Disclaimer: There is nothing to disclaim in this here story. You will need an open mind to read it, though. If you find something you think needs disclaiming, however, you are more than welcome to let me know. It wont change anything, but it may make you feel better. Ugliness will earn you a smack to the back of your head.
Thanks: To my truly awesome Beta Team. Thanks to Carol and Lisa for the editing. And thanks to Carol, Lisa, Marsha and Phil for the questions, comments and encouragement. You guys ROC!
Special Thanks: To the many of you that took the time to send your kind words about A Valiant Heart. They were much appreciated by the entire team.
Authors Note: This picks up immediately after A Valiant Heart ends, so you will need to read that first if you havent already. The Storytellers Cardinal rule is still in effect.
A Valiant Interlude
It was impossible to tell if the shrouded figure on the beach was actually a human being, or just a very odd bit of sculpture left from an earlier, questionable era. It stood so still that it wasnt until a slight movement was seen that one could have been convinced that it was, in fact, a living entity.
The lack of movement, however, was not nearly so disturbing as the thoughts emanating from beneath the covering.
"I promise you, Grace, Miranda Valiants afterlife will be full of suffering for what she did to you. I will make sure she pays the price for her actions."
It was a long time before the person actually moved, and disappeared into the thick fog that was slowly rolling in.
It wasnt any one sensation that awakened Randi in the still darkness of the pre-dawn morning. It was a combination of several... a gentle touch tracing her face, warm, uneven breath on her neck, and hot wetness on her collarbone. But it wasnt until the warmth in her arms began to shake lightly with silent sobs that she rolled toward Gwen, tightening her arms convulsively in unspoken support. They had yet to talk, and the Marine decided to let her blonde companion cry herself out for now. So she rocked her gently, whispering love and endearments in her ears, and holding on for all she was worth.
The two fell asleep again just as a hint of gray touched the eastern sky, and the sun was quite high in the sky before blue eyes peeked open the second time. Randi smiled in remembered joy at the exquisite pleasure they had shared the previous night, then the smile turned melancholy at the remembered tears the bard had shed. So much pain, and so many tears. So many things to talk about.
Grimacing in extreme discomfort, the Marine edged out from under the naked bard who was draped over her own naked body. She moved rapidly to the bathroom to take care of business. Randi was just splashing a bit of water on her face, when Gwens scream brought her back into the bedroom, running.
The blonde was sitting up in the middle of the bed, wrapped around the pillow the newly returned soldier had been using. Green eyes stared ahead unseeingly, the small body rocking gently back and forth in an effort to comfort herself. Randi scooped the bard up into her arms, surrounding her senses. And after a few minutes, Gwen, who had tensed at the Marines touch, allowed herself to relax and believe in her new reality. Randis heart had broken at the flinch, knowing she was the cause of Gwens waking nightmare, and knowing it was going to take lots of time and patience to convince her bard she was home to stay.
"Im sorry, love. I didnt mean for you to wake up alone."
The small hand unclenched from the pillow it was buried in, and slowly moved toward the Marines face. Gwen lifted her chin, and raised her eyes to the features of the woman she loved. She followed with her hand the path her eyes had taken, as though assuring herself that what she saw was real, and not wishful thinking, or a suddenly active imagination. Randi closed her eyes and allowed the exploration, taking great comfort in the soft touch.
"You really are here with me, arent you? Youre really alive... Im not just dreaming, am I?"
The last was said so wistfully, the Marine had to close her eyes against the tears that wanted to fall. She captured Gwens hand, bringing the slim fingers to her lips for a kiss. "I really am here. I really am alive, and you are not just dreaming. We are in love and together, and will be forever and beyond. I promise."
"I promise." It would be a promise she would regret making in the not too distant future.
After a nice long joint shower, which lent itself to a bit of playtime as well as calming Gwens fears about Randi disappearing, the two decided a little food might be in order.
It was odd sharing space again, and though the bard had changed nothing in the house, Randi felt a little out of place. She stood there with the refrigerator door open, focusing on nothing, until a warm hand appeared at the small of her back.
