Nemo Blank


For your reading pleasure,


Be careful what you wish for....


Characters belong to MTV. I stole them, and I'm a baaaad man, but fortunately pretty much bullet-proof, lawsuit wise. Used without permission. This story is copyright 7/2001 by Nemo Blank and is not to be sold or profited from. It may however be copied, distributed and posted freely in unaltered form, so long as the author's name and email address remain on the work.



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Special thanks to my beta readers. Much obliged, Guys.


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     Charles Ruttheimer III trudged along the beach, his new digital camera slung around his neck. His eye-hurting beach apparel consisted of plaid swim trunks and a virulent green and mustard-yellow striped shirt.

     He was in hot pursuit of a rumored secret nude beach, listed on an internet site that he was familiar with. If the rumor was true, he planned to spend the summer there. Charles had been doing some growing and couldn't wait to show it all off to an appreciative female audience. He'd been working out, buffing up for the beach season for months.

     Charles stopped and his shoulders fell, dejectedly. In spite of the relatively good weather, the beach was completely deserted.

     He kicked angrily at a dead starfish and morosely waded through the edge of the surf to wash the resulting goop off of his sandal. He just knew that he'd be a star, once the ladies got a look at him in his snappy new thong. All he had to do was find the ladies. Any ladies.

     They all seemed to be avoiding him for some reason.

     A seagull crapped on him and as he looked up, plotting revenge, he stepped on something that tripped him.

     Sitting in the uncomfortably cool surf, he looked up at the sky and then vented at full volume. "Shiiiiit! Is this my unlucky day, or what?"

     Shaking his head, he picked up the offending object. It was a very ornate bottle. "What do we have here? A collectable bit of flotsam?"

     He spun the bottle around, admiring the intricate crystal work. "Hmmm, Some exotic liquor from the mysterious orient?"

     It was a large opaque glass and metal bottle, with a crust of apparent jewels and a long, strangely twisted, neck. Odd Arabic-seeming script wound around the bottle's silver base and a crumbling six-pointed star was inscribed in wax on the top of the stopper.

     Charles hefted it. Whatever it was, it was still full. The tasseled stopper was firmly tied, so he took it with him. The label had been washed off, but his father would know what kind of liquor came in a fancy bottle like that. He drove home, set the bottle on his TV and took a shower.

     Logging on, he went to his online broker and checked his stocks. Then he checked his mail, to see if any of his many love interests had responded to his emails.

     "Aha! Brittany!" Charles eagerly opened the message, thrilled that the blonde bombshell had responded. Charles read it aloud:

     "Dear Upchuck. Leave me alone, you no-class geek. Hate, Brittany. PS: Die, Pig."

     He jumped up, did a little victory dance, then sat back down, sighing happily. "Score! She called me dear! Yes! She's finally starting to crack!" The day was looking good.

     He started to write back, when his eye fell on the bottle. It was shaking. Cautiously, he walked over and touched the stopper, knocking the last of the wax seal off.

     With a loud 'pop' the stopper blew off and thick red smoke poured out, coalescing into...

     Charles blinked, then vigorously rubbed his eyes. He opened them again and gasped. "A woman!" Charles stood, slack jawed. "A sweet, beautiful, nubile woman!"

     As Charles goggled in stupified shock, The woman gave him a slow smile and walked a circle around him, aggressively checking him out. She was a redhead, dressed in a tiny harem costume, about eighteen and even better endowed than his favorite cheerleader, if that was possible.

     "What... How... Who ... Woah!" Charles swayed and almost fainted. She was leaning close to him, and he could see right down her top!

     She looked at him with a sly, intelligent expression on features that were otherwise eerily like Brittany's, twirled her hair and said, "Hiya, handsome. I'm here for you."

     "Gaw," he said intelligently, his mouth hanging open.

     She winced. "Now, now, let's not ruin a good thing, Stud."

     Charles blinked, in utter amazement. She had the cutest little horns that he'd ever seen, just peaking out of her fiery red hair. "You talk! What was in that smoke? I must really be out of it. A symptom of testosterone poisoning, perhaps?" Charles figured that as long as he was hallucinating, he might as well enjoy the trip.

     The demoness giggled. "I'm the D'jinn of the bottle, sweetie. I'm here grant three wishes to the owner of the bottle, and that's you, Hot Stuff!" She grinned, letting her eyes wander suggestively. It was amazing how they fell for this crap.

     "A wish?" He stared at her with wide, shocked eyes. "Holy shit!"

     "Ha! Keep it up, sugar! Now, remember, it's three wishes and three wishes only." Gold, perfect health and eternal youth. She smirked. That's what the smart guys all wished for. Any one would have him begging to give up his soul in hours. "Your wish, Hot Stuff?"

     He blushed. "I'm Chuckup- I mean, I'm Upchuck. Uhm, er, I mean, ummm. Um, Charles. What's your name?"

     "I'm Lura." She winked at him, slyly, then reached out and cupped his cheek. "Make a wish, pretty-boy." She was really hoping for a promotion to succubus, someday. She leaned in and kissed him, slipping him plenty of tongue. Pulling back after a lengthy period of osculation, she posed at him, demurely. "You can have anything... Master."

     Charles stared in shock. She seemed solid. "I'll be dammed!"

     "Right to business, then. Now think hard, Stud Muffin, what do you really want?" Her pupils gleamed red with amusement.

     He grinned at her. Charles' nihilist philosophy told him to shoot for the moon. "I wanna screw!"

     "Does that mean that I can have your body?" Her expression was hungry.

     Charles' grin slipped a little. "Hell yes!"

     Lura whooped. "Jackpot! We have a deal!"

     Ten hours later, Charles lay in bed, totally exhausted, staring at the ceiling. "Wow. That was just... unbelievable. Thanks for the wish, Lura."

     She smiled. He was ruined for all mortal women now. Stealing his virility had been fun. Even if he got out of his wish alive and intact, he'd soon be begging to give up his soul. She'd hadn't come across a sex drive that intense in centuries and now she was the only one that could ever give him what he needed again.

     Lura chuckled, throatily. She wasn't a first class demoness, but all that meant was that she tried harder. "Oh, believe me, it was my pleasure, Stud. That's a freebee, since you never actually wished. I've been... away, for a very long time." She'd really been in the mood. Idly, she wondered how long she could spin the collection job out. She stifled the notion. This was too important.

     "Uh, huh." He was beginning to think that she might be real, somehow, but he didn't believe her about the bottle. Hallucinations didn't usually have scars. "How did you get these?" He reached out and gently traced one of the fine white lines that crossed her back.

     "My father whipped me for running away from my husband." She glowered. "It was a business deal. He bought me for fifty dollars." She had been thirteen years old. She didn't mention drugging him, nailing him to the cabin floor and sacrificing him to the devil, or the fact that this had all happened back in 1738. She'd advanced rapidly in hell's bureaucracy ever since they'd burned her for witchcraft.

     "Fifty dollars?" Charles blinked, once again leaning toward delirium as an explanation. "What a deal! You're worth millions, Lura. That guy is an asshole."

     She smiled. "I honestly think that is the nicest thing that any man has ever said to me." It would almost be a shame to kill him, rip out his soul and enslave him for eternity, but she really liked doing it. He was vulnerable and every new slave made her that much more powerful. "He was a minister of the gospel. A respected man."

     He wasn't so respected now, down in the pit. She regularly tore him apart.

     Charles frowned, then rolled onto his back, laced his hands behind his head and stared at the ceiling. She must have gotten into one of those cults. Or else this was all a dream. Definitely a long, involved, ultra-detailed wet-dream. It had that disjointed, out-of-context feeling. Looking sidelong at the thin, stubby horns that protruded from the blazing red tresses, he shook his head. It obviously wasn't real, but... what the hell.

     "How could someone beat a sweet thing like you? Stick with me, Toots. I'll make sure that it never happens again." He hoped that the real thing was half as good.

     She scooted over to him, laying across his chest. "You're quite a stud. You must do pretty well with the ladies." She had trouble keeping a straight face, being used to the larger scale of her vain, shape-shifting demonic master. Charles wasn't really all that bad for a mortal though.

     He looked up at her and laughed, uneasily. She was staring at him with a hungry expression. "You'd think so, sweetmeat, but the chicks usually don't like the old Chuckster." He sighed. "All I have is dream-girls, like you."

     "Is there one over all of the others that you would like to see on her knees, begging for your touch? A wish could get you anyone that you want!" She nipped his chest, once again showing her small, razor-sharp fangs. Avidly, she began licking up the trickle of blood that she'd drawn. He tasted so good. Mystically speaking, he was a virgin, full of all the heady pleasures and powers that such a rare creature could bring to an enterprising demoness.

     Charles jerked, nervously. "Woah! This is a hell of a dream. Well... Nah. She'd eat me alive. There's another one that I've been trying to get close to since we were kids. She just hates me, though."

     "Hate is good. I can always work with hate." Lura traced his jawline with an errant finger, silently crisping the wispy hair away without burning the delicate skin.

     Maybe she should just drag him off now, thought the demoness. His involvement in the plot was tangential at best, and it could be millennia before the powers got around to punishing her. He was just so innocent. It made her want to do terrible things to him, over and over, until she'd wrung every speck of innocence out of him.

     Charles, glimpsing the hungry expression in her blood red eyes, jerked uncomfortably, the sweat popping free of his brow. "Ah, doesn't it seem a little hot in here to you?"

     Lura grinned, smelling his fear as she snuggled in and got even more intimate with him. This was more like it.

     "Not at all, sweetie. Why does she hate you? We could change all that with a wish, you know." She went on exploring the body. It definitely had potential. Maybe she could do some tweaking and set it all up so that things would go her way for once.

     He shrugged, eyes widening. Her skin was shading from pink to red. "I don't know, er, Lura. Most women hate me. It's a curse. A stud like me, and the women turn away. I just wish that I understood them, especially Brittany." He was babbling now. Her horns had grown, and small batwings had become visible on her back.

     "Oh, no!" She stiffened, angrily. He'd invoked the rules, and she had to get around it. Now she would have to go back to the main office for a while and shore up her position. This was a setback, but only a minor one. She'd hoped to have a little more fun, first. "You dammed idiot!"

     He looked into her upset eyes, felt a cold chill and flinched. "What's the matter, um, Luscious?"

     "Your wish is granted!" She ripped the pillow out from under his head and threw it at the wall. "Fuck!" Feathers and plaster from the broken wall floated to the ground.

     Charles gaped at the smashed wall, looked up at her and made a scared little sound. Lura's long white fangs were clearly visible now, and her eyes were a solid blazing red.

     Lura had really been looking forward to slowly, exquisitely breaking him to her will, then turning him into a willing demon-slave. Now he wouldn't even be the one that she could use directly. Worse, he wouldn't find out about his impotence for ages. Angrily, she reached out and touched his forehead.

     "OH! What are you..." He yawned. "What wish? I... uh." His eyes rolled up and he slumped, unconscious.

     "Fool." She kissed his lips and then used a delicate claw to slit his jugular vein. Avidly gulping down every drop of the delicious virgin blood, she felt him die.

     Quickly snaring the fleeing soul, she tucked it away for safe keeping and returned to her task.

     Pressing her lips to the slit vein, she vomited coal-black demon blood, gradually replacing every drop of his blood with hers and mystically taking possession of his body. Her ownership would only last until the Sabbath, but the changes that she made to the body would be permanent.

     Healing the punctured vein, Lura revived the empty body, bidding it to stand. Mystically speaking, it was hers. She could use her demonic powers of transformation on it without resistance or interference, while no one was home.

     Dropping her eyes, she smiled. He would be her slave as soon as the charade was over, and now was an excellent time to make a few big changes, while she could legitimately tap into her master's power. Applying her will, she forced a new template onto the body. It would slowly change into a hyper-masculine caricature of itself, a body ready for a true Demon Lord to inhabit.

     After death, that would be his default template. Charles would soon tire of powerlessness and give up his soul. He had real potential for evil. A slave like that could make her powerful enough to destroy her master, someday. Smiling, she made the soulless body get back into bed. It would be alright for a while, and Charles wasn't going to be using it for some time.

     Sighing, she went to locate her other victim. That one would have to be de-souled and collected too. Lura believed in being thorough. Too many demons cut corners. She examined the quiescent soul and grinned. He was about to really understand women.

     Daria sat up in bed, heart pounding. The nightmare had been terrible, but she didn't remember it. She felt a wave of dread that only got stronger as she sat in her bed. Getting up, she put on her glasses. Padding over and peering out of her window, her skin crawled. She felt like there was something that she should be doing. Getting her flashlight, she went to check on the house.

     Opening Quinn's door, she saw that everything was okay. She started to leave, but a sound stopped her. Padding over to the bed, she switched on her nearly dead flashlight. In the weak beam, Quinn was trembling violently, gasping and shuddering.

     Daria debated with herself, then shook Quinn awake. "Hey, wake up."

     Quinn bolted upright and seized Daria around the neck in a death grip. "Help! Daria, it's here!"

     "Urk!" Daria pried herself loose from her shaking sister and retreated to the foot of the bed, just out of hugging range.

     "It's okay, Quinn. Just a nightmare." She cleared her throat. "What's here?"

     Quinn shook her head, shuddering. "Something really bad." She looked at Daria. "Thanks for waking me up."

     "Not a problem. I had a nightmare too." Daria shrugged uncomfortably and looked at the clock. "Four AM. There's no way that I'm getting back to sleep tonight."

     "Do you want to do something?" Quinn didn't want to go back to dreamland either. "I won't try to make you over or anything. We could just play Nintendo or something like that until breakfast time."

     Daria hesitated, then nodded. She didn't want to be alone either, and the video game would keep her from having to talk to Quinn.

     They sat close together as they played, both tense, trying to forget the terror that had griped them.

     Brittany groaned as she was shaken awake. "Kevvie! What do you want?"

     "I want your body, Babe." Lura heard a noise and looked down. The idiot that she'd shoved under the bed was snoring like a buzz saw.

     "Kevvie, I'm trying to sleep!" Brittany rolled over, looked at him and frowned. He seemed different, somehow.

     "Don't you love me, Babe?" Lura kissed her and then examined the girl, appreciatively. Taking the illusion of Kevin's form was easy for a demon.

     "Um, sure." Brittany started to wake up. "What time is it?"

     "Time for love, Babe." Lura had seen the lie and it amused her to no end.

     "I guess so." Brittany rolled over the rest of the way and tried to stay awake.

     "Does that mean that I can have your body?" Lura watched her closely. The legal niceties had to be observed here.

     Brittany yawned. "Sure. Take me," she mumbled. Her eyes sagged closed and she began to drift off. A second later, her eyes bulged open. "OOOOH, KEVVIE!"

     Lura smirked. "Like that, Babe?"

     Brittany sat up on her elbows, eyes wide. "Yes! Oh, Kevvie, that was incredible! Where did you learn that?"

     "Hey, I'm the QB, Babe." Lura shifted her position slightly. "I get around."

     Brittany lay in bliss, then smacked her. "Why weren't you doing that before?"

     "I was only human. Want me to take you right out of your body?" Lura waited, impatiently.

     "What? Yes!" Brittany closed her eyes and hoped that this wasn't a dream.

     "Ready? Okay, then, Sweetness, here we go!" Lura touched her forehead and Brittany sagged into unconsciousness.

     Brittany's blood wasn't as good as Charles' had been, but it was still innocent blood. Brittany died without a struggle and was easily revived.

     Stuffing the soul in with the other one, she proceeded to make her changes to the revived blank body. She would own its reflection in hell, so she wanted it to be perfect.

     After she finished with the body, she eyed the snoring QB on the floor. He wasn't worth bothering with, so she just dumped him back into the bed.

     Opening her pouch, she groaned. The souls were stuck together. After spending an hour pulling them apart, she finally shoved the soul of Charles into the empty, nude body and arranged it in the bed next to Kevin.

     Looking at the resulting tableaux, Lura grinned and put a bat near Charles' side of the bed. She would have loved to be there when he woke up, but she couldn't stay that long.

     Kevin was on the fifteen yard line. The score was tied and the game was in overtime. His team was poised to score the winning point in the Superbowl, but he was the only one left alive.

     He looked toward the sidelines. Kevin's new babe, Andrea, waved back in her black cheerleader's costume. Her pom-pom's looked like big furry spiders. He hiked the ball to himself. Jumping into the line, he feinted and cunningly went for the sneak.

     The other team carried clubs and wore army helmets instead of football helmets. They were huge, with animal faces and merciless eyes. As they beat him into the turf, he briefly wondered why he was dressed as a sad, white-faced clown and all of the spectators had crow and jack 'o lantern heads. He put it out of his mind and concentrated on retrieving his head.

     Like usual, he just didn't have time to worry about stuff outside of the game.

     Charles was having a nightmare. He was wrestling a giant bear, a furry, stinking, slobbering beast that kept pinning him. The hideous growls of the beast were terrifying.

     Heart pounding and covered with sweat, he opened his eyes. Lura had her arms tightly wrapped around him, spooning him from behind, snoring like a chainsaw. His shoulder was wet where she had drooled all over him.

     He sighed, then stiffened. Lura's breath had been sweet, with just a tiny hint of sulfur, before. Those arms were curiously muscular and what the hell was that?

     Charles rolled over and came face to face with a scene of unimaginable, nightmarish horror.

     Wide eyed with sheer revulsion, Charles stared into Kevin's grossly repulsive face at nose-to-nose range. The rank breath and stubbled face froze the breath in his lungs. A little bit of drool ran from the slobbering maw and Charles totally freaked out.

     "Eeeeeeeeeeee!" Screaming like a girl, Charles catapulted himself away and then wildly clawed his way out of the blankets, gibbering and knocking over the nightstand.

     Kevin, in mid nightmare, bolted up to see his Babe clawing at the blankets and projectile vomiting on the floor. "Ugh!" He got up and hurriedly slipped into his pants. "What's the matter, Babe? You're not on the team."

     "Get the hell away from me!" Charles' eye lit on a softball bat in the corner. He snatched it up, moving so fast that he blurred.


     "Got you now, you faggot!" Charles swung murderously hard but over balanced and fell, missing when Kevin belatedly dodged. He felt curiously weak in the arms and he was trembling from the intense adrenaline rush. Springing to his feet, he advanced on Thompson, premeditating homicide. "You're dead you homo!"

     Kevin stared, then ducked as the bat whistled over his head, brushing his hair. That one would have split his skull like a melon.

     "Homo?" How did she find out about that? "But Babe, how was I supposed to know? I swear! I didn't know Yolanda was a transsexual! I was really drunk, and she-he, whatever, looked just like this really hot woman and- GOD! Aaaaaaaaaah! SHIT!" The bat had finally connected with his upper arm, nearly breaking it.

     "Who the hell are you callin' Babe, you queer?" Charles decided to feint right, then pulp the thick skull. He'd tried before, but he just couldn't catch his balance. He'd also noticed how oddly high his voice was. "You drugged me, you fairy! Oh, God. Not Lura! It was you!" He started heaving again, desperately trying not to faint with horror, remembering the narcotic smoke in his room. It must have some severe aftereffects.

     Kevin finally came to the correct conclusion that she was really going to kill him if he hung around. She was glaring at him with murder in her crazy, crazy eyes. "I'll see ya 'round when ya get all better, Babe!" he grabbed his shoulder pads and made a rolling dive out of the bedroom door, the swish of the bat fanning the air right behind his head. Running like a quarterback should, he dodged around obstacles and right out of the Taylor front door, making a clean getaway, raising his arms to accept the accolades of the imaginary crowd.

     "Die!" Heaving with an adrenaline overdose, Charles flung the bat after him, braining Kevin and knocking him out cold in the driveway.

     Charles thought about going out to finish the job, but felt the breeze on his unclothed body and turned instead, shuddering, back into the house. First, he had to find out what the hell was wrong with him, then find his clothes.

     Grimacing at the vomit taste in his mouth, he saw a bathroom and went in to rinse. Vaguely, he wondered where he was. He needed to find some clothes and get away.

     Charles filled up a paper cup from a handy dispenser, raised it to his mouth, water sloshing out from his trembling hands and halted in even greater shock.

     A naked Brittany stared at him from the large bathroom mirror, with liquid, horror-stricken eyes. He took one unbelieving look downward and then crumpled into an unconscious heap.

     Brittany stirred and reached for Kevvie, but he wasn't there. That was funny, she usually had to wake him up to get him out before the maid arrived to clean. She didn't need gossip getting back to Ashley. Ashley hated Kevvie because he reminded her of all of her ex-boyfriends.

     Reaching again, she sighed and stretched luxuriously. She'd dreamed that he'd woken her last night. He'd said that he wanted her body. Surprised that he would bother to ask, she'd agreed and then...

     Shivering, she opened her eyes and frowned at the strange ceiling. "Kevvie?"

     She felt very strange. Sitting up, she looked around. The room was large and unfamiliar. There were a few model planes hanging from the ceiling and an impressive collection of computers sitting on a long table against one wall. Bookshelves and posters of supermodels, some autographed, covered the walls. Motocross trophies and motorcycle helmets filled several shelves. An oscilloscope was running a strange pattern and a twisted looking bottle sat on top of a TV set in the corner. She'd been here before, during the science project...

     "Oh, God! I'm in Upchuck's bedroom!" The voice shocked her. What had she done to her throat?

     She threw the covers off and looked down, freezing. That was certainly new. "Oh no! I'm a man!"

     Like a person in a dream, she got up. "But... this can't be real." Looking in the bathroom mirror, she giggled, touching her face, then spent some time investigating some of her other unexpected features.

     "I'm Upchuck! God, he's hung like a horse! What a dream!" Investigating further, she started laughing at the weirdness of it all. "This is so wild!"

     Freshly showered and dressed, suppressing a crawling panic, Brittany started Upchuck's car and drove home. She'd never had such a realistic dream before, or driven home from one.

     Charles woke from his swoon to someone roughly prodding him.

     "Get up! Are you Upchuck?"

     He opened his eyes, inches away from his own face. "Gah! Gaaaaa! Wha! Woah! AAAAAAAAA-"

     Brittany slapped him. "Snap out of it! What did you do to me? Why is my room trashed?"

     "Where did Lura go? But you look like- Who are you? Who..." He put it together. He was in Brittany's body, so... "Oh. Brittany."

     "Yes, Brittany." Her face hardened. "What have you done to me, pervert?"

     "Nothing. Uh, it was Kevin." He shuddered, climbing to his feet. "I thought he was trying to... you know."

     Brittany laughed, having had time to work things out while staring at her unconscious body. "He did, you know. A lot. And you have a lot of pills, including a birth control pill to take now, Upchuck. Honestly, men have it so easy."

     Charles gagged, doubled over and tried to vomit again but there was just nothing left.

     "Ugh! Quit living up to your name. Clean all that up, wash, and then get dressed." She slapped him hard on the butt. "Move it, Upchuck! You can tell me what this is as you go. The maid will be here in half an hour. We need to figure out how to undo it. Summer school starts next Monday and I've got to be ready for class."

     "Ahh! Not so hard!" He scrambled to comply. "You're in summer school? Ugh, my head. I feel like I'm in a fog."

     "It's the pills. I take a whole bunch of 'em." Brittany looked into the mirror and marveled. Her mind was as sharp as a razor.

     "Why?" Charles looked at a pill bottle label, then set it down. "I uh... don't need this. I have a damn good reason to be depressed." He shook his head. "How... can you live all... drugged up like this? I feel like my head is just... gonna float away."

     Brittany shrugged. "I've always taken pills. Mom and dad made me start after I ran away."

     Her clear head was letting her think deeply, and it wasn't comforting at all. Steve and Vivian were terrible parents. As a child, she had been every bit as wildly rebellious as her brother Brian. Steve had dealt ruthlessly with the problem. Repeated visits to Dr. Petch had been the answer. She had been considered uncontrollable, so they'd just drugged her into a stupor. To the trauma of suddenly finding herself in the wrong body was added the trauma of realization. She had been terribly abused and much diminished by her involuntary drug regime.

     Twenty minutes later, after a terrible interlude spent explaining Lura's three wishes and learning the horrible truth about certain aspects of female hygiene, Charles was staring at a bra, attempting to bring his drug sodden cognitive functions to bear on the task at hand. "How... how the fuck do you put this thing on?"

     She slapped him again. Now that all of this was getting more and more real, it really pissed her off. "Don't you curse with my mouth. It's not hard, just like this. Hurry up."

     He awkwardly put on the bra, suppressing tears. He didn't understand it. He'd wrecked a dirt bike beyond salvage once and never shed a tear as they carried him off on a stretcher, covered in cactus spikes.

     She slapped a hand away from a breast. "Hands off of those, Upchuck."

     He flushed. "Sorry."

     She shrugged. "So, all you have to do is use a wish to turn us back?"

     He nodded. "Unless I'm totally crazy, in which case none of this is real."

     She punched him in the shoulder. "Now do you think you're real?"

     "Ahh! Quit that! You're not a girl any more. That hurts!" Groggy, humiliated and unable to control his emotions, Charles felt tears start to flow.

     "I am too a girl!" She looked at him in disgust. "Quit crying. All you do is cry, like a big baby. I'm the one that should be crying. I'm stuck in your worthless body, after all."

     Charles swallowed, and with great effort, pulled himself together. He wiped at his eyes, smearing makeup all over his face.

     "Idiot! Now you'll have to do the makeup all over again." Brittany felt a white-hot rage crawl across her consciousness and stamped. She blinked in surprise when the floor shook.

     "Ooooh! this is all your fault, Upchuck, and you are going to pay. I swear, if you're not dressed in ten seconds, it's really going to hurt."

     Charles got control and rapidly dressed.

     Brittany walked around him like a drill sergeant as he dressed himself to her specifications. "God, I'm hot. I never realized just how good I looked, before." She reached out and grabbed a handful, admiring the firmness.

     "Quit that." Charles shuddered.

     "You really think... Don't be so stupid." She looked at herself in the mirror. "This body isn't really that bad though, just kind of skinny and weak. How come you don't pump it up more? You're like, tall enough to be on the team, now. You even have some muscles. I'll bet that this body could be a QB, with some work." She didn't mention the body's other outstanding feature.

     "I, uh, work out a little in our weight room at home. But only for the ladies. I tried out as a freshman, but I was too clumsy. I just didn't like getting tackled. I like motocross better than football anyway." Charles finally got the skirt on straight.

     "Motocross? That's just riding around in circles. Football is war, all strategy and tactics. It's fun!" She frowned, and then narrowed her eyes. "If I was a man, I'd be the QB."

     Charles snapped out of the vegetative state that he kept drifting into and pulled himself together. "If I was a man, I'd be at home, wishing that I could get my hands on these. Don't get any ideas, Brittany. I don't want my body getting tackled by guys. I could get hurt." He finished dressing.

     She laughed, bitterly. "It's my body as long as I'm the one wearing it. They both are. Besides, I saw the trophies in your room. Do you really think that football is more dangerous than motorcycle racing? I hope you don't have any races coming up soon." She handed him the rabbit bag.

     Grimacing in distaste, he took it. "My dad saw me bite the dirt in a race last month and made me quit. Why do you carry this stupid thing?"

     "Because it's cute. I'm cute. And I'm gonna stay cute. Now move it, girl." Brittany roughly prodded him forward.

     "Don't call me girl." He stomped gracelessly out of the room, ahead of her, flinching when she moved too fast. "Jesus, what kind of shoes... Where are your parents?"

     Brittany shrugged. "Gone somewhere. My brother's with mom. Where are yours?"

     "My mom's dead. My dad's in Russia. He won't be back until October." Charles frowned as an unaccustomed wave of sadness hit, threatening to overwhelm him. "This stuff you take really..." He trailed off, losing his train of thought.

     "Lura, come out! Out, out, out, out, out!" Charles had the bottle's bejeweled stopper wedged into the jaws of a vice. He and Brittany were pulling as hard as they could on the slender neck.

     "It's stuck!" Brittany was flushed and furious. "Back the car in! We'll use that tow chain to get this thing open."

     "Good idea." Charles sidled away. She was really scary.

     He opened the garage door and backed the Audi in, while she tied a tow chain around the bottle. A minute later the vice, part of the bench that it was bolted to, part of the wall and the undamaged bottle were all on the garage floor.

     "Uh-oh. My dad's gonna kill me." Charles angrily suppressed tears. Why the hell was he crying all the time?

     "I'm gonna kill you." Brittany unclamped the bottle and started pounding it against the steel vice, ringing it like a bell. "Open up, you stupid thing! Open-open-open!" She was out of control.

     "Stop it! What if you break it and she just disa-" Charles never saw it coming when she backhanded him straight into blackness.

     "Uhhh." He woke, then sat up, astonished. "What happened?" He looked down and groaned. It wasn't a dream. The side of his head ached.

     Brittany stared at him, stonily. "I hit you," she growled. She was so angry that she could barely breath. Only the fact that he was wearing her form kept her from caving his head in with the bottle.

     Charles felt the side of his head. "Owww." He sniffled and to his utter humiliation, burst into tears. The drugs made his emotions surge, uncontrollably. "H- Hitting your own body won't help anything." He saw her eyes and uneasily backed up, crabwise, climbing to his feet.

     She stalked forward and grabbed his hair, forcing him back down onto his knees. "As long as I don't leave any visible marks, I can do whatever I want."

     Charles just hung there, afraid to move or talk. She was bigger and much stronger.

     "You can call the cops, of course." She smiled. "I'll admit everything and more. I'll confess to every crime I hear about. When we switch back, you'll be the one in trouble."

     "I'm sorry," he whined. "I didn't do it on purpose. I didn't wish to switch bodies. All I wished was that I understood women, I think. Can't we just work this out?"

     He flinched as she tensed, her eyes filled with wild rage.

     "Please! You have to control yourself. The body's doing this to you. Getting mad is too easy. It didn't matter so much when you were a girl, but if you lose it and hit someone now, you will go to jail." Charles swallowed, hunched down and covered his face, hoping that an obvious show of submission would mollify her.

     "No, you will. But I don't have to hit anyone else. I can hit you whenever I want, Babe." Contemptuously, she shoved him away.

     "What?" He sprawled on hands and knees, then cautiously backed away.

     "I mean that I'm not spending my life as some loser. You're going to help me." She stalked out of the garage, carrying the bottle. "Come on. Hurry up, stupid!"

     Cautiously, he trailed after her, cursing the body's emotional reaction to pain and wiping away fresh tears.

     Putting the bottle back on the TV, Brittany lounged back on the bed. "I don't know how long this could last, but this is how it's going to be, mister. You keep going out with Kevvie this summer to maintain my popularity. I buff up and start coming to the parties. I'm going out for football next year. When I make the team, I'll become QB. You'll drop Kevvie and start going with me. That way when we switch back, I won't lose a thing." Brittany, in deep denial, was desperately trying to think of a way to maintain her place in the world.

     "I'm not going out with any guy." Charles shuddered. "Especially not with Thompson." He just wanted to curl up into a ball, roll under his bed and scream until it all went away.

     Quick as a flash, she had him on the bed, Both arms pinned over his head and a knee between his legs, glaring into his eyes. "Look, Upchuck, you freak, you'll do what I tell you, when I tell you and with whoever I tell you. That's my body and my life that you stole with your stupid magical bottle. I own it and I own you while you're in it." She slapped him several times, to emphasize her words.

     After a futile struggle, Charles swallowed, staring up into his own eyes, wondering if he'd always looked so harshly predatory to the women he hit on. No wonder they always shot him down.

     The thought firmed up his resolve. That body wasn't so tough. It had taken no for an answer, plenty of times. Scraping up all of his bravado and mustering his small store of courage, he put on a confident front. Whatever happened, she wouldn't risk permanently hurting her own body.

     He cleared his throat and quavered, "No way, toots. I'm strictly a ladies man."

     Her mouth dropped open and her eyes ignited with homicidal fury. "Toots?" She was panting with rage. "You dare to call me toots, after what you've done to me?"

     He closed his eyes in abject terror. He'd glimpsed something in her eyes, an odd expression, something that he'd never seen before. She was really going to murder him.

     Brittany paused, feeling an unwelcome pang of respect. He was as white as a sheet and shaking like a leaf with his eyes clenched shut, but as frightened as he was, he clearly wasn't going to budge.

     "You're not thinking of making me into a lesbian, are you?" Brittany sneered, letting him up. What did he call her back in seventh grade? "Are you, Lambchop?" She backed off, before he soiled himself.

     Charles peeked at her, then opened his eyes, "Don't call me Lambchop!"

     He got his shuddering under control and cringed away from her, crab-walking off of the bed. "I'm not thinking anything except to get back where I belong. Especially not sex."

     He just felt nauseous. "I hate this. How can you think or do anything through this... fog?" He started weeping and edged toward the door. Brittany was looking at him with that weird gleam again.

