with a diamond flush?”
“Considering that Lucy only pulled the last card – the Queen of Diamonds, naturally – I’d say it was mostly luck,” Amy commented. “Besides, why are you griping anyway? That’s a pretty decent hand.” Then her voice dropped to a bare whisper. “It is a good hand, right?”
Lucy smiled and hugged her. “It’s a great hand. The fact that it is diamonds is just a bonus in my book.”
Dominique smirked. “I am just glad the hunt is over,” nodding to a young man across the street. “I’ll see you all later,” and disappeared before the rest could say another word.
“All righty then,” Janet said brightly. “Maybe we should find the memorabilia in question?”
“Actually,” Scud spoke for the first time, “I found Gabrielle,” leading them over to where Gabrielle was waiting patiently sipping on her lemonade.
“Oh, hi guys! You’re the first ones here. Okay, I need two of you to go upstairs to the conference room – one with the cards and one with the clues. The rest of you can either hang around down here and wait for the results or go ahead back into the park to do whatever you like with the rest of your night. Your choice.”
The players looked at one another, then Max sighed. “Lucy and I’ll go upstairs. You guys just....” She waved her hand around vaguely, then pinned Amy with a sharp look. “Just don’t wander off.”
“I’ll go with Lucy,” Scud volunteered. “It’ll give you three a little bonding time.”
Max glared at him a long moment. “Fair enough,” she nodded her capitulation. “We’ll be right over there,” motioning to the bleacher area behind the hot dog stand.
Lucy kissed Amy quickly. “Back in a few, babe. Then we can go trick or treating.”
Amy grinned, and Lucy and Scud headed upstairs with Xena’s lemonade in hand.
The ADA team was the next to arrive, jubilant and excited. Gabrielle smiled at their enthusiasm, then gave them the same instructions she had given to the D.E.B.S. team. Tracy and Liz headed upstairs while the rest went to claim a couple of tables outside Casey’s Corner.
“This was fun,” Casey commented to Abbie as they took a seat watching the action along Main Street.
“Doesn’t hurt that we’re going to win as well,” tapping the side of her Coke cup against Casey’s and smiling when the red head dipped down to tuck under her chin.
“True, but even if we hadn’t won, it would have been fun. We’re here... together... we’ve had a good time with friends and more yet to come – it’s all good. And as a bonus we’ve got the rest of the night to go trick or treating.”
Abbie laughed, the genuine sound bringing a smile to Casey’s lips and tears to her eyes. “Who knew you were secretly a five-year-old posing as an ADA lawyer?”
Before Casey could comment, Emma’s excited voice broke into their conversation as she passed them. “This has been so much fun, Mommy. Can we get an ice cream cone now?”
“How about we go turn in our cards first, Jellybean? Then we can go trick or treating or maybe ride a few rides. What do you think, Mama?” Olivia asked with a look at Natalia, smiling when she got a dimpled grin in return.
“I’m not your mama, but that sounds like a good idea, Emma,” Gabrielle commented as they reached her. “You don’t want to miss out on the chance to win the game, do you?” smiling when the little girl shook her head emphatically. “But we only need two of you to go upstairs to show Xena your clues and cards. Small conference room,” she added for the benefit of the others.
“Can Barbara and I do that, Mommy?”
Barbara’s eyes widened comically in an almost perfect mirror image of Olivia’s expression. Their eyes met for a moment before both gave a subtle nod and Olivia knelt down to Emma’s level. “It’s okay with me, Bean. Make sure it’s okay with Barbara first, though, all right?”
“Oh Mommy – of course it’s okay with Barbara. She’s my friend. Right, Barbara?” turning bright, happy eyes to the woman in the wheelchair.
Without missing a beat. Barbara nodded. “Right, Emma.”
Emma looked back at her mother. “So it’s okay, Mommy?”
Olivia smiled tremulously. “Absolutely, sweetie. Your mama and I’ll wait down here with Helena and Dinah.”
“Maybe we can find some Pop Tarts or something,” Helena muttered. “I’m starving.”
“There’s a bakery across the street,” Natalia pointed out. “Maybe we can grab some cookies or something to tide us over until we can get something a little more substantial.”
“Bet they won’t be as good as yours,” Olivia grumbled, nudging Natalia and smiling.
“Probably not,” Natalia agreed in a surprising show of immodesty. “But they’ll do for now and we can bring some back for Barbara and Emma.”
“Sounds like we have a plan,” Dinah commented. “Good luck, you guys,” waving at Emma and Barbara before linking her elbow with Helena’s and leading the tiny group across the street to the bakery. Gabrielle led Barbara and Emma to a different door than she’d ushered the others to.
“Ooh, can I push the buttons?” Emma asked. Barbara nodded and exchanged understanding smiles with Gabrielle. She rolled onto the elevator and the doors slid shut. Then Gabrielle stepped back into the shop and went back to greeting the rest of the teams as they came in.
“So now what?” Scribbs asked after downing several large swallows of soda. “Ah, that certainly hit the spot.” She took a big bite of the hot dog she’d gotten on a whim and smiled in satisfaction. Ash just watched in disgust and shook her head.
“How you can eat that....” Scribbs just took another big bite and grinned.
“Now,” Mac said, trying to keep them all focused, “we should probably find Xena or Gabrielle. I’m guessing they will be at our ending point and it’s obvious we’re close,” motioning to the other players already milling around the area.
“Like over there, you mean?” Nikki asked with a jerk of her head.
Sam nodded and took Janet’s hand. “Looks like,” leading the procession into the Athletic Club shop and over to where Gabrielle waited patiently for their arrival.
