By David Schock <email@example.com> and Lady Tesser
Submitted July 2000
Summary: It's the year 2050 and Lois has been dead for twenty years. Clark has remarried but that only leads to new problems. A Superman story set in a new universe and a crossover between the D.C.U. (comics universe) and Anime. Strongly based on the 1986 Anime movie Project A-ko.
Project A-ko: "Gift of the Magami"
Comments both good or bad E-mail, firstname.lastname@example.org by Lady Tesser and David Schock
"JINGLE BELLS— BATMAN SMELLS ROBIN LAYED AN EGG!!!" SANG THE LITTLE BLONDE.
From Inside a husky female voice scoulded, "C-KO."
"Sorry, Mrs. Magami. I'm just so excited! Thank-you again for letting Eiko have me over again!"
She smiled indulgently at her daughter's best friend, still wondering what all the hoopla was about. Despite the fact she had lived in Man's World for several decades, she never quite understood the fascination with Christmas. Of course, she had studied the rituals and stories behind the Western holiday for years; she had discovered that it heralded back to her own culture's celebration of Mid-Winter or Winter Solstice.
The European Pagans had influenced the current celebration quite heavily. Even the scholars of all the major relegious institutions believe that this Jesus Christ may well have been actually born during the Summer months. The setting was altered to the winter to accomodate the Pagan converts to the new God. Yet, she knew the history wasn't what excited the children most. It was the receiving of gifts and candy that delighted them to no end. To see relatives from far away they only get to see on rare occassions like this.
The beauty of twinkling colored lights and stories of people changed by the goodness of the holiday. Her husband had taught her the true meaning of the holliday. He had shown her it was a time of gentleness and good will between all people on Earth. The one time of the year when most all differences that seperate the rest of the human race are put aside for a short while. In celebration of life, happiness, and the simple joy of being alive on Earth. It went beyond religion and dogma… it simply *was*.
In Japan, Eiko's mother loved how they celebrated Christmas, combining it with the popular Shinto and Taoist faiths. It had an elegance…and dare she say a style all it's own.
"Why do I have to be a smelly old horse in the Christmas Pageant?!" Eiko bellowed in the kitchen where her father was altering her equesterine costume.
"Because not everyone can be angels, pun'kin," her father answered.
"I don't want to be an angel, either. I wanted to be a shepherd. Krypto could have been my sheep!"
Mrs. Magami sighed. She was in the dining room helping C-ko make a pair of angel's wings with an old feathered cloak she had aquired in Wales a few decades ago from Morrigan the Raven Goddess. It was a gorgeous pair of wings made from white raven feathers. C-ko had promised to not ruin the wings or a vile and hideous trip to the zoo's seprentarium was going to be in order. Eiko's mother really wouldn't dangle the little ten- year-old blonde over a pit of snakes, but she admited to herself the idea was appealing at times.
Krypto took the opportunity sauntered between the kitchen and dining rooms, looking for any cookie crumbs that might have fallen from either of the tables. The Kryptonian hound had enjoyed his years with his master's pack, adopting the master's cub as his own. Looking after the cub and her friend was both a burden and a highlight of his life with the Magamis. As he soon discovered the girls were prone to have adventures nipping on their heels. The last adventure they had shared together — trick or treating in Brooklyn without permission — had grounded his mistress from seeing her best friend for two months. (Krypto didn't mind this too much. The whiny blonde cub had used a magic marker all over his beautiful white coat, calling it a "disguise".)
"I still don't want to be a horse!" complained Eiko.
Krypto sighed and decided to lay under the table. Maybe her temper will be enough to knock over a plate of Christmas cookies. Perhaps they'll taste like his master's mother's cookies…
"Dear?" Eiko's father called. "Your daughter is becoming tempermental again!"
"*My* daughter?" Mrs. Magami smiled, entering the kitchen. "When she's being naughty, she's *my* daughter?"
"Right," her husband replied, slapping the costume to the front of her apron. "When she's sweet, she's my little princess."
"Oh, gag me!" Eiko called.
"Eiko!" C-ko cried. "Your parents are being sweet! I think it's cute!"
"Yeah, but I'm still a horse!"
"Let me take care of it, darling," Mrs. Magami whispered to him as she placed the costume back on the table. He nodded and went in to assist C-ko with her angel's wings.
"I'm disappointed in you, my daughter."
Eiko looked up at her mother's tall, imposing frame above her. Even standing on a chair, the young red head's ten-year-old body was still too short for her to look her mother in the eye.
"No 'buts', young lady," she opened the door to the basement/training room, and picked her daughter up by the seat of her pants to toss her down onto the mats. Eiko twisted into a ball in mid-flight and landed on one buttock to absorb the blow, just as she was taught by her mother. Her years of training were paying off at last.
"What was that for?!" Eiko demanded, straightening herself out.
Her mother descended the stairs— in truth, floated down the stairs since they were alone— and closed the door behind herself.
"Just to see if your father's spoiling of you has ruined your abilities. When I was your age, I was working in my mother's stables, having to shovel horse manure and care for the horses. It was terrible, but it gave me respect for the animal."
Eiko looked down, brushing a strand of red hair back over her ear. Her mother bit her lip, briefly wondering if she was too harsh on the child.
"When do I get to fly like you and daddy?"
"You seem to take after your father with regard to most of your powers. Most likely when you're eighteen or so, since that was how old he was when he began to fly."
"Oh… " the young redhead trailed off, her lower lip quivering, ready to cry.
"Come here, Eiko," her mother made her way over to her altar and shrine. "There is a God I want to introduce you to."
Eiko inhaled sharply. Her mother's altar had always been a place of mystery to her. It was where her mother went after a training session, where she prayed and meditated. Eiko's literature studies included learning mythologies, and she was able to discern that her mother worshipped the Goddesses and Gods of the Greek Pantheon.
She had learned a little bit about how her mother worshipped the past few years. She knew there was much more to it than what they taught her in school. She watched her mother light the incense brazier, the scent of sandlewood filled the corner. Then her mother dipped her fingers in the chalice of water, sprinkling it over them both. She lit the candle next and then stirred rock salt around in a shallow dish with the tip of a dagger.
"Eiko," her mother began. "In my religion, we have a God of horses. He is also the God of the seas and lakes and oceans and rivers and streams, including all the animals that live in them. He is the God of the earthquake and of the mountains. The horse is His sacred animal. The horse is strong and sure- footed, swift and loyal. The horse has ploughed fields, carried burdens, escorted woman and man, lead the way into battles. In this pagent, you are the sacred horse that took the Wise Men to the birth of a prophet. It is an honor to portray the sacred animal of Posiedon, and you appease the God for your Oneness with that sacredness."
Eiko stared wide-eyed at her mother for several moments, letting the story sink in. It was here that she did believe in Goddesses, and was sure her mother was one herself.
"I understand, mother," Eiko replied at last. "I will be proud to honor the Gods with my role."
Mrs. Magami smiled, then bowed before the altar. Eiko mimicked her, feeling the small sign of respect was necessary.
"Now, go on upstairs and let your father help you finish your costume."
"All right… thank-you, mom."
She let her daughter run upstairs and she turned back to the altar. "Thank-you, Posiedon, for your help in my daughter's understanding," she whispered.
She bowed again, then snuffed out the incense and blew out the candle flame.
Mrs. Magami opened the basement door to find her husband on the phone, whispering in concern. She cocked her head, staring him eye to eye. He met her blue eyes at last with his own, and smiled in his special way that told her it was really all right.
"… Yes, I know. I'll let you talk with her now … I think it's a wonderful idea myself, but you know the boss has the Final Say … "
She smirked, sliding up next to him and slipping her hand into his trouser pocket. She had him trained properly now. His late wife had set the foundation of the final Say for her many years ago.
"Darling … " he kissed her ear, whispering something delightfully indecent, and she giggled, taking the phone from him. "You old goat," she chuckled, then cleared her throat. "Hello?"
"Sister, I miss you so much!" the woman's voice on the other end blurted.
Eiko's mother caught her breath.
"Of course it's me!"
She smiled, taking the cordless phone into the den where there were no children or husband. "Blessings upon you, my fellow sister! Where are you?"
"Here in America. Artemis was giving me her usual bull and feathers about you and Clark and I didn't feel up to handling her."
"Damn. Her … " The redheaded snipe had been dangling the knife too close to her back for several years, and she went in for the kill after Diana found out she was pregnant with Eiko. Then she attempted to carry on *her* work, with her uniform and tools and weapons? An Amazon in white hot rage was nothing compared to Mrs. Magami's anger when she found this out. It lead down a road were she had to fight her own mother and sisters to escape the home were she grew up. To be with the man she had always loved, even when he belonged to another.
Donna sighed. "I had to get out of there. I'm beginning to find Patriarch's World more and more comforting for me." "Yet, it holds so many painful memories as well."
The sister chuckled, murmuring, "Christmas is coming up … it's a very lonely time, you know. Since my … family … "
The one time Amazon princess waited for her friend to gather her bearings again. The holidays also meant painful memories to those who lost family. Her best friend was no exception.
"Donna? Would you like to spend Christmas with my family? You shouldn't be alone, not like this and most of all not this time of year."
The woman sniffed, and asked, "Are you sure? I asked Clark if I could visit for a day … He sugested two weeks "
"And I invite you to stay as long as you wish, my friend and sister. You can help me train Eiko to fight two opponents at the same time."
She chuckled. "That child is blessed by many Gods, my sister. She was Meant to Be; the Fates work on a grander scale than you or I are able to conceive."
"A pain in my backend, at times, and her father does spoils her rotten."
"I doubt she's very spoiled, not with Won — " she paused and continued. "Not with you as her mother."
"I can only teach her so much. She just has to accept it."
"She does. And her temper and disposition will ensure it. When shall I arrive?"
Mrs. Magami re-entered the kitchen, kissing her husband's cheek as she passed.
"Well?" he asked, his swift fingers bluring as he fashioned a horsehead out of chicken wire and paper mache.
"A vistor," she smiled. "Eiko! Come in here!"
"Okay, mama!" the young redhead entered the room, her horse end already strapped on, with C-ko wearing feathered wings and riding on Eiko's back.
"Yeee-haa!" the little blonde giggled. "Just like the American cowboys!"
Both of A-ko's parents chuckled, and her mother plucked C-ko off of her daughter. Her father picked her up and sat her in his lap.
"What's going on?" Eiko asked.
C-ko snatched a cookie from the tray and slipped it under the table for Krypto, who wolfed it down eagerly, noting it tasted just like his master's mother's cookies from the before time.
"Your aunt Donna is going to be staying with us for the holidays."
"Wheeeeee!!!" Screamed Eiko as she performed a backflip out of her father's lap, landing delicately on her feet on the counter.
"Off the counter, young lady," her mother told her. "It's not polite."
"Sorry, mama," Eiko slipped off the counter and C-ko giggled. "So, when are we going to pick her up?"
"Your father is going to take you to your pageant, and your aunt Donna and I will be there in time to see you."
"And she'll see me as the sacred horse of the Three Wise Men!"
Mr. Magami turned to his wife and she smiled enigmatically at him.
Eiko's mother was entirely too busy packing up the trunk with eIko's costume and the special rigs for C-ko and her fellow angels to fly around in, that she hardly noticed the phone ringing in the house. When she did, she looked around to make sure she was alone. The little street was silent and empty, save for the white blanket of powdery snow covering the lawns and sidewalks. She piroetted around and flew toward the house. She opened the door carefully and touched down inside the livingroom. Her quick hand landed on the receiver.
"Diana? It's Donna. Don't worry about picking me up. I'll meet you at Eiko's school. You don't mind if I bring a friend or two along?"
"Not at all. The more, merrier. Need directions to A-ko's school?"
"Yes, that would help. We're in transit right now."
Mr. Magami happliy whistled "Joy to the World" as he rigged up the angels' harnesses over the catwalk.
Who would have thought the Man of Steel would enjoy fatherhood and all its little duties, including contributing time to his daughter's pageant? Well, maybe it wasn't so odd. He glanced over the railing, watching his daughter prancing around in her horse costume. He watched as the three boys portraying the Wise Men attempted to all sit on her back, and she reared up, spilling them off her back. All of them were soon laughing hysterically.
"Hey, weren't they supposed to be camels?" another fifth grader asked.
"They had horses in the desert," Eiko replied haughtily. "If you don't like it, tell that to Posiedon."
The boy scratched his head in puzzlement, then went back to struggling into his sheep's costume.
Eiko's mother was affixing the white raven's feathered wings to C-ko's back. Well, as much as she could; the little blonde was bubbling with excitement, hopping around like a kangaroo mouse.
"Calm down, C-ko… " Mrs. Magami chided her.
"I'M JUST SO EXCITED!!!" she shrieked.
Eiko's parents met each other's eyes from the catwalk and the right wing in one agreement. This was going to be one *long* night.
The auditorium filled with parents, faculty, students, families of the actors in the pageant. Mr. and Mrs. Magami insured the cable harnesses and costumes were set, and they let C-ko's adopted mother do her stage managing.
"When is Donna supposed to show up?"
Eiko's mother lay her head on her husband's massive shoulder. "She said right on time for the pageant to begin. Oh, she's also bringing a few friends along."
He creased his brow in worry, turning to look in her eyes.
"Are they from your home?"
"I trust Donna. She was always there. Remember? She was the one who tried to convince my… mother from exiling me, and she had made sure that none of the other Amazons— most especially of Artemis' pack— never found us or our daughter. I trust her to have friends that would never reveal where we are or that know nothing of our situation."
"I would like to know who they are," he murmured, brushing his fingers across her pale cheek. She turned, kissing his face gently, running her hands behind his neck to pull him closer.
"Ick," they heard a woman's voice above them. "Can't you two ever behave yourselves in public?"
They turned, both recognizing the voice. Beside them stood Diana's best friend Donna Troy. She stood in as tall as Mrs. Magami herself, with mid-length wavy black hair and piercing blue eyes. Yet, her hair had greys among the black, the years of grieving her dead family taking their toll on the former Goddess. But her smile was still radiant, still joyous in the love of life. Her smile matched the starburst red sweather she wore over the red leather trousers and high heeled boots.
"Donna!" Mrs. Magami stood up and embraced her, crushing her in a bear hug.
"Not so hard, sister!"
"Shhhh!" several of the other parents whispered as the lights dimmed.
Both women sat down and Donna leaned over to kiss Clark's cheek. "How's the Boy Scout?"
He smiled. "Never better. So where are your other friends?"
Donna narrowed her eyes at him and replied, "Don't tell me fatherhood has ruined your fine senses, honey."
Mrs. Magami elbowed her husband, causing him to make an audible "oof!" He smiled up at her grinning at him.
"Darling? Have you been ignoring everything around you?"
"No, I haven't," he whispered, kissing his wife's hand. "I have been listening, and I do seem torecognize a familiar heartbeat." He gazed through one of the ornate pillars lining the walls of the auditorium. "And I see that my child's godfather is here along with another little redhead that resembles my daughter."
Eiko's mother arched a fine eyebrow. "Bruce didn't tell us he had a daughter."
Donna chuckled. "Not his daughter, fellow sister. I brought one of our Amazon children with me so she can experience Christmas for the first time."
"From the island?" Mrs. Magami furrowed her brows.
"Tell me, whose daughter is she?"
Donna looked down to her hands in her lap. She listened to the angel Gabriel deliver the message of the birth of the child of God.
"She is the daughter of Artemis, my princess."