     She moved to cut him off. "I don't know. When the medication wears off you'll start freaking out even worse, though." She grinned. It was terrible, but he was finally going to get what was coming to him. She looked him up and down, leering theatrically. "Hey, speaking of fog, how many hours a day do you usually think about sex, Lambchop?"

     "Dammit! My name's not Lambchop! And I usually think about sex if I'm awake." He shuddered and wiped at his tears. "God, my head. I hate this! Quit looking at me!"

     "What else can I call you?" Brittany frowned, looking away. She suddenly felt dreadfully guilty. She'd really enjoyed beating and terrorizing him and that just wasn't right. It wasn't really his fault. The thing in the bottle had gotten them both. Brittany looked back at him, with a tiny bit of concern. He was getting sick from withdrawal, almost unable to function. If he followed the pattern, he'd soon be a sobbing ball of nausea.

     Charles pulled a tee shirt from the floor by the bed and wiped his face off with it. "I'm sorry that this happened." He put the shirt over his mouth, fighting the dry heaves.

     She frowned and pushed a garbage can over to him. "I can't call you Upchuck anymore, in public. If we tell anyone, they'll just take the bottle away for themselves. No one else would waste a wish changing us back. Not when they could live forever, or get rich."

     Charles nodded. "Whatever," he said, tiredly.

     Brittany smiled, unpleasantly, and got some revenge. "What about Britty? Britty's your new public name. I really hated being called Britty Britty Big Tittys, but you don't mind, do you, Lambchop?"

     Charles swallowed. He'd gone through a period of retaliating in kind for his awful nickname. Clearly Brittany hadn't forgotten who had come up with some of hers.

     "I don't care." He looked as unconcerned as possible, trying to rob her of her petty victory.

     Brittany smiled, maliciously. "Good! So, Britty Tits, what are we going to call me?"

     A few choice names came to mind, but today just wasn't a good day to die. He thought about it. "How about Charlie?" He hated that name. It was what his father called him.

     She nodded. "It's better than Upchuck."

     He shrugged, unconvinced. Upchuck might be bad, but he had become inured to it. At least it was real. Charles was his father's name. He'd earned the name Upchuck and unlike the one that he'd been stuck with, it meant something.

     He grimaced. "Charlie and Britty. Ugh. I'm hungry."

     She narrowed her eyes, playfully. "For what, Lambchop?"

     He almost threw up again. "For food, Britty."

     "Charlie." She gave him a warning look that silenced his sarcastic retort and made him look away. Brittany was getting back at him, while she could.

     Daria Morgendorffer sat at the intersection and swallowed. Traffic was moving so fast. Didn't they know how dangerous it was? She looked up at the light, saw it turn green, and sat.

     "Hey, the light's green." Jane looked at her, curiously. Daria hated driving.

     "Just a second." Daria sighed, impatiently.

     An IROC Mustang screamed through the intersection, an unmarked police car in hot pursuit, narrowly missing the nose of a Buick that had tried to go around Daria.

     Daria pulled out, shooting the driver of the Buick a scathing glare. "He would have been dead if we'd just gone."

     Jane looked at her and swallowed. "How did you know?"

     Daria smiled, slightly. "I heard the siren. Having poor eyesight, and a sibling that doesn't torture guitars for fun and profit ensures that my sense of hearing is a little bit above average."

     Jane looked at her thoughtfully. It was true that blind people had better hearing, and it was true Daria was very close to blind without her glasses. But for the life of her, Jane couldn't remember a siren.

     "Daria, you're really spooky sometimes." She looked at her erstwhile friend in a sidelong fashion.

     Daria nodded, her eyes on the road. "Everyone says that to me, eventually."

     Jane hunched her shoulders. "I didn't mean-"

     "Nothing to do with Tom." Daria looked at her friend and sniffled.

     Jane smiled, in a hurt way. "Eyes on the road, Daria. We wouldn't want to damage the precious Tank."

     Daria swallowed. "If you want to drive-"

     "I'm not insured." Jane knew that Daria's license was insured. Any car that she drove was covered.

     Daria glanced back at the sleeping musician in irritation. "How about sleeping beauty?"

     "Too dangerous. They we're up all night after their gig." Jane smiled fondly at her comatose brother. "Believe me, Daria, you don't want Trent driving when he's tired." Jane glanced at Daria, then looked back at the snoring heap that was her brother and sighed. She wished that Trent could have driven her to the art colony, but in spite of her anger at Daria, she needed a ride.

     "Will you ever forgive me?" Daria said it in a small voice. "I would rather have you as a friend than Tom as a boyfriend, Jane. I wish that he'd never met either one of us."

     "Don't," said Jane, coldly. "I said that you can have the son of a bitch. Don't press me on this right now, Daria."

     Daria nodded, hunching her shoulders and looking unbearably sad.

     Jane looked over, rolled her eyes and sighed. "Lighten up, Daria. We're friends. It'll be okay. Just ixnay onea Omtay for a while."

     Behind them, Trent opened one eye slightly and smiled. It was hard feigning sleep when he'd already slept almost eighteen hours, but Jane needed to talk to Daria.

     Daria looked at Jane gratefully and smiled. "Thanks."

     "Yeah, yeah." Jane waved it off. "So, are you going to be ready to party tonight?"

     "Me?" Daria wrinkled her brow. "That reminds me, guests of the band or not, just how are we going to get into this place? It's a bar, Jane. We're under twenty-one."

     Jane smiled and handed her a Florida driver's license.

     "Daria Lane? Age twenty one?" Daria looked at her, equally impressed and irritated. "You promised, Jane."

     Jane smirked. "Just a little joke, Daria. You needed a name that you could spell and remember. Forgery is an artist's bread and butter."

     "Huh. What's your new name, outlaw?" Daria smirked back at her friend, relieved that they were starting to get along better.

     "Jane Dillinger." Jane smiled. "I'll never forget that."

     "It hurts... ithurtsithurtsithurts. Oh, God, I'm going to be sick again." A near-naked Charles just made it to a bathroom. He'd managed to puke on nearly every item of clothing that Brittany owned, much to her disgust. In the interest of cleanliness, he'd just dispensed with everything but panties. Modesty didn't make much sense, given the circumstances.

     "You need to take your pills, Lambchop. You'll just keep getting sicker if you don't." Brittany came in, concerned. He wasn't really doing any better. It had been days, and he was sicker than ever. She was worried that he might die. What would happen to her if he died? He was so pale...

     "No pills... sweat it out." He groaned, then collapsed on the bathroom rug, delirious and shaking.

     Brittany caught him right before he cracked his skull on the bathtub. "I ought to just shove them down your stupid throat, you stupid... Rutheimer."

     "No!" Charles thrashed in her arms. He was determined to get the fog out of his head. He couldn't think and he hated it.

     "God! Don't get it on me!" Brittany turned on the shower, hoisted him into the tub and washed him again. Drying him, she carried him back to the bed, laid him on the plastic sheet and emptied the vomit from the wastebasket next to the bed. Then she got a damp rag and sat next to him, patting the sweat from his forehead as he fought the addiction.

     Charles sat in summer school. He was still feeling very woozy from withdrawal symptoms, but the hard part was over. Brittany had been taking such a cocktail of psychotropic drugs for her supposed behavioral problems that he was surprised and impressed that she had been able to function at all.

     "Alright." The teacher, a temp named Lacrosse, looked around at the apathetic boneheads and chalked up an equation. It was time to make an example. "Who can come up here and factor this for me? He picked the ravishing blonde, who wasn't paying the least bit of attention. Maybe he could interest her in some one on one tutoring over some wine coolers tonight.


     Everyone looked at Brittany, smiling in anticipation. Doris tittered.

     Charles was still feeling pretty bad. He was also preoccupied with his problems and didn't respond.

     "Brittany?" Lacrosse frowned. Was she on something? Cool!

     Doris reached out and poked her. "Like, that guy wants you to go up and do the math problem."

     "What? Oh." Charles walked up and stared at the board.

     "Problem?" Lacrosse grinned as the class tittered.

     Charles shot him a contemptuous look. "No chalk, Lacrosse."

     "Oh, excuse me." Sarcastically, he handed her the chalk. Bitch, he thought.

     Charles rapidly wrote down the answer, omitting any written steps. He was good at math. He'd also picked up on Lacrosse's attitude. He already noticed how hostile men got when he acted naturally. A pretty blond cheerleader with a man's attitude provoked fear and hostility among most men. It helped to explain Brittany's deeply ingrained helpless act.

     "You want to tell me how you got that answer?" Lacrosse suspected that she had a calculator back at her desk.

     "It's just a trinomial." Charles rapidly diagrammed the steps.

     "Uh, huh." Lacrosse stared into her cold, agate-hard eyes and suppressed a shiver. There was no hint of femininity there. None whatsoever." Thank you, Ms. Taylor. Please sit down."

     "Like, how did you do that." Doris was awed.

     "Like, I read the chapter and did the practice problems," mocked Charles. Three or four years ago, he thought. He shook his head. Better not to think of what would happen to his academic standing if she ended up taking his place during senior year. He shuddered.

     Brittany, clad in Charles's gym clothes, furiously worked out on the Universal gym in the Ruttheimer weight room. It was an impressive place, easily as good as the one at LHS. She felt the burn in all of her muscles. She was bulking up at an incredible rate. Somehow, she was even growing taller. Every day she measured herself and found that the body had grown another quarter inch.

     Charles guessed that it was a byproduct of the magic, but Brittany was elated. She was already taller than Kevvie, and soon she would be taller than Mack. Maybe she could even go pro after college, if she got stuck this way.

     It was good to be free of the medication, to be able to think and speak clearly. Charles had shocked her with his sheer willpower, quitting the way he had. She was ashamed of herself for not trying. Deep down, she realized that she just didn't have it in her.

     Charles was really kind of impressive. He did an amazing amount of business over the internet, selling collectibles and hard to find electronic equipment. He'd been blindsided by his usual suppliers and business contacts outright refusal to do business with a woman.

     It had shocked Brittany to see such blatant discrimination, but she had agreed to do the talking, in exchange for half of the profit. He had been coaching her in the art of the deal, while she taught him to pass as a girl.

     Flexing her muscles, she smiled. When they switched, he would be getting a tremendous bargain, but so would she, in the form of a drug free body. After watching him eat though, she knew that her body would be lucky to be anywhere near what it should be when he was done with it.

     Grimacing, she decided that he was going to have to start her exercises before he got too far out of shape. He'd probably snivel and whine all day about that, too. She could teach him cheerleading, aerobics and yoga, to start.

     Quinn sat staring at David. He wasn't a hunk, but he had something. What was it?

     David looked up from his reading and saw her staring again. He swallowed. She was just so incredibly cute. Firming his resolve, he rebuked her for not paying attention to her work. She was only seventeen. He had to stay professional, no matter what.

     Avoiding her hurt eyes, he told himself that he would just get hurt if he weakened. She would totally own him in seconds, and shallow girls like Quinn weren't known for their gentleness when it came to breaking hearts.

     Charles was in the math lab, helping his friends. It was horribly ironic. He'd always wanted a lot of girlfriends and now he'd gotten his wish, in spades. He was really popular.

     "Okay, Dor. All you have to do is find the two numbers that are the factors of the last term and the sum or difference to the middle term." Charles looked into her face and felt a sinking sensation. She just didn't get it.

     "Uh-huh." She stared at the paper, blankly.

     Charles racked his brain. Why didn't she understand? "The middle term is two and the last term is fifteen. What are the factors of fifteen?"

     Doris looked at him, confused. "Ten and five?"

     He smiled. He could see what her problem was, now. "Factors are the roots of a number. Like the factors of six are six and one or three and two. What you did was a sum. Want to try again?"

     Doris clapped her palms together and squealed. "Oh! Numbers multiplied together to make the last term! Three and five?"

     "Great! And to get the middle term..."

     "I see! If you subtract it, it's two!" She smiled at him. "God, Brittany, you're really smart."

     "Yeah, well, don't let it get around." He smiled back and winked at her, hoping that it wouldn't hurt Brittany's social standing with her regular friends. Turning away from her, he came face to face with a shocked looking DeMartino.

     He swallowed and walked past the staring man. "Hiya, Mr. D."

     "Brittany?" DeMartino goggled in amazement.

     "You'd think so, wouldn't you? But then, it's turning out to be one hell of a strange old world. See ya 'round, Mr. D." Charles picked up his books and left, grinning.

     Kevin was waiting in the parking lot. His new girlfriend had gone on a trip with her family and he hadn't gotten laid in days. He smirked when Brittany came out. She was looking good.

     Kevin walked up to her, strutting, anticipating a long night of making up. "Hey, Babe!"

     "Shit!" Charles recoiled like he'd been slapped. "Don't call me that! What do you want, you stupid-" Charles, with great effort, swallowed his hate. Kevin was so big. "Thompson?"

     Kevin shifted from foot to foot, a little stunned. "I just want to like, give you a ride home and... you know, see you."

     "I don't want a ride home from you." Charles blanched in horror. He sounded just like Brittany.

     Kevin smiled. He'd been through this a hundred times, and it always ended up in bed. "Aww, Babe."

     "Aww, drop dead. Go find Yolanda, your nice transsexual friend." He turned on his heel and walked toward Brittany's Miata, nose in the air, unaware of the parody of feminine outrage that he was carrying off.

     "Don't talk about that!" Kevin looked terrified as he followed. How had she found out? "It wasn't my fault! What am I suppose to do, check them all for a...?"

     Charles stopped, turned at his car door and laughed. "I don't care what you do, Lothario. Haven't you ever heard of the Adam's apple? My advice is to give them a drink and then watch the throat when they swallow."

     "Huh? Who's this Lot Harry-o guy?" Kevin wondered what she was talking about.

     "Look it up, dumbass." He got into the car and pulled away.

     Kevin shrugged, dismissing her. To hell with that crazy bitch anyway. He was the QB!

     Kevin turned toward his jeep and paused. "Hey, Lela! Wanna come to the beach with me?" Her rack wasn't up to his usual standard, but she had a nice ass.

     Lela had been watching the whole thing. "Ewww. No!"

     Brittany sat in the easy chair and watched a rerun of Melrose Place. She sighed disconsolately, bored almost to tears. A functioning brain could be a real burden.

     In the weeks following the catastrophe, Both Brittany and Charles had been staying at the Ruttheimer house from necessity. At first, she had been forced to nurse him through the withdrawal symptoms, then she had been forced to watch over him during the terrible period of depression that had followed.

     Brittany idly flipped through the channels and thought about the harrowing time that she'd had just keeping him alive. Charles had fallen into a spiral that she was sure would have led to suicide if she hadn't been there watching him.

     She wondered if it was just the addiction dragging him down, because she felt fine. A sex change was something that she could take in stride, after a few angry days.

     Frowning, she paused on a war documentary. Maybe that was it. Charles just didn't get mad the way that she did. Of course, Charles had lived a much easier life than she ever had. He just wasn't as tough as she was, mentally. She knew how ho cope with trouble. He'd reacted to the disaster by folding up.

     Brittany turned off the TV and stared out of the window. Being stuck with someone who was falling apart hadn't exactly been easy on her, but there had been some good times, too. Without the constant crude sexism, Charles was had occasionally proven to be pleasant person to be around. She'd never just talked to anyone like that, before, with no agenda or purpose.

     Mercifully, the doorbell rang.

     She opened the door to a punch in the face.

     When Brittany's vision cleared, a type that she immediately identified as geek, subspecies computer, stood over her.

     "You dirty rotten bastard!" He glared at her, furiously.

     Brittany sprang up, shock and murderous fury vying for dominance. "Who the hell are you and what are you doing?"

     He sneered at her. "I'm Mills Dorn. Lucy's brother."

     Brittany stared back without comprehension. "Lucy?"

     Mills flipped. "I'm gonna kill you!"

     Brittany saw a boot looming large and grabbed it. A quick pull, twist and shove had her kneeling on her assailant's back. She grabbed his hair and began slamming his face into the walkway. "Why (slam) are (slam) you (slam) doing (slam) this?"

     "Urgh! You knocked up my sister!" Dazed, he struggled weakly in her iron grip.

     Brittany let go and sprang to her feet in shock. "Oh, no!"

     "Oh, yes." He rolled over, scuttled away, lurched to his feet and glared. "She's only fifteen! She says that you drugged her!"

     "Me!" Brittany stepped back. "He- I wouldn't do something like that!"

     Mills lurched, spat blood and sneered, "She says it was you."

     Brittany shook her head. "NO!"

     "You shit!" Mills spun on his heel and staggered away. "Let's see what the cops say!"

     "Whatever. I didn't do it." She watched him go, heart pounding. "Oh, Upchuck. What have you gotten me in to?" She had to get out for a while. Looking in the mirror by the door made her feel ill.

     Charles pulled Brittany's Miata up to the gas station and got out, to fill the tank. To late, he noticed that there were five rough looking men all getting out of a van in the next fueling lane. They were all staring at him. Flushing, he started looking around, trying to locate the gas cap.

     "Need some help, sweets?" The biggest of the bunch was grinning at him, next to the pump.

     "No, I, uh, got it." Charles suddenly felt very uncomfortable. He went back inside the car to release the door flap that concealed the gas cap. When he got out, the man, a beefy red haired guy of about twenty-five, was standing there in his way, grinning at him. Charles bristled.

     "Hey there, honey. Want me to put the nozzle in, for you?" He ground his hips suggestively, his rank breath blasting beer fumes all over a revolted Charles.

     Charles flushed. "No." He reached for the pump, but he was blocked.

     "Come on, sweet thing. Why you so stuck up? You like to handle nozzles? Let me pump you." His hand brushed across Charles's butt.

     "Stop it!" Charles scowled, whirling. This was intolerable.

     "Oh, so you're a dyke! Don't worry, we can cure you." He laughed with his friends, who were gathering around.

     Charles looked at them and felt a sudden sick terror. They were like a pack of dogs and he was wearing a cat's body. This wasn't good. The van's side door was open. They could have him in there in a second. He slowly backed toward his car door, whirled, and ran into another man from the same group.

     The roughneck grabbed the apparent girl around the waist, lifting her feet off of the ground. "What's a matter, Sweets? Couldn't stay away? You can enter my personal space, anytime."

     Charles flushed. He'd used that one, himself. Hell, he'd used them all. He beat his fists ineffectually against the man's shoulders. "Just let me by!"

     "Sure!" He laughed, hands running up and down the girl's body. "Give us a kiss first, dollface." He grabbed the blonde's hair, rammed his knee up between her legs, pinned her up against the side of the van and kissed her, forcing his tongue into her mouth.

     At first, Charles was paralyzed. Then he savagely bit down on the invading tongue, just as hard as he could.

     The man yowled and threw the girl off, spitting blood.

     Spitting, gasping and wiping his mouth, Charles darted past the laughing men and pelted into the convenience store, waiting there with a pounding heart, until they'd left. The defective-looking clerk just stared at him all the time, with reptilian, lust filled eyes. He left low on gas, feeling hunted.

     Charles pulled up in front of his house, still badly frightened. Trembling, he rested his head on the wheel, then wiped his eyes. Checking his face in the mirror, he took a careful look around before getting out of the car.

     Brittany was asleep on the couch when he came in. He took a long, unbelieving look, then shook her awake.

     "What the h-" He remembered that she didn't approve of cursing.

     "What have you done?" His body was dressed all in black, black jeans, a black tank top and black paratrooper boots. A faded, armless Levi jacket was flung across the back of the couch. But worse than anything was his hair. He had a bristly punk stubble in front with a longer fan of purple hair running down the back. The nose and earrings didn't help either.

     "Tell me you didn't get any tattoos. My dad's gonna totally freak."

     Brittany woke up and looked at him for a minute, without recognition. Then she sat up. "You!"

     "Yeah." He sat down with a sigh. "M- me."

     "Do you know Lucy Dorn?" Brittany was frowning at him. He was trembling, and his face was red. Was that a slap mark on his skin? How did he tear the skirt?

     "Lucy? Yeah. I met her at a party." He shrugged. "She's just a kid."

     Brittany felt her anger recede. She could read him like a book and there was no guilt on his face. He wasn't concerned about Lucy. "How well, Lambchop?"

     "Will you please quit calling me that? We talked for a few minutes, then she went off with some guy." He swallowed and tried to get his mind off of the gas station.

     Brittany relaxed. "Her brother Mills came over, accusing you of giving her ecstasy and knocking her up." Brittany looked cocky. "I had to beat him up."

     "What! I didn't do it, but I think I know who did. It was that guy, Marvin Block, from the Oakwood track team." He frowned, feeling an enormous upwelling of sympathy for the poor girl. Men were just pigs, only interested in one thing.

     "Huh. Well, she's telling people that it was you." Brittany felt a lot better. She got up and hung up her jacket. "We'd better do something about this."

     Charles shrugged. "What? You could call her, but then it's her word against yours. She was so wasted that I'm surprised that she remembers me at all. We'll just have to wait for a DNA test."

     Brittany shook her head. "I'll call Mills and tell him your story. Maybe he'll look into it." She looked at the clock. "You need to be ready to go to my house, tonight. Daddy should be calling at eight."

     "Ugh." Charles wasn't exactly looking forward to that conversation. "I, uh, need my keys."

     "What? You can't drive your car. What would people think, seeing me driving your car around?" She stared at him, suspiciously. Something wasn't right.

     "The Miata's really low on gas." Charles looked up at her, then sullenly averted his eyes.

     "Well, get some gas then!" She shook her head in exasperation.

     "I guess I could." He licked his lips, then swallowed, fear plain on his face.

     She stared at him for a minute and he looked away, flushing.

     "What's the matter?" She walked over to him, looking closely, noticing a red mark on his face. He'd been hit. She felt a gust of rage, but hid it.

     "N-nothing. It was just some guys at the gas station. I'll get going now." The humiliation was so intense that he felt faint. He quickly made for the door.

     She grabbed his wrist, effortlessly spinning him around and stopping him. "Tell me everything that happened." It wasn't a request.

     Haltingly he explained, feeling alternately silly and terrified.

     Brittany just looked at him, pityingly. "You're totally defenseless, Lambchop. You've just got no idea of how to handle yourself in a man's world."

     Charles grimaced. "I am a man!" Yeah, right, he thought, despairingly

     Brittany cocked her head, evaluating his mood, a bit relieved to see that he had some backbone left. "Okay Mr. 'Man,' I'd better come along with you, then. We can work on teaching you some basic survival tactics tomorrow."

     Shamefaced, he couldn't help a sigh of relief. "Okay." He twisted away from her comforting arm, then with a sinking feeling of resignation, trailed along after her.

     "That's cute!" Brittany smiled. The low-pitched voice just couldn't do it right. "Now say it."

     "That's cute." Charles yawned. He was getting even with her for jeering at him over being afraid to go back to the gas station. He was grateful that she'd come, though. He would never have gone back alone. Seeing her rough up the clerk and get him fired had been very satisfying.

     "No, say it with enthusiasm! Honestly, you're worse than Daria." Brittany looked at the clock, anxiously. Her father would call soon and they couldn't avoid him anymore.

     "Daria?" Charles smirked. She'd finally picked up on his imitation.

     "Yeah. She can't do perky, either." Brittany sighed. "Look, all you have to do is speak in an ascending tone. Like a little kid. A stupid little kid."

     "But... why? It sounds so stupid! You don't even talk that way, anymore." Charles grinned. He was a natural mimic. Doing the bimbo version of Brittany was easy.

     Brittany grinned back. "Rrrrowl. That was good. Now we can move on to some... cheerleading moves. I bounce more, when I walk." Two could play at the imitation game.

     Charles smirked. Her imitation was terrible. "What a guy! I'm smitten. Tell me, if you can shave part of my head, get me pierced, change my whole style and spend my money freely, why do I have to look and act exactly like you did?"

     She grabbed his chin and twisted his head around to face her, suddenly a little bit angry. "Because you wished it, sweetie. Now grab those pompoms. If I see one ounce of fat on my butt, you're going to regret it."

     Luckily, the phone rang.

     "Britty! How's the house?" Steve Taylor sounded preoccupied.

     "Red." Charles flinched as Brittany poked him.

     "What?" Steve was puzzled. "Is my stuff alright?"

     Charles shrugged. He had no idea. "Everything's fine. A-ok, just like you left it."

     "A-ok? Are you taking your pills?" Steve felt that something was different.

     "Yes." Charles scowled, feeling sharp resentment. Steve Taylor been the one that had gotten Brittany addicted, after all. It'd taken him weeks to sweat it out. Now he was only taking vitamins.

     "Good! Be sure to set the alarm when you go out." The sound of laughter came through behind him. "I'm on Bob Merkle's yacht, off of Bimini!"

     Charles sat up, with interest. "Bob Merkle? The internet billionaire?"

     Steve was amazed that she knew who it was. "Yeah. This could mean a fortune!" Steve kept up a good front, but he was close to broke.

     "Well, good luck." Charles had amused himself by reading some of Steve's proposals. Taylor obviously had no real talent, relying on political connections and government contracts, instead.

     "If this comes off, we'll get you that nose job that you wanted!" Steve was elated. "We'll be rich!"

     "What?" Charles had an extreme aversion to surgery. "That's okay."

     Brittany poked him again.

     "W-ow!" Charles doubted it. According to the newsfeeds, Merkle's companies were folding up under the stress of unprofitability.

     "Thanks, Britty. Catch ya later!" Steve Taylor hung up.

     "You totally suck as an actress." Brittany shook her head in disgust.

     "Actor, goddamn it!" Charles narrowed his eyes at Brittany. "I totally suck as an actor. Why would you ever want a nose job? This nose is perfect."

     Brittany looked at his nose and shrugged. "I always thought that it was a little too big, but it looks really good, now."

     "I always said that you were the prettiest girl around, Brittany." Chares reached up and pinched her nose. "Just don't bob mine. I happen to think that it's very handsome."

     Brittany laughed, grabbed him by an arm and a leg and twirled him around, finally holding him over her head, shrieking and laughing, for an airplane ride. "Don't be so grabby, cheerleader-boy. Now what's it worth to you to get down?"

     Charles finally quit laughing. "I kind of like it up here. Feeling tired yet?" He yawned, then smirked down at her and pinched her nose again.

     Brittany smiled up at him. "You? What do you weigh, ten pounds? I could hold you up like that for a week." She started 'flying' him around the house, pretending to drop him.

     Charles started getting tired from holding his body rigid, so he tickled her until she put him down. Lighting gracefully on his feet, he pinched her nose and ran.

     Brittany bellowed and pounded after him, catching up to him at the hot tub.

     He stayed on the opposite side as she tried to catch him, using feints, sudden heroic leaps over it and reverses until a combination of giggling and dizziness caused him to miscalculate and be snared.

     Brittany lifted him back up and spun him, until he laughingly begged for her to stop. Then they sat on some deck chairs, drank tea and looked up at the stars.

     "Does he always call you to check up on his things?" Charles looked at her, sadly.

     Brittany shrugged, unperturbed. "They mean a lot to him."

     Charles sighed. "I'm sorry. My dad's exactly the same way. He travels around all the time on business and then comes home to check on his things and 'straighten me out.'"

     "He... just is like he is. I can't change anything so it's better to try and like it. I hated Ashley, then decided that she wasn't going to go. I had to accept her, or it'd mean another visit to the doctor." Brittany smiled, bitterly. "She's actually pretty nice. Mamma always told me to just keep smiling and everything will be fine."

     "Cause if you start cryin', you'll never stop." He smiled back. "I've been there, before." He looked startled. He wasn't feeling so bad anymore.

     They held each other's gaze for a beat to long, then they flushed, looking away. Charles reached over and held her hand, trying to convey his sorrow and solidarity.

     Jane was in a nightclub called Moogs, fifty miles away from home, looking for trouble. She'd blown off the art colony, after seeing what a bunch of crap it was. The only girl there that was even slightly nice had turned out to be predatory, bisexual and mean. Jane was just glad that she hadn't drunk much wine that night

     "Hey!" The guy that she had been dancing with all night, Mike, grinned at her. "Want to go for a ride?"

     Jane laughed. "No way, Buster."

     He scratched his head. "Well, how about if we just hang out till dawn, then?"

     Jane's jaw dropped. "Now that's a pretty bold proposition, Mikey."

     He shrugged, flushing. "I just meant for talking. It's just that you're so beautiful and all. After tonight, I'll never see you again. What the hell."

     Jane frowned. "Oh? Why do you say that?" She liked him and had planned to leave him her number.

     He smiled, excitedly. "This is my last chance for a road trip, Jane. Next year, it's straight to MIT for me, so I have to go now. It's going to be wild. I'm going to hit every big rock concert in the country, and visit as many states as I can!"

     Jane was at loose ends and loaded, having browbeaten a refund of her mother's excessive tuition out of the art colony. She looked at him and his wide, habitual smile decided things. "So tell me more, my excellent friend."

     Brittany sat at the Ruttheimer dining table and worked at a trig problem. "I just don't see why we need to know this stuff."

     Charles shrugged, absorbed in the pages of his Wall Street Journal. "Hm. It looks like the fed is cutting the prime rate. Hey! Oil supplies are stable! I wonder if we should get back into tech stocks?"

     "I mean, look at this. It's so useless." Brittany looked longingly at the door. "It's just so nice out."

     Charles made a note, then looked up and nodded. "It is, but we have less than a month left before school starts. I'm supposed to know this stuff already."

     Brittany gave a discontented sigh. It was easy enough, but it was still drudgery. She liked to be more physical. Her new body was finely tuned a machine that needed to be used. "God, I hate being a brain."

     Charles took pity. "Look, you aren't going to accomplish much today. Let's just get out of the house for awhile and regroup tomorrow." He'd have to adjust her study schedule, but she was significantly ahead of where he'd thought that she would be.

     Brittany brightened. "Yeah! How about the pool? I could use some sun."

     Charles shuddered. "No way, Brittany. It'll be a cold day in hell before I put on a swimsuit and appear in public."

     "But you'd look great in a bikini!" Brittany smiled when he flushed. "I understand, Lambchop. Hey! We could go out to Oakwood Park for a picnic, instead."

     "A picnic?" Charles shrugged. "Sure." He hadn't been on a picnic since... he'd never been on a picnic.

     Charles lounged on a blanket, reading his paper and scowling at all the guys that were ogling his flawless female body. "This totally sucks."

     Brittany laughed and finished her sandwich. "I guess it's all in how you look at it." She waved her arm, indicating the crowded park. "We've got the best spot in the park! Look at all the people!" She felt sorry for him. He was so self conscious that he was a near shut-in. Charles just had to get over his fear.

     Charles looked around. There were joggers, skaters and bicyclists on the paved walks, people playing with a Frisbee and about thirty guys, all staring at him with pole-axed expressions. He frowned when he noticed the looks Brittany was getting from the girls.

     "People. I hate people. Especially male people." Charles peeled a banana and delicately nibbled on it. He looked up and caught Brittany staring. "What's wrong?"

     "N- nothing." Brittany swallowed and looked away. "I got you a present."

     "Really?" Charles felt a rush of warmth. Brittany was being so nice lately.

     Brittany opened a gym bag. "It's my old skating outfit."

     "Skating?" Charles shuddered. "I'm a little underdressed for it. Besides, I don't know how." He'd been an idiot to go out in a tanktop and shorts, but it was just so hot out.

     "Don't worry, I'll teach you." Brittany hauled out a worn pair of inline skates and various pads. "You look great. I always dressed like that to skate." Pulling out a new set of skates, she began putting on her new pads.

     Charles rolled up his blanket, stood and then stretched, momentarily forgetting the unwelcome male attention that he was the center of. "Well, let's go try it, then." He was bored, just sitting around.

     Charles stood on the skates, wobbling uncomfortably, holding onto a low concrete wall. "I'm gonna fall."

     Brittany skated close behind him and wrapped her arms around him, from behind. "No you won't. I'll always be here to hold you up."

     Charles shrugged, leaning back trustingly. "Okay, then, here goes!" He pushed off and promptly lost control, vainly scuttling for his balance.

     Brittany picked him up by the waist so that his skates were off of the ground. "Calm down, Lambchop. I said that I have you."

     Charles relaxed and let her set him back on his feet. "Wow, you're really strong, Brittany." He leaned back into her again, feeling very safe. Skating wasn't half-bad.

     Brittany swelled with pride. "Thanks. Now push off with your right leg..."

     Jane looked at Mike and frowned. He just wasn't getting it. "I'll go get the room, you gas up the car, alright?"

     Mike nodded, worriedly. He'd planned to sleep in the back seat, and the motels were eating through his cash. Looking at Jane, he relaxed. Having her along had made it into the best time of his life. "I don't have much left, so make it a cheap one."

     Jane smiled at him. She still had a lot of money. "It's on me, this time."

     Mike pulled up to the Sleep Inn, parked and saw her waving at him from in front of a motel room. Getting his duffel bag and her suitcases, he trudged up the stairs.