“Hi guys!” explaining again about the two-person team to represent them upstairs. Scribbs came running over wiping mustard from her face.
“Can I go?” The rest shrugged and Scribbs bounced lightly on her toes in an effort to contain her excitement. “Who else then?”
“I’ll go,” Diana volunteered without hesitation.
“Right,” Helen agreed. “So the rest of us will wait over there, yes?” motioning to the bleachers they had just passed.
Gabrielle nodded. “That seems to be what the majority of folks waiting are doing.”
“C’mon, then Nikki. I need to sit a wee bit.”
“So do I,” Sam muttered to Janet. “How the hell did Teal’c wear this thing for so long? My feet are killing me.”
Janet grinned. “I never thought anything could be worse than Air Force issue before Hi-Tecs became the standard.”
Sam just grimaced. “Now you know.”
Emily and JJ stepped from the ladies’ room between Casey’s Corner and the Crystal Palace and ran into Bones, Angela and Cam... almost literally.
“Hey, guys! How’d you do with the scavenger hunt?”
“We didn’t play,” Cam replied without missing a beat. “We wanted to watch the magicians instead. They’ve got some pretty cool tricks. They’ve even managed to stump Dr. Brennan a few times, so it’s all good.”
“They haven’t stumped me – I just haven’t figured it out yet. But I will.”
“Of course you will, sweetie,” Angela assured her best friend. “But we’ve still got lots to do.” She looked at JJ. “So where’s Penny?”
JJ blinked – no one but Angela called Garcia Penny and it always threw her for a momentary loop. “Oh, she and Kris took our cards upstairs.” She motioned to the number of women casually relaxing in the nearby area. “We’re all just waiting for the results.”
“Well, maybe we can wait with you and then go listen to the storytellers or something.”
“Sure,” Emily agreed, “as long as you’re willing to trick or treat. We promised Garcia.”
“We can do that,” Cam stated, getting nod from both Angela and Bones.
“Great. C’mon. The rest of our team is waiting just over there,” motioning with her head. And just like that, the crowd grew a little bit larger.
“So whaddya think, guys?” Olivia asked as Natalie and Tootie headed through the door to go upstairs.
“I think we did all right,” Jordan said, stretching her back and looking for a place to sit. The whole area was getting rather crowded and she had to wonder how long it would take before Disney asked them all to move along and stop congesting the area. Of course, she noted wryly, they were currently making a killing on soft drinks and such as all the women waiting seemed to have a drink in their hand if nothing else.
“Yeah, two pair isn’t all that shabby, especially with so many teams playing,” Jo added. “Either way, it was fun and we’ve still got time to do lots of stuff here.”
Blair chuckled. “You just want candy, you Neanderthal.”
“Careful, Princess... nothing says I have to share,” Jo replied, hands on her hips and mock glaring. Blair merely picked up her left hand and raised it to Jo’s eye level.
“You see this ring, Joey?” smiling at the sheepish expression that sprang into green eyes, even when the face remained still and stoic. “This ring means we share... everything.”
Sam looked at Brooke. “You think we’ll be this sappy when we’re old?” Five sets of eyes turned and glowered at her. Brown eyes widened and she swallowed audibly. “I mean, when we’re old marrieds....” Swallowing again when the expressions didn’t change. “I mean....”
She stopped speaking when Brooke’s fingers covered her lips. “Baby? Hush... before you dig a hole so deep we can’t get out of it to go back to our room and celebrate our engagement anytime time in our near lifetimes, ‘kay?”
Sam nodded and kissed the fingers on her lips before Brooke removed them. “Sorry, guys!” she mumbled. They made her wait for another long moment before almost as one they started chuckling and Sam sighed in relief.
“And that reminds me,” Olivia’s eyes sharpening dramatically, “why are you here anyway? Aren’t you supposed to be off somewhere celebrating that whole engagement thing alone together?”
“Better late than never for that to dawn on you, Detective,” Sam muttered. Olivia just stuck out her tongue. Alex made a grab for it, but Olivia was too swift, causing laughter to break out at their antics. “And here I thought we were the kids,” mumbled low enough so only Brooke could hear her.
“I’m not sure you’ve got any room to be talking about sappiness anyway, Sam,” Alex commented wryly. “Not given your performance earlier,” she added with a grin.
“She’s right,” Jordan agreed. “Seriously... a horse drawn carriage and a singing proposal? I thought we were all going to end up with diabetes,” giving them a teasing grin that made them both blush.
“Remind me again why we’re not back in our room celebrating?” Sam asked Brooke.
“Because this is a night to share with our friends. We’ll be celebrating for the rest of our lives.”
“All right!” Jo growled. “Enough mush! Let’s find a place to sit and wait for the results.” So they headed out to sit. Gabrielle just shook her head and watched them go, waiting for her final group to arrive.
“You may as well pack it in and go home, Linds. We’ve got this thing locked,” Abbie bragged as her cousin and her compatriots arrived at the corner of Main Street. “You can’t beat us.”
“You’re so sure? You’re positive you can’t lose?” Casey put a hand on Abbie’s arm to stop her, but Abbie simply covered Casey’s hand with her own.
“Yep... absolutely. I’ll bet you we not only beat you and your team, I’ll bet you we win the whole thing,” sitting back smugly and crossing her arms over her chest.
“And if you don’t?”
“Name it,” Abbie said with confidence.