Eiko's mother pressed her hand over her best friend's mouth. "I am not the princess of Paradise Island, I am simply Diana," she released her hand and looked with worry upon Donna.
"Does her daughter know who I am?" she asked.
"Only that you are an Amazon from the island who left us long ago. Her name is Zoey, and she is nearly Eiko's age."
"Is she anything like Artemis?" Mr. Magami asked.
"From what I've seen, no," Donna smiled. "She has the compassion and true honor her mother lacks. Fortunately, she has been under the tutorial of Phillippus and sometimes myself, and I see no mark of Artemis' temper upon her."
"A spy, perhaps?" Diana asked, clutching her nails into her fist.
"No! I chose her to come with me, sister! She has a gift, but I feel she needs some time away from her mother and with true Amazons… Besides, the resemblence between Eiko and Zoey is uncanny. Perhaps the Gods are trying to tell us something."
Eiko's mother leaned back in her seat, watching the pageant. "All right, Donna, I trust you. If anything happens to threaten the safety of my husband and daughter, I will be obliged to use the lasso on her and erase her memory."
"Agreed," the one time Titan nodded. "You have my word… And I had made Zoey promise to not reveal where we went on this trip. She keeps her word like iron, sister, This I have witnessed for myself."
"As long as we remain in peace."
Both women clutched the other's forearm in honored agreement and became silent.
Mr. Magami watched the pageant with pride. His little Eiko was making her way across the stage, the Three Wise Men upon her back. She bobbed the horsehead as she walked, moving her limbs in time with the others, letting the three boys on her strong back sway and joggle as people do on real horses. Ever since the afternoon her mother threw her down in the basement, Eiko had been researching the form and habits of horses.
His wife noticed his smile and misty eyes, and she squeezed his hand in hers. "Why are you all teary, my love?" she whispered.
"I don't know what you said to our daughter in the basement, but I wish you could see her face under the costume. She has the most beautiful smile on her face."
"It's all right," she kissed his cheek. "I can imagine what she looks like from your own expression. I can almost see through your eyes."
They squeezed each other's hands, both getting teary from pride in their daughter's performance.
The students gathered for their bows, all in a haphazard line at the foot of the stage. Eiko and C-ko held the other's hand tightly, huge grins on their faces. Eiko's father already had the camera out, snapping pictures like crazy, just as any proud father would do. But still wishing his pal Jimmy was still alive to help him share in the moment
The students raised their arms on the cue Mrs. Kotobuki gave them, then all bowed at once to the applause and cheers of friends and family.
"Ya-HO!" C-ko squealed. "Ya-HO!"
The line broke and the children descended the staircase leading to the audience to be with their families.
"Most impressive," Eiko and C-ko's teacher said as she approached Mr. and Mrs. Magami. "Eiko is such a talented actress."
"Thank-you— " Mrs. Magami began.
"AUNT DONNA!!!" Eiko shrieked, throwing herself at her mother's best friend with more force than most adults could muster. But Donna wasn't most adults, and she accepted the wreaking ball attack of her "niece" with barely a flinch.
"Little drop bear!" she laughed, using her pet name for the child. "Not so little anymore, are you?"
"Nope," A-ko took the horsehead off, grinning. "Did you see me play the Wise Men's horse?"
"Of course, honey," Donna let the child's teacher talk with her parents. "Guess who I brought along with me?"
"I don't know… " Eiko smiled, pulling C-ko closer to her to keep her from getting lost. "But have you met my best friend?"
"HI!!!" C-ko smiled sunnily. "My name's C-ko Kotobuki! Pleased ta' meet'cha'!"
Donna smiled indulgently. Such an endearing child…
"I'm Eiko's aunt Donna. Pleased to meet you, too."
"We're *all* going out for hot chocolate together, right?" the little blonde asked.
"Right!" A-ko replied. "Who did you bring with you, aunt Donna?"
A tall man appeared next to the Amazon. He was very old, with shock white hair and a stonehard wrinkled face. His faded brown eyes were gentle, and the faintest smile stretched his thin l ips. He was dressed in an exo-suit, one of the more advanced models, unlike the more common bulky ones that permitted the user little movement. The much smaller model allowed him to have better flexibilty and strength than men half his age without it.
"Uncle Bruce!" Eiko squealed, and lept up to hug him. He held the ten-year-old in his arms.
"That performance was superb," he told her, kissing her cheek.
C-ko hung back shyly. Her best friend's godfather had always frightened her a little. He was dark and aloof, but at least he treated Eiko like she really was his niece.
She then noticed someone standing shyly behind the man.
"Hi," C-ko chriped in her usually friendly manner. "What's your name?"
Eiko looked down to see another ten-year-old girl that looked uncannily like her. The same red hair, except her bangs were chin-length and parted in the middle. Her large violet eyes studied the other two girls. She was simply dressed in brown leather trousers and a green tunic and boots.
"My name is Zoey. Who are you?"
"C-ko!" the blonde girl replied, giggling.
"And I'm Eiko. We kinda like alike, don't we?"
Bruce smiled in relief. He was worried about how Eiko and Zoey would get along. Their mothers who had never really gotten along, had parted on even worst terms, and the fight and flight of EIko's mother from her home land especially worst. Both he and Donna had worried ever since they decided to bring Zoey with them..
Mrs. Magami finally shook the teacher away from her and approached the small group.
"Hello, Bruce," she smiled. "I'm glad the new suit is working better for you."
"Thank-you, I had to tinker with it even more after the prototype was completed, but I don't feel as old as I look right now," he grinned. "And you two as always, look as young as ever."
Mrs. Magami blushed. "I had no choice in the matter."
He set Eiko down and replied, "And I don't envy you at all, my friend. On to other matters: may I present to you… " he paused, uncertain "Miss Zoey… Valcuria… of Thermescyra."
"Valcuria?" the Amazon redhead broke into a smile. "I like it. Can I keep it?"
"Of course," he replied, automatically calculating the amount it would take to register the girl as an American citizen with a birth certificate and— then concluded it'd be pocket change he could find in his sofa.
No problem, as long as he got her away form that crazy mother of hers. Despite a mutual respect, he and Artemis did not see eye-to-eye often.
Mrs. Magami knelt down to study the girl's soul through her eyes. True, she did not carry her mother's temper or her anger, but was quite sure the child carried Amazon law higher than most others. Oh, heck, if all else fails, use the lasso on her and some selective amnesia.
"Good evening, Zoey. I am Eiko's mother… Diana Magami. I'm glad you visited us from the island."
Zoey smiled, a very cute smile like Eiko uses all to often on her father. "I'm pleased to be here, thank-you.
Donna made me learn Japanese before we came here."
"Sound wisdom, since this is Japan, and it is the national language," Mr. Magami interrupted, holding Eiko in his large arms.
"You did well, sister," Diana told the girl's mentor.
Donna nodded. "Anyway, as you know, we don't have Christmas, and I was hoping Eiko could show Zoey just what Christmas is all about."
Eiko lit up like a Christmas tree. "REALLY?!?! Zoey, I can teach you everything! About Santa Claus and trees and lights and candy and presents and—"
"And POPCORN BALLS and CANDY CANES and COOKIES and PUNCH and.. . " C-ko continued.
Eiko and C-ko took Zoey by both hands and chattered on either side of her as she tried to process all that they told her. But Eiko's mother noticed the child looking back at her, narrowing her eyes to study her face.
Bruce patted her shoulder, "I think it's wonderful the girls are getting along so well."
"I don't think there'll be a problem," Mr. Magami said. "She's nothing like her mother."
Diana and Donna met the other's eyes. Both knew, on a gut level, that something was going to happen. Something, but they weren't sure what.
"Come on, all you riff-raff," Mr. Magami grinned. "Let's go to the tea house and get some hot chocolate for the girls."
"YAY!!!" C-ko sang out.
C-ko joined the Magamis in their car as Bruce, Donna, and Zoey hailed a taxi. They decided to meet at Akari's Tea House to warm themselves up from the freezing Japanese snow. Mr. and Mrs. Magami spoke in low tones in the front seat as Eiko and C- ko giggled and raved about the pageant.
"She was looking at me odd," said Diana
"Was she? I failed to notice," answered her husband.
"She was. She knows who I once was. She has that same mad gleam in her eye like her mother."
"What of it? What can she do?"
"Darling, the Amazons of Artemis' tribe start their military training at age three."
"Point taken, but you still have that gold rope of yours."
"This is going to be a disaster, I just know it."
"How can you tell?" he asked
"Women's intuition."she answered in turn.
Moments later, the only two men of the party escorted all five women into the tea house, settling around a large table. With a bit of careful manuevering of the exo-suit, Bruce managed to sit cross-legged at the low table.
"How were you able to ever get used to this?" he asked. "And having to take my boots at the door. Let an old man have some comfort."
Diana laughed. "You should have seen Clark when we first moved here."
"Oh, really?" Donna chuckled, her arm around Bruce in a sympathetic hug.
"Really, dear, you don't have to relate that story… "
"But I must," his wife insisted. "Eiko, want to hear a funny story about your papa when we first were deciding about moving here while I was pregnant with you?"
"Yeah. Daddy's always been pretty funny," Eiko replied, leaping up to hug him around his neck. Zoey's eyes widened in surprise then narrowed as she stared at Eiko and her father.
Mr. Magami smiled, slightly blushing. "It's silly."
"Yes, it is. Your father and I went to look for a house and found a really good real estate agent. We flew right in from America and met her at one of these tea houses. "We followed custom and took our shoes off, but your darling father had not planned on this — "
"Slip of the memory, dear."
" — and he took off his shoes, showing off these Mickey Mouse socks."
"BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!" Donna brayed, laughing hysterically.
Bruce chuckled and added, "Soft as a sneakerful, too."
"Do I sense a flying rodent in the air?" Clark replied.
"Shut up, Magami."
"Stop it, you two. Anyway, we go into the room and meet with our agent. She kept staring down at his socks, giggling to herself, then we sat down after we were introduced to her husband. After a moment of giggling, she pointed and said, 'Mickey Mouse — tee hee hee!' Which brought *all* of us down into laughter. That was so cute the way she said it."
"So," her husband added. "I became known as Mouse Man from that."
Donna, Eiko, and C-ko broke into uncontrollable laughter. Bruce only chuckled, as Zoey drew a blank look across her face.
"What's a Mickey Mouse?" she asked as the ruckus died down.
"I have to educate you, girl," Eiko commented. "You've never heard of Mickey Mouse?"
Diana paused, seeing the flare of temper awaken in the girl, the same way Artemis' always did.
"Should I have?" the young Amazon asked coldly.
She did have to hand it to Donna, at least the girl had more control over it. Yet, with a redhead, that always paved the way to more dangerous results. Eiko decided to remain oblivious to her nasty vibes, convincing herself that Zoey was probably tired.
"Don't worry about it, I'll teach you everything there is to know."
"Ah, waiter!" Mr. Magami flagged down one of the servers. "We'd like to order."
"Yes, sir. What will you gentlemen and ladies have?"
"Three cups of hot chocolate for the young ladies."
Zoey ground her teeth. "You let *him* pick what we consume?"
"C-ko and I *like* hot chocolate. You will, too, if you've never had chocolate before like mama didn't."
"Greater than anything else in the world," Mrs. Magami added.
"Ohhhhhhhh, yeeeeeaaaaaahhhh… " Donna chimed in.
"Hey," the former's husband remarked. "Better than anything else?"
"We're in mixed company, dear, behave yourself."
Bruce laughed at the Man of Steel's expense.
"Shut up, you," Clark chortled. "Dirty old man."
"You're older than me, Magami." Eiko giggled, getting up again to kiss her father's cheek. She turned and met Zoey's eyes as her father continued the order.
"What are you lookin' at?" she asked, sitting back down next to her.
"Nothing, just wondering why you're hanging all over that *man*."
Eiko paused, shocked to hear the common word being used almost like a cuss word. Someone actually didn't like her compassionate and strong papa?
"Zoey, I love my dad. So does my mom."
The girl snorted. "The one time-princess of Thermascyria left us for *this*?"
Eiko clutched her fists at her side, feeling her own temper flare. Diana and Donna's eyes met, and both realized the seriousness of the situation. Donna moved, but Diana shook her head. It was between the girls.
C-ko broke in with her sunny smile and asked, "Hey, Zoey, you wanna try some of my homecooked lunches tomorrow when we go Christmas shopping?"
Eiko brightened, seeing a way to teach that snot-nosed, redheaded Amazon a lesson she would never forget. "Oh, yes, you must try C-ko's Cordon Bleu lunches; they're… to die for."
Zoey nodded, a smirk playing at her lips. "Of course I will, C- ko." <Icky stupidhead.> <Wimpy traitor.>
Both older women sighed in unison. The holidays were always supposed to be stressful, they say.
The next morning dawned bright and cold. The pale blue sky over southern Japan was offset in etheral beauty by the thick, clean white snow that covered the lawns and streets of the little neighborhood the Magamis lived in. It was the first night that C-ko had slept over in two months, and A-ko enjoyed every minute of secretly playing dolls that she told everyone she had grown out of.
Yet, she was reminded of the strange girl from last night when she trotted downstairs and found the brat and her beloved aunt Donna sleeping in the livingroom on the convertible sofa. She studied them sleeping. Donna had her arm protectively around the girl, holding her like she was her child. Eiko remembered her own mother let her sleep with her and daddy for the first few nights after they moved house in the middle of the night.
Eiko could accept Zoey sleeping like with aunt Donna like that. After all she had the same type of love and affection her mother had. What did surprise Eiko was finding Zoey had her thumb in her mouth. Ten-years old, and she *still* sucked her thumb? EIko filed it away for future reference and turned away to head into the kitchen.
She found her father already in there, having coffee with her God father..
"Hi, papa!" she greeted her father, kissing him on the cheek.
"Morning, pun'kin," he replied, hugging her back. "You're the first of the women-folk to awake. That's unusual of you."Eiko shrugged, rounding the table to hug her Godfather. "I smelled *that*."
Bruce hugged his Goddaughter back and added, "I must admit, Clark, I always did miss your blueberry pancakes myself."
Mr. Magami chuckled, getting up to flip the pan, letting the flapjacks fly at their own accord through the air and land back in the skillet to cook. Eiko still hadn't mastered this trick of her father's. The last time she had tried, the pancakes went straight through the ceiling and into the bathroom while her mother was taking a bath. She came down a moment later soaking wet and holding three very soggy half-cooked pancakes. Eiko was glad her mother could laugh about it now.
"Yes, sugar plum?"
"C-ko and I talked about it last night, and we came to a decision on what we want to do tonight after we go Christmas shopping. But we need your help."
Her father smiled. "What? I actually get a vote in this?"
His best friend broke out in snickers.
Eiko gave her Godfather a dirty look, then slipped into her "sweet little daughter" persona for her father."C-ko and I were wondering if you can take us to see Santa Claus."
"Of course," he replied. "We can go to Macy's in New York — "
Eiko shook her head. "No, not the fake department store Santa, the *real* Santa. The one at the North Pole."
Her father didn't turn from the stove. He bit his lip, sighed, and prayed to Lois to help him figure out what to tell his only child regarding the semi-myth, semi-real, almost-Saint of Christmas and his workshop of elves.
Bruce, meanwhile, had remained silent. He knew when to keep his old bat ears deaf about things. Although Mrs. Magami once called him a "fruit" bat …
"Sweetie, tell C-ko to dress in her warmest clothes this evening. We're going to visit Santa Claus."
"And we'll also take Zoey with us to see him."