     The door was propped open with her sketchbook. He entered, dumped the bags and then stopped. "Jane?"

     He heard the shower go on and swallowed. There was only one bed in the room. "Um, Jane?"

     She stuck her head out of the bathroom door. "What?"

     "There's only one bed." His mouth was dry.

     Jane smiled at him. "We've been traveling together for a month, Mike." She stepped out from behind the door, dripping on the floor. "Don't you think it's about time?"

     Mike stood paralyzed, eyes huge. "I... um, never really had a girlfriend before." He blushed scarlet, staring at her. "I'm ah, I'm a virgin."

     "Really?" Jane smiled wickedly and threw away a packet of condoms. "Good!"

     Jane woke and sat up. Mike was still deeply asleep, and she spent some time watching him. After a time, she smiled and got her sketchbook out. She didn't want to ever forget this feeling.


     Brittany and Charles were sitting in the Dorn living room with Mills and Lucy.

     "So like I said, I think it was Marvin." Brittany flushed at the calculating way that Mills was eyeing her and Charles.

     Lucy sobbed, "Oh, why did I go to that party?"

     Charles swallowed, remembering the gas station rape attempt. "You just got taken advantage of, Lucy. It's not your fault. It's his fault and he'll burn in hell for it."

     Mills looked at the man in his living room, his hostility fading into tired embarrassment. "I believe you, Charles. I apologize."

     Brittany mumbled her acceptance.

     Lucy looked up, then sighed. "I remember it now, Mills. It was Marvin."

     He gaped at his flighty young sister. "But... why did you blame Upch- Charles?"

     Her face crumpled into tears. "Because I wanted it to be him!"

     "Get a goddamned grip, Lucy!" Mills, angry at the deception, stamped away in high dudgeon.

     Brittany stood, observing the wailing Lucy, feeling awkward and useless.

     Charles sat down next to her on the sofa and began to pat her soothingly on the back. "Come on, it's not the end of the world. There are alternatives to having a kid, you know."

     Lucy, her wails increasing in frequency and amplitude, locked her arms around Charles' neck in a throttling grip. After a minute, Charles hugged her back. This wasn't going to be easy.

     Daria sat in her room, feeling low. Jane had disappeared, Link hated her and she was really hurting. She didn't have anyone to talk to. Tom had really ruined things, as she'd known he would the instant that she'd first laid eyes on him.

     Daria sighed, then turned on her desk lamp. Bringing up her journal on the computer, she started to consign her feelings to electronic storage.

     Jake knocked at the door and opened it. "Mail call, Kiddo!"

     "Thanks." Daria hurriedly closed her work and then took the proffered envelope.

     Jake hung in the doorway. "Who do you know in Ellensburg, Washington?"

     Daria, wondering the same thing, opened the letter. "It's from Jane!" Daria read, her face relaxing into a genuine smile. Jane was with a new boyfriend at a rock concert at someplace called the Gorge, near the town of George, Washington.

     In a postscript, Jane asked her to tell Tom that she said 'hi.'

     The phone rang, and Quinn's voice floated up the stairs. "Dariiiiaaaa! Its for you!"

     Daria picked up. "Hello?"

     Tom swallowed. "Jane says hi."

     "Tom? You got one too?" She smiled, happily.

     "I hope this means that everything is alright for her." Tom cleared his throat. "Can we maybe go out to eat tonight? I want to talk." He'd missed her, but had decided to give her some room. Daria took a lot of patience, but she was the only girl that he'd ever met that was truly his equal.

     Daria looked suspicious then relaxed. "Well, I guess I could go to dinner tonight. What time?"

     Jake watched for a moment, then quietly closed the door.

     Brittany, seated in the lotus position, looked at Charles with satisfaction. He was starting to look pretty good after two grudging months of solid effort. He moved very gracefully and his body definition was far better than it had ever been, even while she still had it. In fact, Charles was a babe.

     Brittany was working him very hard, since summer school had ended, but it was only fair. Even after sweating out the drugs for her, he owed her at least that much for what she had done with his body. It was just amazing, like a finely tuned machine. She was very proud of it, feeling both invincible and invulnerable behind a solid wall of steel-hard, rippling muscle.

     School started next week and she was going to make the most of this body while she could still wear it. Eyeing Charles, she shook her head. He just wasn't paying attention. "Now swivel your head around, letting the neck muscles relax. Remember, your body is a limp noodle, Charles."

     "It's not my body!" Charles swallowed his resentment, sat back down on the weight-room mat and continued his yoga lesson. He had to keep reminding himself of who and what he really was. His identity was inexorably slipping away and it scared him.

     He hated yoga, but not as much as he hated aerobics, judo and tai chi. Darkly, he wondered if she was taking advantage. Had she really spent half of her day exercising, before? Glaring at her suspiciously, he took stock. The body that he inhabited was harder, slimmer and far more toned, after the hell he'd been through, but she looked like a god.

     Brittany smirked, happy to be on the outside looking in. "Are you feeling the chi?"

     Charles shrugged, grimacing. He had to go again. It was all so unfair. Periods were something that man was just not meant to know about. "I'm feeling something."

     Brittany laughed. "Well, at least you aren't sniveling out-loud any more. Trust me, exercise and Midol helps a lot." Being free of her monthly cramps and mood swings was an unexpected godsend. If only she wasn't constantly horny, it would be perfect.

     "Hey, this thing..." He shuddered. He'd wondered if he was going to make it over the last few days, but he was feeling a lot better now.

     Brittany nodded sympathetically and stood up. It was useless, right now. He would never relax enough to learn anything. He'd been in screaming hysterics the first time, wildly demanding an ambulance, thinking that he was bleeding to death.

     "Better you than me, Lambchop. Hey, want to go somewhere tonight?"

     Charles smirked. "The old Chuckster's gushing testosterone finally getting to you? Sure."

     "No just the boredom." She struck a pose in the mirror. "Wow, I'm getting pretty buff. This body really looks good now. You lucked out, stickboy." She turned to look at him and smiled when he looked away, flushing with shame.

     "Caught you looking!"

     "Don't be gross. It'll all just turn into flab, once we switch back." He scowled. "You won't be able to torture me into exercising, anymore."

     "I'll be able to make you do anything I want. You're a horny little devil, Lambchop." She posed again, noting the way that his eyes were drawn to her. "This body feels like mine, now."

     He stood, moodily, averting his eyes. It was horrible, but he was really changing. It was hard not to spend all day staring at her. "Well, it damned-well isn't. Giving up, Brittany?"

     She looked at him, making allowances. The last few days had been trying. Between the weeping and the wild, shouted accusations, Charles had come perilously close to her limit of patience. "No. But I'm out of ideas. We tried praying, holy water, seventeen different churches, a mosque and a synagogue. We paid that priest-guy to do an exorcism on us... nothing works, not even laying the bottleneck on the railroad track." She measured him with her eyes. "What are we going to do?"

     He shrugged. "Whatever you want, I suppose." He often considered suicide, but it would be desperately unfair to her. His only option was to endure.

     "I mean, what if we don't ever switch back?" Brittany swallowed.

     He nodded. "I just don't care then, Brittany. You decide. You decide everything. I got you in to this, and I'll do whatever I can for you."

     Brittany sighed, feeling protective. He was so depressed. She had adapted well, but he just wasn't really competent to live her life and probably never would be.

     "This isn't how I imagined my life would turn out. Do you think we'll ever get back?"

     "We will. That devil-bitch owes me two more wishes." He ignored the problem and fought down the overwhelming emotions that threatened to drag him down. Hysterics wouldn't help right now.

     Brittany made a fist, admiring the play of muscles in her forearm. "Wish two should be to switch us back and wish three should be for her to never bother us again."

     Charles nodded, wide eyed, staring at her arm. "So, where are we going?" He smiled, diverting her. They had both been getting more worried lately. The school year was rapidly approaching and their respective parents were coming home. Even with the intensive tutoring that he was giving her, she was worried about being able to cut it in his AP classes.

     "I haven't been to a club in a long time. We could go out to the Zen. No one knows me there." She remembered the last time that she'd gone. Only Daria had recognized her.

     "Sure, but what about your precious reputation?" He smirked. "After all, I'll be seen with the notorious Upchuck."

     She laughed. "I have a lot more than that to worry about. Besides, the notorious Upchuck is a total stud." She wasn't really worried about it anymore. It just didn't seem important. She doubted if more than a handful of people would even recognize her male body as Upchuck, anyway. The first person to call her Upchuck would regret it.

     "That's true." Charles gulped, then covered himself. "You just say that because my corpus is pumping out a quart of boiling hot testosterone every hour. I'm really totally repulsive." He grinned back at her. "Properly attired."

     She shrugged. "I don't believe that. You just never knew how to act around women because your mother died."

     He shrugged. "Yeah. I always thought of women as adversaries, but now... I don't want to be like my dad, if I ever do get back." It scared him, how little he was attracted to women now. He had to watch himself. He was dreading the first time his eyes lingered on a real guy. Of course, Brittany and guys on TV didn't really count.

     Brittany was interested. "What does he do?"

     "He does everyone that he can. He brags about how often he scores." Charles shrugged in confusion. He'd always worshipped his dad and it was hard to acknowledge the man's major character flaws.

     She frowned. "My dad's the same way. He brags about the size of Ashley-Amber's tits. I swear, he even bragged about it to Daria. I almost died. He married Ashley-Amber just because she had the biggest-" She gritted her teeth. "He just dumped mom, like so much garbage."

     "At least you get to see her." Charles had often wondered how his life would have gone if he'd had a mother.

     Brittany sighed. She really didn't want to see Vivian. Vivian was an aging swinger with a cocaine habit. "Kevin would have done the same to me, someday. If I get back, I'll never go with a man just because of who he is or because of his money. I can get my own damn money." She thought about being a woman again and swallowed, revolted by the idea. It was kind of bad for Charles, but she really hoped that she stayed right where she was.

     "Sure you can! You have a real grasp of strategy and some totally killer instincts." Charles smiled up at her, absently running his hand over her rock-solid arm. He had introduced her to the art of the deal. He needed her to negotiate face to face for various items that he dealt in on his web sites. She had quickly learned the nuances, so much so that he let her handle most things on her own.

     It wasn't like he had much choice, anyway. Ever since this had happened to him, his choices had narrowed down to almost nothing. All of the hardcore geeks that he did business with would fall apart when confronted by a body like Brittany's, but he just couldn't stand using it like that.

     He'd tried to do business the normal way at first, but they kept pestering him for dates, or worse, groping him, so he'd quit most of his operations or turned them over to Brittany. It sickened him to see his pals turn into so much mush at a look. It was even worse to get calls professing undying love from the guys that he used to talk about women with. He knew what they were talking about now and it made him want to vomit.

     Charles sidled into the Zen behind Brittany, immediately picking out the presence of Daria Morgendorffer. She was at a table with a guy. Following her gaze to the stage, he saw the guy from the swap meet. Remembering who his sister was, he scanned the room and located Jane Lane, dancing with someone that he didn't know. Noting the flicker of annoyance that passed over Daria's face when she saw him, he just nodded at her, trailing Brittany to a table.

     "Want something?" Brittany stood, looking toward the bar.

     "Double bourbon, straight up and keep 'em coming," Charles joked. She'd caught him drinking a couple of months into the nightmare and had poured out all of the liquor. Brittany had a phobia about addictive drugs.

     Brittany smirked. "Cola it is." She left for the snack bar, elbowing people out of her way.

     Charles watched the band. Daria's friend wasn't all that bad looking. He liked Mr. Normal. He wished that he could be normal again, or that he could even be a mister again. Sighing, he jerked in alarm and averted his eyes from Trent. Looking at the floor, he sunk into a depression. Normal was probably a lost cause at this point.

     "Brittany?" Jodie frowned at her old acquaintance. Brittany was wearing a suede vest, a pink T-shirt, khaki shorts, pink socks and low-quarter suede hiking boots. Her hair was in a loose ponytail and she wasn't wearing makeup. She looked spectacular, but different.

     Charles was staring at Tom, lost in a haze of regrets. If he'd ever tried treating a woman like a real person, someone might have looked at him the way that Daria was looking at her date. Now he was... lost. He wasn't attracted to women any more and the idea of going with a guy... He shuddered and quit looking at Daria's boyfriend. There would be no one for him, ever. A wave of intense loneliness threatened to drown him.

     "Brittany?" Jodie reached out and poked her in the shoulder. Sometimes Brittany just spaced out. Jodie had begun to suspect that she was on something.

     "What?" It took a moment for Charles to place her. "Oh... Um, Jodie Landon. Hi, there."

     "Hi. What are you doing?" Jodie sat.

     Charles paled. "Just watching Daria." He looked down. "She's really in to that guy."

     Jodie laughed. "Yeah, he's pretty hot. His name is Tom Sloane. They've been going out all summer. Isn't it great?"

     When Brittany didn't answer, Jodie continued, "So, where's Kevin?" Jodie smiled at her dim friend. Brittany was pretty hard up from the way that she had been staring. Maybe she had finally gotten wise and dumped Thompson for good. Jodie didn't know. She hadn't seen Brittany since going off to work in the congressman's office for the summer.

     "Why do you want to know?" Charles countered, hoping that she would just leave. It wasn't like Jodie actually liked Brittany. He'd noted the ill-concealed disdain, back when he was still hopelessly stalking Brittany around LHS.

     Jodie looked surprised. "Just curious. Did you break up again?"

     "Yeah, you could say that." He gestured at the stage. "I'm just... hanging out."

     "Uh, huh." Jodie sat, uninvited. "When did you see Kevin last?"

     "I forget." He shrugged. "A couple of months ago, in the parking lot after school, I guess. Are you still with what's-his-name?"

     "Mack? Yes." Jodie stared, really concerned. Brittany was acting strangely, very unlike her usual self. Even the speech pattern was wrong.

     "Well. Good." Charles wished that she would just go away. Jodie and Mack were the most boring people that he'd ever met and he didn't want to have to make any explanations when Brittany came back.

     "Oh, here he is now!" Jodie pushed back a chair.

     "Hey, Brittany. Where's Kevin? I haven't seen him since school got out." Mack was surprised. He'd actually missed Kevin a little.

     Charles shrugged, not wanting to explain things twice. "Been out of town?"

     "No, I just worked all summer."

     "Where?" Charles was interested. Mack seemed embarrassed.

     Mack frowned, then changed the subject. "Food service. Did you guys get a load of Upchuck? He's out of preppy mode." He grinned. "That boy must have found some kryptonite. He's as tall as me, muscled up like a gorilla and he's gone totally punk."

     "Kryptonite?" Charles frowned. "But..." He dropped the subject.

     Jodie wrinkled her nose. "Ugh. Punkchuck. I can hardly wait to see that."

     "He looks great." Charles leaned back, evaluating the pair before him.

     They looked back, both troubled by the blazing intelligence in the blonde's eyes. It was like facing Daria.

     "What... happened to you, Brittany?" Jodie leaned forward. "You seem like a totally different person."

     Charles trotted out his cover story. "My perkiness wore off, once my keepers went on an extended business trip and I managed to kick my psychotropic drug habit. Your outlook changes a lot when you aren't swimming in prescription drugs."

     Mack swallowed. "My god, I'm so sorry, Brittany."

     "Wow." Jodie swallowed. This was unexpected. "How are you feeling?"

     "A little down." Charles closed his eyes and sighed. "You guys ought to go sit somewhere else. I'm not going to be much fun to be around for a long time."

     Brittany, having finally shed the small crowd of girls that had latched on to her, walked back toward the table and sighed. Jodie and Mack were sitting with Charles, both looking aghast.

     It figured, thought Brittany. The one time that she decided to come here and they had to show up. She needed to get Charles away from them.

     Surprised at her lack of concern, Brittany walked up to the table and sat down next to Charles. What would he say? "Greetings, fellow Lawndalians." She slid a coke over to Charles. "Drink up, Lambchop."

     Charles smirked at her and reached for the can. That had been fairly Upchuck-esq.

     Mack, shocked and terribly upset about finding out about the ugly reality behind Brittany's seemingly idyllic life, grabbed the can, shook it, popped the top and sprayed it all over what he thought was Upchuck, trying to muscle his way into Brittany's life.

     He had never reacted to the creep's bad act before, because the ladies could handle him before, but this behemoth was dangerous and Brittany was vulnerable.

     Mack stood and narrowed his eyes. "Upchuck! Get out of here, you sleazy son of a bitch! She doesn't need a pervy gorilla like you around right now!"

     "Mack!" Jodie took in 'Lambchop's' outrage and came to the correct conclusion that they were the unwanted party at the table.

     Brittany stood, shock and outrage battling on the face that she wore, and then moving like lightning, she abruptly kicked the table over onto Mack, knocking him down in the process. She jumped onto the bottom of the table, pinning him, then picked up a chair.

     "Noooo!" Charles lunged forward to intervene. Her temper could be absolutely vicious. She hadn't hit him for a long time, but he knew that she would still slap him if he provoked her.

     "Get back!" Brittany wanted to crush Mack for all of the eye rolling contempt that she was remembering.

     Charles grabbed the chair leg and hung on, as she accidentally lifted him off of his feet. "Don't hit him in the head! Don't hit him in the head!"

     Mack, wide-eyed and pinned, scrabbled to get out from under the table. Upchuck looked ready to kill and Brittany obviously had the hots for him. "Woah! Chill, man! I thought-"

     "No! Mack! You idiot." Jodie, having moved in between them, was alternately afraid for him and so embarrassed that she could die.

     "Disappear, you jerk!" Brittany sat the chair down, then stood back, eyes glacially cold.

     Mack scrambled to his feet, facing the two with opened eyes. "Oh. Shit, I'm sorry. I didn't know. I... I'll pay for the jacket. Call me about it." He beat a hasty retreat, his embarrassment lending wings to his heels.

     The bouncer ambled over once the action had died down. He'd been ogling the stacked blonde ever since she walked in, so he'd seen the whole thing. He thought about throwing the punk out, but then decided that he might get hurt. Beside, she'd just leave too. He liked nice scenery. "Everything all right over here?"

     "Yes. There was just a little misunderstanding. Everything's fine." Stomach roiling, Charles smiled a calculated smile at the man.

     He smiled back, smitten. "Okay, sweetheart, but one more incident and you're all out for good." He gave the rest a stern look and left.

     Brittany set the table back up and interest in the confrontation faded.

     "I'm so sorry." Jodie fluttered her hands. "I don't know what got into him."

     Charles shrugged, angrily. "Maybe he's finally growing a personality."

     "What?" Jodie stared, then fled.

     Brittany retrieved her unopened Pepsi, then sat, wiping at the jacket with a napkin. "Do you believe that guy? What did you ever do to him?"

     Charles shrugged. "I don't think I've ever said much to either one of them. It must be my super-sleazy reputation." He grinned, appropriated her Pepsi and toasted her. "Your sleazy reputation, now. Nice work, by the way. He won't pull any of that again."

     Brittany shrugged.

     He took a drink. "You reacted a lot faster than I would have." Mack would have beaten him into a greasy spot, no matter what kind of shape his body was in and they both knew it. He wasn't a natural fighter, like Brittany.

     Brittany laughed, retrieved her can, then took a drink. "I took a lot of self defense classes. I guess that I just don't like him. I don't really like her much, either."

     "Why?" Charles was interested. He took the can back when she offered it.

     "They like, hung around with me and that jerk, Kevin, because we were popular, but they didn't really like either one of us." She stared at the band, brooding. "Little Mr. and Mrs. Perfect. Sometimes I feel like I've never met the real people at all."

     Charles shrugged. "I don't know. Maybe you're right, but couldn't the same be said of any of us?" He frowned. "We all have walls that no one sees behind. Maybe they just feel like they have to act that way, being who they are. It must be hell, being a living example."

     "Tough." Brittany wasn't at all sympathetic. Everyone had it tough in their own way. "He was just mad and looking for an outlet. They were arguing when they came in."

     "I didn't notice." Charles frowned. "You know, It does make since. I am a sleaze. He was just trying to protect you from me. If I'd ever looked like you, and acted like I did, I'd have been a dangerous asshole instead of just a pathetic asshole."

     Brittany smiled fondly, covering his hand. "Not any more. You're too far away from that old life. You couldn't be a sleaze anymore than I could go back to being what I was." Brittany cleared her throat. "I'm... glad that it happened. We could never have really met, any other way. I guess switching bodies is a really good way to get to know someone."

     Charles reddened, then noticed the bouncer leering at him. He looked away, trying not to shudder. "Yes. I feel the same way, but I still want my body back."

     Brittany was silent on the topic. She loved being strong, and the body that she wore was a marvel of strength, balance and dexterity.

     "Maybe I owe Mack an apology. He was just trying to help what he thought was me, after all." She looked down at herself. "He's really brave. This body is probably kind of scary to other guys."

     Charles scowled at the leering bouncer. "Not scary enough. I don't like it here. Let's go home."

     Brittany followed his eyes and scowled, menacingly. "I'll fix him."

     "No, come on!" He grabbed her arm and tugged, but it vas like tugging on a building. She didn't budge until the bouncer raised his hands in mock surrender and looked away. When they left, he didn't let go of her arm.

     Jodie stood outside the Zen, watching Mack's dwindling taillights. They'd had a brief shouting match, then he'd just left. She looked back at Zen. She could catch a ride with Daria, but she was too upset and humiliated to go back in.

     Brittany and Upchuck came out, holding hands. Jodie quickly ducked behind a beat up old black van, not wanting to deal with them.

     "What do you want to do tomorrow?" Charles yawned, looking up at the stars.

     "I want to go to church again." Brittany was feeling badly disconnected. "Mills wanted to go down to the dump and shoot rats, but I don't really feel like it."

     "Doris, Pam and Patti were coming by to practice their cheerleading moves, but I'll blow them off. Church might not be a bad idea." Charles saw a shooting star. "Make a wish!"

     "Are you kidding?" Brittany laughed, bitterly. "What if this is it for us? What if this is all we have?"

     Charles shrugged and leaned into her, for comfort. "I'm so sorry, Brittany. It's my fault. I never believed in the supernatural, God, devils or anything, really. Who could have known that it could be so dangerous? What a thoughtless idiot I am. I should have just run like hell when she came out."

     Brittany turned and hugged him, rubbing his back. She lifted his chin. "Cheer up, Charles. I don't blame you. You can't beat something like that. I guess some people have it a lot worse, though. Would you rather be in a wheelchair or something?"

     Charles sighed, feeling better. "I don't know. At least then it would all be up to medical science. I could understand the odds." He smiled, bitterly and pulled away. "You know, Brittany... This just isn't... right. I'm supposed to be a guy!" He just didn't really feel like a guy, anymore.

     "No, it's not right." She looked at him, then smiled, bravely. "We need to face facts though. You were a guy. We need to decide what we're going to do." She opened the door for him.

     "I couldn't imagine going through all this without you." He thought about trying to date some guy and felt sick. He didn't even like to go outside, that much.

     Brittany looked at him, anxiously. "I... will you be my girlfriend when school starts? It would look funny if I didn't have one and I just couldn't..."

     Charles winced. "Sure. I am, anyway."

     "I mean for real." Brittany locked eyes with him.

     Charles swallowed. "So did I. I'd do anything for you, Brittany. You're the only real friend that I've ever had."

     "Good." Brittany opened the car door for him. "Thanks, Charles. I love you too." She looked away, not wanting to see rejection in his eyes.

     Charles stumbled, then got into the Audi. "Um. I... feel the same. But I can't go on trying to fake it for you, Brittany. I have to be me."

     Brittany leaned on the door, smiling down at him. "Good." She kissed him and then walked around to her side. "You're right, though. We can't fake it. We have to live the lives we have. I got... well, you got a pamphlet in the mail, yesterday. I... want to apply to the Air Force Academy, if we're still here next year."

     Charles shrugged, hiding his hurt. He'd kind of thought that they might go to college together. "Fine. I want to go to a business school." He looked sad. "I won't be running my dad's companies. He thinks that women are stupid and useless, outside of a bedroom. I guess I'll just have to scrape something together on my own."

     Brittany got into the car. "If we got married after graduation, you'd be able to run things when I inherited. If we do suddenly switch bodies again, things will be easier that way."

     Charles swallowed his shock and nodded, slowly. "Good idea, but does it have to be the Air Force? If we switched back while you were up in a jet or something..." They pulled away.

     Jodie stepped out from behind the van and gaped after them. "What the hell is going on around here?"

     They pulled up to Brittany's house and went in.

     "I hate staying here. I keep expecting George of the Jungle to swing by on a vine." Charles looked at the decor and shuddered.

     Brittany smiled. He was such a girl. "I used to have nightmares about the animals." She walked over and turned on the TV. "When Mom left, she sold all the furniture. Dad redecorated the place. He was still doing a lot of coke then and the decorator didn't like him."

     Charles knelt to pick up the TV remote from under the couch. "Aaaaagh! Leg cramp... oh-oh-oh that hurts..." He collapsed onto the rug, clutching at his calf and groaning.

     Brittany knelt and took the leg. "You're not getting enough calcium, Lambchop." She started massaging the firm, muscular calf, feeling the convulsive clenching begin to relax. "Try to straighten the leg."

     "Ooooh, it seizes up every time I move. I need to stretch it." He rolled over on his side and stretched it out. "There that's got- GOD!" Writhing in pain, he drew the leg up and frantically rubbed at the muscle.

     "Lay face down." Brittany started massaging the leg until it straightened out and the quivering calf muscle relaxed. "You're really tense." She continued the massage, moving to the other leg.

     "I get that way when I have to be out." He groaned in sheer pleasure, the intense stress brought on by being ogled by a bunch of strange men gradually melting away. He rolled over on his side and smiled up at her, gratefully. "Thanks for warning that creepy bouncer off."

     "It was my pleasure." Brittany was having some stress of her own. Recently, she was finding it harder and harder to ignore the reactions of the body that she was in. Feeling a sense of inevitability, she gradually let her hands wander.

     Charles was totally relaxed, feeling very safe, really enjoying the massage. Brittany pulled his shirt up, then off, and continued up his back, working the spine.

     He was just about to drift off when he suddenly felt a hot flash of sheer pleasure, like an electric current. He gasped with shock and rolled over to meet her eyes.

     Eyes locked, they stared, then deliberately, Brittany leaned in and kissed him.

     Charles, paralyzed, let her. Feeling the urgent rush of desire, he surrendered to the inevitable.

     Jodie walked back into the Zen, dazed.

     "Jodie? What's wrong?" Daria peered at her almost-friend.

     "I... I... I can't understand it." Jodie collapsed nervelessly into a chair.

     "I saw Mack get into it with Brittany and that guy." Daria smirked. "I wouldn't be too concerned. He'll calm down, once he gets over the humiliation of losing a fight in front of his girlfriend."

     "Mack? Oh, I'm not worried about that." Jodie eyed Daria. The steely-eyed Misery Chick wasn't likely to believe her. On the other hand, she really needed to hear someone tell her that up was still up and logic reigned supreme. "Do you believe in the supernatural?"

     Jodie wasn't ready for the shock and terror that rolled over Daria's face.

     "Wh- What did you see?" Daria licked dry lips as she began a careful visual reconnaissance of the Zen.

     Jodie frowned. "What would you think I saw?"

     "No big flying men in diapers? No short Irish person with a loud shirt and beer breath?" Daria was absolutely terrified of the creatures. Back when they'd first come, she'd thought it was all just a long waking dream. She had very vivid dreams.

     It had all been amusing, right up until she had the film developed. Since then, she'd read a good deal on consensual reality, gods and archetypes. Cupid was scary and his sidekick, a thinly disguised version of Dionysus, updated though he was, was even scarier.

     She'd glimpsed Cupid twice, lurking around in Tom's vicinity, peeking at her from just around some unimaginable corner. She ran like hell whenever she saw him. If he fired that dammed love gun, she would probably be married before her mind cleared. She just wasn't sure if she wanted that or not. That's why she was studying Tom so carefully.

     Daria was beginning to doubt her sanity. No one else seemed to remember the personifications clearly. They could recall the surrounding events, but their minds refused to put it all together. Daria could remember everything. The air was full of unseen beings, beings who's regard she could often sense.

     "What are you talking about?" Jodie was intrigued.

     Daria smiled, faintly. "You first. Cards on the table."

     Jodie took a deep breath. "Okay. That guy that pounded Mack? I think that he was really... Brittany."

     Mike peered earnestly across the table, into her eyes. "But Jane... Janey, I'm taking this job for us. Working on weekends will get me flush! I'll finally be able to replace the Chevy." He took her hand. "It'll work out."

     Jane dropped the hand like it was a week-dead fish. "Sure. We can do lunch, some time." She got up and walked away, stiff backed.

     "But Jane!" A hand on his shoulder stopped him. He turned to see Trent.

     "Leave her alone for now, Mike. You can't win when she's in this mood. The more you talk, the worse it'll get." Trent frowned his potential brother in law's lack of tact.

     Mike stared after Jane, who was stomping out. "But she needs a ride."

     Trent shook his head. "She runs a lot farther than this every day. Believe me, man, I grew up in a house with three sisters, a mother, a bunch of my brother's live in girlfriends and a few of my own. I know women and more importantly, I know Janey. Let her cool off. She'll rip off your head and spit down your neck if you go after her right now."

     Trent would hate to see them break up. Janey would rip him to shreds right now. He'd been worried about her and Tom, but she'd instantly forgotten him when she met Mike. Janey was much happier with Mike, so Trent was willing to intervene.

     Mike sneered, angry and needing a target. "If you know so damn much about women, why don't you have one? From what Jane said, you could have had Daria, anytime!"

     Trent looked at him with glacial coldness. "Don't go there, Mike." He still didn't know what to think of Tom's relentless pursuit of Daria, or the shocking fact that she'd actually let him catch her. He had no claim, but it still hurt.

     Mike was immediately remorseful. "Hey, man, I'm sorry."

     Trent nodded. "It's okay. I understand." Trent took a breath. "Look, man, Daria's... not a casual person. It's all or nothing with her. I'm just not ready for that kind of-"

     "Hey, I sincerely and humbly apologize. It's none of my business." Mike felt like an ass. Trent had always been friendly and helpful, even lending him gas money on occasion.

     "She studied me like a bug under a microscope." Trent sipped his beer and suddenly felt an overwhelmingly powerful urge to speak the truth. "I've loved her almost since I met her, but just not in that way. I count her as an extra sister. She's just too intelligent and too intense, man. Besides, I'm a married man." The remaining beer suddenly foamed out of the bottle, over his hand and onto the floor. Wide eyed, Trent set it down. "Woah! What was that."

     Mike shrugged. "That's spooky. I guess you got some salt in it, somehow." He cleared his throat. "What do you mean, married?"

     Trent thought fast, wondering what had possessed him. "I'm um... married to the Muse," he said, weakly.

     Paddy smiled and dug an elbow into Cupid's ribs. "See? I still have it, ya Roman bastard. There's really nothin' there. Look what ya almost did. Remember when you made that puir Greek lad fall in love wi' a tree?"

     Cupid sidled away, rubbing his ribs. "Hey, that was all your fault." Cupid made a face and put on an atrocious Irish accent. 'Here, 'ave another drink, Cupid, wha' could it hurt? Stupid Dryads." He shook his head. He'd almost bought it over that one.

     Paddy smirked. "I ha' to get' even with' ye for Ariadne."

     Cupid had forgotten. It was just too long ago. "Whatever. I'm gonna zap 'em the next time they get together. They could waste years, screwing around. I've never seen that close a match before. Stupid mortals."

     Paddy laughed. "You just want a full brace. Look, Tom is a fine lad, and he'll move when the time is right. So dinna feel sorry for takin' Jane away from him."

     "I don't feel sorry for him. They didn't love each other at all and they both knew it. Besides, he's just a mortal. Daria's the only one that really matters." Cupid scratched under a wing. "It's better for everyone if she's happy and married. She'll never be happy, single."

     Paddy frowned. "Aye, but... we canna compel anything. That's the law now and we canna get too involved in breaking it anymore, or that angelic bastard will be all over us wit' flamin' sword an' terrible sharp sarcasm." He shuddered.

     Cupid shook his head. "I'll bet Daria could clean his clock, dude. I wish he'd get sarcastic with her." He sighed, knowing that it wouldn't happen. "I hate waiting."

     Tom walked up to the table and sat. "Hi. Jodie Landon, right? We met at your Fourth of July party."

     Jodie smiled weakly at him. Her father was trying to get her to invite them both over for dinner, so he could get in with the Sloanes. "Hi, Tom."

     "Tom." Daria swallowed, mouth dry, wondering if Cupid was around. He looked so good. Too good. No one could look that good. Was something making her feel like this? Her eyes widened with crawling panic.