“All right,” holding out her hand. “No spitting,” Lindsay instructed with distaste. “Pinky swear. If you don’t win the whole shooting match, you owe me whatever I name.” Abbie hesitated – something about Lindsay’s confidence set her hackles up, but she’d bragged her way into this situation, so there was nothing to be done for it but to see it through now. “What’s the matter, Li’l Cuz? Afraid to put your money where your mouth is?”
Abbie took Lindsay’s pinkie with her own and Casey just covered her eyes. This just had disaster written all over it.
“All right,” Lindsay said as she released Abbie’s finger. “Let’s go find this baseball and turn this stuff in.”
“Only two of you,” Casey said.
“Only two of you can go upstairs. The rest have to wait down here like we’re all doing,” gesturing to the myriad of woman all casually sitting around the area taking up all the tables, the bleachers inside and quite a bit of the sidewalk and concrete planter space.
“Oh... right, of course.”
“Go on, Linds,” Claire said. “You and Catherine represent us and we’ll just wait around here for you trading stories.”
“Why does that sound like bad news for me?”
“Paranoid much, Inspector?” Jill asked with a hint of teasing in her voice.
“With you guys together – yes!” But she followed Catherine towards Gabrielle and soon they were ensconced upstairs in the conference room Xena had reserved.
Lindsay and Catherine entered the room, realizing they were the last of the players to arrive. Lindsay went to grab a couple cold drinks while Catherine snagged the last two seats. Then they prepared their clues and cards for Xena’s inspection.
“I wish this had been a game of Go Fish,” Emma commented to Barbara in the relative silence of the room. They were at the far end of the table to where Barbara had parked her chair to keep from being bumped to death while people were entering and it just seemed prudent to remain there now. She offered Emma a Sprite and took the proffered cup of coffee from Xena with a grateful glance.
“Why’s that, Jellybean?” swallowing her first sip with a sigh of relief.
“’Cause that’s what we play at slumber parties and stuff,” Emma said with only a hint of ‘duh’ in her tone.
Barbara had the grace to look chagrined in front of the other adults. “Sorry, Emma. It’s been a long time since I went to a slumber party... or played Go Fish.”
Before Emma could invite Barbara, Helena and Dinah to the farmhouse for a slumber party, Tracey spoke up.
“I can’t remember the last time I played Go Fish,” not mentioning the slumber party part of the equation. The others in the room nodded their agreement as well.
Emma shook her head sadly. Poor adults... they were always too busy working to do any of the fun stuff in life. “You are really missing out,” she proclaimed with such a grown-up air that everyone in the room smiled, though no one laughed.
“Well,” Scud offered. “I guess we could play right now with the cards we have. Whatcha lookin’ for, Kid?”
Xena stood back and simply watched. She, more than the rest of them, knew the true power this little girl wielded. She had brought her mommies together, after all – despite themselves.
“Well, I think I would like a four,” she said after a long look at her hand. A momentary look at Barbara got her the barest twitch of an approving smile and she grinned. “Yes, I would like a four.”
Everyone seated around the table looked through their discards, then Liz held up a four of hearts. “How about this one? I’m betting you like hearts.”
Emma nodded vigorously. “Oh yes... they’re my favorites. They stand for love and happiness and my mommies being together for always.” No one could argue much with that logic and Liz handed over the card with a smile. “What would you like in trade?” Emma asked seriously.
“Hmm,” Liz mused thoughtfully. “You wouldn’t happen to have an Ace in there, would you?”
“I sure do,” Emma replied. “Here you go,” passing Liz the Ace of Spades.
“Thank you, Emma. That was very nice of you.”
“Well,” Xena broke in, “if we’re all done playing Go Fish,” looking round the room carefully and nodding her head. “I need each team to lay out their clues and their top five cards beside them. Discards can go in the center of the table. You don’t have to show your hand yet; I just need you to have them ready for me to see when I come around to check them.”
Slowly she padded around the room, watching each pair as they laid out their hands. She realized what Emma had done and just managed to contain her laughter as she continued her walk. When they were all done, she reached for the first set of clues, looking through them quickly to assure herself they were all correct. Xena did the same with all the sets of clues, then nodded her head in satisfaction.
“Well, everyone found our clue givers. Did you enjoy the scavenger hunt part of the game?”
Lucy cut her eyes at Xena. “You and Gabrielle are very evil women,” her dry tone causing the rest to chuckle with laughter.
“Thank you,” Xena returned drolly. “We’ve spent years insuring our reputation on that front.”
“I thought it was extremely clever,” Diana replied. “And I’m really glad I wasn’t the one trying to come up with these things. Rhyming riddles?”
“Well, we couldn’t make it too easy; you’re all women who thrive on challenge.”
“And insanity, apparently,” Lucy muttered, garnering another round of laughter.
Xena rolled her eyes and shook her head, knowing her second was only grumbling because she could. Though Lucy or Barbara had been privy to all of the official con business, in the scavenger hunt and the rest of the after-hours activities, they had been left out of the planning so they could actually participate in the fun.
“Apparently,” Xena agreed. “Now ladies... and Scud,” with a mock bow in his direction to acknowledge his one male status, “if you would kindly turn over your cards. I think it’s time we found out who won the poker run part of our scavenger hunt.”
“This should be a cake walk,” Tracey whispered to Liz. “Who’s going to be able to beat four nines with an Ace kicker?”
Olivia looked at Natalia as they left they bakery to return to the Athletic Club. She doubted there would be a place to sit, but she wanted to be there when Emma came downstairs. Natalia caught her staring and arched a brow in question, even as the dimples peeked out again.
“You think I should have warned them about Buzz?” At Natalia’s perplexed look, she pressed on. “About the fact that he made Emma a card shark?”