Eiko dropped her victory dance and made a distasteful face. "But, papa! She says the word 'man' like a cuss word! And she makes these horrible faces at mama!"
Clark sighed. "Sugar plum, she was raised on an island of Amazons. You have to understand that their view of men has been tainted by the evil some men did to them long ago. Is it any wonder that their beliefs about men is not one of equality? Is it any wonder that Zoey thinks the same way? Especially since she is the daughter of one of your mother's rivals, she is not going to be easy to get along with. But just *try*. Your aunt Donna has faith both of you will be friends before their visit is through."
"I don't know, daddy. If she says one bad word about you, I'm going to flying crescent kick her face off."
"Now, Eiko," her Godfather interrupted. "That is no way to deal with a person. You first have to try reason, and if that doesn't work, you go ahead and let them throw the first punch."
"Bruce!" Mr. Magami scolded him sharply.
He ignored the girl's father and continued, "But you have to be the one to end it, and you do that by hitting hard and fast. No dallying around and no hesertation. It can get you killed."
Clark felt like banging his head against the wall, but refrained — he would most likely have a large hole to fix afterward.
"All fine, uncle Bruce," E-ko responded. "But I'm going to be an Amazon like mama and deal with this the Amazon way."
He raised an eyebrow, then smiled. Yes, just like her mama … complete with temper …
"YOU SPOIL HER ROTTEN, YOU KNOW THAT?!" the ex-Amazon Princess stated flatly to her husband. Actually, it was incredible he understood her at all, considering she had a mouthful of Pepsodent and toothbrush. After nearly ten and a half years of marriage, he understood her prefectly.
"Play along, my love," he replied, wrapping his tie. "The girls had conversed and planned and came to the decision to see Santa Claus long before they consulted anyone else."
"That's the bugger," Mrs. Magami spat into the sink. "They *didn't* consult us! Where are we going to find this old fat guy in the North Pole?"
"I'd ask Perry, but, God rest his soul, he's not around. He'd enjoy playing Santa for the kids."
"Again, I ask — "
"I already have a plan," he turned and held her closely.
She looked up at him, skeptical at his announcement. "Oh, really?"
"Three words, six syllables."
Mrs. Magami smirked. "Is it what I think it is?"
"Fortress of Solitude."
Her face brightened. "Holograph projectors." "The robots."
"Of course," she giggled, teasing her lips across his cheek and down to the corner of his mouth.
She had to admit, he *did* have wonderful ideas … and she had been wanting to see her old robot friend Ke-Lex for the longest time …
Eiko and Zoey were staring each other eye to eye, the faintest of growls boiling in their throats. The day had started out innocently enough, in which the four adults took the three girls out Christmas shopping in Tokyo, since the little town they lived in didn't have as large a selection of goods for the unusual group to choose from.
Eiko has been searching for the perfect gift for her father. Unknowingly to her father, she had gone through his closet most carefully, trying to come up with an idea of what he didn't have. Now, armed with Christmas spending loot from her Godfather, she dragged C-ko behind her as she sped through all the store of at least three malls.
Having uncle Bruce with her was a treat. She rarely had to ask for anything, and he even surprised her by providing things she never thought of. It was a secret between them — gruff, old uncle Bruce was really a generous man who spoiled his Goddaughter more than her father did. It was a treat to have lunch with him and C-ko at a fancy restaurant where people spoke English and they sat in chairs and used cloth napkins.
Eiko was proud to be her uncle's well-bahaved niece. There was just something about him that made her want to be a lady, probably because he was such a gentleman. Even if he wasn't as strong as her father, he was just as clever, and could see right through her lies and tricks. She respected him, that was what really mattered.
That afternoon, hauling about three shopping bags on each arm — C-ko with about eight herself — they met up with Donna and Zoey in front of a chocolate shop. Both Amazons had a five-pound box of chocolate sitting between them on the bench, making short work of it.
"What are you laughing at?" Donna asked, finishing a chocolate- raspberry truffle.
The old billionaire continued chuckling. "Donna, my friend, you have any idea how much chocolate you have on your face?" The former teen Titain, the woman once known as Toria, wiped the accumulated chocolate streaks from her mouth and face, grinning. "I can never get enough of this stuff, Bruce.
Better than — " she glanced, looking around at the three girls plunging into the chocolates." — better than happy violence."
Eiko's Godfather broke his Old Stoneface act and broke into guffaws.
"Eiko!" C-ko whined. "You're spoiling your dinner! And I brought along my lunchbox so you, me, and Zoey can share!"
Eiko paused from her chocolate raid and felt her sweather fall off her shoulder, exposing her Under-Roo shirt of a certain superheroine's gold eagle-creasted top. She looked for assistance from her aunt or Godfather, but both were talking grown-up talk that didn't sound too interesting. She had to take care of this herself. "But, C-ko, I'm still full from lunch."
"But — but — " C-ko's large green eyes filled with tears, threatening to burst at any moment.
<Oh, great Athena, help!> "Hey, C-ko, why don't you let Zoey try your lunch? She's never had it before."
"Oh, yeah!" C-ko replied brightly, whipping out a bento box from nowhere and shoving it in Zoey's face. "Here ya' go!"
Zoey raised her eyebrow, looking over the collection of eclectic Japanese treats, all done up in green and red and white. The rice in the tray held a large green heart with A- ko's name drawn in red.
"What is it?" she asked.
"My lunch! I cook it myself, so it should be the best thing you've ever tasted. A special blend of local delicacies in celebration of Christmas!"
Eiko stuck her tongue out in distaste at the odd-colored squid and bizarrely shaped vegetables. Green prawns, too. Zoey took the chopsticks offered by C-ko and held the bento before her, deciding what to pick.
"I'll try anything once," she stated.
She selected what appeared to be a vegetable, though she wasn't sure. Neither was Eiko, and for that matter, C-ko may not know, either. Zoey placed the object in her mouth, feeling it with her tongue.Nothing happened. So she chewed.
A blast of bitterness filled her mouth, then exploded into an acidic heat. She dropped the bento and chopsticks to the floor of the mall, and held her throat as her face tuirned from puce to slate, then a cherry red. Tears ran down her cheeks, and her mouth felt as if she swalowed an oral fireball, Donna and Bruce turned around to see the girl on all-fours, dry retching.
"C-ko, did you cook something again?!"
"SHE DOESN'T LIKE MY COOKING, WAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHH!!!"
"Serves you right, you stuck-up Amazon!"
That's when Zoey lept up, her violet eyes locked to A-ko's amber eyes, both growling at the other. Bruce recognized it immediately.
Back when he was a kid, he knew some school yard toughs that had run of the playground. They kept to their own ends, always circling each other to size the other up. They were the toughest kids at school, and they automatically had to challange each other for dominance. His Goddaughter and his friend's protegee were battling for Alpha Female.
Donna also had similar thoughts. She knew that it was a calculated risk bringing Artemis' daughter to meet with Diana's, but it had to be done. It was the only way to start healing a rift in two other people's lives. The children were the catalysts.
"WAAAAAAAHHHHHH!!! STOP YOUR FIGHTING!!!"
Both Eiko and Zoey stopped growling and looked at C-ko in full crying fit.
"Look what you did, you jerk," Eiko picked up C-ko and held her close to quiet her down. "You made C-ko cry by not liking her food."
"You tricked me into eating it, you cretin," Zoey replied, picking up her quiver of arrows she had been hauling around. "You *knew* it was poisoned."
"Actually," Bruce interrupted, placing a hand on her weapons. "It's not poison, that's how C-ko really cooks."
"Children," Zoey snorted. "Let go of my weapons, Man, or I'll have to bite your knees."
Eiko stuck her tongue out at Zoey. "You're a meanie, you freak."
"And you're a shame to the Amazon nation, you traitor."
"I hate you!"
"The feeling's mutual, Man Spawn."
"Stop it, girls!" Donna interrupted. "I will not have Amazon sisters fighting! Behave yourselves!"
Both girls nodded, still booring holes through the other with cold eyes. <Patriarch whelp.> <Stupid cow.>
Bruce and Donna sighed, herding the girls toward the lower level to meet with Eiko's parents. Hopefully they'll calm down before they visit "The North Pole".
Mrs. Magami folded the flying ship back up into the size of a compact and slipped it into her purse. The Magami family and C- ko Kotobuki stared at the tiny village in the snow, lit up merrily with fires in every window.
She was impressed by the holograph projectors' ability to turn the ice fortress into Santa's village and workshop. She was even more impressed by the robot assistants that had turned into elves, clad in beards and stocking caps and the whole works, right out of a children's fairy tale. Even the fact that they were in the middle of Antartica and no way near the north pole, did not take away from the illusion.
Mr. Magami smiled, feeling like a kid himself, once again remembering what it was like being Martha and Jonathan Kent's little boy.. He felt his own child shiver in excitment in his arms, seeing her bright smile spread wide across her pretty face.
"Wowee … !" she breathed.
"Ya-HO!" C-ko cried, scooping up snow in her hands. "We're at the North Pole!"
A blast of cold air erupted behind them as their friend's orbital craft touched down in the crunching snow. Soon, Donna and Zoey joined them, followed by Bruce. Zoey studied the village through scholar's eyes, seeing that this so-called Santa Claus' little place matched what she saw in the picture books Eiko threw at her earlier in the day.
<It would have been more impressive to meet Athena herself,> the Amazon child thought. <Still, a lot of trouble went into this trip … >
She smiled up at Donna and asked, "This is where this Santa Claus lives?"
"Yes. Come on, it's freezing out here."
"Let me down, popa," Eiko asked, climbing out of her father's arms and holding his hand. She grabbed hold of C-ko's hand and Mr. Magami lead the group toward the main house.
"Should we knock?" Eiko's mother grinned, nudging her husband.
"Leave it to me," he replied. "Santa taught me this one a long time ago."
What appeared to be her father knocking in an odd pattern was caught by her mother as punching in key codes. The door promptly opened, revealing a comfortably plump older woman with a jolly smile and a mass of beautiful white hair pulled up in a bun. She was dressed in a Dutch folk dress and apron, her hands holding a towel.
"Oh, Clark, it is so good to see you again! I see you brought the family this time!" she smiled warmly, leaning down to look at the girls. "You must be Eiko and C-ko."
"Hiya, Mrs. Claus!" Eiko jumped up and hugged the woman.
C-ko continued staring in awe, gazing in blank euphoria at the woman she read about.
"Come in, come in. You all must be freezing to death! Good to welcome all of you here. Nicholas is in the toy shop with the elves. Would you girls like some hot cocoa?"
"Yes, please!" the three girls sang out, settling at a table. The adults settled in chairs around the fire, warming themselves.
Bruce leaned over to Clark and whispered, "This is incredible. I really have to commend you on this creation."
"You must thank Ke-lex for that one," he stated. "I merely supplied him with the information and he whipped this up."
"Where is he, anyway?" his wife asked.
"He decided to stay in his form, parading around as a robotic elf."
She chuckled, kissing his cheek. "I still say you spoil the girls."
"It's Christmas, it's permissible."
The young girls accepted their cocoa from the old woman, drinking it silently as they took in the brightly decorated room of Santa's house.
"He's in the workshop!" Eiko squealed to C-ko.
"With the TOYS!" C-ko squealed back.
"And elves?" Zoey asked.
"Elves!" C-ko confirmed. "Cute little people no bigger than us with pointed ears and cute clothes and they make the TOYS!"
"Why not?" Zoey raised her mug to Eiko. "There are weirder things in this world."
"Like what?" C-ko asked.
Zoey was about to open her mouth when Mrs. Claus announced. "Why don't you children take your parents on a tour of the toy shop? Nicholas says he's ready for you."
"YAY!" C-ko jumped up, grabbing as many adults' hands as she could and pulling them up. Eiko took C-ko's hand and raced ahead through the doorway to the corridor connecting the Claus house to the workshop.
Donna laughed, talking Zoey's hand and following the two other girls with the others bringing up the rear.
"What's wrong with that girl?"
Donna looked down at the redhead. "What do you mean?"
"She hangs all over that Man. If she were a real Amazon … "
Donna shook her head. "Things are different in Patriarch's World, honey. Things have changed since the Amazon nation was formed. Women and men are far more equal in man's world with many womaen holding postions of power.. It's okay to treat men with love and affection, and treat them like equals."
"Mm. Doesn't sit right."
"Of course not. Your mother's tribe is still pretty hateful towards men."
"Honey, you have any idea that I was once married to a man?"
"No," Zoey looked down.
"I was, and I had a son. I loved them both very much, but that doesn't make me any less of a woman because I love two men, one of my own flesh."
"Is mother wrong?"
Donna opened her mouth, then sighed and smiled. "Just obsolete, honey. I know, deep in you, that you don't share her martial nature or hatred."
"I don't hate! Hate is a strong emotion … it's scary … "
"I know. That is why you can never completely hate. Even the men of Patriarch's World aren't worth that much blackness in your soul."
Zoey remained silent, squeezing her mentor's hand tighter.
Up ahead, A-ko stared in transfixed awe out one of the windows of the corridor. She saw two statues, of a man and a woman, both dressed in odd garb. The male one looked a little like her father, while the female one … looked familiar as well.
"What is it, Eiko?" C-ko whined, pulling on her best friend's sweather. "I wanna see the TOYS."
"Nothing, C-ko," she said.
"Well," Eiko's mother called. "I thought you two would already be terrorizing the elves by now.""Just waiting for you guys," Eiko replied. She let the adults catch up and the group opened the double doors leading to Santa's Workshop.
She pushed them open …
Oh, what sights the girls beheld! What incredible things their eyes drank up! One section held a group sewing dolls together. Another had an assembly line of rocking horses being built and painted. Another was of teddy bears being stuffed. Still another group were stuffing stockings full of treats and small goodies.
"Wow … weeee … " Eiko whispered in complete awe.
"Ya-ho-o-o-o-o-o-o … " C-ko concluded.
"Oh, ho-ho-ho!" a voice boomed, the two girls recognizing it instantly.
"SANTA!!!" Eiko and C-ko cried out, rushing toward the bearded, elven, smiling fat man, currently dressed like his elves. He accepted the two girls in his massive arms, A-ko knocking him down to the floor in a bear hug and C-ko made use of his big belly like a trampoline in her excitement. He laughed joyously, sitting up with the girls on his lap, answering the questions they fired at him.
Mr. and Mrs. Magami held each other, smiling, feeling joy in making their daughter happy with their present to her. Zoey cautiously approached the old man and he smiled warmly at her. "Now, Zoey, is that anyway to treat Old Father Christmas?"
She gulped, and Eiko turned to smirk at her. At last, she replied, "An honor to meet you, Mr. Claus."
Donna and Bruce looked around in wonder, delighted in the storybook come alive in front of their eyes. "I remember reading 'Night Before Christmas' when I was a kid. I used to read it every year until I began … working nights on a regular basis," Bruce stated quietly. "And I always thought that anyone like Santa … would be a decent enough person to …"
Donna wrapped her arm around the old man's waist, hugging him gently. "Ghosts never go away, Bruce, especially for people like us."
"I know. The holiday just makes their voices louder is all."
She wiped the tear from his wrinkled cheek. "I know exactly what you mean, dear."
Mr. and Mrs. Magami had gone on a tour of the workshop with the girls, Santa leading them around, laughing and picking up one girl or the other or another.
While everyone was concentrating on the makings of a Jack-in- the-Box, Eiko silently slipped away and went back to the corridor. She stood on tiptoe and gazed at the statues again. She felt drawn to them, and didn't know why. The woman seemed so familiar to her.