     Tom saw their serious expressions and noted Daria's frazzled mood. He had to walk softly around Daria. One tiny mistake and it would all be over. He didn't want it to be over.

     "Is everything okay, Daria?" He sat, watching her carefully. Daria was like a wild horse, skittish and prone to sudden panics. She was a thoroughbred that he badly wanted to tame.

     "I... I'm all right, Tom." She flushed, beet red. Her body was betraying her again.

     Jodie watched Daria, an amused smile playing on her lips. "We were just talking about something. Nothing to worry about."

     Tom glanced at her and returned his attention to Daria. "Do you want to go home?"

     Daria relaxed and smiled at him, gratefully. "Would you mind?"

     "Not at all." He looked at her and held out his hand. "Shall we go?"

     "Sure." Daria took his hand, still smiling, and stood with him. Tom always managed to make her feel so comfortable.

     Jodie watched, feeling happy for them. "I'll call you later, Daria."

     Tom and Daria turned embarrassed looks on Jodie. They'd both forgotten her.

     "Um, sure." Did you need a ride?" Daria was a little upset. Tom seemed to drive every other thought right out of her head.

     "No, I'll ask Lilly. See you later!" Jodie nodded at Tom and left.

     Daria looked at him and swallowed. "Well..."

     Tom decided that discretion was called for. If she got any more nervous she might lash out. He desperately wanted to stay with her, but he'd long since concluded that any relationship with Daria was going to be a long-term project. If he played his cards right... he could imagine being married to Daria.

     "Come on, then." He led her out of the Zen.

     Daria pulled up to the Crew Neck guardhouse and rolled down the window. She'd gone back to the Zen after Tom had dropped her off.

     Jodie leaned over. "It's just me, Harold. This is my friend, Daria Morgendorffer. Put her on the list."

     The guard nodded. "Will do, Ms. Landon. Let's see... You're already on the list, Ms. Morgendorffer."

     Daria shrugged. "I came here for Brittany's party."

     The guard nodded. "You're down as a friend of Ms. Brittany Taylor. You have free access."

     "Thanks." Daria started to roll up the window.

     Jodie smiled. "Goodnight, Harold."

     Daria pulled in to the gated community. "What do you guys think, that the hoipolloi will come in and sack the place?"

     Jodie frowned. "I know it's stupid, Daria. I didn't buy the house, so take it easy on me. My neighbors are mostly politicians."

     Daria smiled. "Huh. Maybe we will sack the place. I guess you're my contact in high places, then."

     "Hey, you're the one who knows a bunch of gods. Cu-"

     "Don't say their names!" Daria glared at Jodie. "You agreed to a willing suspension of disbelief in exchange for my help. Don't attract unwanted attention, Jodie. This stuff has teeth."

     "Sorry." Jodie didn't believe Daria about the gods, but she still didn't think that Daria was crazy. She was sure that there was a more logical explanation. Aliens came to mind.

     Brittany and Charles were in the new hot tub, behind the house making waves, when the doorbell rang. There was an intercom next to the door. A handy-talky sitting on a charging stand near the hot tub relayed the doorbell signal.

     Daria pushed the bell again. "Well, either they're not in, or they don't want to be interrupted."

     Jodie grimaced. "Ewww. Do you think..."

     The intercom grill crackled. A hoarse female voice gasped, "Don't answer it, Brittany!" There were more crackles and a male voice said. "Who is it?" The male voice was breathless.

     Jodie wrinkled her brow. "Jodie Landon."

     "Come back later." The intercom gave a final crackle.

     Daria and Jodie exchanged a look.

     Daria shrugged, then pushed the talk key. "If you have recently switched bodies and want to talk about it, let us know."

     The male voice came back immediately. "What do you know about it?"

     Daria looked at Jodie, now a believer. "I know a few things."

     The voice was uncertain. "Is that Daria?"

     Daria took a breath. "Brittany, I presume?"

     The electronic lock clicked and buzzed. "Come on in to the TV room. We'll be right there."

     "And so that's the story." Charles sighed, waiting for the inevitable laughter.

     Brittany smiled. "But it's not really so bad. We'll survive." She dragged Charles closer and put her arm around him. "I might have lost my body, but I think I got my soul back."

     Jodie was still shocked. "And you guys are like... you know... together?"

     Brittany nodded, smiling. "We fell in lo-

     "None of your business!" Charles flushed beet-red, angrily shrugged off her arm and stood up. "Now what do you know about all this?"

     Daria paused, then producing her pictures and using circumlocutions, began her tale. "I first became aware of the supernatural when I was accosted on the sidewalk by what I assumed were a couple of gay pride marchers..."

     Trent walked into his house at three AM, tired. Getting a glass of water, he went through to the back yard and collapsed into a lawn lounger. Yawning, he sipped his water and felt himself drifting off.

     'So, you say you love Daria like a sister.'

     His eyes shot open. "Huh?" He looked around the empty yard. A dog barked and there was the faint sound of a distant train, but nothing else stirred. He lay back, then decided that it had been a dream. Three blinks later, he was asleep.

     He was running, fast, like he used to in grade school, back when no one alive could catch him. He waited for the inevitable asthma attack to lay him low but it didn't come this time. Effortlessly, he accelerated down the sun dappled suburban streets, with only the ever-present hiss of sprinklers and the slapping of his tattered old sneakers for company. The buildings began to get larger and the day wore on, but he never faltered.

     At last coming to a bridge, he saw that it had a gatehouse and a bar, which blocked his path. Slowing, he saw a small, familiar-looking man in the gatehouse.

     Trent tapped on the window. "Hey, I need to cross the bridge."

     The small man grinned a welcome. "Well, 'tis Trent Lane Himself! What's so interestin' on the other side?"

     Trent shrugged. "Nothing, really. I just like to run."

     "Are ye runnin' away from somethin', lad?" The small man grinned at him. "Bide here with me for a while. Have a beer and rest."

     "I just want to see how far I can get." He waved away the mug." Sorry, but I don't really like beer." Trent took a step back, gauging the height of the bar. "I just like to run."

     "No? Then try some wine. 'Tis grand stuff. There is truth in wine, lad. And inspiration, too." The gatekeeper looked closely at the boy, grinned and handed him a horn full of wine.

     Trent hefted the huge, gold-chased cup, made out of a long, spiraling, hollowed out oxhorn, and laughed. "Hey, this is cool!"

     "It belonged to my old friend Orpheus." The gatekeeper smiled. "Go on, drink! It'll do ye a sight of good."

     Trent tasted, then drank the huge horn dry. "Woah!" He smacked his lips. "What was that?"

     "A blessing. 'Tis a vintage of Apollo's, watered by the daughters of me friend Mnemosyne." He nodded at the bridge. "Now are ye sure that's where yer goin'? Do ye no see what it is tha' you leave behind?"

     Tearing his eyes from the bright, wide-open road ahead, he turned to look back, catching a glimpse of red hair and a green jacket disappearing down a dark, narrow, crooked street. "Who's that?"

     The gatekeeper grinned. "I don't make the rules here, me lad. You do. I'd say 'tis somethin' tha' yer heart also desires. So what will it be, Trent? What direction will you go, Trent? Trent? Wake up, Trent, you'll get sunburned."

     "Wait! Was that Daria?" Trent bolted upright, accidentally headbutting Jane.

     "Owwwowow!" Jane sat down with a thump, clutching her forehead. "God, Trent!"

     "Uhh. Sorry, Janey. Where did she go?" Trent stood to help her up and started to really wake up. "Oh." He had an intensely sweet taste in his mouth.

     "Oh?" She rubbed her forehead. "Dammit, I'm going to bruise! Next time, I just squirt you down with the hose." She looked at him, quizzically. "What were you mumbling about?"

     "I uh... don't remember." Trent quickly walked into the house. "What's with all the flowers?"

     "Just Mikey, storming the gates of paradise." She sat down and started plucking petals off of the roses. "Hmmm, I love him, I love him not. I love- Oooh, I can use these rose petals in a painting!"

     Trent laughed at her priorities. "Why are you so mad? He just wants to make some money. That heap of his is worse than mine."

     Jane looked at him, smiling ironically, stripping the rose petals off into a bowl. "I love that car. We wore the engine out, but that's beside the point. I don't see you running out and getting a job."

     Trent shrugged. "I'm a musician. I'm not a practical guy, like Mike. If he was like me you'd hate him."

     Jane sat back, eyeing the scraggly geraniums by the back door. "Not so, brother mine. I kind of like you, for some reason."

     Trent leaned in. "Is so. You're a Lane, a typical artist, so you need someone around you that's really dug in to reality. That's why you like Daria. Mike's your new reality check. He'll be an engineer type, some day. He needs someone like you for excitement."

     She frowned. Mike couldn't tell art from his ass, but he was very supportive. "Hah!" What about Mom and Dad?" Jane smirked at him, feeling that she'd won the argument.

     He gestured at the empty house. "Where are they? Mom's in New Mexico, Dad's in Africa. What kind of married life is that? If it wasn't for us they'd have drifted apart decades ago." Trent sneered. "Hell, they did drift off."

     Jane looked at him. "So who's your reality check?"

     He winced. "I um, blew it. Do you remember when I went to LA with Monique?"

     She nodded. "Who could forget the triumphant world tour of the Barfing Anarchists?"

     Trent nodded. "We stopped in Las Vegas. Then we got drunk. Then we got married. Then we split up in LA, when the band broke up. We never got divorced." He cleared his throat. "You see, That's what happens when artists get together. There's the big fake attraction, then the ego kicks in, the fighting starts and the whole fairytale thing just starts to collapse-"

     "You... bastard!" Jane gaped at him, shocked to her very core. "You got married and you never even told me?"

     Brittany got up early and headed back for the Ruttheimer place. She came through the door and unexpectedly came face to face with a strange man. "Uhrk!"

     "Charlie! What the hell did you do with all my booze? And what's that mess in the garage?" A ravaged, slightly overweight man stood in the doorway. She took a minute to recognize him.

     Brittany panicked. Charles Ruttheimer the second was back. "I don't know?"

     Charles II swallowed, staring at his hulking son, and then scowled. "What the hell have you done to yourself?" He took in the hairstyle and clothes and shook his head in contempt. "Now is that suave? Look at you. You're just a punk-ass with a fairy haircut. Do you think a sharp businessman can afford to look like that?"

     Brittany didn't care. "I-"

     He overrode her. "I'm vexed, Charles. What did I tell you about drinking? I'm an inch away from shipping you out to the Buxton Ridge military academy. You had a big party, got drunk with your degenerate biker friends and somehow ran the car into the back of the garage. Well, you're grounded, mister. I'm turning back the lease on the Audi. You can drive that old crapmobile of yours, if you think that you can get it started."

     Brittany had no idea of what he was talking about. Charles didn't know any bikers. "I'm... sorry?"

     Charles II looked at her, slightly mollified. His son rarely just accepted blame. "Okay, boy, I can see that it was partially my fault. I thought that you were old enough to do without a housekeeper." He clapped her on the shoulder, shocked at the rock hard muscle that he encountered. "I forgive you, but no more wild parties."

     "Okay." Brittany swallowed.

     "Come're, son."

     Brittany's eyes popped wide open as he hugged her.

     "I missed you. Damn, boy, you've really put on some beef!" Charles II stepped back and looked the boy over.

     "Thanks." Brittany tried not to flinch back.

     Charles II laughed, his bad mood fleeting in the face of the surprise he had for his son. "Come on, I'd like you to meet someone." He led Brittany into the living room.

     A bimbo that could have been Ashley Amber's clone stood up from the couch.

     Charles II beamed. "Son, this is Nadia. We met in St. Petersburg, and she's going to be staying here for a while."

     Nadia smiled at him and vamped over. "Hello, Scharles. Your Fader hass toltd me zo much abouuut you." Her Russian accent was very thick.

     Brittany laughed. Nadia couldn't be more than twenty-three, tops. "I don't know how to respond to that. Welcome to Lawndale, Nadia." Things must be hard, in Russia, thought Brittany.

     Nadia's smile grew. "Ooh, szuch a hanzom devil." Lura had told her that this one would be fun.

     Brittany's eyes widened in alarm.

     The doorbell rang. Charles II opened it to face Daria, Jodie and Charles. "Well hello, ladies. Can I help you?"

     Charles was thunderstruck. "You're not suppose to be back until October!"

     Charles II smiled. "Plans change. Who are you, sweetie?"

     Charles swallowed. "I... I'm Brittany Taylor." He'd missed his dad, in spite of everything. It was hard to stay in character.

     Jodie smoothly diverted their attention. "Is Charles here?"

     Charles II nodded. "I'm afraid that he can't come out right now. He's in some trouble. He'll be in for at least a week."

     Charles looked alarmed. "Would you please tell him that I'll call him later?"

     "Sure." Charles II grinned at them. "Sorry, but it's for his own good."

     "That's what they always tell the dog, right before the vet gets a hold of him." Daria spun on her heel and walked away, frustrated. She wanted to see if this bottle was real or just a chimera put there to distract her from her own problems.

     Charles II stared after her, then started laughing. His son had scored.

     Jodie and Charles exchanged a glance and followed.

     "What do you suppose that was all about?" Jodie asked Charles, before remembering that it wasn't Brittany in that body anymore.

     Charles sighed. "He thinks I started drinking again. I had a little problem back when I was thirteen." Charles explained about the damage to the garage and the damage to the liquor cabinet from his attempt to drown his sorrows.

     "Oh!" Jodie swallowed. "Do you suppose that he looked in your room? Because that bottle that you described sounds kind of like an anisette bottle."

     "Oh, hell." Daria swallowed.

     Brittany paced back and forth in the room, anxiously. At last the computer beeped and said, 'You have mail.'

     She opened the mail and read:

     'Hide the bottle! He thinks I went on a bender!'

     She typed back: Too late. He took it all away

     before I got back.'

     At Brittany's computer, Charles slumped and cried like a baby. The last time this had happened, Charles II had taken every bottle in the house and locked them up in his vault. "Well, that's it. We'll never get to that thing, until he dies."

     "Couldn't we call your spiritual friends for help?" Jodie was walking with Daria.

     "No. You can try, but I'm afraid of them." Daria increased her speed, making Jodie almost break into a jog.

     "But why?" Jodie smiled in excitement. "To see behind the cracks in reality... They were friendly enough, according to the story you told."

     Daria halted and whirled around, angrily. "Are you insane? It was a setup! They were playing some game, and it was all a lie. They just came here to... change me!"

     Jodie frowned. "How?"

     Daria scowled. "I can... see things."

     "What sort of things?" Jodie, not for the first time, wondered if it wasn't something in the water.

     Daria, sensing the resurgence of Jodie's skepticism, started walking again. "Really bad things."

     "What do you mean?" Jodie trailed after her.

     "Someone died, right here." Daria pointed at the intersection. "I can feel it. It was a woman and she died hard."

     Jodie looked at the spot and shrugged. "I guess that makes you a psychic. So what? A lot of people say they're psychic."

     Daria laughed, bitterly. "Or a psychotic. I forgot them, just like everyone else, until I started getting these feelings. I started seeing things that weren't there, or had been there or would be there. Then I noticed the ghosts, spirits and other assorted nastiness that's always hanging around. Then..." She shuddered.

     "Ghosts?" Jodie frowned and shivered. "Are they like... dangerous?

     Daria shook her head. "Just annoying. Ghosts are nothing. Ignore them and they fade after a while. A ghost isn't really a person. It's just all of that person's habits."

     "Habits?" Jodie looked at Daria and her skin started crawling. "M-Maybe those people were just ghosts."

     Daria scowled. "No. They were personifications, also known as gods, Jodie. I had five spiritual beings living in my room. It was a big con. Paddy and his friends put on a little show for us but I was the real reason that they came." It still pissed her off.

     Jodie shivered, almost uncontrollably, just managing to retain control of her bladder. "Well, I have to go now, Daria."

     Daria, preoccupied with her own dark thoughts, didn't notice Jodie's abject terror. "See you."

     Jodie hurried away, rigidly controlling herself, feeling the overwhelming urge to bolt away screaming. In her anger, Daria's eyes had changed. The soft brown orbs had disappeared, replaced by featureless twin pools of blue-green electricity, shining out of the eye sockets like a jack-o-lantern's candle. It was utterly inhuman and absolutely terrifying.

     "Perceptive, Lass."

     "Huh?" Daria spun around as Paddy seemed to appear out of nowhere.

     Daria stiffened. "You!"

     "Aye. Let's not get hasty and say anything that you'll regret." He caught up. "'Tis true, that we came to see you, but we didn't do anything to you that wouldn't have happened on its own."

     Daria scowled. "Then why am I seeing things?"

     He smiled. "It has to do with who you are. We just wanted to see you safe, during a dangerous time. You had to be out of this world for a while and that little charade was the best way to do it."

     "But... who am I? What danger?" She swallowed.

     Paddy shrugged. "That's just one of the many things that I won't tell you, just yet."

     Daria tripped over a broken section of sidewalk, but he caught her. "Careful, Lass." He took off her glasses. "No need for that any more. Now focus."

     Daria frowned, then looked around, shocked. "I can see! I can see everything!"

     They walked along until Daria got over her joy at having perfect vision. "Um, thanks, Paddy. What will you tell me, then?"

     Paddy casually threw the glasses into someone's garbage can, ignoring Daria's wince. "Watch out for Cupid."

     Daria gasped. "Oh, God damn. I knew it. He's going to shoot me and Tom. I just knew it. I'm going to end up a mommy before I turn twenty."

     Paddy swept off his hat and looked up, apprehensively. "Ye might want to be a little more careful with yer language, lass. HE has a quirky sense o' humor at times."

     "Do tell." She told him about Upchuck.

     "Ah. So the lad's fallen afoul of a soul peddler. Nasty, that." Paddy shook his head. "Nothing to do for it. I can't counter a hellwight or a demon. I'm just not the right vintage, y'see." He smiled, mysteriously.

     "Well, who is?" Daria frowned. "How come the world isn't overrun with those things, if they have so much power?"

     Paddy shrugged. "Sorry, lass. I'm just in charge of the beer these days. The mortals are on their own."

     "So how do they get switched back?" Daria felt even more paranoia. Demons were real and there was one operating right here in Lawndale.

     Paddy looked serious. "My advice is not to try. Better the wrong body than losing the soul. Mortals are so... mortal. So he spends a little extra time as a woman. Feeling follows form, after all. He'll soon get used to it. He's probably done it before and he'll certainly be doin' it again, so 'tis nay really all tha' big of a problem."

     "Done it before?" Daria gaped

     "Reincarnation. Individuals come and go, but the soul keeps on. You canna risk it over something as trivial as a body." He sighed. "Ah, hell. I'm for it now. No one is suppose to know wha' happens on t'other side. It screws up the free will."

     She shrugged. "Like anyone would believe me, anyway. I don't think that Brittany really minds at all, but Charles is going to try. How do these demons do business?"

     He frowned thoughtfully. "They canna do a thing that ye don't ask for. Wha' they do is give ye just what ya ask for, until ye realize that ye'v ruined y'self, tryin' to cheat. Then they collect yer soul in exchange for puttin' it all right. 'Tis but a hellish swindle."

     Daria pursed her lips. "So if he wished to be switched back into his own body..."

     "They'd both be in there. Or she'd just be dead. Or it would be his dead body. Or any one of a million other things." He sighed. "Demons lie, Daria. They never help. He canna ever win, that way."

     Daria frowned, stubbornly. "How do we make it tell the truth... Dionysus."

     He laughed. "What a Maenad ye'd make, Daria! Dionysus, Bacchus, Bromius, Zagreus, Iacchos, Bassareus, Euios, Sabazios, Thyoneus, Lenaios, Eleuthereus and Paddy... I've gone by a lot of names, but that's in the past. A spirit has to change with the times." He frowned. "Perhaps ye can still..."

     Reaching into empty space, he rummaged around, then retrieved a long wooden rod, twined with vines, with a pinecone affixed to the end. He offered it to Daria his accent subtly shifting. "Hit the beast with this. It won't make it come out of the bottle, but it will compel it to tell the truth."

     Daria didn't touch it. "If I take that, will I have to run around in the mountains, drunk, doing it with satyrs and ripping wild animals apart for dinner?"

     He smirked. "No, Lass. That's a bit dated. That was the first woman's liberation movement, don't ye know. The gal's really just got away frae th' hearth for a couple o' days, went campin,' got drunk, told ghost stories an' gossiped about th' men. Bit o' harmless escapism. Liberation is my thing, after all. Come on, take up the thyrsos. 'Tis a harmless thing, to mortals."

     Reluctantly, Daria took it. She stiffened as her hand closed on it and something jolted her. It felt alive. "What the hell?" Shaking her head, she shouldered it. "So, any ideas on how to get the demon out of its bottle?"

     Paddy shrugged. "'Tis a hellmouth, in the bottle, not just a demon. King Solomon made the bottle to contain the dimensional interface to hell, when he couldna destroy it. He did a fine job, makin' it controllable and stoppable. Guid lad, tha' Solly."

     "So it can just come out any time it wants? What if a million of them came out?" Daria shuddered.

     "Na! Solly was a wise lad. Only one demon at a time can pass through the bottle. Unless Lura goes home, nae other demon's can use it." Cupid grinned at Solomon's cleverness. Tho old bandit had wished that he'd known everything the Demon did, before he asked for his first wish. Solomon the Bandit had become King Solomon and demonic influence over the earth had declined ever since. It had been a major coup for the heavens.

     "The good news is that the wish has to run its course before 'twill open again." It was amusing, how much she assumed. Taking a divine weapon in hand was harmless, to mortals, but Daria had just crossed over and sealed her fate. Lesser gods never lied, but often deceived. People were far more suspicious in the old days.

     Daria hefted the thyrsos, feeling an echo of wood smoke, wine and wild abandon. "We don't even know what the wish was, exactly. Charles says that he was half asleep-" She looked back to where he had been and saw that Paddy had disappeared. "Tell that stupid overgrown cherub to stay the hell away from me! I want Tom without interference!" She shouted into empty air, drawing strange looks from passersby as she defiantly waved the thyrsos at the sky.

     "Love Machine!" Brittany looked at the enormous old Cadillac, sitting in the U-Store rental garage and started laughing. "Where did you get this... thing?"

     Charles smiled. "Isn't it just perfect? The pinnacle of mechanical evolution. My God, but I used to love this car. I saw it when I was thirteen. I bought it and had it rehabilitated. You wouldn't believe how much I've spent on this beautiful work of the coach-makers art." He scowled. "The neighbors object if I park it in front of the house and Dad wouldn't give me any garage space, so I keep it here."

     Brittany started the old pimp-mobile up. "Why did your dad say that it didn't work?"

     Charles bristled. "That car is as good as the day it rolled off the line, back in July of 1970. Better. It's got hand sewn satin upholstery. He's just talking about a stalling problem that it had. I spent almost five thousand dollars on a brand new engine, wiring harness and a dual battery electrical system. I even had the alternator and starter chromed." He got in, like a queen entering the royal coach.

     Brittany pushed the button on the dash to put it in gear and it instantly stalled.

     "SHIT!" Charles emitted a long, keening whine. "I can't believe it! It blew the main fuse again! What else can I do?"

     Brittany was looking at the immaculate dash panel. "Oh, stop sniveling. I saw a spark when I pushed the drive button. There's no light in here, so I could see the flash through the well of the button. Something's wrong with the switch."

     Charles was crushed. "Easy for you to say. I could have bought myself a Lamborghini for what this thing... What! You saw a spark? I've got to get my mechanic on it, right away!"

     Brittany got out. "I'll take a look at it. School's starting next week and I'm not riding the bus." She had been grounded, but Charles II had relented after seeing Brittany talking to Charles on the phone.

     Charles nodded in agreement. "Sure. You take the Miata until we get the Caddy fixed, then-"

     Brittany smiled. "Come on, Lambchop. I can't take this car. It's... yours. I'll just sign it over."

     Charles heaved a sigh of regret and clambered out after her. "Thanks, Brit, but I can't drive this car. If you want to sell it, go ahead. You need a car. There's a collector in Sacramento that saw it on the internet and-"

     "Why not?" Brittany picked him up and sat him on the hood of the car.

     He blushed, then shrugged. "I just don't want to draw attention. This old car makes people look."

     Brittany smiled and poked a finger into a breast. "Well, you just have to get used to it. Ever since I grew those bad boys, I've been the center of attention wherever I went." Leaning in, she kissed him.

     "Well, maybe I'll get used to it someday, but not now." He struggled free and turned on the car's radio and parking lights, illuminating the garage.

     "The Love Machine. That's cool. I'm just happy that it doesn't have a name. Like Christine." Brittany smirked.

     "Oh, that's just a temporary decal that I put on there for the homecoming parade. Wasn't that Plymouth Fury a dream car? Those tail fins..." Charles sighed with envy, then winked. "Actually it does have a name. Brit, meet... Brittany."

     "Oh... that's so... disturbing. Like this wasn't all confusing enough." She looked at him. "You have to get used to calling me Charles, and I have to get used to calling you Brittany."

     He shrugged, then smiled. "Okay... Charles." He sighed. "Lambchop's fine, too. I kind of like it, now." He closed the garage door, then sat back down on the hood. "The Love Machine it is."

     Daria gathered up her courage and pressed the doorbell.

     Tom opened the door and smiled. "Hi. Want to come in?"

     Daria hesitated. "Well..."

     "No one's home but me." Tom stepped back, invitingly.

     "Well if you put it like that..." Daria blushed and stepped inside.

     Tom led her to a couch and sat beside her. He turned on Sick Sad World and smiled warmly at her. "Want something to drink?"

     Daria stared at him, then jerked. "Sure."

     Tom got up and she followed him into the kitchen.

     Tom opened the huge refrigerator. "If you see anything that you like, just take it."

     Daria licked dry her lips. "Really?"

     Tom looked at her and frowned, slightly. "What's wrong?"

     Daria took a deep breath. "I see something that I like." She leaned in and gave him a passionate kiss.

     Tom blinked in shock, his knees briefly giving way. "Oh, Daria..."

     "Do you want me?" Daria was ready to faint with nervousness. She knew that it was inevitable and she wanted to be in control when it happened, not the hapless victim of some maniacal godlet.

     Tom nodded, gulping.

     "Then take me." Daria took his hand and led him up the stairs.

     Trent was tuning up his new Gibson. "Mmmmmm. Mmmmy dooog haaaas fleaaaas..." He cleared his throat, then coughed. His voice sounded strange, almost like a chorus.

     Jane came in, attracted by his voice. It made her shiver. "Soooo doooooes yoour Baaaand."

     "Hey, that was in pitch." He strummed the string. "Do it again."

     Jane laughed. "Mmmyy Brroother Caaaan't siiiing."

     "That was really low, Janey. My voice is all weird today." He smiled at her and set the guitar aside to talk.

     "I auditioned the band and got us a club date in Hartford next week. If things go well there, we might get a regular gig in New York City."

     She looked at him, upset. "Well, I'll really miss you."

     He smiled, sadly. "Likewise. I hung in here for as long as I could, but I gotta fly, Janey."

     "I know." She sniffled. "I... I always knew that you'd go when I was old enough to be on my own. Thank you for being here for me. I don't know what I would have done without you, Trent."

     He stood, hugging her. "You'll be all right. You don't need me anymore, Janey. I need to get moving. I can't hang around here unless I have a reason."

     "What about..." Jane shut up. It wasn't her place to put up objections and try to keep him in Lawndale. He was a man, not her perpetual babysitter.

     "What about Monique?" He shrugged, missing her surprise. In a dejected tone he said, "She's going out with some guy."

     Jane nodded. "I know. I talked to her, Trent. She's just playing you, keeping you around for a backup."

     "Yeah. I thought you might go see her." He went to get some coffee, needing a minute. He didn't quite know how he felt about the whole thing. He'd had such high hopes, but she'd left.

     Jane came back down the stairs with a folder. "I went down to the courthouse and got this divorce petition. I want you to sign it, Trent. If you aren't going to be her husband, it's not right to stay married to her."

     Trent drank some coffee and looked at it, forlornly. "I see that Monique already signed."

     Jane shrugged. She hadn't really given Monique much of a choice. Jane had told her to sign, or else get ready to explain her husband and her baldness to her boyfriend. "If she had some other guy's kid, she could sting you for support payments, you know."

     Trent hurriedly signed. "Monique wouldn't do that to me."

     Jane shook her head. "She would for her kid, Trent." Jane knew that he was broke and deep in debt after spending so much on new equipment, so she didn't mention the filing fee. She would rather pay it herself than see her brother hurt.

     Mack looked down the field for Jamie, but it took him a minute too long. Three defensive linemen sacked him for the third time in a row.

     Mack climbed to his feet, groaning, hearing his back pop. One of his jobs as team captain was to act as a trainer of sorts. They had to get the offensive line together or Kevin would get killed. There were a lot of freshmen on the team and they had to be brought up to speed. The only problem was that Kevin hadn't shown up for school yet.

     Mack shook his head to clear the ringing.

     It was only the second day of school, though. Kevin often forgot what month it was. Without Brittany around, it was entirely possible that the QB had completely forgotten about school. Mack gritted his teeth in disgust. He would have to call Kevin's house and endure a possible conversation with one or more Thompsons.

     The offence lined up and Mack gave the center a good hard kick in the ass. "Idiot! You're supposed to protect me!"

     The center lumbered around, giving him a hard look. "Keep it up, Captain Crap. Where the hell is Thompson?"

     Mack gulped. The pre-season was just not off to an auspicious start. Jodie had abruptly transferred to Grove Hill and he was pretty pissed off. Maybe it was time to take up Coach Peterson on his offer.

     "To hell with this, then." He took off his helmet, threw it down and headed for the parking lot. Barch had given him a ration of shit that morning and he'd just had enough. Two could play at the transfer game, and he wouldn't be getting any scholarships by playing on a losing team.

     Daria sat in class, doodling and daydreaming about Tom.


     Daria jumped. "Yes?"

     "Please, answer the question!" DeMartino was at a low ebb. Even as he'd recovered some of his zeal for teaching, he'd lost his house to gambling debts and his bookies, Carmine and Associates, were hunting for him again.

     Daria tried to remember what they were talking about. "Could you repeat the question?"

     "The Magna Carta." Charles looked bored.

     DeMartino stared at the blonde. Something about her attitude scared him. She was wearing faded blue jeans and a black AC/DC T-shirt. "It seems that you've been studying, Brittany. He recovered, grinned and chuckled, evilly. "Please, elaborate," he said, voice dripping with sarcasm.

     In a dry, bored tone, Charles rattled off the pertinent facts surrounding the basis of the English constitution. Then he yawned.

     DeMartino looked both shocked and pleased. "Very good! Thank you, for making my day. I'll hold you to that standard, Brittany." He looked around. "Where's my least favorite quarterwit?"

     Charles shrugged. "O'Neill isn't here."

     DeMartino laughed, along with the class.

     Li, who had been standing at the door paralyzed in amazement, lurched into the room. "Ms. Taylor! What happened?"

     Charles sighed. "Okay, our universe formed when an intense point of heat appeared and began expanding. Causality came into effect and the nuclear forces began to differentiate-"

     "Enough! What did you do to Kevin Thompson? Sam Stag graduated last year and Kevin transferred to... Oakwood!" Li slumped in horror. Coach Wilson had just resigned, not wanting to ruin his win-loss ratio. "Half the team graduated last year! Now Michael Mackenzie has left, and the Coach! We have no viable football team!"

     The class gasped, except for Daria, Jane, Andrea and Charles, who laughed.

     "But, like, I heard that Kevin was like, gay, now." Lela smiled cattily at Brittany.

     Charles shrugged, smirking. "Queer as a duck. He just got a better offer, I guess."

     The whole class laughed.

     Li glared. "Not funny, Ms. Taylor. Such language has no place here. The fact remains that we have no football coach, half of the team has graduated and we need a QB!"

     Li took a deep breath and stabbed a finger into the air. "Every healthy male student will try out for the football team or else face suspension! The honor and glory of Laaawndale Football is at stake!" She turned and left.

     "It's at times like this that I'm glad to be a woman." Jane grinned at Ted. "Good luck."

     "She can't just draft people!" Ted frowned. He didn't like football. He had religious objections. It was like the Roman Arena, but even more corrupt.

     "I almost feel sorry for the poor sap who gets stuck trying to clean up this mess." DeMartino laughed, gruesomely. He didn't feel that sorry. He'd cleaned up betting on Lawndale last year. Now he'd have to go against. He almost went to call his bookie, before he remembered that Carmine was out to cut off a few of his fingers.

     The class eyed the fuming, twitching, muttering man with some trepidation.

     DeMartino ignored them, glaring off into space. "Damn Green Bay!" He'd been up ten thousand before he'd blown the whole wad betting on the Packers.

     Li suddenly came back in. "I almost forgot. Mr. DeMartino, you'll be filling in as the football coach, until further notice."

