David came out of the barn, his chest and arms covered in sawdust. He splashed water on his face and looked across the yard at the house, smiling.
He saw Gabrielle stepping heavily down the short steps, preceded by her belly. She looked up at him and smiled back.
"What?" she asked as she came slowly over to him.
David's smile widened and he kissed her forehead. "Just watching you waddle. That's all?"
Gabrielle grimaced. "I don't waddle."
David's hand came to rest on her belly and they felt the life within kick. Gabrielle gasped in shock, and David laughed.
"I guess she didn't like the stew last night?" He mused.
"Or she wants to drive me crazy," Gabrielle replied. "Getting her last few jabs in before she comes out?"
David laughed out loud. Then his expression changed to something more thoughtful. "I wonder if she'll know?"
Gabrielle frowned up at him. "Know what?"
David sighed. "I just wonder if she'll remember, you know? If she'll have all the memories of her past life as well as everything we'll show her?"
Gabrielle shrugged. "Maybe? I don't know? Does it matter?"
"Well," David chuckled. "I just don't want to get the pinch thrown on me again by a toddler?"
Gabrielle laughed and then her eyes drifted towards the horizon. "I wonder how she's doing?"
"Who?" David asked. Then he realized. "Aphrodite? I don't know."
"I'm worried about her," Gabrielle continued. "Since she helped us with Ares, she hasn't been around." She shrugged. "I can't say that I blame her, if she hates us. If you think about it, we did use her, sort of?"
David shook his head. "We didn't use her, Gabrielle. She had to make a choice and she made it. She could have chosen not to help?"
"We both know how that would have turned out," Gabrielle suppressed a shiver.
"Oh, I'm not saying that she made the wrong choice," David added quickly. "After all, it was my neck on the line. Anyone who steps up to save my hide is okay in my book."
"I just wish," Gabrielle started. "I just miss talking to her, you know? As annoying as she could be sometimes, she did always try and do the right thing?"
David wrapped his arm about her shoulder, and the two of them began moving back towards the house.
A sound drifted down from the road off to their right, and the two of them stopped, their eyes searching the surrounding trees. It was a familiar noise, drifting along the wind. A deep and mechanical rumbling.
"What in the hell?" David asked as he watched the bend in the road that passed in front of the entrance to their property. "That sounds like, no, it can't be?"
As they stood, dumbfounded, the familiar bulky shape of Caroline bounced into view and turned in through the gate. The truck's deep metallic blue and silver shimmered in the early evening sun.
"What the hell?" David repeated in disbelief.
The horn blurted a greeting, and Aphrodite leaned out the window. "Hey campers!" She cried gleefully. "What's up?"
David saw Tommy behind the wheel, grinning from ear to ear.
David and Gabrielle exchanged a look of surprise, and then David laughed out loud as Tommy stepped out of the truck.
Aphrodite also jumped to the ground. She wore a pair of blue jeans, her pink blouse and leather jacket. The only difference in the wardrobe this time, were the purely functional boots she wore, instead of the heels that she had used the last time.
Tommy reached behind the seat and emerged with a bottle in each hand.
"We come, bearing gifts!" He announced, holding the bottles out.
David grabbed his friend and hugged him fiercely.
"What the hell are you doing here?" he asked in amazement.
Aphrodite pulled the back door open and drew out several bags, packed with various parcels.
"Got a few things for you, too!" She grinned happily. She giggled excitedly when she saw Gabrielle's protruding belly. "Clothes for the baby!" she announced.
Gabrielle was almost too stunned to laugh, though it finally did burst out of her.
"What?" Aphrodite asked, suddenly seeming a bit self conscious.
"Nothing," Gabrielle replied quickly. "I just thought, after everything with Ares, that you were angry with us?"
"What?" Aphrodite asked in shock. She smiled. "Well, okay, I was, for a while. But Tommy has a great way of, you know, listening to people," She grinned. "Among other things."
Gabrielle looked over at Tommy in astonishment.
"You mean?" Gabrielle pointed back and forth between the big biker and the Goddess.
Aphrodite's grin broadened and an excited squeak emanated from her throat. Then her face sobered suddenly and she looked guilty.
"Gabby, uh, I kind of have something to say to you," she began.
"Wait a second," David said, looking at his friend. "You mean the two of you are, what, and item?"
Tommy shrugged. "We've been hanging together for the last few months. Just taking it day by day. That sort of thing."
David began laughing out loud and he shook his head. "Well, I'll be."