"Do you want a better look?" her father asked behind her.
She turned, seeing her father knock on the wall of the corridor. It opened onto an icy room.
"I can see them okay."
"A 'better look'," he repeated.
"Well … yeah."
He grinned. "Ke-lex, come in here."
One of the elves appeared. A robot wearing a Santa-type hat and an elf jacket. "You called, Kal-El?"
"Prepare a hologram of my parents for Eiko to see."
The robot activated a crystal and a holographic image appeared in front of the statues, more real-size and in color.
Eiko could now see her father's father looked most like him, even had the same brightness of life in his eyes, the same peacefulness and love.
"Your daddy looks just like you, popa," she remarked.
"His name was Jor-El, a brilliant scientist," her father nodded.
She turned to look at her father's mother, studying the woman closer. "She has red hair and amber eyes like me!"
"Yes, sugar plum. Your mother and I both have dark hair and blue eyes, as does your mother's mother and your grandfather here. Your grandmother Lara is who you got the red hair from, as well as the amber eyes."
Eiko studied the woman closer, squeezing her father's hand uncomfortably.
"What is it, Baby?" he asked
She bit her lip. "Popa, there's something wrong with her. It's in your daddy's face, but not your mommy's face. She's pretty, but something's missing," she looked at her grandfather Jor-El again. "It's there in his, but not hers."
He picked her up, holding her tightly. "Do you know what's missing?"
She was silent a little longer, gazing at her paternal grandparents. "Whatever it is, grandpa has it, but grandma doesn't. Grandpa's face is warm and loving like yours, but her face is cold."
"What you don't see in her face is her humanity," her father replied. "My parents lived in a cold and unemotional world."
"Was Krypton really like that?"
He nodded. "Science and logic were prized higher than emotions and morality. There was little of what could be called love and joy. That is why I was sent to Earth when Krypton died, my father thought that his son at least could reclaim the humanity that my people have lost. A new hope."
He squeezed her tighter, kissing her forehead. "No matter what happens in the future, or what you can do or how powerful you become, always remember you are human and part of humanity. That to find happiness, you must walk among humankind and not above them."
"EiKO!!! Come on! Let's play outside! Look at that snow!"
Eiko hurrily threw her blue coat on, stuffing her feet into her snow boots. She opened the door and discovered her feet hadn't touched the ground. "Huh??"
"You're forgetting something, young lady," her mother stated. As she held her daughter shoulder high and with her arm out streached.
Her mother told her, "Your hat. I won't have you catching a cold."
Eiko accepted the hat, slamming the wool cap over her just brushed red locks. She ran across the yard, barely making a track in the fresh, somewhat slushy snow, to where C-ko was sitting in her sled. C-ko was wrapped up in a pink and purple cold weather bunny suit. Thick mittens covered her hands like boxing gloves and the hood of her suit covered her blonde curls.
"Come on, Eiko!"
"Hold a sec. KRYPTO!"
The faithful alien hound bounded over the house from the backyard, wagging his tail in hysterics and barking playfully as he ran around the girls.
"Are we ready yet?" C-ko asked, holding onto the sled.
"We are now. Krypto, want to be a sled dog?"
He barked in reply, grinning, or what passed for a dog grin, as he allowed Eiko to place the sled cord in his strong jaws. She climbed behind C-ko and held tight to her best friend.
"Okay, Krypto, mush!" Eiko ordered.
With a jolt, the dog shot off down the street, plowing up snow in his path as his mistress and her friend laughed joyously. The cold wind whipped across their faces, reddening their cheeks and noses. They caught snatches of Christmas music playing from a few houses.
"Christmas is coming!" sang C-ko. "Christmas is coming! Christmas will be here soon! Ya-HO-HO-HO!!!"
They reached the park where surprisingly few children were playing. Perfect, they can have the best time then!
Krypto suddenly halted, sending the girls flying off the sled and headfirst into a snow bank. They dug themselves out, giggling, as the dog barked at them. Eiko threw a handful of snow at him which he ducked, causing C-ko to laugh all the harder. Both girls played in the snow, making snow angels (somehow, C-ko angel looked more like the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost).
"Playing in the snow like little children I see," a girl's voice remarked.
Eiko sat up, growling at Zoey in front of her. The Amazon child was clad in leather trousers and a green parka, showing off the red bangs framing the sides of her face. She carried a bow, her quiver of arrows on her back.
"What are *you* doing here?" Eiko asked.
"I've been here since six o'clock this morning in practice," Zoey replied, tapping her bow. "But, being an Amazon outcast, you wouldn't know about such things, would you?"
C-ko had already crawled up on Krypto's back, both going off to build a snowman having decided to let the "cousins" play together.
"I know plenty," Eiko replied. "Mama has been teaching me since I was seven."
"And I've been training since I was three."
Eiko looked at her in awe, then shook her head. "But my mother was once Wonder Woman."
"*Once*," Zoey emphasized. "Her mother the Queen does not acknowledge her any more. Since I was born, there is *no* Princess of Thermascyria, since she had given up her title to be with a Man."
"Your mother is a mean old, hate-filled, jealous stupidhead, just like you!" growled Eiko.
"Weren't *you* the reason she gave up her crown, because she got pregnant with you?"
"Take that back!" said Eiko.
"Never!" Zoey yelled, turning and speeding across the snow- covered park lawn, bow lifted in triumph.Eiko gave chase, catching up to her. The Amazon child did have a good clip, being as powerful as Amazons are, but Eiko had some of her father's speed. She grabbed the hood of Zoey's parka, pulling her back.
"CHEATER!" the girl announced, turning and slamming her bow on Eiko's arm.
"COWARD!" Eiko replied. "RUNNING LIKE A COWARD!"
"Perhaps you would like a Kiss of Blood instead, Patriarch whelp?"
Eiko paused, recognizing the warning of the Amazon challenge. She stood silently in the snow as she watched the retreating girl swallowed up by the park woods.
"The Kiss of Blood," she whispered outloud. She slowly turned and made her way back to C-ko.
Mrs. Magami had accepted her daughter's request for more training that very afternoon. She was pleased, seeing her daughter was becoming more serious about her Amazon skills of fighting at last.
Yet, she was concerned. Perhaps the arrival of Artemis' daughter had spurned her into catching up. Or it was something deeper and more immediate.
Swords clashed in the basement training room. Eiko's face held determination mixed with rage, both pouring out through her arms and into the weapon in her hands. She slashed and stabbed, keeping her mother on the defensive. She lept up, bringing her sword down on her mother's. Mrs. Magami reached up and grabbed her daughter by the front of her shirt, slamming her down on the mat on her back, pressing the sword out of her hand with her foot.
"What's the matter with you?" her mother demanded. "That left you so open, I could have gutted you from your breast to your knees three times over."
Eiko panted, looking up at her mother.
"I'm going to knock that stupid Amazon snothead past her next lifetime!"
"What?" Diana asked, picking her up. "What's going on?"
"Mama, Zoey insulted you and papa! She's been calling you a traitor for marrying papa and having me. And — and — "
The sobs came up, spilling over her eyes in tears and her lips in wails. Her mother hugged her tightly, stroking her red hair.
"Tell me, darling."
"And she said I was the reason you're no longer an Amazon!"
Diana grinded her teeth. <Oh, yes, Artemis, you *have* been teaching your daughter *well* enough, haven't you?>
"Eiko, you know none of it is true."
"Is it?" she sniffed.
"Of course not. You had nothing to do with my mother exiling me from Paradise Island. It was nobody's fault, it just happened."
"Mama, why are the Amazons so mean to you?"
Her mother sighed, patting her back. "I don't know, my daughter. Because I changed thousands of years of xenophobia, I suppose."
"Fear of anything different. The world is a far different place than when I was a child, my darling. The Amazons have lived alone for thousands of years and now know no other life than what they've had. Men are no longer as repressive as they once were, women have more power. But, my people see no other way. In fact I never saw a man untill I was almost twenty years old"
"Will they ever change? I don't want anyone to hate you."
The former Wonder Woman chuckled. "Oh, there are plenty of people who hate me, because of who I once was. Not just because I fell in love with your father."
"Sisters shouldn't hate each other, then," Eiko corrected herself.
Mrs. Magami hugged her daughter tighter, whispering, "No, they shouldn't."
Eiko and Zoey ignored each other as the bizarrely extended family ate dinner around the dining room table. If it wasn't bad enough they were breaking bread at the same table, they were seated next to each other, perfectly tressed and dressed. The men admired how they looked so much like twins, and the girls only smiled wanely. Minus the occassional kick under the table, they were surprisenly quite well-behaved.
"I have a surprise I'd like to take all of you to," the ancient millionaire announced.
"What is it, Bruce?" Donna asked.
"If I told you, it wouldn't be a surprise," he chuckled.
Donna responded by punching his arm — gently.
"Tease," she laughed. Mr. and Mrs. Magami tittered behind their glasses of water.
"Actually, it's a joint surprise for you and Zoey," Eiko's father added. "We'll be going to New York City to see the Christmas tree in Rockerfeller Plaza and go ice skating."
"Why?" Donna asked. "We can go ice skating here."
"A family tradition, sister," Eiko's mother chimed in. "We've always taken Eiko since she was three. She can ice skate better than most Olympian skaters."
Donna made a face. "Some Olympians. I'm afraid, with being on a semi-tropical island, I cannot ice skate, and neither does Zoey."
"It's simple to learn," Eko's father offered. "Diana and I can help you. Eiko can help Zoey."
Eiko looked up at her father, wishing he wasn't so idiotically chivalrous regarding others. It didn't mean *she* had to be.
"You wanna ice skate?" Eiko asked.
"Why not?" Zoey replied. "If you can do it, it shouldn't be that hard to learn. After all any thing you can do I'm sure to do better!"
New York was a big and complex place. The main cluster of buildings were seperated by a few boroughs, making the skyscrapers appear as two islands below the orbital craft that hovered over the city. Millions of people — living, working, loving, dying. All breathing humans (or otherwise) with souls. It reminded Mr. Magami of Metropolis, a few miles south and a life time away in his memories.
It reminded the old man of Gotham, not far from either and with the same problems but with out some one like him behind the scens in charge. The shuttle landed on top of an unidentified skyscraper, one that suspiciously had attendants quietly referring to Bruce as "Mr. Wayne" as they shuffled the passengers to a rooftop elevator and down the height of the building.
Eiko sighed, scratching her head under the pretty wool cap her father had gotten her for their trips to New York. Much as she appreciated how pretty it was, it was the itchiest thing she knew of. She usually had it off by the time she went ice skating. Her new "skating dress" was just as pretty, a confection of burgandy velvet. Zoey was confused over her own similar attire, done up in dark blue velvet.
"Great Athena, no wonder the men were able to enslave the women in Patriarch's World," the Amazon child complained. "These rags are bothersome, cumbersome, and some other four-letter words she had just recently learned."
"No duh," Eiko added, smiling. "I can't stand these things, either. I've had to wear them since I was three."
"Wouldn't wish it on an enemy, not even you, whelp."
"We're stuck on the same boat, snot."
They grinned painfully at each other, following the adults out to the lobby of the building, then out onto the slushy streets of New York. Busy with people walking quickly past them. A whole crowd burst forth from the underground subway terminal, scattering off in different directions.
Zoey looked up, taking in the skyscrapers above her. Mr. Magami laughed, "I must have looked like that when I first arrived in Metropolis."
"Gee," his wife added. "When I first arrived in Man's World, I must have had that look, too."
Bruce, an old vetern of cityscapes, chuckled, and offered his arm to Donna. "Come along kids, old men like me can't stay out all hours of the night like I used to."
"Oh, Bruce," Donna sighed, linking her arm in his. "As I recall, you could last on only a cat nap."
The old man cleared his throat. "No mention of cats, okay?"
Eiko and Zoey remained a respectful distance from each other as they took in the sights of New York. Both stomped on tiny snow drifts, kicking slush at each other, giggling as the other wiped snow off her velvet dress. Suddenly large hands placed themselves over the girls' eyes.
"Papa!" Eiko protested. "I'm too old to have this done again!"
"What in Hades?!" Zoey demanded, feeling her mentor's hands over her face.
"You're seeing this for the first time. Just let me guide you," Donna replied.
Both girls allowed the adults to lead them through several blocks in darkness. At last, they stopped. Eiko inhaled, smelling the pine mingled with smog and New York scents. Her father dropped his hands from her eyes, and she gazed up at the Rockerfeller Christmas Tree, glowing with etheral beauty with thousands of lights.
Zoey gasped, taking in the five story tall tree above her. The soft breezes were rustling through the pine branches, making the lights gently dance like will-o'-the-wisps through the needles. Both girls stood in awe. Eventually, Zoey heard Eiko speaking in an absent monologue.
"My daddy and I would visit here on Thanksgiving Day after the parade. We always had a pine cone with us, and I would plant it right where that tree stands. Daddy would say the next time we came to New York, we'd see how big my tree had grown. We did it since I was three. When I was eight, I finally figured out that my little pine cone would not grow that big in less than a month." She paused, thoughtful. "But we'd do it anyway. Plant the pine cone. It's a tradition we share, just me and popa."
Zoey let a moment of silence slip by them, then remarked, "Sounds pretty stupid to me."
"Shut up, you ice-hearted witch."
Moments later, the group made their way over to the ice rink. Eiko discarded her hat in her drawstring purse attached to her wrist when she tied her old-fashioned white skates on her feet. She had been practicing with her father during a few of their "Daddy-Daughter Days", keeping her talent sharpened. She was ready to whip around the ice like an Olympic figure skater, wowing the crowd with her tricks.
"Eiko, will you help Zoey learn how to skate?"
"Yes, papa … " Eiko made a face, turning to look at the girl. "Your skates aren't tight enough." Eiko knelt down and pulled hard on the laces, limiting Zoey's circulation to a trickle. "Now follow my lead."
The young Amazon resorted to name-calling under her breath in ancient Greek as well as ancient Turkish to appease the Trojan prophet Kassandra. She balanced herself well on the thin blades on the rubberized mats placed around the rink to protect skates, but the large ice rink … <THUNK>
Her first step out caused her first contact with ice to be her velvet skirted bottom. Eiko whizzed out ahead of her, twirled a few times, then faced her.
"Wazzamatta, Zoey? Can't get the hang of it?"
"Patronizing is worthy of a Man's whelp," she snapped, raising her arms to grab the rails and using the wall as a brace to pull herself up.
Eiko told her, "If you weren't so mean, you'd might have some friends to help."
"Useless if they're like you," she answered back.
"Fine, struggle with the ice. See if I care" Eiko skated off around the rink, weaving between people and pirouetting in mid- air. She approched her parents, grabbing her hands as she slid between them.
"Hi, papa! Hi, mama!"
"You look like you're having fun," her mother replied.
"But weren't you going to help Zoey?" her father asked.
"Oh, yeah," she sighed. She released them and skated around her mother, racing around the rink again to where Zoey was hanging onto the rails for dear life.
"What do you want, false woman?"
"I was told to help you skate, creep."
"Forget it, you patriarch cow."
In responce to the insult Eiko pulled the girl by her skirt and whisked her out onto the ice. Eiko giggled, as she watched the panicked young warrior flail her limbs in an effort to balance, then losing the battle to the law of gravity she hit the ice…hard!
Eiko circled her in figure eights, giggling to herself.
"You are such a childish whelp," Zoey remarked, pressing herself up from the ice, then falling again.