     "GAAAAAAAAAAA!" DeMartino fell to his knees. "Oh, my GOD!"

     Li gave him a sinister look. "Remember, the honor of Laaaawndale high is at stake. A lot of things are at stake." Having dropped her bomb, she turned to go."

     "But Ms. Li, have a heart! Why me? I'm a history teacher! Why not Ms. Morris? I- Wait!" He scrambled to his feet and ran off after her, leaving the class to its own devices.

     Charles yawned, then stiffened as someone tapped him on the shoulder. It was a new student, a greasy looking specimen with lank black hair.

     "Hi there, pretty angel. I'm Sam Kerne, and I just got into town. So, since this Kevin guy went and turned homo on you, how'd you like to try a real man? I know just how to treat a babe like you." He grinned, showing his crooked teeth in all their glory.

     Charles couldn't help his reaction. "Eep!"

     Sandi was at her locker, stowing the last of her makeup supplies. Soon, she would round up her henchwomen and get on with evaluating the new frosh prospects. To keep the Fashion Club going as it had since the sixties, new members had to be allowed in during the third year.

     They would all graduate next year, leaving the club in the lurch. Sandi also wanted to make sure that Quinn had a Quinn of her own to bite at her heels.

     Sandi looked up and did a double-take. A tall, handsome, well-muscled stranger was opening the locker next to hers. He was wearing a black mesh tank top that showed off a considerable slab of beef, tight, well filled jeans and heavy engineer's boots. The carrot-red hair was styled into a purple pigtail in the back and was cut really short in the front. A small nose ring topped it all off, giving him an exotic, almost oriental look.

     "Hi!" She smiled at him, like a cat with fat, juicy mouse. "I'm Sandi Griffin, president of the Lawndale Fashion Club. Have you ever thought about modeling?" If she could clean him up a little he'd make a perfect boyfriend.

     "I'm Br- Charles. You know me, don't you?"

     Sandi batted her eyelashes. "I'm sure that I wouldn't forget you," she purred.

     "Aww, and we were married and all." Brittany shook her head. Charles had told her all about it. Sandi was such a bitch.

     "Married?" Sandi gaped, remembering her audition. "Charles?"

     "In the flesh, so to speak." Brittany smiled. She could get some revenge for Charles, now.

     "Oh like, wow!" Sandi smiled, tossing her hair. "The summer's been very good to you, Charles."

     Brittany scowled. "Some would argue."

     "So, are you seeing anyone?" Sandi moved to snap him up before Quinn got her hooks into him.

     Brittany stared, suppressing her nausea. She was being hit on just as often as had before. "I'm seeing Brittany."

     "You and Brittany?" Sandi shook her head. "We're having a fashion intervention for her, later. I mean, she's not even wearing any makeup. Not that she ever wore it right..." Sandi hesitated. "You know, that punk look is kind of out, now. You should think more along the lines of preppy-"

     "Really?" Brittany wasn't pleased about the makeup crack. "Oh, look! There's Brittany. I have to go now." Brittany hurriedly strode away.

     Charles walked up, closely pursued by Sam. He mimed the word 'help' at Brittany as he stayed a few steps ahead of Sam.

     "So, Babe, we could go out to the beach, maybe fire up some doobies and watch the sunrise. What do you think?" Sam was totally focused on pursuit.

     My God, I've been replaced. Charles winced, thoughts of karmic justice assailing him. It didn't help that Sam was clearly the better letch.

     "Hi, Lambchop. Made a new friend?" Brittany was amused, but possessive.

     "Uhm, no." Charles swallowed and quickly edged behind Brittany, oblivious to Sandi's eye-rolling glare of utter contempt.

     "So, what's your name?" Brittany stared challengingly at Sam.

     Sam cracked a knuckle, menacingly. "Puddin' Tame." He was a boxer. Not a good boxer, but he'd never had a bit of trouble with ordinary guys. "Ask me again and I'll tell you the same."

     Charles peeked out from behind her. "He said that his name was Sammy K."

     Brittany smirked, swept Charles back out of the way and dropped her voice so that only the two of them could hear. "Sammy K. Well, Sammy K, Brittany here is really a guy."

     Sammy stared at Charles, slack jawed. "No!"

     Charles goggled at Brittany. "But-"

     "And he's my guy, Puddin'." Brittany smiled at him, dangerously. "You see, I'm really a girl, so it's okay."

     "Bullshit! You're just trying to psyche me out!" Sam punched, and ended up on the floor as Brittany turned his momentum against him and effortlessly threw him with a basic judo move.

     Sam slid to a face-up halt at Sandi's feet, having already decided that muscle-guy was just too good to trifle with. "Woah! Hi there, cutie pie! Do those long, lovely, lusciously curvaceous legs go all the way up to the gates of heaven?"

     "Hmph!" Sandi booted him in the head and strode away limping, nose high in the air.

     "Wow! She touched me! I'm in love! Sorry to run, kids, but duty calls." Sam ran off after her, whooping, followed by the crowd that had gathered.

     Brittany stared after him, then turned back to Charles, exasperated. She put her hands on her hips. "Okay, so, why didn't you just do like I taught you and put him down hard and fast?"

     Charles stepped back and shrugged, visibly upset. "Why should I? You were right there. Besides, I didn't want to have to get close enough to touch him."

     "Come, on," Brittany looked around and dropped her voice. "Charles. You're a man. Show some backbone."

     "I don't really feel like a man any more." Charles sighed, hugging himself. "You're different, too."

     Brittany blinked. "How?"

     "You look at tool catalogs, you like working on the Cadillac, you don't watch the same TV shows anymore, you like shooting rats at the dump, you like fishing, you-"

     "Okay, a few minor changes." Brittany had to smile. In fact, she was having a great time. Being a guy was a total blast.

     Charles nodded, eyes closed. "It scares me. I'm just slipping away and I know what they're thinking."

     "You've got to snap out of this, Charles. You can't go around scared all the time."

     Brittany took him by the shoulders, smiled at him, then kissed him, rubbing his back and neck until he finally relaxed. At least he wasn't crying. The near-rape at the gas station had badly shaken him. It had been weeks before he would go anywhere, alone.

     She put an arm around him and led him toward his next class. "So what were you so worried about, then? He couldn't really do anything. This is a school."

     He blushed. "I was afraid that he might try to cop a feel."

     Brittany laughed. "You'd know. After all, you probably know his playbook as well as he does."

     Charles hung his head. "Yes."

     She took an exaggerated look around and then copped a feel for herself. "Oh, no! A feel! Are you dying?"

     Charles just blushed scarlet.

     Brittany relented and then gave him a serious look. "Cheer up, Charles. As long as you're a girl, I'll be a man, and that means that I'll be here to make sure that they keep their thoughts to themselves."

     Daria sat at the table, mechanically eating.

     "-and so Trent signed the papers, packed up and left." Jane looked over at Daria. "And that's why the world ends in three days."

     "Uh-huh." Daria was staring at the ghost of Tommy Sherman, who was sitting disconsolately by himself at a table. She'd seen him wandering the halls that morning, trying to get someone to answer him.

     "Daria?" Jane shook her head, sadly. There was a time when any mention of Trent made Daria blush. "What are you looking at?"

     "Nothing!" Daria turned her eyes away from the ghost. She knew instinctively that it would never leave her alone if it knew that she could see it. Fortunately, it didn't seem to be able to see very far. Most of the ghosts that she'd seen seemed to be fairly mindless, but this brooding entity looked like it could still think. It made a strange sort of sense. Tommy had been a walking amalgam of bad habits, so he had a very strong ghost.

     Jane was beginning to wonder about Daria. She'd been busy with Mike all summer and had missed a lot of fairly important details, like Daria finally getting used to her contacts and Trent becoming a serious musician.

     "Are the new contacts bothering you?"

     Daria smiled. "No, they feel like they're not even there." She would have to make up a story about eye-surgery soon.

     Jane shrugged. "How are things going with Tom?" Jane still felt a little guilty about that. She'd been very hard on them both, for something that was mostly her fault anyway. Mike gave her a whole new take on things.

     Daria swallowed. "Oh, you know. We're still ducking Cupid." Tom had begun to wonder about her avoidance of close proximity, until she'd given him a 'special' birthday present to make up for it. It was a relief to get the sex thing out of the way.

     Jane smiled, mysteriously. "Why?"

     Daria frowned. "I don't want to end up married before I'm nineteen."

     Jane smirked. "This is the twenty first century, Daria. You don't have to marry a guy just to have a little fun."

     Daria flushed. "That's not the problem, Lane."

     Jane frowned. "Okay, but-"

     "Hey, Daria. Did you come up with anything?" Brittany sat down at the table.

     Jane looked at the very handsome guy that had just joined her friend, then smiled, wickedly. "Daria! You dark horse, you!"

     Daria looked at her, bewildered. "What?"

     Jane smirked, knowingly. "Who's your new friend?"

     Daria opened her mouth, then hesitated. She didn't want to involve Jane in the machinations of these supernatural creatures. Jane, being Jane, might push her way in and get hurt really bad.

     "Umm, my name is Charlie." Brittany, who knew immediately what Jane was thinking, met Daria's eyes and grinned. She didn't mind people thinking that they had something going. She'd recently noticed that Daria was pretty cute.

     "We um, met at the Zen." Daria gave Brittany a strained smile, hoping that she would go along with it. "I'm helping Charlie out with... tutoring."

     Brittany swallowed. "Right. Class work. Will you call me later, Daria?"

     Daria nodded, flushing. "Sure."

     Jane watched the muscular male form walk away. "Daria, Daria, Daria. Nice work. I guess that you and Quinn really are blood relatives, after all." She felt sorry for Tom, but not very sorry.

     Daria suppressed a heartfelt groan, especially when she noticed a scorchingly jealous look coming her way from Charles. That was just ridiculous.

     Brittany's heart pounded. She was almost shivering with excitement as she suited up. It was her first time in the men's locker room, and she wasn't very impressed with her classmates. She hoped that they would prove to be more adequate as football players.

     The locker room was abnormally quiet as the first batch of prospective Lawndale Lions exited and lined up on the field. It was more of a death march than anything else.

     "Right." DeMartino stared at them, eye popping. "Damn football, anyway!" He blew his whistle for emphasis.

     Most of the rookies nodded their agreement.

     Jamie White cleared his throat. "Look... Coach, we-"

     "I'm a history teacher, NOT A GODDAMMED PARASITE FOOTBALL COACH!" DeMartino swayed on his feet. "Oh, why didn't I just go to sea, like my Pop-"

     "Uhm, we like, got you a little something to like, help out, C- Mr. DeMartino." Jamey pointed to a comfortable looking lawn-lounger, sitting in the shade cast by a small awning, with an ice chest next to it. "That's the coaches chair. We always sat everything up just like that for Gibson. He let us run our own drills."

     "Oh. All right, then." DeMartino walked over and inspected the chair. He opened the ice chest to find that it contained only a large plastic pitcher, a sack of ice-cubes and a thermal mug. He lifted out the pitcher, thumbed open the top and smelled the contents, eyes widening.

     "Outstanding, Mr. White. I'll just... observe, then. Carry on."

     Jamie turned back to the team, in relief. It would be really hard without Mack, but he would do his best. "Okay, guys, my name is Jamie White, first string running back and new team captain. First of all, I'd like to thank everyone for turning out. We'll start out with a few simple drills to determine your level of agility and speed."

     DeMartino poured himself a Margarita and tasted it. It was icy cold and truly delicious. He reflected that White had a promising career as a bartender ahead of him when he gave up this athletic nonsense.

     DeMartino leaned back in the comfortable lawn lounger and tentatively smiled. Maybe football coaching wasn't as hard as it looked. He made a mental note to bring a sun hat and dark glasses, tomorrow. He sat the pitcher back into the ice chest, then noticed the book lying next to it.

     "The Dummies Guide to Football Coaching? What kind of an idiot would buy this?" Humming contentedly, DeMartino drank thirstily from his mug, yawned and idly started thumbing through the book.

     Jodie swallowed and knocked at the Ruttheimer door. She had resolved to stay away, but her curiosity had finally gotten the best of her.

     "Yesss?" Nadia smiled winningly at the girl. Here was another pawn, convieniently presenting itself.

     "Um, is Br- Charles here?" Jodie didn't like the woman's looks at all.

     "Come in, Darlingk." Tcharles iss in his room. Do you vant to just go up?" Nadia stepped back, invitingly.

     Jodie smiled nervously. "Which one is it?"

     "On the second floor, to the right." Nadia watched her pass and plotted.

     Jodie knocked and swallowed when a male voice said, "Come in."

     Jodie entered. "Bri-" She checked. There were two other guys in the room. "Um, hi."

     Brittany smiled at Mills and Hardesty. "Look guys, I'll see you two later, alright?"

     The two made their introductions and then left, smiling at Jodie.

     Jodie watched them go and felt the heat rise to her cheeks. "Oh my God, do you think they thought that I..."

     Brittany shrugged, waving her to a seat. "Who cares? They're just a couple of numbnuts anyway. What can I do for you, Jodie?"

     Jodie winced. "I just wanted to talk."

     Brittany lolled back on the bed. "Sure!"

     Jodie cleared her throat. "What's it like?" She took a deep breath. "Being a guy, I mean."

     Brittany scratched at the stubble on her chin and eyed Jodie, calculatingly. "Are you sure that you really want to know?"

     Jodie hesitated and then nodded.

     Brittany smiled. "I love it. It's a man's world, Jodie, and only I know how much of one it really is. I hope that I never have to switch back."

     Jodie exhaled. "That's what I was afraid of."

     Daria was in her room, using the internet to research ghosts, when the phone rang.

     Quinn's shout floated up the stairs. "Dariiiaaa! It's for youuu!"

     Daria picked up. "Hello?"

     "Hey, Daria."

     Daria frowned. The voice was valley-guy and very familiar. "Ummm, and you would be?"

     "Hey, you've been watching out for me for months."

     Daria gasped. "You! What do you want?"

     Cupid blinked in surprise. "Don't get your shorts in a knot. I just want to talk to you."

     "Well then, talk." Daria was still angry at the anxiety that that the supernatural stalker had put her through.

     Cupid chuckled. "I need to like, visit, so that we can talk without your sister listening in. That girl needs someone special to keep her busy."

     "Quinn! Get off of the line!" Daria heard a gasp and then a click. "Cupid, you stay away from my family. I don't want you-"

     "Then you'd better start being a little nicer to me, don't you think? Ordering the old gods around isn't the best way to gain our favor, Daria." Cupid grinned. He really liked Daria.

     "Um, sorry." Daria swallowed. "Please don't zap any of my family members again."

     "Sorry, Babe, it's my job. Look, I have something for you. I'll be there in a bit, so hang around." He hung up.

     Daria hung up her phone, then turned back to her computer. "Oh, crap. Them again."

     Paddy, sitting on her bed, said, "Oh crap, indeed."

     "Ahhhhhhhh!" Daria stared, then climbed down from her desk. "Paddy? How did you get here?"

     "We're bleedin' gods, see, and we can do any bleedin' fing we bleedin' well want, so long as it's bleedin' roight, or else not too bleedin' wrong." The spirit of Guy Fawkes had just stepped out of the closet.

     Daria didn't even blink. She was getting used to this sort of thing. "Hello, Guy. I meant that I can usually tell when one of you thing- Er, guys are around."

     Guy Fawks nodded. "Roight. I just pu' a dimensional wormhole in yer closet. 'S a bit bigger, now." He belched. "I'll miss that bloody Chinese restaurant."

     Daria held her head in her hands and made a mental note to get a padlock and a very heavy chain for the closet door. "I don't deliver. Why don't you go ahead and move it back?"

     Guy smirked. "Think of it as a bloody birfday present. None of these wankers thought of one."

     "It is not my birthday." Daria wondered if she could lose them by randomly hopping airplanes.

     "'Tis a birthday of sorts, lass. Today you learn who you are." Paddy smiled at her in a way that was not at all reassuring.

     Guy nodded, then looked at Paddy, smirking unpleasantly. "Okay, Lucky, since Fat Arse is late, why don't we bloody well get started?"

     Paddy shot to his feet. "English bastard! How dare ye call me that!" A blue nimbus formed around him.

     "What are you going to do, you pathetic little wanker? Hit me wiv a bloody Lucky Charm?" Guy laughed until he was weak-kneed. Ever since the pantheon had gotten cable, Paddy had been really easy to wind up.

     The incarnation of Dionoysius was so angry that heat distortions began to shimmer around him. "Tha's it! Ye'd better get ready for somethin' magically delicious, ya bastard!"

     "Ahh! Daria! What-" Quinn stood at the door, looking pole-axed. "Oh, no. Holidays," she whispered, shivering.

     "Agh! Me bloody guts!" Guy projectile vomited all over Daria's bed."

     "Ya ha! English shiteball! Tha's what ye get for eatin' yer English tripe!" Paddy laughed and laughed as Guy vomited up what looked like his internal organs.

     "Dammit!" Daria ran past them as Guy straightened and glowed bright yellow. She grabbed Quinn and swept her out of the room, slamming the heavy door behind her.

     "Me bleedin' Chinese dinner! Die, Bogtrotter!"

     Daria winced as the whole house shook and an intense light outlined the cracks around her closed door.

     Quinn was babbling, white faced and hyperventilating. "But Holidays are real and that means that everything's real but that can't be right or every one would know about Daria's weird friends making people fall in love and drink green beer and eat disgusting English animal parts and oh no, the Halloween girl will come back and those awful spiders will be running around in the house again, making those big webs and putting drippy candles everywhere-"

     Daria caught her as Quinn gave a little sigh and fainted in her arms. "Okay, Sissy, first we get you out of the house, then we..." Daria trailed off, wondering who you called when there were feuding deities in your bedroom. 911? The Vatican?

     Quinn woke up as they reached the front door. "God! Don't call me that!" She shuddered. "If Sandi ever heard you call me Sissy... Why are you carrying me?"

     Daria threw the door open, to reveal Cupid standing there, fist raised to knock.

     "Oh. C-Cupid." Quinn fainted again.

     Cupid blinked, then regarded Quinn with interest. "There's just no way that she should be able to recognize me, unless..." He trailed off, smiling.

     The house shook again and wild laughter carried down the stairs.

     Cupid looked up and groaned. "Oh, dudes, not now."

     He took the stairs two at a time and burst into Daria's room.

     Daria laid Quinn on the couch and cautiously followed. When she reached the doorway, all she could see was a golden haze in the room, obscuring everything, like a fog. In it's midst, Cupid had Paddy and Guy in headlocks, one under each arm, and was busily running their heads repeatedly into the hand rail set into the wall's padding, putting U shaped dents into it.

     "Um, you guys?" Daria swallowed and cautiously reached out to touch the yellow fog, which instantly turned a bright emerald green, then winked out.

     "Woah! That was good, Daria." Cupid dropped his unconscious comrades and looked around at the shambles. "Let's go back downstairs and like, talk. These tools will clean up after themselves when they come around."

     Daria pointed at her vomit-coated bed, torn wall padding, ruined carpet and demolished TV. "How will they clean that up? More of your weird magic?"

     Cupid shook his head, shooing her ahead of him and descending the stairs. "No, they'll have to get some money to replace it. Magic is almost completely useless unless you're dealing with a magical problem."

     "Of course." Daria stopped at the front door. "Magic cured my vision problems. That was useful."

     Cupid sat down on the chair, motioning Daria down on the sofa, next to Quinn. "Your sight was always perfect. A glamour cast before you were born resulted in your poor eyesight."

     Daria gasped. "What? Someone cursed me?"

     Cupid shrugged. "It was supposed to be for your own protection, Daria." He didn't tell her that she was supposed to be blind, to prevent her from seeing too much. Helen had proven to have a stubborn power of her own, unconsciously protecting her unborn daughter and weakening the enchantment so that Daria could see. Fortunately, Daria had either missed the significance or totally ignored the supernatural aspects of what she saw, taking it as an illusion caused by her near-blindness.

     Daria started to retort, and Cupid raised a hand. "I didn't do it. I can't tell you who did, but I can tell you like, why."

     Daria sat, arms folded, remembering the thick glasses and the merciless taunting that she'd endured as a child. "I'm listening."

     Cupid took a deep breath. "Okay, like, do you know anything about genetics?"

     Quinn woke up to someone clutching her protectively, occasionally stroking her hair. She lay quietly curled up against someone on the couch, then suddenly realized that it was Daria. It only took her another second to realize that Daria was trembling, scared almost out of her wits.

     "And so all these generations later, the two bloodlines come together and suddenly produce ... what?" Daria's voice quavered.

     Quinn lay perfectly still, feeling Daria's hands grow even more tense on her brow.

     Cupid answered seriously. "No one really knows. One offspring is clearly at least a demigod, but the other is something... else. Something new, a hybrid. Some personages tried to deal with the potential threat by killing it in the womb." A look of inexpressible sadness crossed his face. "Morgendorffer is a corruption, Daria. Your original family name was Morningstar, a few dozen generations back."

     Daria swallowed. "You mean like... the Devil?"

     "You could just call him gramps." Cupid smiled at her. "Don't worry, it's not really that big a deal. He was just another angel then. It wasn't until he lost his gig that he got the bad rep."

     "Oh no! I'm descended from Lucifer on both sides!" She tugged at her hair. "No wonder people think that I'm weird. I AM weird!"

     Cupid winced. "No-

     "Bullshit! Why else would they try to blind me?" Daria sobbed once.

     Cupid took a breath. There was an element of truth there. "Your family hasn't really been very... tame until lately, Daria. Just because the women are usually super-manipulative witches and the men are virtual killing machines, some deities wrongly concluded that the entire line was tainted."

     Daria remembered Quinn's difficult birth. She had been very young, but the anxiety of the time was indelibly marked in her memory. Helen had been very worried about Quinn's early development, lavishing attention on her. "You can't have her." Daria husked, clutching Quinn with bone-crushing tightness and glowing a faint green. "Quinn is my little sister and I love her. You'll have to go through me first, demon or not!"

     Cupid laughed. "She's not the problem, Daria. Quinn's a sweet girl who wouldn't hurt a fly, no matter how much power she gains. You're the one with the right DNA. You have truly demonic potential."

     "Me?" Daria swallowed. "But I don't..."

     Cupid sighed. "The fact that your ancestral lines are angelic in origin doesn't make you predestined for evil, Daria. A demon is just a rebel angel, drawing on the power of darkness, or a corrupted human soul that has wholeheartedly joined the rebels and gained access to their power. All it means is that you could potentially draw on the dark in your own right if you ever wanted to lead some twisted crusade to overrun the planet. HE assures us that every soul is clean when it returns to the mortal plane through rebirth."

     Daria felt Quinn swallow but didn't say anything. She would also play dead, if it were possible.

     "World conquest would be way too much work and I'd just have to spend all of my time dealing with even more idiots." Daria made a superhuman effort and managed to reduce her trembling, fractionally. "So what now?"

     Cupid crossed his arms. "What do you want?"

     Daria shrugged. "I want answers. Why doesn't everyone know about stuff like this?"

     "They do. They just don't really care." Cupid smiled. "What do you think Christmas and all that is about?"

     Daria inhaled. "So how about God? Could you ask him?"

     Cupid shuddered. Like all the gods, he was deathly afraid of God. "Prayer is reserved for mortals. I wouldn't presume to question Him." Cupid sighed. "We aren't supposed to go outside of channels. In cosmic terms, I rank somewhere below the shrubbery."

     Daria swallowed. "I'm not human?"

     Cupid laughed. "Yeah, you're still a human. You have a human soul, and you'll die someday, like a human does." Cupid hated to lie, but she needed the reassurance.

     Quinn opened one eye. "How about me? Do I get to be a superhero too?"

     Cupid grinned at her. Quinn had all of the signs of being able to handle manna. "No, but you might be a little bit divine. Now go upstairs to bed and forget all about this, my pretty little demigoddess. You're better off not knowing, for now."

     "Oh, good." Quinn climbed the stairs, feeling a great deal of relief, even through the compulsion that had taken her. Compulsion was something that she understood. It was very like what she did to the three J's.

     That thought annoyed her. Frowning, Quinn started analyzing it. It had a weakness, there.

     By the time Quinn reached the top of the stairs, she was free of the spell. Concealing herself, she settled in to eavesdrop on her sister and the god.

     Daria sat for a while, then shrugged. "Okay. So now what?"

     Cupid frowned, his mind on Quinn. "Superhero? No way!" He shuddered. "Now, I teach you how to defend yourself."

     "From who?" Daria swallowed.

     "From me, for now." Cupid stood and let a tiny red ball of manna form on his fingertip. He smiled and flipped it at her.

     "Yow!" Daria leapt up. "That really stung!"

     "Yeah." He grew another manna pellet, and snapped it at her. "It's suppose to."

     Daria dodged, making a small sonic boom. "Oh! It burned the wall! Mom's going to kill me!"

     "Like, dodging will only get you so far. You have to block, too." Cupid smirked. You couldn't dodge a lightning bolt.

     "Why? Who's going to attack me?" Daria strained, and a small green ball shot from her hand.

     Cupid casually parried it back at her with the back of his hand. "Demons. They'll want to like, knock you up, Daria. Your firstborn could well be the Devil incarnate."

     "Ahh! Ow!" Daria's jaw dropped. "Oh, fuck! My kid could be the antichrist?"

     The front door opened. "What's going on here!" Jake stood, keys in hand.

     "Nothing." Cupid looked at Helen with all his senses. "Hi there, Mrs. Morgendorffer." He gave her a sly, suggestive grin. She was ready.

     Helen frowned, feeling like he was undressing her with his eyes. He looked so familiar. "Who are you? What happened to the wall?"

     "Well." Cupid drew his tazer. "I'm just a random stranger, here for your daughter. Nothing to worry about. As for the wall, it was this weird little weapon. I was playing around, and oops!" He zapped them. "It happened just like that."

     "Oh. Jakey." Helen looked at her husband, then smiled.

     "That'sokayDariahavefun." Jake grabbed Helen and raced up the stairs with her.

     "She'll be pregnant before dawn." Cupid grinned. He loved his job.

     "Oh, great. Another sibling." Daria shook her head.

     Cupid cocked his head as if listening then nodded, grinning. "Twin brothers." The gods owed Helen.

     Daria closed her eyes. "Okay. So our lives are ruined. Thanks ever so much."

     Cupid frowned. "What's wrong with you? Don't you want some brothers?"

     "Sure! And I want to go to college, too. But mom will lose her job the minute that she gets pregnant. She'll never make partner and dad's business isn't exactly stable. That means no college and a pretty rotten life for us around here." Daria sighed.

     Cupid shrugged. "Just go get some treasure or something. You have power, Daria. Use it. You can easily provide for your family. Your sister can, too."

     Daria nodded, slowly. It was true. She knew that she could find things now. If she needed money, all she would have to do would be to follow her senses until she reached it. "Okay then, getting back to this whole antichrist issue, just how can I avoid it?"

     "Well, don't sleep with anyone." Cupid raised an eyebrow and grinned at her.

     Daria flushed. "I slept with Tom. A lot."

     Cupid laughed. "Good! Tom's okay. Just don't sleep with any demons, then."

     Daria looked at him with disgust. "Right. What if they try to rape me?"

     "I say just destroy them, but it's really up to you." He smiled at her surprise. "Some of us just turn them into plants or something useful, like that."

     "Destroy them? But they're demons!" Daria shivered. The gods were scary enough.

     "And they'll be dead ones if you zap them. Some of them are pretty tough, but the ones up here are just the soulless corrupted revenants of humans. The real heavy hitters are all stuck in hell. Stay out of hell, and you should be alright." Cupid raised his arm. "Can you see my manna? Look!"

     Daria swallowed, focused a new sense, and nodded. "Yes."

     At the head of the stairs, Quinn peeked and nodded too.

     "Draw on yours like that." He waited until she was glowing an emerald green, then fired a huge ball of manna at her. It was absorbed, making her glow brighter for a second.

     "See, that's one way, but you don't want to do that with a demon. They taste pretty bad, and you get sick. You want to block."

     Daria nodded and the green glow dimmed. "I see. Okay, try it now."

     He shot another, smaller ball at her and it bounced off. "You got it. That's plenty for now. Come on, let's go check on those two idiots."

     "Which ones?" Daria knew a lot of idiots.

     Quinn snuck back into her room and sat, listening. She heard Daria and Cupid walk by her door, arguing. There was an even bigger row, when they went into Daria's room. Then, suddenly, the voices cut off in mid syllable. All that was left was the monotonous squeaking of bedsprings, from the master bedroom.

     Quinn walked out and cautiously and opened Daria's door. She looked around, then started laughing.

     The padding was gone, revealing a much larger room with fresh looking walls painted in various cheery, incredibly filthy Romanesque frescoes of orgy scenes. It looked like a princess's bedroom. A very randy princesses bedroom. Looking at the gods and goddesses painted on the ceiling, she wondered what the various runes and symbols inscribed around them meant.

     Sitting on the large, airy, floral patterned canopy bed, she closed her eyes and concentrated. After a time, a small pink globe formed above her hand.

     Quinn smiled. She wasn't so helpless after all. She made another one and started juggling them. Presently, her mother's cries drove her out of the house, to work on her blocking.

     Charles vomited, feeling his guts turning inside out. This was the third day of the virus, and he felt terrible. He decided not to go to school today. Brittany was doing surprisingly well in his classes, due to intensive studying, and her classes were nothing for him. He could miss a day.

     He rinsed out his mouth and called in sick. After brushing his teeth, he went back to bed, groaning.

     Someone shook him awake. "Britty!"

     Charles opened his eyes. "Eeep!" There was a strange man in his room.

     "Britty!" Steve Taylor kissed his daughter. "What are you doing in bed?"

     "I'm sick." Charles swallowed, looking very nauseated. "Er... Daddy."

     "Huh. Well, get up! I got you some presents!" Steve loved his daughter like he loved his Lamborghini. He liked to buy accessories for both.

     Charles followed Steve downstairs, glaring at the back of his head. This was the fool that had started drugging Brittany when she was eight years old. He'd spent several days going through the papers in the man's office, and he wasn't impressed with anything about Steve Taylor.

     "Britty honey!" Ashley kissed him, then stepped back. "Ooh! You look so good! Like you're glowing!"

     Charles brought forth all of his knowledge of feminine gushing and braced himself. "You too, Ashley Amber! You have such a nice tan!" It was true. She looked great.

     "Why, thanks, sugar!" Ashley posed, then laughed. "You look so good, Britty! I just can't get over it. You look like a Sports Illustrated model."

     Charles swallowed, realizing that he felt absolutely no attraction for her. "Thanks. I've been working out a lot."

     "I got you some swimsuits and this neat jade ankle bracelet, on Bimini." Ashley smiled at her, expectantly.

     Charles just wanted to go back to bed. "Oh, cool!" He tried to look interested, but failed.

     "What's the matter?" Ashley looked at her, puzzled. Brittany seemed different.

     Charles shrugged. "I'm sick. I have a stomach virus or something."

     Ashley crinkled her eyes, then put her palm on Charles' forehead. "You are a little flushed. Steve went to get the presents that he brought you. Maybe you should get back to bed. I'll um... distract him."

     Charles felt more than a little ill at the thought of Ashley having to sell herself to a crass old fool like Steve Taylor. A woman's lot in life wasn't an easy one, and it scared him so badly that sometimes he couldn't sleep. "No! I'm okay." Resolutely, he put on a smile and prepared to deceive Taylor.

     Quinn slunk into school bleary-eyed and late, hoping to be ignored, but DeMartino made an issue of it.

     "Ms. Morgendorffer!" DeMartino grinned like the maniac he was and proceeded to verbally flay her. "To what do we owe the honor of your company today? Ten minutes late!"

     Quinn tiredly pulled in her will and tried to influence him, but it snapped back and made her blurt out the truth. "It's my parents! They've been in bed since Friday!"

     DeMartino frowned. The Morgendorffers were almost friends. "Are they sick?" he asked, in a softer tone.

     Quinn tried to nod, but her own compulsion had her. "In the head! All they do anymore is fu- do it, All night long!"

     The class stared at her, then broke up. Sandi slid to the floor, collapsing with hysterical laughter.

     Sandi laughed again, looking at Quinn in the bathroom mirror with real affection. "All they do anymore is fu- do it!" She mocked, breaking up all the girls there.

     "Well it's true!" Quinn shuddered, red faced. "The bedsprings never quit squeaking. They were at it from six till two, last night."

     "That's impossible." Trish, a senior, looked at her, coolly aloof. "No guy can last that long."

     Quinn smirked. "My dad can." She realized what she was saying and shivered again in revulsion. She started mwashing her hands again. "Ugh! What a couple of perverts."