“He didn’t,” the response flat and the dimples disappearing as a frown overtook her expression. “Olivia!”
“Yep,” she replied smugly. “She could go pro if she wasn’t nine.”
“What?? My kid’s all Spencer where it counts.”
Natalia didn’t answer; she just covered her face with her hands and trusted Olivia to get her safely across the street. Olivia chuckled and guided her carefully, exchanging smirks with Helena and Dinah. It was going to be a night to remember all right.
“So, Natalie,” Xena said, looking at the woman she was standing closest to. “Let’s see your hand.”
Natalie turned over the cards in front of her, even as Tootie spoke up. “We’ve got two pair – tens and threes – with a Jack kicker.”
“No way,” Lindsay complained. “That’s what we’ve got.” Catherine turned over the cards in front of her and sure enough... two tens, two threes and a Jack faced up from the table. Xena just blinked and nodded her head.
“Well,” she muttered, “that couldn’t have been planned if we’d tried it.”
“That leaves us out,” Diana said good-naturedly, flipping her pair of Aces towards the middle of the table.
“Blimey,” Scribbs mumbled, though she didn’t seem to be all that upset over it.
“Us too,” Garcia stated a little morosely, placing her two pair – eights and sixes – face up on the table. Kris just nudged her and gave her a smile and Garcia shrugged and smiled back. “It was a lot of fun though,” she admitted.
“All right,” Xena asked after a moment, “Do we have anything that beats two pair – tens over threes?”
“How about a diamond flush?” Lucy asked with a smirk. Xena gave her a droll look.
“You’re kidding me, right? How did you manage that?”
Lucy grinned, charming and rakish at the same time. “Luck of the draw, my dear. You can ask Scud – I only pulled one card... the last one. It was the Queen of Diamonds.” preening just a little bit.
“Of course it was,” Xena replied dryly. “All right, I’ve got a diamond flush, Ace high. You guys got anything that can beat that?” looking at Liz and Tracey. Tracey grinned like the shark that she was.
“Yeah... we’ve got something that can beat that.” She flipped over her cards. “Four nines with an Ace kicker.” She turned to Emma. “Thanks, kid.” Emma smiled brightly at her.
“You’re welcome.” Then she looked at Barbara and whispered. “What did I do?”
Barbara grinned. “Beat them at their own game,” she answered serenely. “Why don’t you tell Xena what cards you have, sweetheart?”
“Oh, sure,” Emma replied with enthusiasm. “Let’s see... I’ve got a four of hearts,” turning over her first card and smiling at Liz. “A five of hearts, a six of hearts, a seven of hearts and an eight of hearts. I really like hearts, you know.”
“Son of a bitch,” Liz muttered under her breath, then started laughing. “We got snookered by the kid.” She got up and moved around the table, extending her hand to Emma who took it with a dubious look on her face. Liz simply laughed again and knelt to Emma’s level.
“Congratulations, kid! You won. And if you decide to go into law when you get older, look me up.”
Emma nodded her head enthusiastically. “So I did good?”
“Honey... you did great.”
“Yes!” Emma cheered as she pumped her fist. The rest got caught up in her enthusiasm and smiled along with her. After a moment she blinked and looked at Xena seriously. “Um... what did we win?”
“Well, that’s up to you. As the winner, you get to pick your prize. Would you and Barbara like to see the list or would you like to wait until your mommy is with you?”
“We’d like to see it now, please,” Emma stated clearly before Barbara could open her mouth.
The rest of the room watched as she carefully studied the list, looking at Barbara and whispering so quietly none of them could make out her words. Finally she sat back on her heels and crooked her finger at Xena.
Xena grinned and pushed off the wall she’d been leaning against. Then she walked to the far side of the table. Before she could kneel, however, Emma shook her head and took Xena’s hand, tugging her over to a private corner. She cupped her hands around her lips and whispered into Xena’s ear for a long moment. When she was done, Xena pulled back and looked at her.
Emma nodded emphatically.
“And Barbara’s okay with it?” Barbara nodded.
“I think it’s a wonderful idea.”
“All right. Here’s what Emma decided – she wants to give her mommies the night in Cinderella’s Castle. So everything else on the list is in play.”
“Question?” Liz asked. Xena crooked an eyebrow and waited. “The other things – there are enough for each person on the team, correct?”
“Of course. I will be arranging another night in the Castle for Barbara, Helena and Dinah....” trailing off when Barbara shook her head no. “Barbara?”
“No, Xena,” Barbara replied so quietly even Xena had to strain to hear her. “I got something out of this I didn’t expect,” with a covert glance in Emma’s direction. “I don’t need anything else.” She paused. “And besides, I think it’s cool of Emma to want to do something special like this for her mommies.”
Xena studied her eyes and nodded in satisfaction at what she found there. She’d see about doing something else for them, privately, later. She turned back to Liz. “To answer your question, yes. Each member of the team will receive the same prize.”
“And Emma?” she asked quietly. “Whether she snookered us or not, she deserves something for winning besides giving her prize away.”
Xena smiled. It seemed like Jellybean had found quite a number of friends this night. “Don’t worry, Liz. I’ll take care of Jellybean.”
Liz held her gaze for a moment, then nodded. “Good enough. We’ll take the spa day at the Grand.”
“Good choice. Lucy?”
“We’ll take the guided tours of the parks. Anything for head of the line privileges at Soarin’.”
Xena laughed, not surprised by that logic. “What about you guys?” motioning to Lindsay, Catherine, Natalie and Tootie. They exchanged glances, and finally Catherine spoke up.