"And you're very clumsy or are you just accident prone?" Eiko replied with a big grin.
"Speaking of Accidents, aren't you an accident that should never have been born," snarled Zoey.
"Yeah, and you're a good reason for human sacrifice."
"Your so-called daddy is a coward. Everyone on Paridise Island knows that when he and your mother got sent to Vahalla for a thousand years, he was such a coward that never killed a demon. Not only is he a disgrace to Patriarch's world, and you're mother a disgrace to the Amazon nation. But your the worst one of all, because your a disgrace to both worlds"
"At least my mother is more honorable than yours. She isn't known as a backstaber," said Eiko.
"Take that back!" Zoey's leg swung out, tripping Eiko to the ice. The girl fell face first, then sat up and found the other girl's fist made contact with her hip.
"OW!" Eiko sprang up and started wrestling her, both girls fighting on the ice, causing small craters to appear as their fists just missed each other and landed on the ice instead.
Mr. Magami heard the battle cries, as he turned and saw his beloved daughter and the Amazon child in a brawl. "Oh, my God!" he yelled, skating over toward them both.
Mrs. Magami was grateful for one thing — New Yorkers being who they are, simply ignored the young girls battling on the ice like a couple of young polar bear cubs.
"You know what's going to happen, next don't you?" Donna asked her childhood friend.
"I'm afraid so," Diana replied, both skating madly after the former's husband. "You *knew* this was coming?" she asked.
"Yes," Donna answered simply.
The former Amazon princess looked hard at her best friend, then turned her attention toward her husband, who was seperating the girls. He had his daughter by the back of her coat, Zoey by her skirt. Zoey was screaming at Eiko's father about what she would like to do to his so-called manhood, while Eiko yelled at her to shut up about her father.
"I demand a Kiss of Blood!" Zoey shrieked.
"You're getting it, sister!" Eiko replied.
"Drop them, Kal!" his wife demanded. The shock of her using his long dead Kryptonian name caused him to release the wriggling ten-year-olds. "But — but — but — "
Zoey sat up and leaned forward, quickly kissing Eiko's cheek.
What's going on?!" her father asked.
Eiko responded by kissing Zoey's forehead.
"Will some one tell me what's going on!"
"Stay out of Amazon business, my love," his wife replied.
Donna looked down at the girls, searching their faces. "By issuing and accepting this Kiss of Blood, you both will not be allowed to back out."
"Understood," Zoey said.
"Right," agreed Eiko.
"Being the only unbiased Amazon here, I declare where and when the duel is to take place. In the meantime, I must contact Zoey's mother Artemis."
"Duel??" The one time Clark Kent all but shrieked. His wife attempted to keep him from hyperventilating as the girls did their best to stare each other down.
A-ko buried her face in her pillow, in a forlorn attempt to drown out the yelling from across the hall from her bedroom. Her parents had argued the entire trip home, then while she was getting ready for bed, and on and on into the wee hours of the morning. The words were muffled, but any child knows when the words are backed with anger … and she did worry. Even at her young age Eiko knew her parents were the two most powerful beings on Earth — possibly the galaxy — and to a ten year old girl, their arguing sounded so violent.
She felt her bed shaking as the argument continued. She reached her hand over the side and felt a cold nose brush against her palm. "It's okay, Krypto," she whispered. "Mama and daddy are just disagreeing."
The alien dog didn't want an explanation, he wanted results, He sensed the insincerity in her words, then crawled up on her bed. He lay protectively against her side, laying his head across her neck. She petted him, feeling secure with the big dog next to her.
"I will not allow my daughter to take part in some Amazon blood fued!" Eiko's father stated.
"There is no blood drawn and no weapons used!" his wife tried to explain. "It's merely a match between two women to settle their differences, before something worst might happen."
"Then why in God's name is it called 'Kiss of Blood'?" he asked.
"Clark, you have to understand. Even if the Amazon way is peace and love we are still a race of militaristic warriors. It was the only way we could survive in a hostile world. Just as the kiss of blood is the one sure way to clear bad blood between sisters is by a non lethal duel. We call it 'controlled combat.'."
"I call it 'barbaric'," he muttered, turning over in their bed and slamming his head against the pillow.
"What??" she asked, leaning over him. "Barbaric??? You dare call my people barbaric?"
Soon as he said it Clark knew he had made a mistake, even after her exile, the battle with her own mother and sisters and twelve years of being hunted like a criminal. His wife still loved and respected not only her mother, but her sisters as well. He knew that made her seperation from the people she loved even more painful to her.
The result was his wife leaning over him and continuing with her tirade, "The great library houses works written by Ovid, Aristotle, Sappho, and all the greatest thinkers of Greece, not to mention the fact that I know women who have heard these thoughts from these great thinkers' very own lips. Meanwhile, your ancestors were painting themselves blue and hugging trees!"
He paused, turning over to look at her. "There weren't any trees on Krypton."
"I'm talking about the side where you got your Welsh name from, dummy!" she shrieked, smashing a pillow against his head.
"Still no difference — "
"My math tutor was an instructor to Ben Franklin!" she continued on her roll. "We built in marble and gold, while your ancestors crouched in mud huts!"
He buried his face in his pillow. "Krypton built towers of adamantin steel that scraped the sky."
"And their hearts had turned to steel just like their towers and their souls were as cold as the hardest ice," she replied through clenched teeth.
"We were discussing our daughter going through a barabaric ritual!" he responded, getting up.
She crawled across the bed, standing up on it to meet him eye to eye. "You're the barabarian here and you prove it by being too soft on her! I'm trying to make a woman out of her, and your Patriarch twisted morals are ruining her!"
"*MY* TWISTED MORALS???" he yelled in disbelief. "Who's advocating she gets her face smashed?!"
"Ugh!" Diana cried in exsaperation. "You stupid coward!" She kicked at his knee in front of her foot.
She leaned down and held the end of her foot in her hand, trying to ignore the pulsing pain by growing even more angry.
"GET OUT!" she shrieked at him. "GET THE HADES OUT OF HERE!!! GO SLEEP ON THE COUCH, YOU GOOD-FOR-NOTHING COWARD!"
He didn't move, he only stared at her. She jumped off the bed and pushed him, using all of her own legendary strength to try to move her husband toward the door. To no avail, of course.
"You don't want me in here?" he asked plainly.
"I'm not going to sleep next to a coward and a Patriarch slaver!"
"Fine! I know when I'm not wanted!"
The once and future Clark Kent stalked out of the bedroom, then turned toward the door. Only to have the door slammed shut in his face.
"That's getting you cold cereal for breakfast, missy!" he yelled thru the door.
He turned down the hall, grumbling to himself. He heard her footsteps approach the door, and he turned, hopeful for his wife to want him back. "Diana, please, can't we just try and — "
The door opened and a blanket was hurled out at him, then the door slammed shut yet again.
He picked it up and shouted, "FINE! HAVE IT YOUR WAY, YOUR *MAJESTY*!!!"
He continued down the hall and was halfway down the stairs when he felt a pillow hit the back of his head. Eiko's father continued on down the stairs, going into the dark livingroom to make up his bed on the sofa.
"Bad tempered, pushy, nasty, pain in the ass, Amazon EX- princess, Blunder Woman," he muttered under his breath. He lay down on the sofa and gazed up through the ceiling and floorboards into his bedroom, seeing his wife rubbing her eyes. He smiled gently up at her.
She suddenly turned over, sensing that he was looking through the floor at her, and stuck her tongue out while thumbing her nose at him.
"Humph," he sighed, turning over and closing his eyes.
All became silent in the Magami household once again.
The next morning, Eiko awoke to find her parents banging pots and coffee cups in the kitchen, both with sleepless faces and sour expressions at each other. She had made out what they had argued about. She understood her parents differed concerning her acceptance of the Kiss of Blood ritual. It made her stomach feel queasy.
When her father slammed the box of cereal down in front of her mother, Eiko burst into tears. "Stop being mad! I'm sorry! This is all my fault! It's all my fault you had to camp out on the couch, daddy!"
Her father immediately picked her up, smoothing her head of red hair. "We're not fighting because of you, pun'kin. Mommies and daddies sometimes fight, you know that."
His wife touched their daughter's cheek, adding, "We've had fights before, my child."
"But not like the one you had last night," Eiko sniffed.
Her parents looked over her head, their eyes meeting in mutual guilt. Both knew she was nervous about the challenge, and they were being selfish by fighting rather than preparing her for the challenge.
The doorbell rang, and she wriggled out of her father's arms, saying, "It's C-ko." She ran off to answer the door.
Clark and Diana gazed at each other, deciding who should speak first. As usual it was the Man of Steel who spoke first. "I'm sorry I called your sisters 'savages'," he apologized.
"I know you didn't mean it. I'm sorry for throwing you out," she replied
He sighed, rubbing the back of his neck. "Can you at least tell me why our daughter must do this?"
She wrapped her arms around him, meeting his eyes closely. "Do you know you're very special? I don't mean what you can do. You have almost no dark side, my love. I do, as does your daughter and everyone else." She paused, inhaling deeply before continuing. "How do you think a nation of physically superior, agressive female warriors who live in a tight militaristic society can live together on an island without killing one another? The ritual combat is set in a way to prevent bloodshed and death. Zoey needs this and , more importantly, Eiko needs this to prove her Amazon blood to herself. If I am any judge, our daughter will be stronger for it, and may even have a new friend when it's over."
He sighed, accepting her explanation, as she kissed his cheek. "I don't understand, but I will agree to it. If you think it's for the best?"
She smiled, nodding. "How did you sleep?"
"Awful," he admited. "Not one wink. You?"
"Not one minute. How about we go upstairs and go back to bed?"
"To catch up on sleep?" he grinned, yawning.
"Eventually … " she chuckled. She turned and started up the stairs. "Don't be long, lover."
He laughed, going into the den to see what his child was up to.
"What plans do you young ladies have for today?"
Eiko shrugged, swinging her legs over the edge of her father's desk chair. "Just hang around and watch movies, I guess."
"How about going out to see a movie? My treat."
"They only have silly holiday movies or gory samurai movies."
"What about the new anime movie, Eiko?" C-ko asked.
The one time Mr. Kent, grinned and pulled out his wallet, digging out bills. "Plus enough for popcorn, candy, and soft drinks for the both of you."
From upstairs, his wife called out, "Ohh, Claaaaarrkk … Don't be too much longer!"
He grinned and yelled back up to the second floor, "We're negotiating!" Two more bills landed into the redheaded girl's hands. "And you can get some KFC before the movie."
Eiko paused, holding the bills in her tight fist. Her father looked up behind the girls' heads to see his wife's special black negligee float down onto the first floor carpet from the second floor landing.
He quickly pulled out a larger bill and added, "Also double ice cream sodas and enough after the movie for a visit to the arcade."
"Deal," Eiko replied, pocketing the money. She took C-ko into the front hall to dress in their coats and run out the door.
Outside, C-ko turned to Eiko and asked, "What was that all about?"
"My folks got into a fight last night."
Well, for some reason, whenever my folks have a argument, I always end up at the movies the next day."
"Gee, you're lucky. When my folks fight, all they do is make faces at each other. Did you ever ask why they send you to the movies?"
"Mama says I'll understand someday."
Mr. Magami watched from his bedroom window as his daughter and her friend walk to the bus stop and he called out, "Have fun and be safe, girls!"
He never saw them wave back to him. Because a very strong but still very feminine pair of hands took hold of him by his shoulders and pulled him back from the window.
Eiko's mother rolled over and, even in her sleep-induced haze, knew something was wrong, someone was missing. She reached over and realized that the empty space next to her in bed only confirmed it. Her eyes had trouble focusing as she looked out the window, but only the inky black of night stared back at her.
She turned over onto her other side and saw by the luminous dial on the old fashion alarm clock that it was three in the morning. She sat up on the edge of the bed and slipped on a terry cloth bathrobe before she went in search of her husband. She didn't have to go far to find him, since he was right were she thought he would be. Standing quietly in the doorway of their daughter's bedroom.
She saw he was content to simply stand there and watch the child he loved, toss and turn and dream her dreams of angels and fairies. The one-time Amazon Princess walked up and circled her own strong arms around his chest as she rested her chin on his shoulder. She also peered into the room and looked at the little girl , the visual and emotional proof of their love for one another, sound asleep in her bed.
As she continued to hug the man she loved, she whispered, "You're still not worried about tomorrow are you?"
"And you're not?" he retorted.
She paused for a moment as if she were in silent debate with herself, before she said softly, "All right, I admit it. I am afraid about tomorrow."
He turned around and took her into his arms, holding her close to his chest. She reached up and kissed him, asking, "That is not the only reason you're troubled tonight, is it?"
"More wisdom of Athena at work, I see. You're right as usual; it's not just about tomorrow."
"Then what is it?" she asked.
"Guilt! I feel guilty because I can't — we can't — be there for her as much as we both want to be!"
His wife said softly, "We went all over that when I found out I was pregnant … we agreed … "
"That's just the point: you and I agreed. No one asked our daughter's opinion. No one asked her ideas, or what she wanted. No one ever told her that her parents couldn't be with her, at least not nearly as much as they wanted to be. Because they had to be off somewhere saving the world," he lamented to his wife.
"What else could we do?" she asked him.
"I know," he said. "But it's still not fair to our daughter. When I was her age, mom and pop were always there for me; to hear my problems, answer my questions, and dry my tears."
"As I was growing up, my mother couldn't be with me as much as she would have liked, either," his wife admitted. "But she always made sure to put some time aside each day just for the two of us. But not nearly as much as I wanted or she wanted to give because she had a kingdom to run and a nation to rule and thousands of subjects she had to look after … like a mother."
"But you had Phillipus and Casandra and … "
"And a hundred other mothers, besides," Diana interrupted her husband. "And when I grew into womanhood, I had thousand of sisters, also. I do have a very large, extended family." She paused as a single tear ran down her cheek as she finished, "What I should have said was I *used* to have a very large, extended family."
He kissed her lips and said, "I'm sorry."
"For what? I knew the risk, and what it could cost me and as long as I have you and my daughter, I am both content and happy."
He wiped her tears with his thumb, murmuring, "My brave wife."
She took him by the arm and led him down the hall back to their bedroom as she said, "I'm cold, and I want you to warm me up."
He smiled at his wife and stated, "That is the very same thing you said on top of Mount Everest almost eleven years ago, and you know what that got us?"
"Yes," she answered. "A beautiful daughter and a husband to love."
They closed the door behind themselves, and fell into bed in the other's arms.
Eiko and her parents had been waiting for a half hour past the scheduled start of the duel between the two young girls in the Australian Outback. Eiko's father was nervous enough already; the waiting was only making it worst for him.
"Great Athena," Eiko's mother complained. "To have to fight in a million arce catbox is not my idea of a proper Kiss of Blood."
As for Eiko, she was briskly pacing back and forth, almost as nervous as her father. Donna stood to one side with Eiko's mother, quietly talking together about Eiko's name.
Eiko stopped her nervous pacing and asked her mother, "Do you think the little snot chickened out, mama?"
"No, my daughter," Diana said. "Knowing Zoey's mother as I do, she is trying her best to gain an advantage by playing a simple mind game on you, honey. Making you wait by arriving late is an old one."
Eiko began to shake with anger at the trick, then suddenly realized that was just what her mother's old rival wanted. She calmed down, smiled, and said, "I guess she is doing a pretty good job of it, then, mama."
Her mother smiled in return and remarked, "Not if you take it as well as you have been, my daughter."