     "Prove it!" Trish smiled at her, unpleasantly. None of the guys that she'd been with had ever lasted for more than three minutes. "I'll bet you my place on the Flag Team, against your place on the Fashion Club that they can't even go for an hour."

     Quinn frowned. "How-"

     "No way! Fifty bucks says that they don't even last thirty minutes!" Lucy knew the reality as well as Trish. Her boyfriends were just pathetic.

     "I'll cover that and put another hundred on Jake!" Jane came out of a stall. She'd spent an embarrassing night at the Morgendorffer's, once. Daria had slept like a baby while Jake and Helen went at it like hyperactive rabbits for hours.

     "I'll take any bets against Jake. Come on, is anybody here ma- woman enough to put their money on it?" Charles came forward. He'd once overheard Daria complaining to Quinn about her parents, and smelled an opportunity to score. He knew that some men could last a long time. Brittany was currently one of them, and he would be too, once he got back to normal.

     "How do we tell? I'm not taking anyone's word on it." Trish also smelled easy money.

     "How about a sleepover?" Sandi grinned maliciously at Quinn. It would serve her right to lose the VP slot to Trish. Trish wasn't up to the Fashion Club standard, and wouldn't last a week. Stacy could be promoted and Quinn would have fallen back to the lowly secretary position.

     "A sleepover? But that's so... junior high." Quinn frowned, trying to get out of it.

     "So what? It's not a real sleepover anyway, just a bet. I'm in." Trish smirked.

     Quinn shrugged, then seeing that there was no way out, nodded.

     "Count me out." Jane didn't want to endure it again. "I'll take your word for it."

     The more sexually active high school girls flocked to bet. None of the boys that they'd slept with had ever lasted very long. Charles, in a gesture of goodwill, sold part of the bank to Jane and Quinn, even as he adjusted odds and started a pool on how long they would last. Brittany could go for a good three hours and he based his computations on that.

     Cupid appeared in Daria's closet, then frowned. It was padlocked from the outside.

     Grinning, he phased through the walls and made his invisible way down the stairs.

     Quinn was in front of the TV with a big crowd of girls, eating popcorn and watching movies. Cupid frowned. A simple snatch was out of the question.

     Quinn sensed him and made for the bathroom, upstairs. She fussed with her hair and finally felt him come in. "Cupid?"

     Cupid solidified, smiling. She had detected him! "Wow, like, good senses."

     "Thanks." She looked worried. "Am I in trouble?"

     Cupid nodded. "A little. You have to come and train with Daria, now that you started. You could really hurt someone, half-trained."

     Quinn turned on a million watts of cute and sighed. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to do anything wrong."

     Cupid was amused. "That won't work on me, Baby."

     "It works on daddy and cops." Quinn grinned, impishly.

     "Of course." Cupid sighed. It was working. "You can't like, go around trying to control people, Quinn. They're like, suppose to have free will or something."

     "I'm not gonna do it anymore. It really backfired on me today." Quinn winced.

     "That's one of the hazards of compulsion." Cupid grinned. "What happened?"

     Unwillingly, Quinn told him what was going on.

     Cupid laughed for a long time. Then he reached into nowhere, pulled out a rifle-like weapon and flicked a switch on the side. The weapon hummed loudly at first, then faded into inaudibility, as an amber overload light began flashing on the stock.

     "W- what's that?" Quinn swallowed. It looked really dangerous.

     "This, is the BFG of love." He slotted in an extra power pack and turned the intensity knob to maximum. "I'm gonna make Jake into a living legend."

     "Oh, fuck!" Quinn shuddered. Daria would have her guts for garters, when she heard about this one.

     "Yep." He grinned. "I always wanted to test this thing out and those two are perfect. They have more than human endurance, when the chips are down. Let's see how a really divine blast affects them." He'd thought about what Daria had said, and come to the conclusion that he should help them. They wouldn't be losing their jobs after this.

     Quinn gasped. "But-"

     "Sorry, but I like, gotta go. Better be ready, because someone will come for you tomorrow." Cupid disappeared so that Quinn wouldn't be able to sense him at all.

     "Oh, no! What have I done!" Quinn held her head in her hands and wondered if her aunt Rita would be up to having a visitor.

     Jake opened the door for Helen and followed her in. They had taken a sick day, slept in and gone out for a romantic dinner. The urgency was gone, but the memories were still warm, so they were both being extra affectionate.

     "Helloo, Quinn. What's going on?" Helen eyed the assortment of strange girls in the room. She only recognized Sandi.

     "We're having a sleepover." Quinn spoke in a monotone. It didn't matter what she said. Cupid had just appeared at the top of the stairs, and was fiddling with the BFG of Love.

     Helen frowned. "A sleepover? Well, I guess that's fine." She eyed the embarrassed looking girls. "Quinn, Where is Daria?"

     Jake frowned. What was that misty shape at the top of the stairs? His hackles started to rise.

     "Don't worry about it." Quinn glared at Cupid, considering hitting him with a fireball.

     Helen opened her mouth, and soundlessly screamed in unison with Jake. An impossibly thick beam of light lit them up from the inside.

     Cupid brought the BFG up into an elaborate rifle salute to Quinn, then walked back into Daria's room and through the portal.

     Quinn winced. Jake's eyes seemed to have turned completely black, and he looked very muscular. Almost demonically handsome. She wrenched her eyes away, frantically blocking out the impure thoughts that had started to bubble to the surface.

     Helen turned to her and Quinn gasped. She looked great. Her age was impossible to guess. She could have passed for a woman in her early twenties.

     "Jake!" Helen looked at him and gasped. "You should all leave now, girls." Helen's voice was incredibly musical.

     "Right, Mom." Quinn turned to the girls and saw with shock that they were all staring at Jake, drooling. The backlash must have caught them.

     "Ewwww! Time to go!"

     Jake didn't even look at them. He just snatched Helen up with a devastating grin and leapt up the stairs like an acrobat, only touching the ground twice.

     Sandi gasped, letting out the breath that she'd been holding. "That's your dad?" Did your aunt and uncle like, move out?"

     Trish swallowed. "Say, Quinn. Where does... Jake... work?"

     Quinn glared. "Stay away from him, or else." Something about that glare convinced them not to follow that line of inquiry too far.

     Quinn had a long and embarrassing, but very profitable night. She was grateful when the last few girls finally left, because Jake and Helen were still going at it, shaking the whole house from the wreckage of their bed.

     Locking the front door after them, she went into Daria's room, to wait. She quickly fell asleep on the bed.

     Daria stepped through the portal and smiled at her sleeping sister. Daria had been gone for thirty days, her time. Focusing her newly trained senses, she frowned. Quinn had a very low energy level.


     Quinn woke up with a start. "Daria! What are you doing in my room in the middle of the night?"

     "This is my room and it's morning." Daria looked at her confused sister and had to smile.

     "What... oh, no, it wasn't a dream." Quinn started babbling, incoherently.

     Daria frowned and gestured at her sister, casting a spell to calm her down. "Slow down, Quinn. What's the matter?" A month of training in a faster time zone had developed her senses to the point that she could easily detect the residue of Cupid's work.

     "No sleep. Gotta go to school. Mom and Dad, all night. Cupid and the BFG of love..." Quinn yawned and drifted off.

     Daria thought about it and then angrily picked Quinn up. She didn't ask for much, but having her family left alone by those maniac godlets was number-one on the list. Heading back through the dimensional wormhole, she left her sister asleep in a safe place and then went to have a word with Cupid.

     Quinn sat up and yawned. She blinked, frowned and rubbed at her eyes. Opening them again, she took another look around.


     Quinn sprang up and out of the bed, shuddering. "God!"

     The bed was decorated with a spider and bat motif, with red sheets and orange blankets. The canopy was made of spider webs, complete with tarantula sized spiders scurrying over it. The flickering light was cast by a row of leering jack-o-lanterns, mounted on the headboard.

     Quinn gulped, picked up a candleholder and crushed a big spider that was walking across the bedroom floor.

     "Hey!" Halloween opened the door. "Those cost a lot of mana!"

     Quinn shrank away from her. "They're so gross."

     Halloween shrugged. "Less gross than my last gig. I used to be Hectate." She shuddered. "Besides, they aren't real spiders."

     "Hectate, Queen of Hell?" Quinn's eyes grew wide.

     "Hel. I got a promotion." Halloween frowned. Everyone confused Hel with Hell.

     "Then why do you still dress like that?" Quinn looked at Halloween's outfit, her disdain communicating itself clearly.

     Halloween eyed Quinn without any friendliness. "Come on, Princess, let's go."

     "Where?" Quinn was reluctant to go anywhere with the Queen of Hell.

     "Home." She glanced sharply at Quinn. "Come on!"

     "Your home or mine?" Quinn didn't need to go to hell. It was clearly very bad for the complexion. Not to mention the prospect of meeting unwanted relatives.

     "This is my home." Halloween was getting a little miffed. "We're going to yours."

     "You mean I'm in Hell?" Quinn, skin crawling, saw another spider on the wall. "Ugh! How did I get here?"

     Halloween laughed. "Your sister was concerned about you getting some rest and reminded me that I owed her, Princess. Besides, this isn't Hell. I was never in the real Hell, just the underworld, Hel." She opened a curtain to reveal a sunny landscape of palm trees. "This is Holiday Island."

     "Oh, good." Quinn shuddered in relief. Daria had told her all about it. Of course, Daria had also put her to sleep in the middle of spider central. Daria would pay dearly.

     A thought struck Quinn. "What about my parents? What do I tell them about missing school?"

     Halloween smiled, maliciously. "Don't worry so much, Princess. Daria brought you here so that you could get some rest." She didn't tell Quinn that it was still early morning in Lawndale. Not one full millisecond had passed.

     Quinn blinked in surprise, then winced, remembering her parents and their all-night performance. "Not that I'm going to school today, anyway."

     "Really? Good!" Halloween grew a fist-sized ball of orange manna, smiling maliciously. "We can get you started, then, Princess." Cupid wouldn't mind some help.

     "Eeep!" Quinn blocked it with her hand and reflexively threw a sizzling pink ball of her own, the size of a basketball. "Quit calling me princess!"

     "Woah!" Halloween dodged, glaring angrily at the large hole in her wall. "A natural, huh? Well then, let's see what you've really got, Little Miss Sugar-and-Spice."

     "But... I don't want to fight!" Quinn blinked away tears. She'd been scared, and gotten revenge by being a little catty, but no one had ever just attacked her before.

     Halloween grinned, maliciously. "That's just too, too bad, Princess. Spider swarm attack!"

     Paddy was wandering down the beach, enjoying the tropical morning, when a massive shockwave suddenly burst through the jungle, flattening all in its path. Paddy threw himself to cover in front of a small dune and dug into the sand, hanging on for dear life as the never-ending blast carried a storm of dirt, trees, plaster chips, coconuts, wood and even a few spiders over him and out into the surf.

     After it all died down, Paddy mumbled a prayer, even though he wasn't supposed to go outside of channels. Peering carefully over what was left of the dune and through the flattened jungle, he swallowed, watching an enormous pink mushroom cloud rising from the former site of Halloween's mansion.

     It started to snow huge flakes of pink ash as a shaking Paddy fumbled in his pocket for a cell-phone.

     The team deployed around the blast site and took readings for radiation, latent spells and demonic energy residues. Finding nothing, they carefully made their way into the blast crater.

     "Captain! Over here!" Sigrdrifa, corporal of the Valkyries, reached out with the long shaft of her spear and turned over the two bodies, lying together in the exact center of ground zero.

     "So Hellas little darling made it out alive." Kara scowled, seeing Halloween twitch. "But who is the other one?"

     "She's so tiny." Rota, eight feet tall and built like the rest of the Valkyries, marveled at the thin five foot one scrap of girl. Valkyries rarely encountered anything other than larger-than-life heroes, gods, angels and demons.

     Quinn groaned, then sat up, undamaged. "Agh! Spiders!" She froze when she saw the armored women around her, spears leveled, except for one that was smiling at her in a really disturbing fashion. She could tell at a glance that they would be trouble. They were huge.

     Halloween groaned, then sat up, healing herself. "That little bitch ruined my house!" She woke up a little more and looked around. "Ye gods! It's completely gone!"

     "Tough. Tell us what happened here." Reganleif had finished her readings, and she was worried. Was this Hell's first strike, the opening of Ragnarok? Couldn't they have aimed a little better and rid them of Helsdotter?

     Quinn swallowed, and said in a very small voice, "I'm really, really, really sorry. Those awful spiders kept coming and I just... got scared. I really wanna go home now, please."

     Captain Kara looked down at the tiny redhead and blinked. "You did this?"

     Quinn started her usual whining. "But... She attacked me! I woke up in this awful spider-bed and then she threw a ball of light at me! Then a million big hairy giant spiders came pouring out of the walls at me and I just freaked! Then I woke up here. I want to go back to Lawndale. I know I'm late for school." Quinn burst into tears.

     Kara stared. "Enough! And what do you say, Hectate Helsdotter?"

     "My name is Halloween!" Halloween absolutely hated the Norse. "It was just a training accident. Now get the fuck out of my domain, Heidi." She glared at the sniveling Quinn. "I have some... special training to do."

     "Presently." Kara took out a compact. "We were lawfully called. Let us see what our mother says." She communicated the situation.

     "Tell Freyja to get stuffed, from me." Halloween sneered at them. "Daughters, my ass. Everyone knows that Odin shoots blanks." The rumor was that Apollo had gotten in first on a number of occasions.

     "Foster daughters, idiot." Herfjotur reminded herself that Helsdotter had recently renewed, stifling an urge to pull her lesser mace and just brain the troublesome wench.

     Quinn blushed, took out a compact of her own and looked in the mirror. "Oh my God!"

     "You are calling directly upon Himself?" Kara blinked, really worried.

     "What are you talking about? My face is a mess!" Quinn rubbed at the soot on her face.

     Rota sighed, smiling even wider. "So cute," she breathed to Mist, who frowned.

     Kara heard the reply from Folkvang and acknowledged the orders. "This person is now the responsibility of the Aesir." She gestured at the squad. "Secure her. We go."

     Sigrun and Skogul both started towards Quinn, but were cut off by Rota.

     "Come, my little darling." Tenderly, Rota gathered her up, not even noticing her struggle. Quinn couldn't generate an iota of manna, so she was helpless.

     Quinn gasped in horror as the armored blond super-model cradled her, like a baby.

     "Let go! Where are you taking me!"

     "Ohh, but she's so cute." Rota hugged her and then started petting her.

     "Gaaa! Let me go!" Quinn struggled futily, earning a kiss on the forehead from the infatuated Rota.

     "Do not fear. I shall care for you, child."

     Rota had a secret doll collection. She wet the corner of a handkerchief with her spit and cooing, began cleaning the soot off of Quinn's face.

     "Ahhhh! Ahhhhh! Where are you taking me?" Quinn struggled much harder but the iron muscled Rota, Bringer of Turmoil, didn't even notice.

     Kara closed her compact and smiled a bit maliciously at Quinn. Rota had always been a little strange. "Why, to school, my spoiled little puffin-bird. We shall have to school that temper of yours, lest you loose it on the undeserving."

     Halloween snickered. "Go ahead, Bitch, take her. It's gonna be hilarious, watching Valhalla get blown into itty-bitty pieces just as soon as that little firecracker recovers. She'll probably end up poking out Odin's other eye."

     Holiday Island now bore a passing resemblance to Bikini atoll, circa 1956. It would cost a lot of manna to put it all right.

     "Stupid Roman whore." Kara thought about spitting on her, but it would just result in yet another pointless feud. "We go."

     "Do that." Halloween snarled. She had been Greek, but now she felt American. "Go on, you fading old relicts. The Aesir have no adherents at all, while Halloween just grows. One day I might take you on as a servant or something. After all, toilets need scrubbing and your rough tongue will do a fine job!"

     Stung, the Valkyries grimly mounted their winged steeds. Halloween could rant all day. They had comic books.

     Rota effortlessly cradled Quinn on her saddle bow, like a doll. "Hold on to me if you get scared, Darling."

     "Let go of me, you mmmph." Quinn was silenced as Rota solicitously bundled her up in a feathered cloak and strapped the resulting cocoon into the saddle in front of her belly.

     She did what?" Daria swallowed, horrified beyond belief. "Oh my God." Her mood, already bad from not being able to find Cupid, turned truly ugly.

     Jane smirked. "Do you mean that you didn't know?"

     "She invited a mob of girls over... Gah! I'll kill her!" Daria turned scarlet.

     Jane was merciless. "The rumor is that all of you Morgendorffer's are insatiable sex-machines. The three J's all cut class today to hit the gym."

     "So that's why all those guys keep staring at me." Daria swallowed, remembering Tom crawling away from the bed, begging for her to let him rest. "What a bunch of crap," she said, weakly.

     "So if you didn't know, where were you last night, hmm?" Jane's eyes drifted suggestively to the new QB, who was eating at the jock's table, Brittany Taylor plastered to him.

     Daria gagged. "I wasn't with him. I love Tom."

     Jane smiled. "Good!"

     Daria hesitated, then drew a necklace out of her shirt. There was a ring threaded through it. She took it off of the gold chain and put it on her finger, hoping that it would damp down the rumors, or at least start new ones.

     "Is that what I think it is?" Jane goggled at the enormous piece of ice.

     Daria smiled. "Maybe."

     "Wow! Was he in town last night?"

     Daria flushed, remaining silent, knowing that she couldn't deceive Jane in any other way.

     "Oh, Daria!" Jane threw back her head and laughed.

     Daria stood. "I have to go kill Quinn, now that you're all cheered up."

     "Can I watch?" Jane had missed hanging out with the unpredictable Daria.

     "Then I'd have to kill you too, pursuant to my 'no witnesses' policy." Daria smiled at her friend. "I just have to... talk to her. It's nothing worth missing school for."

     Jane followed the small group into the bathroom and grinned as Brittany shelled out an immense wad of cash. The winners had gathered to divvy up the winnings.

     "Alright, Jakey!" Jane gave a power salute. She was loaded! Now Mike couldn't argue about quitting his weekend job when she had the Chevy fixed, or bought a newer car.

     "He must be." Andrea had bet ten, just to be contrary. Now she could quit her job and still pay for her car insurance.

     Charles smirked. "The man of many hours came through for us all." No one had won the pool and he'd made thousands.

     "Ugh! You remind me of Upchuck." Sandi smiled. "The old Upchuck, before he got so cute." She'd thoughtfully bet twenty on Jake, having seen Jane at Quinn's house before.

     A frown flickered across Charles' face. Sandi was due her comeuppance, very soon. She was after Brittany. "My um, Charles, has changed a lot, ever since he became the QB."

     "An intelligent QB is just scary." Jane shook her head. "It's got to be against some kind of natural law."

     Charles sighed, smiling dreamily, not noticing the money that he was dropping as he clutched it to his chest. "Isn't he great? He's got an incredible grasp of strategy, and he's a born leader. We're gonna slaughter Oakwood next week." He decided to bet the whole wad on Lawndale. He'd be there, cheering his heart out for her.

     Jane picked up the dropped money and handed it back. "He's got an incredible body. I could care less about strategy."

     "Hmph." Charles snatched the money, flushing. Jane spoke from first hand knowledge, having caught them in the art supply closet in a very compromising position. Brittany had almost no modesty when it came to that sort of thing. She just dragged him off like a caveman whenever she felt the urge, which was often. His breath grew shorter and his lips parted from thinking of it.

     Jane saw the storm of emotion in Brittany's eyes and mistook it for fury. "Hey, peace, girl. The QB is your territory. But we're allowed to look."

     Charles turned scarlet. "Oh. Well. I'm not worried."

     Sandi grinned. Brittany was worried. She had a shot. "Like, speak for yourself, Bimbo. All's fair in love and war." She strutted rapidly away, feeling the blonde's hot eyes drilling murderously into her back.

     In fact, Charles had already spun on his heel and gone looking for Brittany. He decided to use his football winnings to buy them a conversion van, next week. Something with a big bed and no windows.

     "She's really in love." Andrea shook her head regretfully, remembering when howdy doody-boy used to chase her all over creation. Who would have guessed that Upchuck had the seeds of greatness within?

     Jane shrugged. "She's really changed a lot, but who knows? He is the QB. Brittany always dates the QB."

     "She's a total psycho. Sandi had better watch her step." Andrea walked away, frowning. Why hadn't she grabbed him up first? What other opportunities was she missing?

     Quinn stood vigilant at her post, spear grounded in the mud, her eyes carefully scanning through the gloom for any sign of the enemy.

     The ever-present rain of the border drummed against her helmet, running down the flared neck-guard and down her arm, pouring off of her armor encased elbow like some medieval downspout. Sighing, she took up her spear and began marching. She was careful to stagger her patrol so that there would be no pattern.

     She heard a noise behind her. Spinning to whip the spear into position, she loudly challenged, "Halt! Who goes there?"

     "It's Rota." The answer came with reassuring familiarity.

     Quinn relaxed, but not all the way. "Advance, Friend, and be recognized."

     She'd filleted a demon that had slipped past another guard and tried to take her from behind, just a few weeks ago. Some of them were very good mimics. The frontier of Limbo and Hell was always a dangerous place.

     Rota stepped out of the gloom. "I brought you hot mead, Dear-Sister."

     "Oh! That's what I need." Quinn took the mead-horn and relaxed a little, as Rota assumed the guard position, glaring intimidatingly out into the night. It would be a very stupid demon that tried this part of the line with two Valkyries on duty.

     Quinn drank from the horn, suddenly feeling strong, toasty-warm and totally full of wellbeing. Smacking her lips, she was struck by a thought.

     "Rota, was this Odin's brew?" Quinn saw Rota's tell-tale flush, even in the dark.

     Rota cleared her throat, sorry for the well-meant deception. "A gift from his hand. You are much in our father's thoughts, Quinn."

     Odin absolutely adored Quinn and waged a never-ending campaign to get her to stay on after her training was complete. She had become the darling of Valhalla within a few weeks of her arrival.

     Rota and the rest of the Aesir still saw Quinn's buxom six-foot height as worthy of a sickly midget. They were determined to get her up to at least a comfortable seven feet.

     Quinn sighed. "I'll probably grow another two inches now. I'll have to marry a basketball player if I drink anymore of this stuff." She dumped out her water bottle and emptied the horn into it. She had a large supply of it. Maybe she could give it to David, when she got back. She was already five inches taller than he was.

     "Any mortal man with eyes would cut off all of his fingers and toes to marry you, Quinn." Rota sighed unhappily. "Is it so bad here in Asguard? You were born to be a Swan Maiden."

     "No." Quinn's eyes filled and she hugged her sister. "I totally like it here, and this job has to be done. But I love all of my sisters, Rota. I can only stay here for one mortal day. Daria needs me." Quinn hated the thought of leaving.

     "Then she is my sister too." Rota kissed each of her eyes, kissing away the tears. "Duty is heavier than a mountain."

     It had taken Quinn a very uncomfortable week to fully understand the innocence of the gesture. The Aesir were a very open and physical people, very demonstrative with their affection. A Lesbian was just the inhabitant of a Greek island, as far as they knew.

     Neither the Swan Maidens, who were all virgins, nor the Einherjar, the legendary warriors of Odin's legions of heroes, retained any sort of sex drive to distract them from their unwavering purpose.

     Quinn's sex-drive was gone too, ever since she'd accepted Thor's challenge and donned the burnished armor and swan-feather cape of a Valkyrie. The training had been brutal beyond belief, but the rewards were incredible. Like the rest of her sisters, she didn't age, scar or stay dead. It was very relaxing to be so calm, totally free of her hormones.

     Quinn slept innocently curled up under Rota's arm in their fur bed on the floor of the mead-hall of Folkvang every night and thought nothing of it. All of the Valkyries were sisters, but some, like Quinn and Rota, were particularly close.

     Quinn smiled, touched, but amused by the idea of Daria meeting Rota. "My sister's kind of strange, but she can be really nice."

     Rota shrugged. "One hopes so, if she wields as much power as you, Quinn. My own blood-sister Brunhildja was much less powerful, but a true bitch that defined the very meaning of-

     "What's that!" Quinn spun and dropped into a ready crouch, spear extended, just in time to flawlessly spit a charging demon.

     "Alarm! Corporal of the guard, post six!" Rota sliced another in half and then helped kick the thrashing beast off of Quinn's spear. "You seem to attract them, Dear-sister."

     "Rape, I'll rape you, bitches, fuck you in the eyes, gut you and eat your souls..." The broken demon thrashed ineffectually, its awful voice its only remaining weapon.

     "Eeeew, it's really ugly. I never saw one like that before." Quinn drew her sword and lopped its head off, for later identification.

     Rota shrugged. "They're all ugly."

     "Oh, really? Quinn picked up the cursing head. "This one's different. I fink it's a wittle cutie pie. And so eloquent!"

     Rota burst into laughter, leaning on her spear.

     "A hybrid. Part Minotaur, I'd say." Freyja stepped out of a portal and into their view. "That's why the scanners failed to detect them."

     Quinn dropped the snapping demon head that she'd been making kissy-faces at to amuse Rota, came to attention and saluted. "Post six reports attempted enemy incursion. Two hostiles dispatched, no further contact."

     "Yes, my dear, I know." Freyja, amused, stroked Quinn's chin, then hugged them both. "You've done very well. Return to the hall now and rest."

     "Yes, Mother," they chorused.

     Quinn looked at her demon-head, wondering if she should chop off the other one and take them along. She sometimes put them on short staves, turned over a trestle table and did a sort of puppet show with them that never failed to send Odin and that night's chosen warriors rolling around on the floor, completely paralytic with laughter.

     Freyja booted the grimacing head back into the dark. "No time for idle amusement now, my daughters. Tonight, Odin is angry. Tonight, the Aesir hunt."

     As Quinn and Rota made their way back to Valhalla, a full legion of ten-thousand Einherjar shocktroops came running in single file, absolutely silent, determined to punish Hell for its presumption. As they passed by, each man bobbed his head and gently touched the Swan-Maidens, for luck.

     Helen woke up first. She rolled off of the ruined mattress and stood, unsteadily.

     "Oh, my." The bedroom was an absolute wreck.

     Helen tottered to the bathroom and turned on the shower. She looked into the mirror and froze.

     Her neck wrinkles were gone.

     Helen swallowed and rubbed at her neck, seeking any sign of makeup. Unbelieving, she looked at her wrist.

     "No rachettes?" The telltale rings around her wrists were just gone.

     "Jakey!" Helen tore back into the bedroom, shocked and elated.

     Quinn flew in slow circles above the battlefield, her winged horse Bruor gliding as much as possible. Her swan-cloak lent her the power of disguise. Presently, it was suggesting to all onlookers that she and Bruor were just a couple of stray air molecules.

     Below, some of her comrades swooped in and medivaced the crippled Einherjar, taking them to be healed. Some were harassing the enemy commanders, diving on them and slashing with glowing manna-sabers. The rest were loosing arrows at the various airborne enemy forces, from bat winged demons to harpies.

     Hell was under attack, the Aesir having apparently grown bored. Chithu, sublord of the region, called a message imp, choking with excitement. He dug a claw into the imp and scribbled a message in black blood on a handy piece of torn off skin.

     "Quickly, to Overlord Esbeuel. Go!" Chithu cuffed the imp on its way.

     "It is risky, involving Esbeuel, My lord Chithu." Ssath, Chithu's 'political officer,' assigned by the regional bureaucracy to ensure Chithu's loyalty, warned.

     "The Aesir are overextended. Their power is fading, this deep into Hell. Soon, they will no longer be able to form a portal. We will cut them off and feed on the souls of fifty thousand of the host." Chithu moaned with hunger, echoing Ssath.

     "Let it be ssso," Ssath almost prayed. He had been turned by Chithu, but there was no risk. He could plausibly betray the fiend at any time.

     "I must appear to follow that fat fool Esbeuel. The Nine Lords of Dis would unite against me if I began to devour the Aesir by myself. Let Esbeuel pay the price." Chithu smiled a gleeful smile The power of fifty thousand heroes would make him almost unbeatable. He could leapfrog a whole level in Hell's billion-layer deep bureaucracy.

     "How will we destroy him?" Ssath had no doubt that Chithu would.

     "Perhaps Odin will assist me by eliminating our dear Esbeuel, leaving me with the power of all those souls." Chithu, tentacles twitching, drooled with ambition.

     "Esbeuel will never take the field while the elder-gods remain." Ssath wasn't wild about being there either.

     Chithu laughed. "They must abandon those fools soon or perish with them. We've surrounded them and the horse-whores can't fly them out in time."

     Both demons stared longingly at the Valkyries, prizes desired above all.

     Ssath frowned. "What if they just march away, cutting their way through? Our line can't stand against those maniacs."

     "True, but they don't have to. Our own air-power will soon arrive and destroy them. The Einherjar will be crushed from the air if they stay together. If they split up, they'll be hunted and devoured." Chithu laughed, frightening his subordinates.

     Quinn silently fumed as she watched the arrival of the hellwights, flying demons large enough to be dangerous. Mobs of them raked and harried the Valkyries until they withdrew at Odin's express command, leaving the Einherjar unprotected.

     Soon the Einherjar began to take casualties from falling rocks, men being crushed and passed back to the center of the Einherjar square. There was a bellow of anguish and Odin mounted Slephnir, galloping away into the air, seemingly fleeing to save himself.

     The bodyguard surveyed the field, returned to his master and shook his head. "It's a trap."

     Esbeuel eyed him, then turned to a cringing Chithu. "My guard says that it's a trap. What say you, Chithu?"

     Chithu bowed and scraped. "Master, the elder-gods have left. All that remains is a great feast for the bold."

     Esbeuel drooled. "Why say you that it is a trap?" His eyes began to glow. "Well? Speak!"

     The bodyguard shrugged, unafraid. He'd escaped the tormenters and had found employment with Esbeuel, facing worse than he'd ever imagined while burning in the pit. It had made him far stronger than anyone realized, especially his 'master.'

     "It's got to be. The god's aren't stupid." The bodyguard already knew that Esbeuel was going to ignore him. The former angel pretended to have class, but under it all, he was still the same greedy, shortsighted creature that had Fallen.

     'You'd better hope it is." Esbeuel eyed his bodyguard. The man was curiously unafraid at the best of times. The Mad Dog radiated a strange sort of menace that made even a Lord of Dis treat him with some trifling respect. It was odd that he hadn't yet begun to warp into a greater demon.

     Under his black armor, The Mad Dog remained human. He clung stubbornly to his tarnished soul, in spite of all of Hell's inducements to trade it for power. Oddly, they hadn't managed to take it from him. As dirty and worthless as it was, it was all that he owned.

     Quinn, high above the battle, intently watched the knot of demons who commanded. She smiled as a new batch appeared out of a portal. Her chosen target, the Demon Overlord, had arrived.

     Spurring Bruor, she leaned over the stallion's neck in a steep dive, lance extended, feeling her mana grow until it began to burn her spear haft. Thor had taught her well.

     The Mad Dog felt something, looked up, drew his saber and readied a killing blow. The horse-girl was good, but not that good.

     As she approached her fatal meeting with his sword, he suddenly got a clear look at her face. Without hesitation, he beheaded Chithu as a distraction and ran with tremendous speed for the Aesir lines, cutting a path through the demonic host like a lawnmower through the grass.

     Esbeuel never saw it coming. He was still gaping after the bodyguard when he and the rest of the demon high command ceased to exist, blown into fine gray ash by Quinn's carefully hoarded manna-bolt. The lesser fiends immediately ran away, no longer fearing the greater demons more than the cheering Einherjar.

     Quinn took a final lap around the field and dispatched a knot of demons, recovering a badly wounded warrior that they had somehow snatched away from the host to feast upon. Quinn got a grip on the bloody, torn, black armor and threw him over her saddle-bow. Smiling, she spurred her horse back toward the Aesir lines, where Freyja had already opened up a portal and the Einherjar were making a leisurely withdrawal.

     Daria crossed through the gateway and walked to Halloween's mansion, still fuming at Cupid. When she got there, she frowned. The mansion was more like a ranch-house now, not nearly as imposing as it had been in the morning, however long ago that had been in the screwy time flows that existed here. Daria rang the cheap push-button doorbell, noting the absence of the elaborate jack-o-lantern chorus of welcome or the old talking door-knockers.

     Halloween answered, puffing and sweating. "Oh, it's you."

     Daria looked past her at a bare looking hall. "Um, sorry if I interrupted anything. I was wondering if Quinn was still here?"

     "Heh. I'm... remodeling. No, Quinn went off to Asguard for training." Halloween had had more than enough of the Morgendorffers.

     "Really?" Daria frowned. "Asguard? How do I get there?"

     Halloween frowned back. "You can't, unless you get invited. Old one-eye and his mangy stinking wolf keep a close watch on the Bifrost Bridge. They're just a bunch of stuck up pricks."