“We figured since we tied dead even... literally, we should go for the same thing. So we’d like the private dining opportunity.”
“All right,” turning her attention to Garcia and Kris.
“We’d like the private dessert boat to watch Illuminations.”
“So we can have the day at the water park then?” Scribbs asked with excitement.
“Absolutely,” Xena assured her with a smile.
“Right, then... we’ll have that please.”
Xena took up the list and placed it in her folder. Then she closed it and took a deep breath. “One more thing – a favor, actually. My partner, Gabrielle,” she paused a moment. “She’s a bard... a storyteller. But it’s been a long time since she had the chance to tell a story in front of a live audience. So I arranged a little surprise for her tonight.”
Emma’s eyes went wide.
“Gabrielle’s going to tell stories for us??”
Xena smiled nervously and rubbed her hand along the back of her neck. “Yeah, only... I haven’t exactly told her about it yet.”
“Oooh... can I... please?”
“Sure,” Xena said, but before she could say anything else, Emma was off like a shot, running down the stairs to find Gabrielle. Xena blew out a breath and looked around the room, noting the expressions that met hers ranged from sympathy to admiration.
“Anyway, before I go to my death, if all of you and your teams could take a few minutes to listen to her and show a little support, it would be greatly appreciated. It might make my death a little quicker.”
“You *really* didn’t tell her?” Lucy and Barbara asked simultaneously.
“It was kinda last minute and then we got busy and....”
“XENA!” they heard shouted from down the hall. As one body, everyone in the room rose and swiftly made their exit. Barbara was the last and she gave Xena a wry grimace as she crossed the threshold, knowing Gabrielle would close the door behind her. The temptation to stay and listen was almost overwhelming, but they were her friends and she respected them too much to eavesdrop. Instead, she maneuvered herself into the elevator, hoping to find out what happened downstairs.
“Gabrielle! Gabrielle!” Emma shouted as she burst through the stairwell door. “Gabrielle – I won!” running into Gabrielle’s arms as she knelt to catch her.
“You did? That’s great, Jellybean. What prize did you pick?”
Emma looked around and noticed all the eyes focused on her, including her mommies’, and she realized her entrance had brought most of the participants closer to where they stood. She shook her head. “It’s a secret surprise,” she whispered loudly into Gabrielle’s ear. “I’ll tell you later.” Gabrielle blinked and nodded her agreement, wondering what she had chosen that she wanted to keep it a secret, especially from her mommies. Surely Xena hadn’t let her choose something.... Then her attention was caught by Emma’s words and she blinked again.
“Excuse me, Emma – what did you just say?”
Emma rolled her eyes, but kept her grin. Adults were the same everywhere. They were always making her repeat the good stuff... like she was making it up or something.
“I said – Xena told us you’re a storyteller and that you’re telling stories tonight. I wanna know where and when. Mommy promised me ice cream, and I don’t want to miss the stories.”
Gabrielle drew a deep breath and released Emma from her hold. Then she stood up calmly and placed a hand on Emma’s shoulder. “Well, I’ll be honest, Emma. I’m not quite sure yet myself. How about if you wait here with your mommies and I’ll go find out, okay?”
“You won’t let me miss them, will you?”
“I promise, Emma,” knowing she was committing herself to storytelling. “I won’t let you miss them.”
Emma nodded agreeably. “We’ll wait right here for you,” going over to stand by her mommies.
Gabrielle excused herself from the crowd that was suddenly suffocating and took the stairs on a run. When she reached the top, she opened the door and bellowed, “XENA!!” listening in grim satisfaction at the echo it created on the stairs and the bedlam it caused to spill forth from the conference room. She stood to one side as the women exited closing the door firmly when the last one had entered the stairwell. When Barbara rolled from the room she gave her a terse nod and waited until the elevator doors closed on her before she crossed the threshold and shut the conference room door behind her.
“Wonder what that was all about?” Sam asked as Barbara maneuvered her way to Helena’s side.
“That was a surprise Gabrielle wasn’t quite prepared for,” she answered with candor. Emma looked up at her mother, concerned.
“Does that mean Gabrielle isn’t going to tell stories? She promised she would.”
Barbara placed a hand on Olivia’s arm before she could answer and Olivia nodded her permission. “Emma, if Gabrielle promised you stories, then she will be telling stories. She doesn’t break her promises, okay?”
Emma studied Barbara’s eyes for a long moment. “Okay,” she agreed. “But why was she so upset?”
Barbara sighed and looked at Olivia. Instead, it was Natalia who knelt in front of her.
“Do you remember how you felt when your mommy told you that you were moving out of the farmhouse... without any warning at all?” Natalia responded suddenly, waiting for the nod she knew was forthcoming. “Well, this is a little like that. I don’t think Gabrielle was expecting to be telling stories tonight and I imagine that takes a little preparation.”
“Like baking cookies?”
“Exactly like baking cookies. If I suddenly find out that I have to bake dozens of cookies and I don’t have anything ready to make them, it puts me a little out of sorts until I have a chance to get everything together.”
“You get out of sorts, Mama?”
“Sometimes, Jellybean. Sometimes we all do. But you know the good thing about being a family – there’s always plenty of support and help around if I just remember to look for it.”
“So we should help Gabrielle?”
“Well, we can support her. So as soon as we know when and where she’s telling stories, we’ll make sure to be on the front row, all right?”
Emma nodded enthusiastically. She loved stories.