"Eiko," her father called softly.
Eiko smiled and quickly moved to his side and stood in front of him. He got down on one knee and, as he held her in his arms, whispered into her ear, "It's not too late, pun'kin, you don't have to go through with this. No one will think any less of you if you decide to call this whole thing off."
Eiko hugged her father back and said, "I have to, papa. It's like there's a little voice inside of me, telling me that I have to do it. Not for me, or even mama, but strange as it sounds, most of all for you."
"Why me?" he asked.
"I'm going to teach that little brat just how important you are to me. I can put up with her snide remarks about me having no honor, but nobody talks about my mama and papa like she did. Least of all some arrogant Amazon whelp, especially after what that little witch dared to talk about you the way she did!"
He stroked her red hair and said to her, "That still isn't reason enough to get into a fight, baby."
"It is if the reason Zoey believes I have no honor is because I have you for my father," she explained.
He gave his daughter a sad smile and told her, "Every day, you're getting to be more and more like your mother."
Eiko had a big grin on her face as she told her father, "That's strange; when mama and I were practicing and working out all this week, she said I was getting more and more like you."
Eiko's father simply smiled and asked, "Are you frightened?"
Eiko turned around to make sure that no one was to close to hear then whispered, "Yes, papa, I am. I couldn't say that to mom or aunt Donna or even C-ko, but I can admit the truth to you."
He took her in his arms for a final hug and said quietly into his little girl's ear, "I'm frightened, too; guess you and I just can't be as brave as your mom."
"Who can be?" she answered him with a smile.
Eiko looked up at her father and noticed the strange look on his face a moment before he replied quietly, "Your guests are here."
A few moments later, Eiko and her mother saw a speck in the distance that soon turned into a tall, harsh looking but handsome redheaded Amazon carrying a smaller but prettier version of herself in her arms. When she landed, Donna tapped Diana on her shoulder and said softly, "Look at her feet."
Eiko's mom already had noticed the winged Sandals of Mercury on her feet. Diana had wondered how Zoey and her mother were going to arrive in Australia for the Affair of Honor. She knew now, and wasn't pleased. But that wasn't all Artemis was wearing. A- ko's mother saw them immediately and whispered to Donna, "Look what she is wearing over her bracelets!"
"The Gauntlets of Atlas!" exclaimed Donna as she let out a breath. "The way she's prepared, one would think *she* has come here to fight instead of her daughter."
It was the one-time Amazon Princess who told her sister, "It's early yet; perhaps she plans on making today's business a family affair?"
"Or a tag team?" Donna replied with a silly grin.
Eiko's mother laughed at her remarked, only to have the laughter driven from her heart when Artemis yelled across the sands to her, "Laugh now, traitor! I expect a far different sound will be coming from you after a *true* Amazon child defeats that abomination you mistakenly gave birth to!"
Eiko was about to tell her what she could do with her opinions when, to her surprise, she was cut off by her father who told Artemis, "If I were you, I would take a long, hard look at myself in the mirror before I began going around and insulting people, Artemis."
Artemis's answer was to turn to Donna the referee and ask, "What is that Man doing here?" Eiko noted she had the same exact tone Zoey had when saying the same word as the poni- tailed redhead continued, "He has no business being here and mixing in Amazon affairs."
Donna stated, "By ancient Amazon Law, laid down long befor the race of immortal Amazons were created by the Gods, a duelist has a right to have her family present; as her sire and father, 'Martha' is allowed to have him attend the contest."
Zoey remained quiet concerning Eiko's new name. She *had* agreed to keep her rival's identity as vague as possible. So she said nothing when Donna used Eiko's real American name, the one that apeared on her American birth records.
"Amazon Law does not recognize such a thing as a father," explained Artemis. "Least of all a male who would dare defile an Amazon, let alone one with royal blood!"
Eiko watched in horror as her mother exploded in rage at the insult to her husband and, more importantly, the man she loved. If it wasn't for Donna's tight grip around her waist, the daughters of these two formidable and proud Amazon mothers may never have had a chance to settle their differences that day. It was equaly true that if it wasn't for the grip of her father's arm around her own waist, Eiko would have gone after Artemis herself because of the insults to both of her parents.
When Donna finally got Eiko's mother calmed down, she announced to all present, "I believe we best get this Affair of Honor started before something much worse and far less honorable takes it's place."
Donna called the two young girls to her, with their mothers standing behind their respective daughters with their hands on their children's shoulders. The girls were dressed in the casual Amazon workout tunics, short skirts, and sandals laced high on the shins.
Donna turned to Zoey and asked her, "Daughter of Artemis, do wish to withdraw your claim that Martha has no honor and thus has no right to call herself your sister?"
Zoey answered in turn, "I withdraw nothing I said. I find her without honor and a disgrace to the name of Amazon. She is the product of a disgraceful union between a traitor and a cursed male, an abomination that has no right to call herself an Amazon."
Diana held her tongue, knowing it was the exact same words that Artemis had used years before. Who said mothers couldn't put trash in their children's mouths?
Turning to Eiko, Donna asked her, "How do you wish to answer such accusations, daughter of Diana?"
"With my balled-up fist alongside her lying head!" Eiko replied, as she let her anger override the formal answer.
The stern voice of her mother scolding her legal American name sharply reminded her to repeat the more proper formal response her mother had gone over with her during the week.
Controlling her temper, Eiko gave the correct response by saying, "I will prove my honor and my right to be called an Amazon with my courage, my skill, and — if need be — with my blood!"
"Blood?!" shouted Eiko's father. "No one said anything about blood!"
"Papa, please!" Eiko sighed as she turned to face him.
Artemis snickered behind her ill-gotten gauntlet, Diana was embarrassed, and as for Zoey, she thought to herself, <Father's Love is an odd thing, but seems … nice.>
Donna turned to the Man of Steel and politely replied, "Shut up, Clark." Then went back to the girls' mothers. "I must ask Diana and Artemis to leave their daughters so as they can begin their duel of honor."
Both turned and walked to opposite sides of the clearing, Artemis alone and Diana at her husband's side. When they were settled, Donna took up each of the two young girls' right forearms and held their bracelets together, making them clink sharply. She stepped back and told Zoey, "As the one who issued the challenge, it is up to you to strike the first blow."
Zoey nodded and turned to EiKo, asking, "Are you ready, coward?"
The only thing Eiko had to say was, "Less talk, more fight; or do you plan on boring me into submission?"
Zoey let her fist answer for her as she brought her fist up into Eiko's small stomach. With a gasp of pain and a audible "OOF!" from Eiko, the fight was on.
As Eiko doubled over in pain, Zoey tried her best to bring her knee up into her opponent's face just as she had been taught by her mother.
Much to Zoey's surprise, Eiko was able to block her knee before it even reached her face by crossing her arms and using her bracelets to stop the blow. Zoey was even more surprised when Eiko scooped her up in one smoth motion and bodyslammed her to the sandy ground. Even with the breath knocked out of her, Zoey instinctively covered up her head and stomach to protect herself from the stomps and kicks, which shockenly never came.
Instead, Eiko stood over her her rival, waiting for Zoey to get to her feet. Warily, Zoey slowly stood back up. As she did so, she kept a close eye on Eiko for any signs of trickery. As the two girls began circling each other, Zoey was confused. She couldn't understand why the man spawn would allow her get to her feet instead of attacking her when she was most vulnerable.
From her earliest memories of being trained by her mother Artemis, she was taught 'Once you have an opponent down, finish her off any way you can!' Zoey thought the abomination must be even more of a degenerate weakling if she didn't know this — the first and most basic rule her mother (painfully) taught her about hand-to-hand combat.
Yet, Zoey's confusion might have been the result of another thought that was hidden in one of those still innocent places not corrupted by her mother's prejudices. The thought was not yet strong enough to fight its way past all the "truths" Zoey had been indoctrinated about the Queen's lost daughter and her family. However, it still was there. The idea that this girl she had been taught to hate and despise was too noble, too honorable, or perhaps, just too decent to kick someone when they were down.
This simple idea was not yet strong enough for Zoey to acknowledge it consciously, still, it might have been strong enough to confuse the Amazon youngster. But this momentary confusion didn't stop Zoey from launching a sudden attack of her own. She lept forward, placed her foot into Eiko's stomach, and took hold of Eiko's tunic. She fell to her back and, using the momentum she generated, flipped Eiko through the air.
Zoey turned quickly, expecting to see her rival land in a heap in the dust. Again much to her surprise, she watched as Eiko tightened herself into a little ball, spun in mid-air, and land gracefully on her feet, just as her mother had taught her to do.
Zoey noticed that her mentor and the traitor were clapping and telling Eiko she did well. She had expected them to be cheering on the abomination. What she didn't expect to hear was the whelp's mother saying, "Well done, Zoey; excellent monkey flip." Or to see the smile on Eiko's face, which shocked her even more.
Zoey didn't know if she should feel honored or outraged at this behavior. So, instead, she closed with her rival and began to trade punches with her. Both of the young warriors soon discovered they each had great difficulty getting past each other's defences. Eiko's mother could see almost at once that Zoey was the more skilled of the two in both boxing and wrestling. This simple fact gave Eiko's mother reason enough to curse herself for neglecting her daughter's training and permitting her father to spoil her so much.
However, Donna, Diana, and even Artemis also knew by now that Eiko was far the stronger and faster of the two girls. That advantage in strength and speed didn't help Eiko when Zoey landed a hard left on the tip of her nose, causing a torrent of blood to gush out from the damagedorifice. Eiko's father winced at the sight of his little girl's blood flowing so freely and the tears that began to well up in his little girl's eyes.
He had a sudden flashback of himself at the age of nine before he discovered who he was and before he began to change. He remembered his first childhood love Lana Lang and his best friend Pete Ross in Smallville, his hometown. He recalled how the three of them were being bullied everyday by a thirteen- year-old boy on the playground. He remembered how he could no longer see his friends hurt any longer; so he went to his father: a kind and gentle man, and asked him to teach him how to fight. His father reluctantly taught him how to make a fist and hold it as hard and as tight as he could to protect his hand. He then told him to always go for the nose with the first punch you thow, so the fight would be over as quickly as possible.
He did as he was told, and punched the bully square in the nose and the fight was over there and then. The three friends were never bothered by the bully again. Clark now saw his little angel, his baby, staggering backward. He expected her to quit, No, *he* wanted her to quit. Eiko, too, wanted to quit, but she didn't or maybe couldn't.
Instead much to his, the gathered Amazons', Zoey's, and (most of all) EiKo's surprise, she wiped the blood off with the back of her hand, then came roaring back in a rage; swinging lefts and rights at her rival until she landed a solid left hook on the side of Zoey's face, knocking her down.
Zoey found herself sitting on her rump in the middle of a sandpile, stunned. She shook her head to clear away the cobwebs that were at the moment infesting her brain, even as her own mother was screaming at the top of her voice to get back up.
Once again, Zoey prepared herself for the attack that never came. Bewildered that it never came, she looked up at her rival and asked, "Well? What are you waiting for?"
"I'm waiting for you to get off your fat butt so I can have the pleasure of knocking you down again," she answered.
Staring into the strange amber eyes, Zoey asked, "What is wrong with you?! Don't you know enough to finish an enemy off when they are on the ground?!"
Eiko answered her by saying, "My mom and pop taught me to never fight like that unless my life was on the line, and never fight at all if I could avoid it."
"Beside being a freak of nature, your so-called parents turned you into both a coward and weakling," accused Zoey.
"Then stand up and prove it to me!" Eiko replied.
Zoey took her up on her offer by leaping to her feet and delivering a perfectly executed side snap kick, which landed square against Eiko's chest and knocking her down.
Zoey rushed forward to deliver a kick to Eiko's face as she had been taught so many times to end the contest, but something she couldn't explain held her back. It was the sound of her own mother's scream of, "What are you waiting for?! Finish her off!" that forced her to launch a snap kick square into Eiko's face.
Her moment of hesitation was her own undoing as Eiko caught her foot and lifted her, tossing Zoey backward into the air. Zoey proved to all of those gathered that she also had been as well- trained, as she performed a perfect backflip in mid-air that ended in a demonstration of her own agility, by landing on her feet in a perfect two point landing.
Both girls stared at one another for a moment. Then, as if there were some form of mutual silent agreement, rushed at one another. At close quarters, Zoey soon found herself being overwhelmed by her stronger opponent. To save herself from being forced to her knees, Zoey kneed Eiko in the breadbasket.
Eiko doubled up and soon found herself with her arm twisted in a wrist lock. Zoey kept adding on the pressure until she forced Eiko down onto one knee. Eiko had her eyes closed as sweat poured down from her face, not from the hot Australian sun, but from the pain coming from her elbow and wrist.
"Admit you are a coward and a false Amazon with no honor and I'll let you go," promised Zoey.
Eiko's only response was to shake her head and remain silent.
Eiko's father turned to his wife and said, "This is starting to become way too intense, Diana, I want it stopped."
Eiko's mom took time from cheering on her daughter and turned to her husband and told him, "Mind your own business; this is an Amazon affair."
Suddenly, Diana felt her husband's grip on her shoulder and as she and Donna looked into the face of a suddenly very angry Man of Steel. They heard him spit in a harsh and low voice, "I want this ended *NOW*!"
Eiko's mother had shared her life long enough with this man she had always loved since the very first day they met, even when his heart belonged to another. After all these decades, she knew what that look meant. On those very rare occasions she saw him this way, she knew better than to argue. Instead she simply replied, "Please, Clark , don't embarrass our daughter."
She watched him shake as he struggled within himself before he silently nodded his head.
It was just then that Artemis shouted to her daughter, "If she won't surrender, break the little bitch's arm!"
Eiko's mother growled in response and started to go after her, only to be stopped by her husband, who had a strange smile on his face. Suddenly, Artemis gave a yelp and grabbed her rear in pain. When she turned around Donna and Diana could see two twin scorch marks on her backside. Immediately, Both Diana and Donna knew that her man had given the figurative pain-in-the-ass a real pain in the ass via a hot foot that had traveled north of its normal target.
Zoey increased the pressure on her wrist lock before she said, "You heard my mother: admit the truth or — by Hera — I swear, I'll break your arm."
Even as her tears rolled down her face, Eiko told her, "Eat dirt and die, you little pig-eyed monster."
EiKo then remembered her lessons and performed a forward roll taking the pressure off her wrist and elbow. Even as she lay on her back, she grabbed Zoey's wrist and pulled her across her own body and onto the ground beside her. As she continued to hold on to Zoey's wrist, Eiko spun around on the ground and put one foot on Zoey's neck and another under her arm pit and reared back, stretching the young girls arm.
As she performed the arm bar, EiKo asked, "Now lets see how *you* like it."
Zoey did her best to free herself but failed. She dug her sandals into the dirt to try to get some leverage so she could bridge herself free, but failed. She picked up a handful of sandy red dirt and threw it into Eiko's face as a distraction, but Eiko just shook the dirt off her face and leaned back even more.
As Eiko leaned back and added more pressure, she said, "Now admit you lied about my mother and father!"
Zoey shook her head violently. Eiko increased the pressure, but Zoey refused to relent.
Zoey heard her mother begin to scream at her, "*GET UP*, Zoey! Don't let that creature do that to you! If you don't get up, you will always be remembered as one more disgrace to both me and our Sisterhood!!"
Zoey wasn't sure which hurt more: her arm or what her mother just said. Zoey also heard something else, it came from the Man. Even as she suffered, she heard him say, "Diana, I want to end this. I don't want to see that little girl hurt, especially - God forbid — by our daughter."