"She ain't so bad, once you get to know her," Tommy said quickly. "And while I was trying to keep her mind off everything you were planning, we got to know each other pretty good? Nothing major, you know, but enough?" He shrugged again. "Then, a few months back, she shows up at the clubhouse again and we started hanging out. The rest, well?" He smiled again. Then he quickly turned back into the truck. "We got a bunch of stuff for you, and this was the only way we could bring it out, so Dite worked a little hocus pocus, and here we are!" He opened the back door and showed David the stacks of boxes.
"Damn, son," David said appreciatively. "You gonna make the mortgage this month?"
"Well," Tommy shrugged. "Actually, it was Shilah that footed the bill, with your cash?"
David rolled his eyes. "That figures."
Gabrielle looked at Aphrodite carefully. "What is it?"
"I lied to you," She said quickly. When she saw the bard's reaction, she grimaced. "I could have helped David, here, but I really wanted to see his world, and?" She shrugged. Then she heaved an exasperated sigh. "I've just been so lonely since everything happened! I wanted to find someone new, you know? Someone that was more than, well?"
"Aphrodite?" Gabrielle asked, looking hard at her. "Are you saying that you took David and I back, because you were looking for a man?"
Again, Aphrodite winced. "Don't make it sound like that! I wanted to get you and David away from Ares, yes, and I knew that the healers in David's world could patch him up? If they couldn't, well? I would have made sure he was alright anyway? Besides, if we hadn't gone back, he couldn't have put together that whole coffin bit, right?"
"Aphrodite?" Gabrielle's hands dropped to her hips.
"Okay, fine!" She confessed. "Look, I've been going solo since that whole War with the Gods deal, and it sucked! Then, whenever I looked in on you two, I saw how happy you were, and, well, I got a bit jealous, kay? I couldn't take your man from you, cause that would be, like, so wrong! But I thought, since David came from there, then there might be another one like him, you know? So?" She bit her lip nervously. "I kinda snuck into the barn and borrowed the Chronos Stone a few times?"
When Aphrodite looked back up, Gabrielle was smiling, though she tried not to let it show.
Gabrielle's smile finally broke and she shook her head. "Shilah was right."
"About what?" Aphrodite asked.
"With the Gods, there's always an ulterior motive."
Aphrodite shrugged. "Hey, what can I say? I may be a goddess, but I do have needs?"
Gabrielle finally laughed out loud. "Okay, fine." She looked at the myriad of parcels in the back of the truck. "What is all this stuff?"
Instantly, Aphrodite's beaming smile reappeared and she quivered excitedly. "Oh, I can't wait to show you!"
Gabrielle reached for one of the bags.
"Hey!" Tommy's voice barked from the opposite side of the truck. "I know you ain't thinking of lifting nothing, right?"
Reluctantly, Gabrielle withdrew her hand. "Me? Why would I do that?"
"Uh huh," Tommy nodded. Then he slapped David's chest. "Come on, let's get this stuff in the house."
David and Tommy brought the load of items into the house, and then, while David gave his friend a quick tour of the property, Gabrielle and Aphrodite began opening the parcels and going through them.
In the end, the living room floor was covered in a wide assortment of children's clothing and toys. Tommy settled into a large wooden armchair and looked about, shaking it gently.
"One of yours?" he asked. "Not bad, Shakes."
David smiled and handed him a glass of whiskey. Then he settled onto the couch, looking about the floor in mild shock.
Tommy gestured with his glass. "We were careful not to bring anything too modern back with us. We don't want archeologists being sent into convulsions if they find your place?"
David nodded. "That's a good idea. Old Arlan McGhee would go spare if he finds all this?" He looked again at the assortment of baby's clothing and chuckled. "Still, I might arrange for him to find a few items, just to mess with him?"
They visited late into the night, laughing and talking merrily. Finally, Tommy let out a sigh. "Well. We're going to have to get back. Dite and I are heading to Sturgis in the morning."
"Sturgis?" David's eyebrows rose. "You're taking her to Sturgis?" He laughed out loud. "Oh my god, I would pay money to see that!"
"Why?" Aphrodite asked, looking over at him.
"Has he told you anything about it yet?" David asked. Aphrodite shook her head.
"Then I won't spoil the surprise," David finished.
"I guess it's time," Gabrielle said mutely.
"Yeah," David replied, his heart beginning to feel heavy as he realized that his friend would be leaving again soon.
"No," Gabrielle continued. "I mean, it's time."
"Time?" David asked, looking over at her, seated in the opposite chair. She was looking down at the floor. At first, David thought she was looking at the myriad of things stacked in front of her, and then he saw the glistening place on the floor beneath her and the dark stain on the bottom of her dress.