     "Can I call her, somehow?" Daria wrung her hands. "How long has she been there?"

     "Don't worry, they don't hold people against their will." Halloween felt kind of guilty. Time passed very quickly at that level, so far off of the main-lines. She'd promised to keep an eye on Quinn and here Quinn had been living in Asguard for seven full years already. Halloween doubted if Quinn even remembered where her old school was.

     Daria nodded thoughtfully. "I see. But I doubt if she wanted to be trained, so in that sense they do hold people against their will-"

     "Here, try this." Halloween thrust a cell-phone at her. "Keep it. It's hooked in to heaven-net, but it'll work anywhere. Dial 411 for information."

     Daria looked at it, bemused. "Um, thanks."

     "Well, gotta run. Terribly busy." Halloween banged the cheap-looking door shut in Daria's face.

     Daria examined the stodgy little house and then wandered out on the wide lawn that led to the beach. Selecting a bench that had been cleverly made from scorched-looking logs, she turned on the phone and dialed.

     Quinn dived, shrieking with excitement, drumming her heels against Bruor's flanks, catching up to the plummeting demon head and slamming it toward Geirahod, setting her up for the goal. Quinn loved sky-polo.

     The immense crowd cheered wildly as Geirahod made the shot, neatly evading a demigod riding Pegasus and winning the match for the Aesir for the first time in centuries.

     Quinn kissed Bruor's sweaty neck and did a series of victory loops, standing in her stirrups, swinging her hoop-net around over her head, whooping.

     Odin, laughing and beating his fist on the massive chair arm, turned his excited eye to Freyja and froze, the joy draining from him like mead from a broken horn.

     Freyja was on the phone, her face stern. "Yes, Quinn Morgendorffer is here." She paused, listening, then winced. Yes, she shall return to Holiday Island immediately. No, it was no trouble at all. We love her well. Fare you well, Daria Morgendorffer."

     Odin looked at the shining Swan Maiden, his daughter, flying an inside loop for the amusement of the crowd, and croaked, "No."

     "She must." Freyja swallowed. "Perhaps she will return to us, someday."

     Odin slumped dejectedly, then began to weep. If Quinn left, she would once again be prey to the weaknesses of the flesh. Only a virgin could be a Valkyrie.

     Quinn, with mixed feelings, waved a last goodbye to the crowd and crossed the Bifrost Bridge, leaving Asguard. She would miss the Aesir, but she also missed her own family. After eight years, it was time to go home. She had missed David too.

     One figure watched for a long time, staying behind after the crowd had left. The warrior shed his first tear in nearly a century as Quinn faded from sight. None remarked on it, because Quinn had been his Valkyrie, after all.

     Odin had decreed that since he still had a soul and had clearly fallen on the field of valor in a good cause, having been duly collected by a Valkyrie, the nameless warrior was welcome in the Einherjar host.

     After a long walk, Quinn approached a hyperdimensional interchange, found the right gateway and stepped through to the official entry port of Holiday Island.

     "Name?" A warrior spirit in modern battle gear stood guard.

     "Quinn Morgendorffer, from Valhalla." Quinn smiled at him, suddenly very aware that she had regained her sex-drive. She wondered what David was doing right now.

     "Pass, friend." The spirit of Veterans Day swallowed and began to sweat. She was tall, armored and really cute. "Um, are you here for long, Miss?"

     Quinn shrugged, blushing. "Quinn. I'm meeting my sister Daria." She remembered hearing something about him. He was the new incarnation of Mithras.

     "Oh, yes, I saw her over by the beach this morning." Veterans Day, looked her up and down and felt a little short of breath. "Hi, I'm Joe."

     Quinn smiled at him, wanting to gracefully withdraw from the conversation. "Good to-"

     A multi-tentacled infiltrator suddenly stepped out of the gateway, hoping to catch its prey unawares.

     The demon froze, knowing that it was in deep trouble. It hadn't expected to come through face to face with an angry War God and a Valkyrie. It made a scared little sound and tried to inconspicuously ooze back through.

     Quinn courteously stepped aside, allowing Joe to seize the demon and tie it into a variety of interesting knots for her amusement.

     After making some small talk, she left him to his duty and made her way to the beach.

     Daria was sitting on the bench, staring out at the water, wondering how a sunless realm could be so bright. Did physics apply here at all?


     Daria woke up from her musing and turned. A tall girl in burnished armor stood by her chair, looking at her with a small smile.

     Daria stood, flushing, a little intimidated. She wasn't supposed to let anything sneak up on her. "Is this your bench? Sorry, I'm just waiting to meet my sister."

     "No, it isn't my bench." Quinn swallowed. Daria had no idea of who she was. She had gotten used to the changes, but how could she go home? "I just wanted to ask... is Halloween's place anywhere around here?"

     Daria pointed up the beach. "Right up there, that dumpy little house with the orange plastic siding."

     "Thanks." Quinn looked her sister in the eye. Seeing no sign of recognition, she smiled politely and then walked up the beach, to think.

     "Joe, Dude, are you tellin' me that Quinn is already here?" Cupid blinked in shock.

     Vetran's Day nodded. "Yeah, she came through the gate about fifteen minutes ago."

     "Through the GATE? And you just let her wander around on her own?" Cupid was angry. "She's helpless! I'm supposed to teach her how to fight!"

     "Quinn? Helpless?" Joe laughed. He'd long had his doubts about Cupid.

     Cupid grunted in dismissal and hurried up the beach, looking for his two charges. He'd spent the morning in a higher level of heaven, sweating in front of a tribunal of angels, being chewed raw for his 'immoderate experimentation and tumultuous assault upon the dignity of the Morgendorffers.'

     Memories had been erased and causality altered, but not all of the damage could be undone. Jake and Helen had the ability to touch their power now.

     After being read the riot act, he'd been told in no uncertain terms to leave Jake and Helen alone and get the Morgendorffer girls trained. Someone else would deal with his mess.

     Quinn wandered up the beach, musing about her dilemma. If she couldn't look like her old self...

     She halted. Of course she could look like her old self. She was a Valkyrie after all. The Swan-Cloak gave her the power of disguise. If she could look like an air molecule or a demon, then she could easily look like herself!

     Quinn's momentary elation turned to depression. For the life of her, she just couldn't remember what she'd once looked like. There weren't a lot of mirrors in Valhalla.

     Halloween puffed and gasped as she created a new interior wall from stored manna. It was going to be a real stretch lasting until the end of October, when she would get a big recharge.

     The doorbell went off and she scowled. It was embarrassing enough having to endure living in such a hovel without people coming over to gloat. She just didn't seem to have very many real friends.

     When Halloween opened the door, her scowl deepened. "What do you want, Valkyrie?"

     Quinn narrowed her eyes. "I need your help."

     "Oh?" Halloween smirked. "What's the matter, helmet too tight?"

     "I need you to help me get back to what I used to look like." Quinn looked past her, smirking at the cheap-looking fixtures that were visible. "In exchange, I'll help you fix up this awful dump."

     "What you used to look like?" Halloween was puzzled. Her feud with the Aesir went back forever.

     Quinn braced herself for a fight. "I'm Quinn."

     Daria woke, then stood when she saw him. "You!"

     Cupid winced, knowing what was coming. "Yeah. Me. Before you start, Gabriel himself spent the last six days yelling at me, nonstop." He shuddered at the memory. "Believe me, whatever you have to say to me has already been said by a real expert."

     Paddy had disappeared, leaving Cupid to face the angelic wrath by himself.

     Daria quivered with outrage. "Well... Don't do it again!" Calming herself with visible effort, she gave him a level stare. "Where's my sister?"

     Cupid smiled. "She's here. I can help you find her, Daria. Open your senses and think of Quinn."

     Daria glared, then nodded. "I'll try."

     Cupid shook his head. "Don't try, do."

     "Great. I'm learning magic from a Yoda impersonator in a big diaper." Grudgingly, Daria complied.

     Remembering the furious angels, Cupid shuddered. "You're just lucky that it's still clean."

     Quinn sat in a large, beautifully decorated room, exhausted. "That was harder than killing a Demon-Lord."

     "Creation is never easy." Halloween was even more exhausted. "Why didn't you stay with the plan?"

     "I have taste." Quinn heaved herself to her feet, stumbling with tiredness. "Now for your part."

     Halloween shrugged and waved her hand. A picture of Quinn appeared, asleep in the spider bed.

     Quinn smiled. "Me, but short, weak and pathetically scrawny."

     Halloween nodded. "Not bad, for a mortal. Why don't you just shapeshift?"

     "Shapeshift? Do you mean that I could really turn back into that person?" Quinn was intrigued.

     "Feather cloaks. Those stuck up Aesir barbarians are so backwards." Halloween gave Quinn a superior smile. "Too bad that I'm the only one who can teach you the trick."

     Quinn smiled back and expertly mimicked her sister's most ironic monotone. "Was that a spider I saw? Oh, no, I think that I might just lose control again. What a pity."

     Halloween blanched. "My house! Okay, you b-" She got control of herself. "I'll tell you once, then never come back here again, you housewrecker!"

     "Fine. You'll have this place all messed up again pretty soon anyway." Quinn tottered to her feet, hoping that Halloween wouldn't realize that she could barely move, let alone fight. "How do I do it?"

     Halloween sighed. The instructions were very clear. She had to help, but that didn't mean that she had to like it. "Okay, first you visualize yourself as you were..."

     "This is stupid." Daria looked angrily at Cupid.

     "You have to use your senses to develop them, Daria." Cupid said, mildly. He scanned ahead. "We're close."

     "We're right back where we started!" Daria started to argue more, but was interrupted when she walked into Quinn.

     Quinn stumbled, barely managing to stay on her feet. She caught Daria in a bear hug and held on. "Daria! It's so good to see you!"

     Daria's anger drained away. She was completely unable to be angry with Quinn when she was like this. "Hey, Quinn." Awkwardly, she patted Quinn's back. "Are you alright?"

     "Yes." Quinn stepped back, still holding Daria's arm. She looked at her sister and frowned. "You're... different."

     Daria concentrated mightily and looked at her sister, with all of her senses. Quinn's energy level was pretty low. She didn't have much power. "Yes, a little. How long were you away?"

     Quinn didn't want to say. "Not very long. I learned how to fight."

     "Me too." Daria gave Cupid an evil stare. "Stay away from our parents."

     Cupid winced. "You can bet on that. Come on, ladies. It's time to get in some more training."

     Daria stepped out of the closet, half-carrying Quinn. "Come on, Sissy, you'd better get some rest."

     Quinn mumbled something in Norse and squeezed her hand.

     Daria frowned. She'd been counting on her 'slip' to wake Quinn up, but all that had happened was that Quinn had once again displayed a shockingly undue affection.

     "Quinn, are you alright?" Daria looked at her little sister, worriedly.

     "Ya." Quinn smiled at Daria, somewhat delirious with fatigue.

     Daria gave her a worried frown and maneuvered Quinn into bed.

     Nadia lay in the bed beside the snoring bulk of Charles II, angrily fuming. He was an atrocious lover and it angered her to no end that she wasn't allowed to hurt him.

     She ground her teeth, wishing that she were back in Kalaningrad. If only she hadn't gotten into trouble with Oleg and his Mafia crew. He'd come in to the Kitty Club drunk and had tried to take her right on the stage. She'd knocked him out with a giant prop sex toy, utterly humiliating him before the underworld. He'd killed her and she'd ended up in Hell, quickly giving up her soul for power.

     She stared at Rutheimer, drooling. She wanted to eat his soul after the job, but one of her masters was using him in some other scheme. A fifth class demon like her didn't have much latitude when it came to orders.

     Thrashing to get farther away from the snoring clod beside her, she balefully glared at him in the dark. Ruttheimer was an ignoble pig, but a rich one. It was astonishing that he had produced such a son.

     Thinking about the son made Nadia smile. If there was a bright spot to all this, he was it. Now there was a wonderfully perverted situation. The girl made a friendly, decent, pretty boy. Jaded as she was, she could eat her up with a spoon. Kind, noble hearted, ever cheerful, always considerate and such a body... She sighed, lustily. Her campaign to separate her from her formerly male girlfriend had been marvelously successful. She had to be pretty horny by now.

     Smiling widely, Nadia slipped out of bed. It was time to get to work and at the same time collect on a fringe benefit that had been ignored for far too long. Daria could be manipulated through her cursed friends, but first she had to break them up.

     Brittany slowly swam to consciousness, sighing with pleasure at the feel of his kisses trailing across her chest. She smiled and kissed the nape of his neck. He must have used his key to sneak in. Brittany desperately missed the time when they could spend the whole night together. She had grown used to sleeping with him before their respective parents had returned. It was hard to face a cold, lonely bed every night.

     Ever since Charles II and his nosy Russian woman had arrived, Charles had been forced to stay away nights. Nadia had ears like a cat and always intercepted Charles. Charles II, a hypocritical asshole, had laid down the law. Brittany couldn't have girls over after ten.

     It was even worse at her old house. Brittany couldn't even visit him without Brian squealing. Steve, after a talk with Nadia and Charles II, was suddenly acting like he cared. Ashley Amber was genuinely worried about 'Britty' these days. Brittany just couldn't get anywhere near Charles.

     Brittany groaned, waking up the rest of the way. Charles was under the covers now, his form just a bundle in the dark. Brittany shuddered at his touch. He was getting more inventive, really learning how to-

     There was no way in hell that Charles would ever do that. "Oh, God!" She tried to sit up, fully awake, but her wrists were somehow tied to the headboard.

     "Do you like that, Tchaarlz?"

     Brittany jerked in shock and saw the gleam of chain. She was chained to the bed! Her legs were chained, too. "Nadia! What are you doing?"

     Nadia laughed and bit her. "Vat do you think? I am here to see you, Tcharlz."

     "But... get out!" Brittany started to buck her off, but Nadia, quick as lightning, grabbed her by a very sensitive spot, looped a leather string around some important bits and then started twisting it tight.

     Brittany writhed in pain, then getting the idea, went still. "Ahhh! Let go! That-"

     "Silence!" She relented slightly, loosening the thong. "See, Tcharlz, ze heart and mind vill follow."

     "Let go! I'm engaged! No!"

     Nadia grinned. "Let me instruct you. You shouldt learn first the price of dizobediance." She threw the blankets off, then peeled off her underwear. Grinning, she rolled them up and stuffed them in Brittany's mouth, as a gag.

     Brittany tried to resist, but Nadia was far too experienced at maintaining control. Her services had been much in demand in Russia, even when she was still alive.

     Nadia kissed her hard, pressing her thumb into the soft hollow of her throat, silencing her outraged groaning.

     "Now, now, don't try to run away just yet, sveetheart. You could lose important parts. Mommy has much more to szhow you. Just lie back andt henjoy it." Nadia grinned at her with an expression of evil and lust so strong that Brittany suddenly wondered if Nadia was another demon. Brittany scowled, not really caring. Either way, this was rape.

     Nadia gave another tug on her makeshift rein, for emphasis. "Now, now."

     "Ngh!" Brittany started to pull away, but decided against it when the thong tightened mercilessly.

     "You shoult just be calm. Let me do it all, Darlink. After all, you have no choice." Nadia smirked. She did have a choice, but few men could make it. Brittany was no exception.

     Nadia briefly squeezed Brittany's nose, causing her to fight for air, showing her just how totally helpless she was.

     Nadia saw the surrender in her eyes and smiled, her victory complete. She resumed her activities, reveling in her easy domination of the muscular youth. She had been a prostitute since the age of thirteen and had usually enjoyed her work, the more perverted the better. By the time she finished, he would be begging her for more.

     Brittany clenched her teeth on the disgusting mass in her mouth and tried to concentrate on breathing. She was humiliated and revolted. Worst of all, the traitorous body that she wore had no compunctions about responding. For the first time in months, it felt disturbingly alien.

     Brittany tried for control, but Nadia was too good. Her eyes widened at the red glow from Nadia's eyes, and she began to sweat.

     Charles oiled the door hinges, pushed the entry code on the alarm keypad and stealthily opened the small door to the garage. Smiling triumphantly, he listened carefully for the hated voice caroling out, 'Vell, whadt do ve haff here?'

     Oiling the hinges of the inner door to the house, he stealthily made his way to his old room, anticipation bringing a smile to his face.

     Charles stepped through the bedroom door. For a confused instant he didn't understand what he was seeing. Then his world collapsed.

     Brittany heard a gasp and looked away from her tormenter. She felt her heart sink as she met his devastated gaze. She tried to scream, but all that came out was a muffled moan.

     He choked, then turned and ran away.

     Brittany looked back up at Nadia and almost puked. She was smiling, triumphantly.

     Brittany drew back her head and nutted Nadia, but failed to knock her out.

     Nadia glared at the insolent boy, then smirked. "Ooo, Zo you like hit rough?" Her part was over, so she might as well have some fun. She smiled sadistically, then really went to work.

     Daria clumped down the stairs and began rummaging in the refrigerator. Finding a piece of pecan pie, she poured a glass of milk and sat down at the counter to eat.

     Quinn soon joined her, getting a piece of pie of her own. "What do we do today, Sister?"

     Daria looked at her, suspiciously. Quinn never ate pie. "We'll go to school."

     "School?" Quinn smiled, gobbling down pie. "Of course! School! A fine idea." She took a second piece, then a third.

     "Quinn." Daria gave her sister a level look. "How long were you in Valhalla?"

     Quinn shrugged, mouth full. "Not long."

     "How many days?" Daria was sure that Quinn was hiding something.

     "Just one." Quinn kept her face straight. She had spent one Lawndale day in Valhalla.

     Daria looked at her for a minute longer, then shrugged. "Okay, then, we need to talk about Mom and Dad."

     Quinn looked eagerly up the stairs, then frowned. Fortunately, Daria hadn't seen. "What about them?"

     Daria sighed. "What are we going to tell them?"

     "They're our parents, Daria. We should tell them the truth."

     They looked at each other for a minute, then broke out into hysterical laughter.

     "Good one, Quinn." Daria wiped her eyes.

     Helen walked down the stairs, beaming. "Good morning, girls," she caroled.

     "Mom!" Quinn leapt to her feet and flew into her mother's arms. "It's so good to see you!"

     Daria nodded to herself. This Quinn was grown up.

     Helen halted in surprise, but hugged Quinn. "What's the matter, Dear?"

     Quinn stepped back. "Nothing. I just wanted to. You look really nice this morning, Mom."

     Helen looked older than she had the night before, but not by much. The BFG had left her with a substantially younger appearance and an archangel had taken her memory of how she had gotten it.

     Helen smiled, happily. "Yes, that vita creme skin restorer that you gave me really seems to work."

     Daria was staring at her mother's abdomen, using her seventh sense. "Oh, hell."

     Helen tore her worried gaze from Quinn and looked at Daria. "What is it?"

     Daria shook her head. "Nothing. I just... nothing. Where's Dad?"

     Helen gave her a puzzled look. "Jakey's taking a day off today. He's a little tired, for some reason."

     Daria bit her tongue and carefully avoided looking at Quinn. "Oh. Sorry to hear it."

     Brittany woke up with an awful taste in her mouth. Rolling over, she looked at the clock. She was late for school.

     She sat up, and rubbed at her wrists. The skin was torn all the way around, and her ankles hurt...

     "Nadia," growled Brittany. She sprang to her feet, slipped on some shorts and ran to commit bloody murder.

     Nadia, sitting on a LA bound airplane, looked at her watch and smiled. The chloral hydrate should be wearing off soon. Loverboy would be waking up about now. Too bad about his little girlfriend, but it had been worth it. She had rarely enjoyed herself more.

     Putting the past behind her, Nadia contemplated her forthcoming assignment in Los Angeles, spreading joy and fatal STD's to family men that gave in to her temptation. Armed with all the money from the Ruttheimer floor safe and Charles Ruttheimer the second's spare credit cards, it would be very easy to settle in and establish a base of operations.

     First, a few big shopping sprees on the Ruttheimer credit. She needed a chic West Coast wardrobe. She would have his cards maxed out before the fat old bastard even woke up. She'd given him a nice big slug of knockout drops before she left.

     Charles sat in his usual place under the bridge, staring desolately at the rapids far below, thinking. He loved high places, and the enormous pylon made a comfortable seat. He hadn't been here since before he was cursed. The temptation to jump was just too great. It would have been unfair to destroy someone else's body to get out of it.

     He fancied that he could see ruts on the riverbank, where wagons must have forded the river before any bridges were built. What must it have been like, living in such a simple world? Had they known better, back when there was no science to blind you to the magic?

     He sighed and thought it over again. Jumping would be pretty childish. What was the difference anyway? If Brittany was going to be unfaithful, what did it matter? He'd ruined her life, not the other way around. She didn't owe him a thing. He owed her everything.

     He looked at the concrete below him, noting the tears impacting on it and feeling curiously detached from it all. He could cry until the tears wore a hole in the concrete and it wouldn't make a bit of difference. He was stuck, cursed and screwed. His life was too worthless to even bother ending. Besides, all that would accomplish would be to let the hell-bitch win.

     Charles scrubbed at his wet face and made his decision. He would just learn to smile and live with Brittany's wants.

     Climbing up to the roadside, where he'd parked, he leaned on his door and wondered where he should go. School left him cold, and he wasn't up to carrying out the masquerade at home right now. A newspaper page fluttered at his feet and he picked it up. It looked like... He smiled.

     Brittany drove down the road, looking for her Miata. Charles hadn't come to school, and he wasn't home. She had a bad feeling.

     A siren chirped behind her and Brittany cursed, looking at the speedometer. She was doing six miles over the limit. Angrily, she pulled over.

     "License, insurance card and registration, please." Officer Henderson tensed and kept his hand on the gun. The kid was big, tough, agitated and he looked familiar. Familiar looking people that he didn't immediately recognize were usually criminals that he'd seen on the sheet.

     "Yes, sir." Brittany handed over the required documents, feeling uncomfortable. The cop was staring at her.

     "Ruttheimer..." Henderson looked up, smiling. "Hey! You're the new QB!"

     Brittany smiled back, wanly. "Yes."

     "So why aren't you at school?" Henderson saw the cuff-burns on the QB's wrists and frowned.

     Brittany noticed and self consciously hid her wrists under her armpits. "I'm looking for my... girlfriend."

     Henderson nodded and caught her by the arm, exposing the marks. "Nice bracelet marks. How did you come by these?" Henderson repressed a wince. The kid had nearly torn his hands off to get away.

     Brittany flushed. "I- Not from being arrested or anything."

     "It looks to me like you tried pretty hard to get out of them." Henderson frowned, considered the situation and then smiled, knowingly. "So what happened? Did your girl get a little rough with you last night?"

     Brittany shot him a murderous glare. "That whore wasn't my girlfriend! She forced me! I woke up handcuffed to my bed..." She turned puce and clamped her mouth shut.

     Henderson smirked. "Do you want to report a rape?"

     Brittany shook her head. "Who would believe me? Besides, she's long gone."

     Henderson shrugged. "That's the breaks, kid. Being a QB isn't always safe. I remember the last one. He was always getting caught up by the local shemales. The poor kid could never figure it out."

     Brittany scowled. "Great."

     Henderson put away his ticket book. "So, were you wearing a raincoat?"

     Brittany groaned. "No." She sighed. "Ah, crap. I'm gonna have to get tested, I guess."

     Henderson clapped him on the shoulder. "Good luck, kid."

     Brittany snarled, "Right, luck. I could find out from her, but she's long gone. She was a Russian. Maybe she just went back home." She paused. "I need to find my girlfriend and tell her what happened."

     Henderson winced. "Are you sure about that?"

     "She saw." Brittany scowled. "I'm worried about her."

     "What was she driving?" Henderson remembered the Miata by the bridge and tensed.

     "A red 98 Miata." Brittany saw the alarm in his eyes and stopped breathing.

     Charles sat in the theatre and munched his popcorn, waiting for the movie to start. A Porky's film festival was just the thing to take his mind off of his troubles. After all, things could be worse.

     Fifteen minutes later, he left in disgust. Had that really once been his favorite movie? It was just so... stupid.

     Quinn walked with Daria, not really certain of where the school was. She had no idea of where any of her classes were, either.

     Her friends could help her. Who were they? After eight years of such a radically different lifestyle, Quinn didn't really remember very much. She hadn't thought of them in years.


     "Yes, Quinn?" Daria was irritated at having her thoughts interrupted, and not very happy with the way that Quinn was sticking so close to her.

     "I'm sorry, am I bothering you?" Quinn smiled at her 'big' sister. She was chronologically six years older than Daria now, and it was difficult to reconcile the daunting figure in her memory with the moody girl before her.

     Daria sighed. "Sorry. What's wrong, Quinn?"

     Quinn paused. "Nothing much, I guess. I just wanted to talk." She came to a bus stop bench and did an effortlessly graceful cartwheel over the top of it, without breaking her stride. Her strength was undiminished.

     Daria watched, shocked, as Quinn turned the walk to school into an Olympic event. She climbed trees, walked on fences, did handstands, backflips and jumped over a few cars.

     "Why did you lie?" Daria watched her sister hand-walking along the top of an eight-foot fence and shook her head.

     "Lie?" Quinn looked down at her sister, flipped and spun acrobatically from the top of the fence landing lightly beside Daria. "I don't lie."

     "One day?" Daria frowned. "I don't know you anymore, Quinn."

     "I was in Valhalla for one mortal day, Daria." Quinn smiled, a little sadly. "In my terms, it was eight years." She suddenly grabbed Daria and hugged her. "I missed you all so much!"

     "Ack!" Daria started to resist and then relaxed. Quinn had gotten very huggy, in Valhalla. "I'm just sorry for getting you into all this."

     "Don't be silly, Daria. We were born like this. Besides, I wouldn't change a thing." Quinn smiled. "I had a really good time in Valhalla."

     Daria looked at her, feeling a little lost. "You grew up, Quinn. Eight years... This means that you're the older sister now."

     Quinn nodded, putting on a mock-stern expression. "And don't you forget it, young lady."

     Sandi pulled up alongside them. "Quinn! Why weren't you in school yesterday?"

     Quinn smiled. "I had to stay home."

     Sandi smirked. "I'd have stayed home too."

     Quinn gave her a strange look. "Okay." She racked her brain, trying to remember the girl's name. It was either Sandi or Stacy.

     Sandi looked at Daria. "How come you're walking with her?"

     Quinn frowned. "Her? Do you mean my sister? Why not?"

     Sandi's mouth dropped open. "But..." Quinn admitted that Daria was her sister?

     Quinn narrowed her eyes, suddenly remembering the girl's name. "Sandi, I hope that you aren't implying that there's something wrong with my sister." Her expression promised retribution if that turned out to be the case.

     "Um, no, Quinn. N-not at all" Faced with Quinn's blazing self-confidence, Sandi instantly folded. "I um, have to go now. See you!" Sandi tromped on her gas pedal and escaped.

     Quinn wrinkled her nose, trying not to gag. "How do these people put up with those noisy, stinking machines everywhere?"

     Bemused, Daria shook her head. "I never liked them."

     Brittany waited in front of the school, to no avail. He just wasn't coming, it seemed. Catching sight of Daria, she ran over and grabbed her arm.


     Brittany wondered why she was suddenly flying through the air, then hit the ground with an unpleasant thud. Someone jerked her to her feet and roughly slammed her up against a lamppost. "How dare you lay hands on my sister!"

     "Owwww." Looking down, Brittany was shocked to see that her assailant was Quinn.

     "Um, I just-"

     "Quinn! It's okay! Let her go!" Daria stared at her sister in shock. Quinn had thrown the muscular male body around like it was nothing.

     "Her?" Quinn wrinkled her nose and contemptuously pushed the stunned Brittany away. "Ewww."

     Daria stifled a laugh and looked around. People were staring. "Lets go someplace more private to talk, Brittany."

     "Brittany?" Quinn followed as they walked to the parking lot. "Wasn't she a blonde girl? On the tennis club or something?"

     Daria saw that no one was in earshot. "There is no tennis club, Quinn. Brittany was a cheerleader. Charles and Brittany tangled with a demoness and swapped bodies. Now he's the cheerleader."

     Quinn winced. "Ugh. That's too bad. How did it get out?"

     Daria shrugged. "The old genie in the bottle trick."

     Quinn looked worried. "That means that there's an unsealed hellmouth around here, somewhere." She fixed Brittany with a cold stare. "Where is it?"

     Brittany swallowed, nervously eyeing Quinn. "Charles' father locked it up in his vault."

     Quinn looked at her, pensively. The vault would help keep people away. "Can you get it?"

     Brittany shook her head. "No, but there's another one of those bitches running around."

     "What!" Quinn grabbed her by the collar, jerking her head down until their faces were on the same level. "Where is it?"

     "I don't know." Brittany, looking a little panicky, nodded jerkily at Daria. "Is she... like you?"

     Daria narrowed her eyes, then shrugged. "She's my sister, so it isn't so unlikely that she would be. What exactly do you mean?"

     Brittany swallowed. "Jodie says that you aren't really human at all."

     Daria shook her head and Quinn nodded, confusing Brittany even more.

     "We're-" Daria was abruptly interrupted by Quinn.

     "None of your concern." Quinn looked closely at the QB. "What did it do?"

     Brittany made a face. "I was raped last night. She handcuffed me to my bed and, well... you know. Charles saw and ran off somewhere." She lowered her head, shedding a tear. "I feel dirty."

     Quinn stepped back and carefully looked Brittany up and down. "Uh, oh."

     Daria concentrated hard and gasped. "Oh, Brittany, I'm so sorry."

     Brittany sighed, adding a little sob at the end. "He probably hates me now."

     Daria shook her head. "That's the least of your worries. We have to catch that demoness and make her cooperate, Brittany. She gave you a really nasty strain of AIDS."

     Brittany looked faint. "Oh." She stepped back. "Oh, no."

     Quinn seethed with fury. "That's probably her job. Passing AIDS to everyone, wrecking families, collecting souls in exchange for a cure. She's one nasty soulless bitch that's going to pay the price!"

     Daria nodded, uncertainly. "But not before she takes it all back and cures everyone that she's infected."

     Quinn smiled, tightly. Daria didn't know her demonology. If they just destroyed the thing, it's effects would all disappear. "We need to see where she stayed, Brittany."

     Anxiously, Brittany showed them into the house and then into the master bedroom. "She slept in this room."

     Quinn picked up a hairbrush. "Oh, look at this, Daria." She pulled a strand of black hair free. "The Ruttheimers are all red-heads, right?"

     Brittany nodded. "That looks like one of Nadia's."

     "What good does that do us?" Daria watched her sister, feeling oddly useless. Quinn seemed to be a very experienced demon hunter.

     Quinn smiled, nastily. "This should give us a guide to her location." Her smile widened. "Have you ever seen the blood-compass?"

     "What?" Daria didn't like the sound of that.

     "All you need is a drop of blood and a toothpick." Quinn dug more hair out of the brush. "A hair works as well."

     "What?" Brittany was watching Quinn, bewildered.

     "Get me a toothpick, a glass bowl and some glue." Quinn looked at the gaping transsexual and snapped, "Hurry it up!"

     Quinn wrapped the hair around the end of the toothpick, gluing it in place. When it was dry, she dropped it into a glass bowl full of water. Dipping a finger into the water, she said, "Seek!"

     The water briefly glowed neon-blue and the toothpick swung around and settled on a direction.

     "She's to the west." Quinn frowned. "Who knows how far? I wish I had Bruor here."

     Daria stared at the bowl. "You have to teach me how to do that, someday. If we got a map and a compass we could just drive fifty miles south and then triangulate her position."

     Quinn looked surprised. "Hey! That's true, here in Midgard. Now we can just go right to her!"

     Brittany cleared her throat. "Can I come?"

     Quinn shook her head. "This is going to be pretty rough. You're really sick, Brittany. It's already hitting you. You need to stay home and conserve your energy."

     Daria gave her a sympathetic look. "This isn't like a mundane disease, Brittany. It's fast. It won't be long, either way."

     Brittany nodded, dejectedly watching them leave. Her funk turned into icy terror when her nose suddenly started bleeding.

     Daria and Quinn sat at a rest stop by the highway, with a map unfolded on a picnic table.

     Daria traced a line on the map with her ruler. "It's in Los Angeles."

     Quinn snickered. "Appropriate."

     Daria sighed. "I have about seventy five bucks. I don't think that it will get us there."

     Quinn shrugged. "There's got to be a gate to LA. We'll just have to find a shortcut through one of the realms."

     Brittany sat, horrified, looking at the sores on her legs. She didn't want to start them bleeding again, so she was taping a gauze pad over each one. She'd thought about going to the doctor, but had decided against it. Daria had said that it would only be a few days wait. She would be cured or dead by Friday.

     There was a knock at her door.

     "Come in." Brittany slipped on some sweat pants and hoped that Charles II wouldn't come in and start raving about Nadia again. He'd packed up, but she didn't know if he was gone yet.