EiKo's blood was up as she leaned back and began to pull even harder as she asked, "Well, have you had enough? Do you want to surrender?"
Zoey let out a scream of pain then shook her head weakly. Just as the proud young Amazon began to whimper, the pain was suddenly gone. At first, Zoey couldn't understand why, until she saw that her opponant had released her and was now standing up over her.
Zoey expected some new attack by her rival, something no doubt even more painful. But instead of that, Zoey watched as she walked over to her parents and stood between them and waited.
Donna Troy stepped forward, and announced, "I am calling a five minute truce for rest."
Zoey lay on the ground, rubbing her sore shoulder as she watched and listened to Eiko apologize to her mother. Eiko did this by telling her mother, "I'm sorry, mama, but I couldn't hurt her anymore, even if she is a snothead."
Her mother smiled and asked her, "Why did you let her go?"
Eiko answered her with, "She's a pain in the rear, but she *is* brave. So brave, in fact, I think I could have pulled her arm out of her socket and she *still* wouldn't have given in. I just couldn't bring myself to keep hurting her anymore, I'm sorry."
Diana smiled and took her daughter in her arms, telling her, "You have no reason to feel sorry and have done nothing to apologize for. Mercy is one of the finest of human emotions, and a trait that a true Amazon always admires."
Zoey was getting to her feet as Eiko's mother continued, "There is nothing for you to be sorry for, you are your father's daughter. You have his gentle nature and his generous heart; always hold onto that and always be proud of it."
Zoey was being dragged away by her own mother when she looked back and saw the hugs Eiko was getting from the Man she dared to call her father. She noticed how gentle and caring he was as he examined her still bleeding nose.
Artemis shook her daughter to get her attention as she said, "What is *wrong* with you? Do you know you're embarrassing me? Why aren't you fighting the way I taught you?"
Zoey looked up at her mother and stated, "You said she was a coward, born of cowards. But, mother, she is brave and strong. In fact, I believe she is already as strong as a full-grown Amazon. She fights fair, she doesn't use any sneaky tricks, she fights with honor and courage and never uses dirty tactics."
"That's why *you're* going to win," Artemis told her daughter. "Because you will, or do you think it is fair that she is stronger and faster than you? Eleven years ago, I seduced that idiot Billy Batson because I knew he was Captain Marvel. I put up with his immature, boyish fumbling because I knew if I wanted a daughter to match the one that Bitch gave birth to, I would have to find someone as close to the alien as possible and that was Batson. I did my part by sleeping with him and training you. Now you go out there and do your part and do whatever you have to to win."
Zoey let it sink in, chewing over it carefully for a moment. <I'm nothing but a horse to her, being bred for competition. Mother how could … > She shook her head, stuffing the emotions down into her gut. She could always analyze it later.
Donna called the two girls to come together. While both Eiko and Zoey were trying to stare down one another, Donna asked them both, "Are you two young warriors ready to end this feud?"
For an answer, Eiko asked, "Is she ready to take back the lies she said about my family?"
"Make me," Zoey replied simply.
"It will be a pleasure," said Eiko as she rushed forward and tackled Zoey. The result had both girls hit the ground and began rolling down the sand dune toward Sidney Harbor. Both were wrapped in the other's limbs. Their pale complexions and identical clothing made it near impossible to tell what belonged to whom.
"I'd bite your leg right now," Eiko told her. "But I don't know who's leg is in front of face."
"If it's covered with baby fat, it's yours," Zoey replied, giggling at her own joke.
Eiko chuckled along with her, before shoving the Amazon girl down the sand dune and to the water. By the time the girls' parents arrived, the two girls were back on their feet and once again were circling each other with their fists raised. As they stared at each other, they would each take turns throwing the occasional punch.
This little dance continued for a good ten minutes when Zoey said to Eiko, "You know, you're not a bad fighter — for a freak of nature."
"You're not bad yourself — being a snothead and all," replied Eiko with a smile.
Zoey tried a left and a right combination. The left missed, but she landed a clean shot with the right. In response, Eiko hit her with a upper cut to the stomach, which bent the young Amazon double.
When Zoey was recovered enough to speak, she told EiKo, "I would have come a long way to see a fight like this."
"That's nice; I hope you're still around for the finish," Eiko remarked.
"Oh I'll be around, alright," said Zoey. "But you won't be."
"Whatever gave you that idea?" Eiko asked.
Zoey told her, "Because even if you're faster and stronger than me, I have been in training since I was three-years-old and you haven't. I know every single Amazon fighting technique and fighting style, and you don't."
Suddenly, in responce a big smile appeared on Eiko's face. Zoey thought she had lost her mind and asked, "What are you grinning at?"
Eiko explained to her, "You were just nice enough to tell me how to beat you and — best of all — I don't have to hurt you to do it."
Zoey said, "I like to see you try it."
"Just remember, you asked for it," Eiko said as she rushed the child Amazon. Eiko slammed into Zoey as the two girls began to struggle once again, until Eiko, with a sudden burst of her fabulous speed — suddenly appeared behind Zoey and wrapped her arms around her. Eiko had her held tight in a reverse bear hug.
"What are you doing?" asked a wildly concerned Zoey, as she fought to break free.
With a big smile, Eiko whispered in her ear, "You know every Amazon fighting trick and every counterattack, but this is something you have no counter for, because you have never seen this before. And best of all it is something my daddy taught me. He taught me this; it's a way to subdue someone without hurting them."
It was both effective and simple. EiKo simply performed the Heimlich Maneuver on Zoey, forcing the air out of her lungs. Only when she finished, instead of releasing Zoey, she continued to squeeze the red-haired ten-year-old. Zoey began to panic. This maneuver invented to save people from choking on food forced the air out of her lungs, and Eiko's ever- tightening grip around her ribcage prevented Zoey from taking in a breath to replace the air she lost.
Frantically, Zoey began trying pry Eiko's fingers apart but failed. Next, she punched at her arms and hands that held her tight, but that, too, failed as Eiko continued to hold tighter.
Artemis began to shout to her daughter, "Gouge out her eyes, stupid! Bite her! Kick her were it counts! Do whatever it takes to escape!"
But Zoey shook her head, refusing her own mother's orders to do anything so foul and dishonorable. Soon, the brave girl's struggles began to slow and finally, as her head slumped forward on her chest, Eiko let her go.
Zoey collapsed in a heap. She leaned on her hands and knees, coughing and gasging, trying her best to catch her breath.
EiKo looked down at her and asked, "Are we done yet?"
Zoey was as brave as ever and she proved it by shaking her head and trying to stand. She did her best to stand on her shaky legs, but failed as she collapsed back down into the damp sand. As she lay there, the only sound Zoey could hear beside her mother's frantic orders to stand were the lapping of the waves on the beach and her own heartbeat in her ears.
She tried one last valiant effort to stand, then collapsed back down on her stomach. Eiko hauled her to her feet and, as she pulled her fist back, Eiko said to her, "I'm sorry, sister."
She landed a punch into Zoey's jaw, knocking her back into the water in a daze.
Eiko's father started forward to rescue Zoey from the surf, when his wife grabbed hold of him and whispered in his ear, "Show some faith and trust in our child."
He paused in his rescue as Eiko rushed to Zoey's side and pulled her out of the water before the semi-conscious child started to drown.
Zoey lay on her back on the beach coughing up seawater when she saw that Eiko was offering her a hand up. She hesitated for a moment before taking it into her own hand. She smiled as Eiko helped her to her feet. Eiko, for her part, held the still dazed Zoey close in her arms as the two youngsters stood there together on the beach.
Donna asked Zoey if she was finished. Even as her mother was screaming at her to not stop, Zoey said, "Yes I'm done. I admit freely to all who are present that I was wrong. Martha, daughter of Diana, is an honorable women, a true Amazon, and I am proud to call her my sister."
Zoey weakly held up her right arm as Eiko held up her own, both clinking the Amazonian metal bracelets together and linking their fingers together in Sisters' Pact. Eiko's mother stood at the side of her childhood companion Donna, and looked down at the two bruised and bloody girls, saying, "Both of you should be proud of yourselves this day. Not only have you both fought well and proved your courage, but you both have done so honorably and without hate."
Donna finished with, "Already, I can see that whatever bad blood there was between you has been burnt away by the ritual combat, just as it was meant to do."
Eiko turned at the sound of her grandmother's name given to her and saw her father standing alone. She rushed to his side and jumped into his arms. As they hugged one another, Zoey saw a strange thing pass between her new Amazon Sister and the Man Eiko called 'father' — they were tears. The father and daughter were crying in each other's arms.
Zoey couldn't understand what she was seeing until Eiko's mother knelt down at her side and whispered to her," Eiko and her father love each other very much and they are very, very close." Deep down inside of my daughter, you will find she is more like her father than me. Even with more honor and decency."
Zoey turned and was about to ask a question of the one-time Amazon Princess, but was cut off when Eiko's mother told her the answer by saying, "I wouldn't have it any other way."
Eiko's father put her down and was kneeling in front of her, examining her bloody and bruised face. As he went about this grim task, he told his daughter, "I'm afraid your a real mess, baby."
"You should see the other guy," Eiko replied, cracking a grin.
This only caused Eiko's father to begin kissing her all over again, until his daughter told him, "Daddy, please! Not in front of the Amazons!"
Embarrassed by her father's fussing over her, Eiko left to rejoin her mother and aunt, only to be replaced by another red- headed ten-year-old girl. Zoey looked up at the huge figure that towered over her. She struggled to find the words she wanted to tell him, but finally summoned up her courage and said, "I want to apologize for saying the things I said about you."
Zoey cringed as his huge had descended and patted her on the cheek. She had heard the stories on Paradise Island of what those hands could do. But what she couldn't know or even suspect was how gentle those same hands could be. But strangest of all, and what Zoey couldn't understand or even believe, was how nice his touch felt on her cheek. Most important of all how safe his mere presence made her feel. It was then she briefly wondered of her own father.
He knelt down in front of her and said, "I'm afraid, Zoey, you're going to have one hell of a black eye."
Taking great pride in her own red badge of courage, Zoey said, "I wish I could see it!"
Eiko's father smiled and thought for a moment. He knew his wife never carried a mirror, so he decided to make one. He scooped up a handful of sand and melted the sand into a small pool of molten glass in the cup of his hand with a blast of his heat vision. Zoey stared wide-eyed with her one good eye as he cooled the brittle gift with his breath and presented the small glass to her. It wasn't a very good mirror or even a decent piece of glass, but Zoey could see her black eye and take great pride in it.
"What are you doing standing so close to that defiler of Amazons?" asked a harsh voice.
Zoey turned and saw her mother standing behind her. Zoey turned around to her and, lifting up the crude mirror, said, "Look what Martha's father made for me."
In response, Artemis slapped the small gift from her daughter's hand, where it shattered as it hit the ground. Even before it broke, Artemis told her daughter, "We take nothing from the likes of him! Now prepare yourself to do battle once more. Only this time, I want you to fight the way I taught you and, if you know what is good for you, you better win!"
"Artemis, will you ever learn?" asked Diana as she stood before older redhead. "The question of Winning or losing in itself means nothing. The only thing that should matter is the way one gives battle. The Kiss of Blood was created so Amazons could show their courage and prove their honor and not to see who is the best fighter. It is not a test of skill or of strength, but of one's heart. It is the opportunity to prove an Amazon's honor and courage first of all to herself, and then only to others."
"That is all and good for you, false Amazon. *Your* daughter was victorious, while mine lay in the mud," answered Artemis.
"You're a fool, Artemis. You should be proud of your daughter. Not only has she proven her courage and honor, but her fighting skill as well. She brings honor to the name Amazon, and to you as her mother. But you care nothing for the things that make an Amazon, only winning and losing matters to you."
"I need no advice from a traitor who betrayed the Sisterhood for the arms of an off-world freak of nature," retorted Artemis as she turned to her daughter and added, "Now, challenge that vile creature again, my daughter!"
Zoey defiantly announced to her mother, "I won't! Martha is no longer my enemy, in fact, I now know she never was. She is now my Sister and, someday, I hope I will call her my friend."
Artemis screamed at her daughter, "I gave you an order!"
Zoey yelled back, "I lost a fight today mother, *not* my honor! If I was to offer the challenge again, then I would lose my honor and that I refuse to do, even for you!"
Eiko's mother told Zoey, "Well said, young Amazon."
"Aye, my sister, she has the heart of a true Amazon," added Donna.
"Looking good!" stated Eiko as she agreed with her aunt and mother.
With a shriek of rage, Artemis lashed out and slapped her daughter, knocking her down to the sand. Eiko's mother grabbed the hand that struck the blow and screamed, "Are you insane?!"
Artemis gave a sinister smile and said, "I waited a long time to do this, bitch." Then launched a crescent kick at Diana's head, who ducked and leapt back out of range.
Even as Eiko was helping Zoey back to her feet, the two mothers stared at one another, it was Eiko's mother who said, "All right, Artemis, we will play it your way; just remember, your the one who called the tune."
Artemis smiled and said, "You mean all I had to do to finally have it out with you was to ask?"
Eiko could see her mother had a strange smile on her face as she told Artemis, "We have and old saying here in man's world, 'Be careful what you ask for, you just might get it'."
"How long have you known?" asked Artemis.
"The moment you showed up here wearing the Gauntlets of Atlas, I knew what you were realy up to," replied Diana.
Eiko was becoming upset and looked up at her aunt, asking, "What are the Gauntlets of Atlas?"
Donna told her, "A gift from Zeus to your mother's one-time prodigy Cassie. At one time, Artemis was the young girl's mentor as well. They increase strength ten-fold of whoever wears them."
Eiko's father said to Donna, "One fight a day is more than I can take. Watch the kids, Donna, I'm going to put a stop to this before it gets out of hand."
Donna managed to put her arm around his shoulder before he rushed forward. As he turned to her, Donna said, "What worked so well for the daughters might also work for their mothers."
Eiko's father sighed, "I wouldn't be so sure, Donna. Your sister has that look in her eye again. As for Artemis, I wouldn't believe her if she told me water was wet!"
Suddenly, they heard a scream of rage. They both turned in time to see Artemis launch herself at Eiko's mother, driving her shoulder into the middle of the one-time Amazon Princess. The vicious impact launched them both into the cloudless sky and out over the harbor. They traded punches and kicks hundreds of feet above the water as if they were two eagles fighting in mid-air.
Down they plunged, straight into the famous Sidney Harbor Bridge. The impact of their strong bodies took out two support columns and damaged a third. Slowly, as Diana and Artemis both got back on their feet, the third steel girder began to give way.
The bridge itself was covered with rush hour traffic. It was a bumper to bumper nightmare of a traffic jam. Today, for the occupants of those hundreds of cars on the bridge, eager to return home, their ride home from work was on the brink of turning into a bumper to bumper death trap!
Forgetting all about the battle, Diana rushed to the damaged girder and using all of her own strength tried to hold it together by bracing it with her own body. Even with her incredible strength, she had no hope of supporting all of those Thousands of tons.
Artemis walked up to where Eiko's mother was having her desperate struggle and stood in front of her long-time rival. She could see the look of desperation on the face of the former Amazon Princess and the sound of fear in Diana's voice as she begged, "Artemis, please, I can't hold it any longer, you have to help me. Think of all the people… "
In response, Artemis turned and, without a word, picked up one of the damaged steel girders and brought it over to where Diana was struggling with her horrific burden. Diana smiled as soon as she seen the twisted girder and told Artemis, "Good idea, use that girder to help wedge up this bridge section."