Gabrielle walked calmly through the door as the elevator doors closed behind Barbara and shut it quietly. She remained facing the door for a long moment – partly to calm her nerves, but partially to make Xena sweat a little bit. In truth, she wasn’t really angry with Xena; but it wouldn’t be an understatement to say she was feeling out of sorts. She took a deep breath.
“Why?” keeping her back to Xena.
Xena looked at her back, ramrod straight and stiff with tension. She didn’t move closer; she had been with Gabrielle long enough to know when to step away and give the bard her space. Xena walked back to the window she’d been looking out not too long before, noting in a vague way the preparations that had gone into converting the stage into a performance area for Gabrielle.
“Because you miss it,” Xena finally replied. “I know you do.”
“But why not tell me?” not denying the truth of Xena’s words.
“I wanted it to be a surprise,” feeling Gabrielle whip her head around and keeping her eyes steadily fastened out the window, even though she could see Gabrielle’s reflection in the glass. “Not this much of a surprise. It just – I mentioned it to Rita when we started putting these conventions together, but I never heard anything back about it, so I figured it was a bust. Then I got the word yesterday just before we started registration and I was going to tell you at dinner. But then you had the run-in with Desdemona and people kept interrupting us and honestly, it slipped my mind.”
“What reminded you?”
“You remember when our Main Street clue giver Stan led us up here just before the teams started arriving?” Gabrielle nodded. “He told me they would be ready for you at eleven-thirty on the stage in front of the castle. Then we saw them and....”
“And you figured I’d take it better from Emma at that point,” flatly.
“Actually, Emma volunteered to tell you. I just asked the rest of them to get their teams together to show you some love and support.” Gabrielle stood still for a long moment before moving away from the door to approach Xena from behind. She wrapped her arms around Xena’s waist, feeling her relax into the embrace almost unconsciously as the tension flowed out of her. “I’m....”
Gabrielle covered her lips. “Don’t be. You’re right – I do miss it. A little more warning would have been nice, but....” She shrugged. “I’m a bard by nature. There’s always a story in there to tell.”
Xena turned then, finally, though she kept her head down and looked up at Gabrielle through her lashes. “So I’m not in trouble?”
Gabrielle grinned. “I didn’t say that, but we can work that out later privately.” She looked at her watch. “Right now we’ve got to go downstairs to let people know when and were to be for this little event. I promised Emma I wouldn’t let her miss them.”
“I did good then,” Xena stated firmly.
Gabrielle stood on tiptoes and brushed her lips across Xena’s, smiling into the kiss when Xena pulled her in closer for a hug as well. She moved her lips to Xena’s ear. “You did good. But we can talk about that later too. Right now, we need to get downstairs before Emma decides you need rescuing or something.”
Xena chuckled and hand in hand they walked out the door and down the stairs.
They walked over as a group, following where Xena and Gabrielle led. Emma was tucked safely between her two mommies, having foregone her ice cream in favor of holding both their hands. When they reached the edge of a roped off area near the stage, Xena turned to the crowd.
“Well, this is where we get off for now.” She glanced at her watch. “There’s about forty-five minutes before the storytelling starts, so you’ve got time to....”
“If you’ll have them move the rope, we can take our seats,” Olivia commented dryly.
“Um... okay, but....” Xena nodded to Stan who unhooked the rope on one side to allow them entrance into the seating area. Almost as a singular entity, the women started filing into the rows of seats that had been set up specifically for Gabrielle’s storytelling. Gabrielle had to wonder just what Xena had told them for Disney to make such a concession and offer that courtesy – it certainly wasn’t the norm. Usually, folks just stood around the hub watching the show from whatever space they could find.
Now, women she barely knew – who barely knew her – were filling in the rows with almost military precision like there was nothing else they would rather be doing than waiting for her to tell stories. They’d made sure Emma was sitting front and center, but otherwise they’d just seated themselves one after the other as a matter of course without thought to location. Gabrielle smiled to hide the tears it brought to her eyes.
Xena watched with a smile, noting the air of suppressed excitement. For whatever reason, these women were going above and beyond what she’d asked of them and seemed to be genuinely enthusiastic about having stories told for them. She felt a shift of emotion from Gabrielle and turned, frowning when she saw the tears. Gabrielle waved off the question she wanted to ask.
“They’re happy tears, Xe. It reminds me just a little bit of Greece... back in the day.” She blinked rapidly to clear the wetness from her eyes and took a deep breath. “However, I need you to go sit so I can prepare myself for this.” She held up a hand. “I’m all right... really. I just need a few minutes to get things straight in my head.”
“Do you know what stories you’re going to tell?”
“Yeah, I do. Not one of yours, I promise. I wouldn’t do that to either of us.”
Xena nodded slowly. “If you’re sure....”
“I’m sure,” patting her on the ass.
“All right then.”
Gabrielle watched her move around to the back of the seating area, studying it carefully from a warrior’s perspective before nodding her head in satisfaction. Then she walked over to stand beside Stan next to the stage, but on the side opposite Gabrielle. Gabrielle shook her head. The more things change.... she thought, then turned her back to the group and let her gaze go inward for several long minutes.
When she had the story she had chosen firmly in her head, she spent some time in quiet meditation, slowly blocking out the sounds around her until only her heartbeat remained. With that as her only music, she slowed her breathing, willing herself to calm until she felt it envelop her like a cloak. Only then did she turn around again, absently noting that not only had the seating area filled, but that the hub was a sea of people as far as she could see.
Gabrielle turned her gaze to Emma and crooked a finger at her, beckoning her closer. Emma pointed to herself in question, and at Gabrielle’s nod, she started to rise from her seat. Olivia put a hand on her arm to stop her and though Gabrielle could not hear the words, it was clear Emma was trying to make her mother understand that Gabrielle actually called for her.