"Time!" Aphrodite shouted in sudden surprise. "Oh, boy! You mean it's time, time!"
In one body, the three of them flew into a panic. David dropped his glass on the floor and rushed to Gabrielle's side while Tommy looked about in confusion and then bolted out the door. Instantly, they heard the pickup truck thunder to life.
David and Aphrodite looked at one another, and then at the open door. Smiling, they helped Gabrielle to the bedroom.
A few moments later, Tommy burst into the bedroom and looked at them, frowning. "Uh, why did I start the truck?" He asked helplessly.
David laughed as he helped get his wife situated. "I have no idea."
Suddenly, Gabrielle let out a cry of pain, mingled with surprise.
"Whoa!" Tommy shouted, echoing her cry. "What do I do? What do I do?"
Aphrodite looked up at him and grinned. "Towels and hot water, lover boy!" She said quickly.
"Right!" Tommy vanished out the door, and then he popped back in again. "Uh, Shakes? Where?"
David grasped Gabrielle's hand as another contraction hit. "Upper left drawer, next to the stove!"
"Right!" Tommy vanished again.
David looked over at Aphrodite. "Couldn't you, zip, pow, and they'd be here?"
Aphrodite nodded, grinning. "I just like getting him all worked up. It's fun."
"Not for me!" Gabrielle said through clenched teeth.
"Easy," David said quietly. "Just like we talked about before. Just breathe like we worked on?"
Gabrielle's breath hissed quickly between her clenched teeth.
"Slow down," David said gently.
"You slow down!" Gabrielle shouted at him when the next contraction hit.
David was sure the bones in his hand were about to be pulverized in her viselike grip.
Tommy came in with an armload of towels and set them on the dresser as Aphrodite moved to the foot of the bed.
"You know what you're doing, right?" Tommy asked nervously. "You guys know what you're doing, right?"
"Yeah, sure," David said nervously. He looked at Aphrodite.
"Just relax, boys," The Goddess said nervously. "Everything's under control."
Gabrielle cried out again and Aphrodite looked nervously at David. "I think."
"Oh, man," Tommy kept repeating.
Aphrodite looked back at him. "Tommy! Out!"
"Yeah, right," Tommy said when he saw the first of the blood. His face paled visibly. "I'm a bit on the, uh, yeah, air, air would be good. Truck's still running and all."
"Out!" David and Aphrodite shouted at the same time.
David looked at Aphrodite nervously. "You got this?" he asked.
"I'm winging it, right now, buster," The Goddess said nervously.
"Oh, great!" Gabrielle cried.
"It'll be okay," David whispered soothingly. "We can do this."
"Fine!" Gabrielle groaned. "Then you do this part!"
"Funny," Aphrodite said nervously. Her eyes went wide. "I can see the head!"
Tommy paced about the living room nervously. Then she heard Gabrielle give a long, painful wail and he about lost it, right there.
"Christ!" He muttered to himself. "You'd think it was my own kid being born!" He laughed nervously.
After several long, agonizing hours, Aphrodite came out into the room and grabbed one of the baby blankets that they had picked up on their shopping spree and vanished back into the room. Then she came back out again, looking moderately disheveled, but grinning broadly. From the room, Tommy heard the sound of a baby crying.
"They did it?" He asked expectantly.
Aphrodite nodded excitedly. "Come on in."
When Tommy followed Aphrodite into the room, he saw Gabrielle, pale and weak, smiling with a small bundle in her arms. David knelt next to her, his hand reaching into the bundle to move a fold of cloth. He was still flexing the fingers of his other hand experimentally.
"Look at you," he said, grinning stupidly. Then he kissed Gabrielle's cheek and looked back down at the tiny life in her arms. A tiny hand wrapped about David's forefinger, and he laughed quietly.
"You did it," He whispered.
"We did it," Gabrielle corrected him. She looked into his eyes and smiled wearily. Then she looked up at Tommy and Aphrodite. "Come in and meet your niece."
"Niece?" Aphrodite said in surprise.
Gabrielle nodded. "You're part of the family too, you know?"
She looked down at her daughter and smiled.
"This is Uncle Tommy and Aunt Aphrodite," she explained.
Aphrodite blushed. The two of them stepped to the other side of the bed and looked down at the tiny face. It looked up at them questioningly, with clear, blue eyes.
"Hey there, doodlebug," Tommy said softly. "What's your name?"
"Duh!" Aphrodite said, smiling down at the baby. "As if there's any doubt?"
David and Gabrielle smiled, and Gabrielle kissed the tiny forehead.