The only thing Artemis used the damaged steel beam for was as a club to use on Diana, as she sent her sailing from the bridge and through the roof of the nearby Sidney Opera House. Zoey and Eiko both had far better eyesight then a normal human but even their enhanced visual acuity was next to useless at this distance; but there was one person present who could see everything very clearly.
He was blessed with sight that could see the molecules of a cell and could even watch as that very same cell divided. He could watch as Halley's Comet flew past the orbit of Pluto and listen to the beat of a housefly's wings hundreds of miles away.
As if by magic, Zoey watched the flannel shirt and gray slacks Eiko's father wore suddenly disappear to be replaced by a legendary blue and red costume. Even before Zoey could draw a breath, she and Eiko were lifted up and flew in the arms of Eiko's father faster than the God Mercury himself could move.
Half a heartbeat later, she and E-ko were standing safely on the shore at one end of the bridge. With the words "Wait here for Donna." ringing in their ears, Eiko and Zoey both watched as the legendary Man of Steel caught the collapsing bridge span on his broad shoulder and held it up. Like the mythological Atlas holding up the world.
With the weight of the bridge itself as well as the combined weight of all of those cars, Eiko's father was supporting hundreds of thousands of tons on his back. Not just supporting, but actually *lifting* the unbelievable mass. Zoey stood next to Eiko with her eyes bulging and her mouth hanging open. Eiko could see that her father had managed to stop the bridge from collapsing but many of the cars on the failed bridge section were hanging over the edge, teetering in the howling winds.
"Zoey, look!" Eiko cried.
The Amazon child turned to face her and said in a voice filled with wonder and astonishment, "I can't believe it, Eiko. No one is that strong — no Amazon, no demon, not even the Gods themselves are that strong!"
Eiko chest swelled with pride as she said, "That's my POP!" Then quickly added, "Some of those cars are leaning over the edge of the bridge. If we don't get up there and pull them back from the edge, they're going over!"
"I'm game, let's go for it!"
With a wink and a smile, Eiko grabbed Zoey's hand and both made a quick high-speed dash up the side of the bridge and onto the damaged road bed.
Eiko's father peering through the broken road and shouted, "Eiko, Zoey! Get off the bridge! It's too dangerous!"
Even as Eiko was saying "Sorry, papa", she and Zoey were pulling the cars from the edge of the damaged bridge. Soon as they accomplished that, they both began to lead the people out of their cars and walk them to the end of the bridge to safety.
The citizens too frightened to get out of their vehicles forced the two young girls to a crude but effective solution: they simply ripped the doors off the cars, dragged out the occupants, and carried them to safety. Donna finally arrived at the side of the Man of Steel and said, "I'll get the girls to safety!"
Superman shook his head and said, "Don't bother, they're both doing their part. I need you to bring me two steel girders to repair this mess."
"Where can I get them?" she asked.
He stared straight ahead and said, "Follow the end of my nose. About two miles off there is a high rise going up, that's where you will find what you need."
Eiko's mother crashed through the roof and down into the stage of the Sidney Opera House. Picking herself up from the crater she had just made in the stage, she barley managed to get to her feet in time to meet Artemis head on, as she flew down from the hole in the roof.
Two punches later, Artemis was knocked backward from a left hook. Her momentum took out the orchestra pit and ten rows of seats. A moment later, Diana was on top of her, and both Amazons began trading punches as they continued to battle, taking out row after row of seats and a couple of walls as well.
It was when Artemis threw her through the lobby, Eiko's mother finally realize how much damage she was dong to the structure and possibly even the city. Her guilt overcame the call of her warrior's song and with a taunting, "If you want me, you have to catch me!" she took off, leading Artemis out of the city by air.
With the cry of "Coward!" ringing in her ears, Diana headed out of the city and into the less populated countryside.
With the bridge finally cleared of people, the two girls climbed down to where Eiko's father was supporting the whole structure on his broad shoulders. The two very frightened ten- year old girls stood before Eiko's father as he continued to hold up the bridge.
Eiko said remorsefully, "I'm sorry for disobeying you, papa, but we just *had* to help those people."
"When your mother and I give you an order, Eko, it's for a good reason, and the most important reason of all is for your own safety — and that goes for the *both* of you."
Both of the girls hung they heads in shame until he added, "But, it is also true — you both did a wonderful thing helping those people off the bridge and I'm proud of you both. Not just because you were brave, but for thinking of others before yourself."
It was two very proud children who looked at one another and started to giggle until Zoey's mentor and Eiko's aunt arrived on the scene, carrying a steel girder. Placing it on end, Donna held the steel beam in place as Eiko's father welded it in place with his heat vision.
When he was done, Donna asked, "How many more do we need?"
He answered, "At least one; perhaps two to play it safe."
"Can we help?" Zoey asked.
Clark thought for a moment then asked, "If Donna carries one beam back by herself, can you two girls manage one beam together?"
"We can try," Eiko assured him.
Her father smiled with pride and said, "Go ahead, both of you, and try to do your best."
Seconds later, Donna and her two charges were off and running back to the construction site.
Out in the country near Canberra, a brand new Lexus was pulling into the driveway of a well-cared for one-family home. Edd had worked long and hard for this car. He scrimped and saved and even took a second job just so he could walk into the dealer's showroom, throw a wad of bills on a salesmen's desk, point to the car he wanted, and say, "Wrap it up, mate!"
Then have the pleasure of seeing the look on the salesman's face as he drove it off the lot. He got out of his copper- colored Lexus, and reached back in to blow the horn. Taking a handkerchief from his pocket, he carefully polished away the finger prints he left on the chrome around the door.
He stood proudly at attention as his good friend Tim came outside and stood on the front steps of his house. "So, you finally saved up enough to go out and buy it." He walked down the steps and walked around the car, saying, "It's beautiful; a regular work of art."
For the next half hour, Edd demonstrated all the new features to his friend Tim. When they finished, the two friends sat on the front steps, drinking a cold Hahn Ice together.
Tim then asked Edd, "How many kilometers you have on it?"
Edd answered back, "Only sixty-five!"
They touched beer bottles and Tim made a toast to his friend's car: "May the road you travel on be freshly paved, and all the traffic police be asleep. Best of luck with your new wheels."
Suddenly, there came a whistling sound from the sky, like in those old World War II movies. Tim and Edd looked up just in time to see two tall, well-built women come tumbling end over end out of the sky and crashing on the new Lexus, smashing through the roof and windshield.
Quietly, with no emotion on his face, Tim asked his friend Edd, "You *do* have insurance, don't you?"
"NOT FOR THAT!" Edd screamed back at him.
Artemis used her legs and the Gauntlets of Atlas to kick Eiko's mother off of her and into the side of the house, caving in the wall of the building. Suddenly, just as Diana dashed out of the house, Artemis picked up the car and threw it right at the former Amazon Princess.
Eiko's mother ducked out of the way, only to have what was left of the brand new automobile crash through the wall of the house right above where Tim and Edd were enjoying their beers. They managed to scramble out of the way when a moment later the gas tank on the vehicle exploded, knocking Edd and Tim off their feet and engulfing the house in flames.
Diana, the one-time Royal Princess of Paradise Island, waited in the empty outback of the Australian wilderness. Artemis landed in front of her and said, "Well. coward. I see you're done running from me."
"You were always full of yourself, Artemis. I wasn't running from you. I was leading you here, where the only person that is going to be hurt will be you."
"Prove it," the redheaded Amazon stated.
Diana smiled sweetly and said, "I was hoping you would say that."
Her eyes narrowed and her mouth turned into a snarl, letting the warrior's bloodlust pour through her veins at last, as she rushed at her rival. Artemis launched a kick aimed at her groin, but it never landed, as Diana grabbed her foot and twisted her leg almost to the breaking point. Diana released her only so she could haul her back up to her feet and begin to pound her face and body with vicious and well-placed punches.
At the bridge, the last steel girder was in place and the police were just arriving on the scene as well as the local media. Donna announced, "I'll take care of the rest here, Kal. Get the girls and yourself out of here before someone gets a picture of Eiko."
With a quick thanks, he picked up picked both girls and went in search of the girls' mothers. His sharp ears quickly picked up the sound of their battle, and he and the girls were soon landing at the site of the conflict.
It wasn't a pretty sight. Eiko's mother had totally lost it. After almost eleven years of being exiled and hunted, she was now completely lost in her own bloodlust and warrior's madness. Both women were bruised and bleeding, but it was now Diana who had the upper hand as she continued to drive her fists into the face and body of her tormentor.
He placed the girls in the ground, Eiko holding Zoey back as the Amazon child with tears in her eyes cried "Stop it! Please!" while sturggling against Eiko to run and seperate her dishonored mother and the woman she only begun to respect.
Clark recognized his wife was going to go all the way. He was instantly at her side, yelling, "Stop it! You're killing her!"
She didn't stop, only drove her fists in that much harder harder. He took hold of her arm and frantically shouted out her name in an attempt to call her back from the warrior's craze. She continued her pounding with her other hand, and he took hold of that hand plowing into her rival, and he refused to let go.
Instantly, her wrath was directed at him. She turned to face him and wrangled her hand free to raise toward him as she stated, "How *dare* you try to stop me!" As she raised her hand to strike, he did nothing to defend himself.
Eiko's body clenched in fear, and she did the only thing she could think of. She screamed out across the sands, "Mommy! Don't hit daddy!"
Diana looked at her little girl, and then at her own fist, before she broke into tears and buried her face into her husband's chest.
"I'm sorry, I'm so sorry," she said over and over as her husband held her close. Their daughter soon joined them and the three Magamis or to be more acurate Kent's held each other close for comfort and support.
When Eiko's mother regained her composer, her husband asked her as he winked, "Are you in good enough shape to take our daughter and yourself back home to Metropolis?"
"Yes, I'm all right now. What are you going to do?"
"I will be taking Zoey and her mother back home to Paradise Island," he told his wife.
"Be careful, You're even less welcomed there than I am," she warned.
"Don't worry. I'll be in and out before your mother or any of your one-time sisters even know I was ever there." He then added, "On the way back I'll stop off back here and settle up here."
Remembering the damage she caused Diana asked,"How are we ever going to pay for all the damage?"
The royalty checks from my last book and our daughter's college fund should cover it," he replied.
She buried her face in the S shield of her husband's chest and murmerd, "Damn this temper!"
He lifted her head up by her chin and told her, "We'll manage."
Eiko's mother responded by kissing her husband on the lips. Hard as it was he turned his attention from the wife he loved and moved to were Artemis was just coming to.
Even as he picked Artemis up for the trip home, she showed her gratitude by screaming a series of vindictive curses at the Man of Steel in her semi-consciousness. He picked up Zoey with his other arm, and with a big smile, he told her, "Next stop: Paradise Island and the Temple of Healing for your mother and a nice, hot bath for you."
Much to her mother's disgust, Zoey returned the infectious smile and hugged Eiko's father tight around his neck as the three of them took to the sky. Destination: Thermascyria, Island of the Amazons, in the Aegean Sea.
Christmas morning dawned cold and snowy in the little neighborhood the Magami family resided in. Eiko pulled her blinds up to watch the snow fall past her window. She smiled, watching her breath fog up the glass as she patted Krypto with her other hand. He panted, letting his own breath fog up the glass as well, grinning as he stared out the window.
"Well, Krypto," A-ko announced. "Think Santa left us anything?"
Krypto barked in reply, rushing toward her door and wagging his tail excitedly.
Eiko pulled the door open and rushed to her parents' room, bursting in and jumping across the room. She landed on the foot of their bed, laughing.
"Merry Christmas, mama and papa!" she sang.
Her mother slammed a pillow over her still sleeping head in am attempt to ignore the sudden intrusion. Her father grabbed up the ten-year-old instead, hugging her and kissing her cheeks, saying, "Merry Christmas, sugar plum!"
"Did you see Santa last night, daddy?"
He picked her up in his massive arms, carrying her out of the room to let her mother wake up at her leisure."Just as I was going upstairs, baby. Santa came crashing down the chiminy and danced through the tree and stockings and left in a wink of an eye."
She hugged his neck, giggling, "You're the fastest man in the universe, daddy."
"Nope, I believe Santa is the fastest," he corrected, flicking on the lightswitch to the tree.
Eiko turned to look at the tree in the still dark living room, gazing at the colored lights make the glass balls and shiny papers and glistening garlands twinkle and sparkle. Krypto stood solemnly behind them, sniffing the air of the strange scent left by a certain jolly elf that most believed didn't exsist.
"Wowee!" Eiko breathed. "Look at the loot!"
Her father looked at her and she grinned.
"Just kidding, daddy. The tree looks beautiful."
"Let's open the blinds and see how the tree looks against the snow."
He set her down and went to open the blinds to let the light in, showing the snow floating down to their yard.
Eiko's mother appeared in the doorway, dressed in a red silk robe and brushing her hair out.
"All right," she stated. "You have a few options of what to do first. One: chores."
"Yuck," Eiko replied.
"Two: morning practice."
"Four: open presents."
"PRESENTS!" Eiko cried.
Krypto barked in agreement as the family settled around the tree.
Eiko settled at the table, dressed in her new jeans and "usagi" bunny over-sized sweatshirt. She was giggling, looking under the table.
"Haven't you embarrassed that dog enough?" her mother asked.
Krpyto was hiding his face under his paws as he lay under the table, a doggie sweather dressed around his white body. It was green with the words "Merry X-mas!" in red and decorated with red bones.
"He's so cute!" Eiko laughed.
"I thought she was laughing at the bunny slippers she gave me," her father chuckled, padding in the said slippers around the kitchen to serve up more waffles.
"They look cute on you," his wife giggled. She flexed her bicep, admiring the gold and lapis lazuli armband her daughter gave her. The gift from her husband, a special katana made by one of the foremost swordsmiths of Japan, was in her training room and set up above her shrine. It was a fitting symbolism of her heritage melding with her new life in the Land of the Rising Sun.
She gave him the new three-demensional version of his favorite movie "To Kill a Mocking Bird". He had told her that it had greatly influenced his beliefs regarding justice, and he had always loved the movie with Gregory Peck. He had thought that the movie being as old as it was, no one would bother to make the 3-D of it, but his wife had found it. He was delighted.
"I can't believe aunt Donna gave me a pair of ancient Greek daggers!" Eiko said. "They're so beautiful. Can I put them up with your altar, mama?"
"Of course, with your own place."
"And Zoey gave me her bow. I know how much she loved it."
"Amazons and their weapons," her father sighed. "Not right."
"Oh, daddy, I love the doll you gave me. I can't believe you found a porcelain dolls with red hair and amber eyes like me."
"You're growing up too fast, my baby. One last doll before you don't want anymore."
She smiled and rounded the table to hug him tightly. "I love you, daddy. I won't trade you for anything in the world."
"I love you, too, best of daughters."
Eiko's mother smiled, thinking that there was nothing else she wanted in her life. With her loving husband and her brave daughter, she was content.
Eiko mused aloud, "You think Zoey will become my friend now that we have reached peace?"
"I believe so," her father replied. "You and she are very similar."
"And we gave her a gift, too," Eiko stated.
"What gift?" her mother asked.
"True Amazon honor."
"Gift of the Magami," her father chuckled.
"Gift of the Magi, daddy."
Eiko laughed, and hugged him again as the snow enveloped the house on that Christmas morn.