Finally, Emma pointed in Gabrielle’s direction, rolling her eyes and shrugging her shoulders exaggeratedly so Gabrielle knew what the issue was. In response, Gabrielle simply crooked her finger again, and this time Olivia rose and took Emma’s hand, leading her to Gabrielle. Gabrielle kept her eyes focused on Emma.
“Would you like to sit on stage with me if it’s okay with your mom?”
“Oh yes!” Emma said with distinct enthusiasm. “Can I, Mommy?”
“Are you sure, Gabrielle?”
Now Gabrielle looked at Olivia. “Absolutely.”
“Can I, Mommy? Please??”
Olivia looked at Emma’s excited face and gave Gabrielle a droll expression. “How do you say no to that?” she asked dryly.
“So that means yes?” Emma asked, trembling with excitement.
Olivia let go of Emma’s hand and nudged her towards Gabrielle. ”That means yes.” Emma pumped her arm in victory and Olivia rolled her eyes, though she couldn’t keep the smile from her face. “Your mama and I will be right down front if you....”
“Mom,” Emma cut in with a dry voice that resembled Olivia’s so much, she started. “I’m not a baby.”
Olivia leaned down and kissed her forehead. “I know, Jellybean. I’m just gonna go sit with your mama now.”
“I love you, Mommy.”
“I love you too, Bean.”
Gabrielle waited until Olivia was sitting in Natalia’s comforting embrace before she extended her hand to Emma. “Shall we?”
For answer, Emma slipped her hand into Gabrielle’s. “Yes!”
With a smile, Gabrielle nodded and they headed for the ramp.
It took a little doing, of course. Stan lifted the rope for them and accompanied them up the ramp onto the stage, whispering instructions to Gabrielle as they walked up. They remained in the back corner while he set the stage. A comfortable chair was brought out – wing-backed and well padded and wide enough for Gabrielle to sit comfortably with Emma on her lap. Next, Stan brought out a table and placed two bottles of water and a small box of popcorn on top. A tall lamp was the final touch, battery operated so it would actually give off a bit of light.
Meanwhile, Gabrielle was being wired... quite a feat considering her Amazon Queen costume, but she was ready to go by the time Stan finished putting the lamp into place. The lights went out, including those on the castle and Stan started his introduction. Gabrielle felt Emma clutch her hand tightly in reflex. She leaned down to whisper into Emma’s ear, covering her mic just in case the sound tech had activated the device on his end.
“It’s okay, Emma. It’s just a little Halloween theatrics, for show. I can see perfectly well at night.”
“Can you really? All I see is darkness.”
Gabrielle smiled and tugged her closer. “Stick with me, kid,” leading her right to the chair and seating herself, then allowing Emma to crawl into her lap. “All set?” she asked when Emma finally stilled. Emma nodded emphatically, then leaned over to whisper.
“This is great!”
Gabrielle chuckled in sympathy and passed Emma the box of popcorn. She could feel the vibes of anticipation and excitement running through the crowd and without warning, flipped the switch on the lamp, flooding the area around the chair with the only visible light.
The crown gasped in reaction and flashes went off around them, but Gabrielle was already focused on the little girl in her lap, so it barely registered in her mind.
“Emma? Have you ever heard the story of the very first Halloween?”
Emma’s eyes widened in response to the whispered question, shaking her head slowly as she stuffed a few kernels of popcorn in her mouth.
“This was a long, long time ago – Once upon a time, back when the world was new and Chronos and Rhea were still in their infancy, life existed in perfect balance and harmony – yin had yang, strength had weakness, good had evil – but they only touched one another at the fringes of their existence. They never melded... never blended into a single reality. Light ruled the day and darkness ruled the night and ne’er did the twain meet. Only at dawn and at twilight did either get a glimpse into a life not their own. It is during one of these twilight sightings that our story begins.”
Slowly, methodically, Gabrielle told the story of Zephyr and Tuwa - how the Children of Darkness introduced Chaos into the world and brought heartache to the Children of Light; of how the favored were turned to hunter and prey in an effort to destroy the one and bring the other to the side of Darkness; of how their bond protected them from turning on one another despite their animal natures; of Gaia’s gift of immortality and her promise that a way would be found to release them from the curse that kept them in animal form on all but the night of All Hallow’s Eve. She told of Aphrodite’s actions that finally allowed them to return to their human form.
“So, they’re human now?” Emma asked, having long since forgotten the audience that was listening with the same rapt attention she had been.
“Mostly, yes,” Gabrielle replied. “Aphrodite was unable to completely undo the curse; she simply transmuted it. So now when Halloween comes, Zephyr and Tuwa revert to the panther and the fox they were for so many centuries and on that night, they hunt and feed like Bacchae.”
Emma’s brow furrowed. “What are Bacchae?”
Gabrielle grimaced, being far more intimately acquainted with them than she had ever wanted to be. “Do you know what vampires are?”
Emma shook her head and Gabrielle sighed. She wasn’t sure she wanted to be the one to introduce this particular concept to a child like Emma. Despite her knowledge of the world due to the things she had already been through with all her parents, she still maintained a bright, optimistic outlook of the world around her.
“Well, according to myth and legend, vampires are creatures of the night that suck the lifeblood out of those beings weaker than they are. They live in darkness and survive on the blood of humans or other vampires.”
Emma scrunched up her face. “EW – that sounds gross.”
Gabrielle nodded her head. “Yeah, it does,” taking a swallow of water while Emma thought about Gabrielle’s description.