     Charles stepped inside the room. "Hey."

     Brittany stared at him, then dropped her eyes. She hated to do it, but it would be better for him if he hated her. "What are you doing here?"

     Charles shrugged, his cheerful expression waning. "No place else to go."

     Brittany looked up at him. "Maybe you need to find a place."

     Charles stood, then slumped in defeat. "If you want me to go, I'll go. But I'll be back."

     Brittany sneered, her heart breaking. "Whatever. Just don't come in without knocking again."

     Charles swayed on his feet, turning white. "I... I see." He spun around and ran into the door.

     "Ugh!" Holding his eye, he turned to glare at Brittany. "I hope you liked..." His eyes widened. "Brittany, why are your legs bleeding?"

     Brittany looked down and cursed. "I- Stay back!"

     Charles stopped, a towel in his hands. "What is it?"

     Brittany sagged. "What you saw that night wasn't real." Brittany swallowed, hating what was coming. "I'm sorry. I got raped. That was another demon. She gave me aids, really bad. It's not like normal aids, either, so just stay away."

     "Aids?" Charles took a step and then fainted.

     Quinn poked her head through the opening and looked around. "Come on, Daria. This is the one."

     A frazzled looking Daria peeked through, cautiously. "Are you sure? If that's another Hindu orgy, I'm going back and hitchhiking to LA."

     Quinn laughed. "Oh, Daria. To get back, you'd have to go through there again."

     "Ugh." Daria looked like she might want to vomit. "That's the last time that I ever take a shortcut."

     Quinn reached back and pulled her through. "It wasn't so bad. All you had to do was dance for them." Quinn brightened. "Besides, we got all of that great jewelry out of it! We can afford to fly home, now."

     Daria snorted, angrily. "That's because those jewels were all that I had to wear when we finally got out of that place!" She had almost died from sheer embarrassment.

     Quinn smiled. Seeing Daria forced to belly dance was worth almost any hardship. "God has a great since of humor, putting the Quakers next to a place like that. Some people just have a weird idea of heaven. But, hey, you looked great, Sis.

     Daria threw away her bonnet and then tugged at her black dress. "Ha, ha." She looked around. "This looks like a crappy place. Whose idea of heaven is this?"

     Quinn smiled. "No one's. This is Alfheim. It's not really part of heaven."

     "Alfheim?" Daria frowned. "Doesn't that mean Elf-home?"

     "The realm of Frey. I am Rich, at your service, dear ladies." A very stereotypical elf, save for his immaculate Reboks, materialized out from behind a copse of scraggly looking trees and gave an elaborate bow.

     "Hey, a Vulcan!" Daria powered down her fireball and stared in fascination at his ears.

     "I'm an Elf." Rich looked a bit put out. "Vulcan's aren't real."

     "An Elf named Rich?" Daria's smirk grew.

     "And a Vulcan named Rich would be better?" He sighed. "Elves are named after their occupations. I won big when I was on vacation in Las Vegas. Now I'm-"

     "Rich. Very logical." Daria smiled at his wince. "Do you go to Las Vegas often?"

     Rich nodded. "A lot of us do. We like getting out of these freaking bug infested woods every once in a while. A lot of us are living there, permanently. We love show business."

     "I thought that Elves liked nature." Daria stared at him, bemused.

     "Ha! After the first millennium, it gets boring. Then you go through your second one and really start to hate it." He looked at the trees and spat. "Show business now, that's fun!" He rubbed his palms together.

     Quinn was fascinated. "Really? What kind of shows?"

     Rich took a breath and avoided their eyes. Being twenty thousand years old didn't mean that he could act. "I've got six cousins, all named Elvis."

     Daria blinked in disbelief. "Elvis impersonators? Elvish Elvises? Elvii?"

     Quinn and Daria exchanged a look and laughed for a while.

     The Elf looked hostile. "Don't mock the King! He was the greatest human that ever lived! Such style, charm, grace and wit. Truly, those who followed to take up his mantle were but pale imitations, yet the immortal style lives-"

     "Sure, sure." Daria controlled her natural reaction and calmed down. "We need to get to LA. Do you know a shortcut?"

     Rich stroked his chin in concentration. "I dunno. I usually just fly over from Vegas on the High Roller. Maybe Frey would know."

     "Could we see him?" Quinn wanted to get moving, before Nadia went beyond her reach.

     Rich looked at them, doubtfully. "He's a real old timer, an uptight asshole. Maybe you ought to just ask around, first."

     Daria stumbled and flung a pale blue lightning bolt at a nasty looking imp. It promptly disintegrated, but fifty more took its place.

     "Find the door!" Daria was really scared.

     Quinn frowned, not caring for the panic in her voice. Her sister would never make a good warrior. "Hmm, let's see, it has to be over here, someplace. There's the stone ogre, the dead trees and the flaming river. Frey said-

     "Frey! Frey never told us that the door was in hell!" Daria took out her anger by immolating another six imps, her bolts beginning to sizzle with real power. The rest scattered, gibbering.

     Quinn flicked a glance at the burning imps and smiled. Quickly assuming an innocent expression, she turned to face her sister. "But Daria, Alfheim is technically part of hell too. It's just politically nonaligned. They don't care about humans at all, except for that weird Elvis fixation. The imp bogs aren't really under any leadership either. Imps are just animals, domesticated by the demons."

     Daria swallowed. "Quinn, I'm not supposed to be here. What if great-great however many times grandpa decides to have us over for a little a visit? You know, tea, cookies, conceiving the antichrist... We've got to get out of hell!"

     Quinn's eye's widened, artfully. Daria was perfectly safe from that fate. Daria was already pregnant. The separate aura in her womb was unmistakable, and it had been for days. "Right." She opened a gate. "It's right here. I just wanted to see what you had."

     Daria dived past her without even looking where she would emerge.

     Quinn turned, saw a major demon step out of another gate, pointed her finger and casually vaporized him with an actinic white beam of manna.

     "So long, sucka." She blew on her trigger finger, smirked and sauntered through the gate to LA.

     "Of course it's natural." Daria eyed the stupefied jeweler and then threw the enormous ruby up in the air, catching it. "I want to sell it."

     The jeweler winced. "I can't afford it. No one can."

     "What about a great big green emerald? Only worn once!" Quinn saw Daria's dirty look and shut her mouth.

     The jeweler goggled at them and then rubbed his neck. "I- I can help you sell it, though. For a consideration." He eyed Daria. "Ten percent?"

     "Two percent." Daria stared into his eyes. "You pay all of the expenses and advance us ten thousand, today."

     He nodded, slowly. "Deal."

     Daria eyed him, then handed him the jewel. "You look like an honest man."

     The jeweler looked at her, then froze, the sweat on his brow turning icy.

     Quinn winced and then poked her sister. "Daria. Your eyes. You're glowing again."

     Daria let her aura fade. "Sorry."

     Quinn shook her head. "You've really got to learn to control that, Sis. It's so embarrassing."

     "Look, I said I'm sorry, okay?" Daria was still mad about the bog imps and she lost control of her aura again.

     The trembling jeweler hurriedly wrote a check. He was a very honest man, after all.

     Nadia sat on a barstool at the hotel bar and let her pump dangle from her toe. Scanning the crowd, she locked onto a forty-ish man in a suit. His demeanor screamed 'family man,' as did the ring on his finger. Pulling the black cocktail dress a little lower, she pointed her nylon encased leg at him and smiled invitingly.

     Eric froze, stood and then approached the stunning brunette. "Hi! Can I get you a drink?"

     Nadia crinkled her eyes at him and nodded. "Szhure, darlink. A vodka martini, please."

     An arm intruded into their little drama, clapping itself onto Nadia's shoulder. "Come on, Nadia, its time to get you back to the clinic."

     Nadia read Quinn's aura and quailed. "No!"

     She tried to run, but Quinn let a little power flow out of her palm and stunned her.

     "Come on, Nadia. The doctor is waiting." Quinn smiled apologetically at Eric. "My poor cousin needs her AZT. She's a little crazy."

     "Uh, huh." Eric turned and scurried back to his table. Of course she was crazy. Shuddering, he realized how close he'd come. What would his daughters think?

     "Come on, soul eater. We need to have a private talk." Quinn dragged the terrified demon out into the street and down an alley.

     "Why shouldn't we kill you right here?" Daria's feigned cold-bloodedness was totally convincing .

     Quinn smiled, nastily. "It's already dead, Daria. The correct word for ending one of these husks is to destroy."

     Nadia quivered. She might have given up that worthless soul, but she still wanted to exist. "L- Let's make a deal."

     Quinn laughed. "What could something like you possibly have that I would want?"

     "The m-mortals! I can let them go- Nadia gasped as Quinn whipped a sword out of nowhere and neatly removed most of her hair.

     "Do it now," Quinn laid the edge of the blade on Nadia's right wrist. The point that it touched began to smoke. "Lefty."

     Nadia shrieked, then swelled. A red light escaped her and she abruptly looked much older and somewhat shopworn. "I gave it all up. She looked into Quinn's cold eyes, pleading. "Please don't k- kill me, I can change. I just need a chance to-

     "Shut up." Quinn smiled a terrible smile, filled with malice. "So long, demon."

     "Just a second, Quinn. Not yet. I have a few questions." Daria decided that Quinn wanted her to play good cop. At least she hoped so.

     Quinn nodded. "Whenever you're ready, then." She sat down on a crate, pulled out a whetstone and whistling, started to sharpen the sword.

     Nadia's eyes were so large that they looked like they might pop out of her head. "No!" She tried to run, but her feet were stuck to the ground.

     Quinn looked up, smiling, and wagged a finger at her. "You can't escape me, nithling. When the time comes to chop off that head, I'll make you walk over here and kneel."

     Daria looked at Quinn and swallowed. Turning her attention back to Nadia, she began. "That's enough, Quinn." She walked up to the quivering creature and began. "What can you tell us about the other demon, Nadia?"

     Broken, Nadia started talking.

     Brittany was in bed, hurting. Her whole body felt bruised, and her skin was weeping blood from a hundred sores. "Would you just get outta here?"

     Charles shook his head and stubbornly rinsed a hand towel in a bucket. He was trying to clean and medicate the sores. "No. We need to keep you from getting infected."

     Brittany gritted her teeth. "I am infected. We can't do anything about it. Getting you infected too won't help either one of us."

     Charles shrugged. "I'm talking about bacteria, but what makes you think that I give a damn?" He was wearing rubber gloves. What more did she want?

     Brittany hissed in pain as he dabbed antibiotic ointment onto an oozing sore on her leg. "Listen, Charles. That 'poor little me' routine of yours is getting old. Get used to it. You have a good long future ahead of you."

     Charles smiled at her. "We have a future. You aren't going anywhere without me."

     "God, damn it! That enough of that kind of talk-" Brittany suddenly sat up and gasped. "OH! Get back! Something's happening!"

     Charles did the opposite, panicking and grabbing at her arm. "What! What is it?"

     Brittany hissed, eyes widening. "Look!" A tar-like black liquid was oozing out of the sores. The pain was as intense as the smell.

     Charles looked at the black stuff, gagged and reached for it with the wet towel.

     Brittany writhing and groaning in agony, stiff-armed him away, knocking him across the room and into the wall. "Stay the hell back! I'm warning you!"

     Charles hit hard and blacked out for a few seconds. Coming to, he climbed to his feet, staggering, his head ringing.

     Taking a step toward the bed, he stopped, shocked. The bottle that Quinn had called a hellmouth was on the floor between him and the bed, it's top off.

     The awful black fluid was now cascading off of the bed like a waterfall of crude oil. As he stared in horror, it spread over the floor, swirled around, crawled up the bottle's side and began disappearing into it by the gallon.

     Tearing his eyes from the horrifying sight, he saw Brittany, still writhing on the bed, manage to smile at him.

     Quinn scowled. "What are we supposed to do with it then? Let it go? It'll just hurt more people."

     Daria frowned. "We promised."

     "No, you promised. Come on, Daria. What good is a promise to a demon?" Quinn glared at Nadia. "Go call a cab. I'll take care of this thing."

     "No!" Daria pursed her lips. "She still might repent someday. Can't we just send her back to Hell?"

     Nadia dropped to her knees, trembling with relief. "Thank you! Oh thank you-"

     Quinn slapped the demon and then threw her arms up in exasperation. "Okay, okay." She sneered at Nadia. "Are you sorry? Of course not. All you are is a soul snatching piece of trash. Well, Trash, today is your lucky day." Quinn opened a gate directly to Hell.

     Nadia took a reluctant step forward. Her mistress wouldn't be happy with the betrayal. She turned to Daria. "Thank you."

     Daria nodded slightly. "This is your last chance, Nadia. You'd better decide what you really want."

     Nadia looked down, feeling a little surge of shame. "I couldn't stand the torture pits. I gave up right away." She sighed. "I was a whore at thirteen. I never had a chance, alive or dead."

     "I, I, I, I. What about the people you destroyed? What about the harm you did? You deserved to go to Hell." Quinn shook her head scornfully, then looked at Daria. "Are we done with this worthless thing?"

     Daria shrugged. "I am. Goodbye, Nadia. Don't come back."

     Quinn grabbed the quaking demon by what was left of her hair. "Here's a word of advice, Thing. Even your kind can escape damnation. Pray for your soul back and then go back to the pits. If you don't give in at the pits and you learn how to really repent, it eventually just stops hurting. I rescued a man that had been wandering in hell for years. He spent twenty of them in the pits. He still has a soul and now he's in Asgard, drinking mead and playing cards with Odin."

     Nadia's face twisted in fear. She'd lasted less than a minute in the pits. "It hurts so bad..."

     "Always thinking of yourself. Why don't you try thinking of the people that you've hurt? Maybe it will come to you that you deserve to suffer like that. You flunked at life. Think of the pits as the make-up test."

     Quinn looked at the demon and softened, slightly. "Whatever you decide, remember one thing. It doesn't hurt as bad as utter destruction, demon. All of the hellspawn will be destroyed someday. Count on it."

     Nadia swallowed.

     Quinn's face hardened again. "Here's some more free advice. Don't you ever come back to Midgard. I'll know right away and I promise you that I'll come and wipe you out!"

     Contemptuously, Quinn kicked the shaking demon through the gate and sealed it behind her.

     Brittany woke up to a ringing phone. Groggily, she pulled free of a snoring Charles and groped around until she found it. "Hello?"

     "Brittany? This is Daria. Me and Quinn need a ride home."

     Brittany sat up. "Hey! You did it! I'm cured!"

     Daria sagged in relief. "We know. We got rid of Nadia. We'll be arriving at gate three of the Springdale airport on Texas Air flight 102, in about ten minutes." Daria couldn't help but add, "I'm calling from the plane." Having a lot of money was a new experience for her.

     "I'll be there." Brittany hesitated. "Thanks, Daria."

     "Thank Quinn." Daria looked at her snoozing sister. "She did almost all of it. I just bumbled along and got in the way." Daria hung up.

     Brittany heard the click and hung up too. She started to get out of bed and Charles stirred.

     "Who was that?" He stretched and yawned.

     "Daria. They need a ride from the airport." Brittany smiled at him. "Go back to sleep, I'll go get them."

     Charles turned on a light and looked at her back. "That's okay, I'll come along. Hey, those lesions are completely gone!" He reached out and gave it a caress.

     "So is Nadia." Brittany turned and eyed him, hungrily. "The airport's only twenty minutes away. That gives us-"

     "Thirty minutes." Charles melted into her arms.

     Behind them, unseen, the bottle trembled and the top popped off.

     Brittany and Charles reacted with shock when they heard the clapping.

     Brittany spun around and immediately recognized Lura, from Charles' description. "You!"

     "Very nice bit of sinning." Lura walked around the bed, inspecting them both, thrilled. The mortals were perfect. She would have to keep them as a matched pair. "My, I do great work." She reached out and brushed Brittany's cheek with her finger, letting it trail across Charles' jaw.

     Charles jerked backward and Brittany slapped at Lura's hand, pathetically slowly. Lura easily avoided it. No mortal could physically compete with a demon.

     "Leave him alone!" Brittany tried to get out of bed, but Lura just threw her back and with blinding speed, jerked Charles out from behind her.

     Lura lifted him by a wrist and leered at his dangling body. "Nice. Ah, the sweet stench of true love. How predictable."

     The job would be a snap. They were perfect hostages for each other, and a goddess would risk anything for true love.

     "What do you want?" Charles was trembling, but determined. All of the consequences should fall on him.

     "I want you, Stud." She looked up, grinning. "But I'm going to kill your girlfriend. Slowly." She threw him back on the bed, lunged forward, grabbed a helpless Brittany by the neck and pinned her against the wall.

     Charles yelped. "No! I'll do anything!"

     Brittany choked and kicked futilely at the demoness.

     "Will you give up your soul?" Lura needed a bargaining chip.

     Charles hesitated, remembering what Daria had said. Demons couldn't really hurt you unless you agreed. Praying, he looked at Brittany. "No."

     Lura cursed and threw Brittany back into the wall, stunning her. "Okay, then. What about your two wishes?"

     Charles swallowed, heavily. "Go away."

     "Sorry Baby, I can't. Not until the wishes are used." Lura grinned as he fell for it. Humans were so gullible.

     Charles looked past her and smiled. "I wish that we were all standing in front of God, right now."

     Lura yelped and looked horrified. "Ooh, can't do that one, Honey. But hey, I'll be glad to switch you back."

     Charles opened his mouth, then relaxed as Brittany got up.

     "Just keep quiet." Brittany limped over and stood in front of Charles. "Go away."

     Lura walked up to her and ran a palm over the rock-hard chest. "Nadia says 'hi.'"

     Brittany didn't react, save to keep Charles behind her when he lunged for Lura, nails extended. "Just ignore what she says!"

     Lura walked a slow circle around them. "I can help you, but you have to help me. I really want Daria. If it wasn't for her, none of this would have ever happened."

     Charles started to reply, but Lura stroked his breast, causing him to scuttle back.

     "Come on, Stud, don't you want that big strong body that I made for you back?" She snatched Charles away from Brittany, pinning his wrists behind him and showing him off. "And you, look at that. Don't you want it back? I did a little work on you too, sweetcakes. There's probably not another mortal woman alive that's built that well."

     Brittany kept a stubborn silence.

     Charles dropped his eyes. "I- I-"

     "Sold!" Lura smiled at him, nastily. "Ready?"

     The door slammed open and Daria stalked in, followed by Quinn.

     Lura dived for the bottle, but Quinn, moving so fast that she made a sonic boom, got to it first.

     "Uh-oh." Lura scuttled back, swallowed, then focused on Daria. "Shit!"

     Daria smiled at her. "Hi! I understand that you wanted to see me?"

     Quinn crushed the bottle neck closed. "Whoops!"

     Lura looked closely at her and blanched. "Fuck." She licked her lips. "Let's make a deal."

     Daria looked at Quinn. "Are they all like that?"

     "Stupid, predictable, smelly and vile?" Quinn nodded. "All."

     "Can you make her switch us back?" Charles was hopeful.

     "I think so." Daria could feel the demon's power. It was a lot less than hers. "I can sure try."

     Quinn frowned. "Sorry, Sis, but there's just no way." She pointed and vaporized Lura with an actinic blast of power, accidentally setting the wall ablaze. "Oops." Quinn concentrated and put it out.

     "You killed her!" Charles blinked the spots out of his eyes, falling to his knees in sudden weakness, an intense jolt of relief passing through him. The demoness had scared him badly.

     "Why did you do that?" Brittany sobbed once, from the adrenaline rush.

     Daria, glowing with anger, echoed the question. "Why, Quinn? We had it under control. Now they'll never get back!"

     Quinn shook her head. "I can't let it go on. They made their choice a month ago, Daria, and they're going to have to live with it."

     "What do you mean?" Daria calmed down. Her higher sense was telling her that Quinn was right.

     Quinn pointed directly at Charles. "Look at her."

     Charles swallowed. "What?" He looked at them, nervously. "I'm a guy! Er, well... you know what I mean!"

     "Okay, what am I looking for?" Daria looked and saw nothing.

     Quinn shook her head. Daria was really losing it. "Look close, Daria. She's pregnant."

     Charles stepped back. "No!"

     Brittany gaped. "What?"

     With great effort, Daria focused her senses on Charles, scanning him from head to toe. She stopped at his abdomen. "By God, he- she is! With twins, a boy and a girl!" Daria looked at Charles and shook her head. "Congratulations, Charles. You're going to be a mother." She looked at Brittany. "Sorry, but they're yours. That's it, you're stuck. You're a guy for good."

     Brittany gasped, then caught a toppling Charles. "I'm not all that sorry."

     Quinn walked up to the stricken Charles. "If we switched you back, the babies would die. When you made them, you lost the freedom to do as you please. You're a woman now, Charles. Get used to it. You'll never be anything else, ever again." Quinn spoke with divine authority.

     Charles groaned, and grasped her belly. "I guess that wasn't a virus after all."

     "You idiot!" Brittany supported her as she sagged, then simply picked her up in his arms. "Didn't you take your birth control pills?"

     "I... never really thought about it. I'm -I was a guy!" Charles started to cry. "You had all those pills... I just threw everything away!"

     Brittany rubbed and patted her back. "How about... You don't have to go through with it, you know." Brittany felt dread, even as he said it.

     Both Daria and Quinn glared at him, but he didn't see it.

     "NO!" Charles fought her way out of his grasp. "Never!"

     "Well. I guess this means that I get to keep on as the QB. I'm just going to have to be a man." Brittany gave a joyful laugh. "And I'm going to be a father, too!"

     "You got off easy, Brittany." Daria looked the newly minted man in the eye. "I saw your life as it would have been, in the mirror of destiny. You were going to have a rough time."

     Brittany swallowed. "What..."

     Quinn shuddered. "Trust me. You don't want to know." Brittany would have ended up as an exotic dancer and a porn actress before having her life cut short by being beaten to death by a demented pimp. She wouldn't have gone to hell, but her life would have been a hell of its own.

     Brittany nodded. "I'd have never gotten off of the pills and straightened up, by myself." He looked at Charles and his eyes softened. "I guess that things could be a whole lot worse."

     Charles nodded her agreement, her attention focused inward. "I... I think that I can feel them." She sagged. "It's just too late. I couldn't go back, now."

     Brittany laughed. "So I guess the wish is complete. You really do understand women."

     Charles snorted. "You think that I understand myself? Not hardly." Charles looked at him and sighed. Her life was too weird for words. "What are we going to do now, Brittany?"

     Brittany smiled reassuringly and hugged her. "Don't worry, everything will be okay. We're going to get married, if you want. Then I guess we're going to have some babies." He kissed her. "Your dad's going to lose it, but to hell with him."

     "Your dad's going to go nuts, but I've got enough stashed away to see us both through college." Charles relaxed in his arms. "Your dad has been doing a lot of business by mail. He'd be a much wealthier man if he read what he signed, and tried to find out who it is that he's actually doing business with."

     "My dad doesn't have much of a mind." Brittany looked at the two supernatural beings and ducked his head in a sort of bow. "Thank you for everything. If you don't mind, I'd like to get her home." He gestured at the mess in explanation, but the truth was that he was afraid of Quinn.

     Quinn smiled graciously and nodded. "Go on, we'll take care of all this."

     Brittany solicitously carried Charles away, his entire being focused on his small family.

     "That's a match made in hell, but one with heavenly potential." Cupid stepped into the room and smiled at the sisters. "You both did very well, even with the overkill on the fireball."

     Quinn smiled uneasily. "Um, sorry about the fire but I couldn't let that awful thing kill the babies."

     Cupid coughed. "That's okay, Quinn. I should have realized."

     "Realized what?" Daria's brows knitted with suspicion.

     "Well." He grinned at Daria. "We wanted you safely knocked up, Daria. That first baby will be the only one that could ever pose a threat. A double-shift of fertility goddesses have been hanging around Lawndale, making sure that you... multiplied. It put a huge spike in the local birthrate."

     "Hah!" Daria glared. "I never forget my pills."

     "Well, no, but they've been blessing the hell out of you for months. The pills never stood a chance." He turned to Quinn. "Like, congratulations! You're going to be an aunt!"

     Daria collapsed into a nerveless heap. A smirking Quinn barely caught her in time, settling her onto the floor.

     Cupid regarded her uneasily. He smelled the possibility of long term retribution. "That went better than I thought."

     Quinn grinned at her sister. "Mom's going to shit. Ohmigod, poor Tom. Dad's just going to kill him."

     Frowning, she looked up at Cupid. "This is a filthy trick, though. What if Tom doesn't want her? What if she doesn't want him? what-"

     Cupid shrugged, dismissively "Don't worry about those two. It's a mortal lock. I know about these things. They're totally compatible and they really do love each other."

     Quinn stared at her sister. "I want her to be happy."

     "She will be." Cupid eyed Quinn and sighed. "Happier than most people, or gods. There's no guarantees, though."

     Quinn nodded. "I guess it's better for her this way. Daria's never been happy. Maybe this is her big chance."

     "She's like, your responsibility now, you know." Cupid squatted beside Daria and straightened her into a more dignified position. "She'll lose almost all of her power for about thirty years."

     Quinn nodded. "I saw it fading, even while we were in Alfheim. I'll always watch over them. Tyr taught me how to make a ward to see out of her eyes and feel her danger."

     "No you don't! I can take care of myself!" Daria sat up on her elbows, furious beyond belief.

     Quinn struck brutally hard with her compulsion, feeling considerable guilt. It had to be done, though.

     "Forget it. Forget about all of it. You have been having a normal, happy year." Quinn looked carefully into Daria's glazed eyes and nodded. "Now sleep, and feel really, really good when you wake up. I promise that everything will be okay. You'll be a lot happier, like this."

     Daria, eyes drooping closed, muttered, "Happier."

     Quinn smirked. "And treat your sister better, because she's like, really, really cool now."

     "Oh. Thanks then. Goodnight, Sissy." Daria curled up and was instantly asleep.

     "Sissy?" Cupid grinned.

     "Oh, crap." Quinn sagged. Even comatose, Daria always shot back. Now she was stuck as the Goddess Sissy, forever.

     "That was pretty good." Cupid looked regretfully at Daria. Now he couldn't visit. "I didn't have any idea that you were that strong, Sissy."

     "I'm a lot stronger than Daria." Quinn giggled. "She was so busy trying to protect me that she never noticed the demons she fought pissing themselves whenever they saw me."

     Cupid laughed. "That's cool, Sissy."

     Quinn nodded. "A super hero should never reveal too much."

     Cupid groaned. "Not that again. We're gods, girl, not stupid super heroes in striped underwear."

     "Why, is there some rulebook?" She smirked. "No one would ever call a super hero 'Sissy.'"

     Cupid slumped in defeat. "You win, Quinn."

     "I think that I'll get a really neat costume." Quinn smirked at the diaper-clad being. "Like you, but cool and stylish."

     Cupid narrowed his eyes. "I hear that you already did. Like, what about Odin? Aren't you his Valkyrie?"

     Quinn shrugged. She was too strong to be a simple Valkyrie. "What about him? I'll visit, but I can't stay. They have their job, I have mine."

     "And what's that?" Cupid picked up Daria and followed Quinn out of the empty Ruttheimer house.

     "Well, someone's got to keep the demons out of Midgard. I mean, my mom lives here! You aren't doing much of a job." Quinn shrugged. "I'll just consider myself on detached duty for a while."

     Cupid walked along behind her, eyeing her with genuine respect. He hadn't even had to tell her. "You'll have to visit Level six of Heaven for your orders, but that's pretty much what those prick- er, angels wanted you to do."

     He didn't envy her. The Angels were petty bureaucrats with nasty tempers. She was going to find out that under the new order, what wasn't forbidden was usually compulsory.

     Quinn smiled, cranking her cuteness up to supernatural levels. "I hope they like me!"

     Cupid sniggered. The heavenly bureaucracy was in for it. "Cool."

     He gestured at Daria with his chin. "What about her? She's pretty smart. She's going to know that something weird happened, and compulsion only works so much on us." The petty gods were bound by a strict policy of forgetfulness among the mortals.

     Quinn shrugged. "I fix it so that she doesn't have time to think much. I will compel Jodie Landon and everyone else that has been talking to forget. Daria doesn't need any more weird rumors going around about her."

     Cupid grunted. "What about the happy couple? I don't see how they can forget."

     Quinn narrowed her eyes. "We'll come to an agreement. They owe us. Besides, in six months no one will believe them anyway." Everyone that wasn't directly affected would forget, in time.

     Cupid smiled at her as they entered the empty Morgendorffer house. "You've got it all covered, then. I can get on with my job."

     Quinn nodded, then gave him a suspicious look. "Just stay away from me! And my family, and," she blushed, "David."

     Cupid smirked. "I can promise that. One shot is all you really need."

     Quinn froze. "What!"

     "Gotta go, Quinn!" Cupid turned and she grabbed a wing.

     "Wait a minute. Are you saying that you zapped David and me?" Quinn stared, eyes large.

     "Sure." Cupid shrugged, unconcernedly. "I was like, hanging around your house a lot back then and you two clicked, big time." He gave his taser a twirl. "Like, it's my job, Quinn."

     Quinn's eyes narrowed. "That means he does like me."

     "Not at all." Cupid grinned. "You scare the living hell out of him. He's so hopelessly in love with you that it hurts, but he's also afraid that you're a shallow little airhead that'll stomp on his heart and leave him face down in the gutter."

     "Erk!" Quinn looked dazed.

     Cupid sighed, regretfully. "You can lead a mortal to paradise, but you can't make him drink." He looked thoughtful. "Well, Paddy can make them drink, but what I mean is-"

     Quinn stared, then grabbed his other wing. Pulling him in, she gave him a big kiss.

     Cupid staggered back in astonishment when she let go. "Woah! That's one lucky mortal!"

     "Thanks!" Quinn ran for the phone. She could call David and tell him that she was going to be visiting Princeton on Friday.

     Daria's eyes shot open and she ran for the bathroom.

     "Daria?" Helen knocked on the bathroom door. "Are you alright?"

     "I'm si-"

     Helen heard the sound of vomiting and opened the door. Daria was on her knees, hanging on to the toilet, heaving.

     "Daria!" Helen felt her forehead, then pulled her hair back out of range. "Do you need to see the doctor?"

     Daria gasped, the heaves subsiding. "No." Doctors never seemed to do anything but shake their heads in puzzlement. Daria didn't feel like being a guinea pig today.

     "Are you sure?" Helen frowned in concern.

     Daria climbed to her feet and rinsed out her mouth. "It must be a virus. I'll just stay in... bed." She suddenly remembered the improbable looking room that she'd woken up in.

     "Mom, did you have my room redecorated?"

     Helen looked confused. "What? No. Whatever are you talking about?"

     Daria stared at her, then frowned. "Come and look."

     Helen followed Daria into the room and gaped. "I... That's just..." Helen took a deep breath. "JAKE!"

     Jake frowned at the erotic paintings. "I didn't do it!"

     "Then who did?" Helen stared at the room. It was just too well done to be a prank. The bed alone was worth at least eight hundred dollars.

     Quinn breezed in. "Hi! Do you like it? I won a radio 'replace your space' contest. Since my room was already perfect, I told them to do Daria's!" She was using compulsion at full strength.

     Helen, slightly green, was looking at a mural depicting a goat legged Pan and a couple of amorous nymphs. "Oh how... thoughtful. Maybe we can paint over- er paint it. The color is a little bit too-

     "Pink." Daria stared at her sister, wondering why she couldn't seem to get mad. "The bed's alright, I guess, but where's my stuff?" Her plastic bones and the model Swiss cheese that she kept on her dresser were conspicuously absent.

     Quinn smiled, brightly, covering her nervousness. "I had them put it all in the closet!" She had put it all in the closet herself.

     Daria opened the closet and sniffed, suspiciously. "How did it get bigger?"

     Quinn shrugged. "It probably just looks bigger, after your laser surgery."

     Daria's hands went to her face and she gasped when she failed to find her glasses. "Oh! I... I guess... I forgot?" Daria stared at her family, then shuddered. "I don't feel very well today. Excuse me, I need to get dressed."

     Quinn bit her lip. Daria was really fighting the compulsion.

     Helen looked past her and gasped. "Daria? What's that?"

     Daria paused and frowned. "What's what?"

     Helen reached up onto the top shelf of the closet and pulled out a small box. "A pregnancy test?"

     Jake, distracted from his horrified inspection of the erotic art on the walls, almost fainted. "What! Ugh, I need a drink!" He departed at high speed.

     Daria stared at the damming box. "But..."

     "Come with me, young lady." A worried Helen dragged her of toward the bathroom by the wrist.

     "Hello, is Tom Sloane there?" Quinn hoped that she had the right number. This was going to be the mother of all distractions.


The End