“So are Bacchae like vampires?”
“A little bit. They are like the predecessors of vampires, but they evolved very differently because of Bacchus’ destruction millennia ago.”
“Well, Bacchae became creatures of light, mostly. They live in the light and only hunt for need... not for sport. And mostly when they hunt, they prey on animals... not human beings.”
“It still sounds kind of scary.”
“Yes, but that nature is what makes them immortal, and immortality is what allowed Zephyr and Tuwa to return to their human forms again.”
“So they lived happily ever after?”
Gabrielle nodded. “They did – they lived happily ever after.”
Emma’s small cry of ‘Yea’ was overshadowed in the cheers and applause that broke out across the darkness. Gabrielle jumped, and Emma leaned into her embrace, knowing instinctively it was one of the safest places in the world to be.
For a long moment they snuggled together, then Gabrielle whispered into Emma’s ear. Emma leaned forward and kissed Gabrielle’s cheek, then jumped from her lap negligently. Emma extended her hand and Gabrielle graciously accepted it, rising to her feet and acknowledging the applause that rang out around the hub area.
Without warning, the lamp went dark and Gabrielle moved from her spot towards the back corner to be de-wired even as the strokes of midnight began to toll from the castle tower. By the time the echo of the last chime faded, the stage setting had been removed and Emma and Gabrielle had made their way down the ramp to rejoin their group.
“Mommy! Mama! Did you see me? Wasn’t that awesome??”
Natalia intercepted the little girl as she ran towards them, lifting Emma up into her arms and smiling when Olivia put her arms around them both briefly before pushing the hair out of Emma’s eyes and behind her ear.
“I did see you, Bean. And that was totally awesome,” Olivia answered affecting her best Valley Girl drawl. Natalia rolled her eyes and Olivia smacked her lightly on the ass. She jumped and glared, but Emma didn’t notice the byplay in her excitement.
“What did you think, Mama?” turning her attention to Natalia.
“I thought it was a very beautiful story, and I think you should go thank Gabrielle for telling it to you.” She put Emma back on the ground and watched as she rocked impatiently back and forth trying to get to Gabrielle who was currently surrounded by a plethora of admirers.
The motion caught Xena’s attention, and before Emma could get too impatient, she scooped her up and placed her on her shoulders so Gabrielle could see her. It garnered Gabrielle’s attention, just as Xena had known it would and she held up her hand a moment and watched the women around her grow quiet and follow her gaze. Indulgently, they turned to face Emma, smiling reflexively at the wide grin she sported.
“Yes, Emma?” Gabrielle asked softly, cocking her head and smiling.
“Thank you, Gabrielle. That was wonderful!”
Gabrielle’s smile grew to a grin. “Thank you, Emma. I enjoyed it very much.”
“We all did,” Helena piped up, followed by a rousing assent from the rest. “Now,” motioning to Emma as Xena slowly lowered her to the ground once more. “Emma and I are going trick-or-treating. Anybody wanna join us?”
Emma reached out her hands and took Xena by one and Helena by the other before leading them through the Magic Kingdom, collecting candy as they went. Barbara and Gabrielle just watched them go, shaking their heads in tandem.
It had been a very good Halloween already, and their fun was just beginning.
Bad Girls: Shed Productions, created by Maureen Chadwick and Ann McManus
Birds of Prey: Tollin/Robbins Production, The WB, created by Laeta Kalogridis and DC Comics
Bones: Josephson Entertainment/Far Field Productions/20th Century Fox Television. FOX, created by Hart Hansen
CSI: Jerry Bruckheimer Television, CBS, created by Anthony Zuiker
Charlie's Angels: Spelling/Goldberg Productions, ABC, created by Ivan Goff and Ben Roberts
Cold Case: Jerry Bruckheimer Television, CBS, created by Meredith Stiehm
Criminal Minds: The Mark Gordon Company/ABC-Touchstone/CBS, CBS, created by Jeff Davis
Crossing Jordan: Tailwind Productions/NBC-Universal, NBC, created by Tim Kring
DEBS: Andrea Sperling Productions, Samuel Goldwyn Films, created by Angela Robinson
Devil Wears Prada: Wendy Finerman/Karen Rosenfelt, 20th Century Fox, created by Lauren Weisberger
Facts of Life: TAT/Embassy Television, NBC, created by Dick Clair and Jenna McMahon
Guiding Light: P&G/Telenext Media, CBS, created by Irna Phillips
JAG: Donald P. Bellisario Productions, NBC/CBS, created by Donald P. Bellisario
Law & Order (all): NBC-Universal/Wolf Productions, NBC, created by Dick Wolf
Loving Annabelle: Katherine Brooks/Gregory Carroll, Wolfe Releasing, created by Katherine Brooks
Murder in Suburbia: Carlton Television, ITV, created by Nick Collins
NCIS: Belisarius Productions, CBS, created by Donald Bellisario and Don McGill
Nikki and Nora: UPN Network (Pilot), created by Nancylee Myatt
Popular: Murphy/Matthews Production, The WB, created by Ryan Murphy and Gina Matthews
Stargate: Sony Pictures Television,Showtime/SciFi, created by Brad Wright and Jonathan Glassner
Women's Murder Club: 20th Century Fox Television, ABC, created by Elizabeth Craft, Sarah Fain and James Patterson
Wonder Woman: Warner Brothers Productions, ABC/CBS, created by William Moulton Marston AND DC Comics
XWP: Pacific Renaissance Pictures Ltd/Universal, syndication, created by John Schulian, Rob Tapert and RJ Stewart