"Yeah," with a sigh. "Its just... everything is so odd, disjointed. I feel... I dunno... out of place. Almost disoriented."
Gwen took the larger hands in her own and entwined their fingers together. Gently she led the older woman out of the kitchen, and into the living room where an open bottle of Merlot and several vid chips still sat on the table as reminders of the night before. She was taken by surprise when the larger woman suddenly jerked her off her feet, and with a twist, the bard found herself tightly cuddled in Randis lap. They sat in silence for long minutes.
"Guess we both have some issues to work through, huh?" Gwen gently traced the muscles in the arms wrapped around her so tightly. She felt the Marine nod her head above her. "Well, cmon, stud. Lets get something to eat and we can talk." The bard felt Randi chuckle slightly when she heard the endearment. Then a light kiss was dropped on the top of her head.
"You cut your hair," the Marine commented as they moved back into the kitchen. "It looks good. I like it."
Gwen ran her hands absently through the shortened locks. "Thanks. I did it a while back. Made it easier to manage."
"I know. I saw you do it."
Two blonde brows rose into her hairline. She couldnt wait to hear the explanation for that statement, but she let it pass for now. She was too hungry to ask a question that so obviously required a long, detailed answer. They finished preparing lunch, then took the meal into the living area and sat down on the sofa, still touching. Both needed the tactile reassurance, and each was happy to provide it to the other.
It was a fairly silent meal, both knowing that any serious discussion needed to wait. When lunch was over, Randi took their plates into the kitchen, while Gwen picked up the living room. Her nose crinkled as the scent of somewhat soured Merlot wafted up. The tickling sensation it caused made her want to sneeze. She bent to retrieve the holo-chips form the table, then straightened, standing there lost in thought. It was to this scene that the Marine returned.
"Gwen?" placing her hands on the bards shoulders when she got no response. "Love?"
"Why did you leave me?" came a broken whisper. "And why were you gone so long? We had all given you up for dead.... " Gwens voice trailed off.
Oh boy. Nothing like starting with the tough stuff. "Cmon. Lets sit down for this."
Randi sat down in one corner of the couch, leaving Gwen several options to choose from. The bard hesitated, then voiced her desire. "May I?" she asked, gesturing to the Marines long lap.
"Please," patting her lap, and opening her arms.
The blonde squirmed into a comfortable position, then laced her fingers behind the dark head, and pulled Randis head down for a kiss. It was a long, leisurely exploration, and the Marine needed a minute to catch her breath before speaking.
"Um, not that Im complaining, mind you, but what was that for?"
Green eyes got lost in blue for a very long moment. "Courage," she said finally. "I have a feeling we are both going to need it for this story," spoken very softly.
"That is truer than you know, love." Randi took a deep breath. "The reason... I was... gone... so long is... well, because I... I... died." Only her strong arms kept the bard from bolting off her lap. "I know, I KNOW... it sounds impossible, it sounds like an excuse, but Gwen, I swear to you its the truth." The bard turned to look into the face she loved, and saw nothing but honest truth staring back at her.
"Youre serious." More of a statement than a question.
A nod was the Marines only answer.
"Tell me," she whispered.
Randi breathed a sigh of relief. Gwen was going to give her a chance to explain.
Randi vividly remembered her final moments. She and Grace were engaged in an almost inanely civil conversation when there were two separate blasts that occurred bare seconds apart. The first collapsed the dome into the hollowed out bedrock of the ocean floor. The second was a self-contained explosion that annihilated everything inside it, leaving nothing behind but the dome itself, and a very large hole beneath it.
Grace Rivers was an intriguing study in contrasts. On the one hand, she was a renegade, immoral killer whose sole aim was to perpetuate humankinds suffering and destructive tendencies. On the other, she had no desire to upset the planets delicate environment. And the domes self-destruct capabilities had been designed with this in mind.
"Thank you, my Sabre friend, for giving me this final rest," the older blonde woman said softly in the remaining seconds they had left. "I hope whatever gods you believe in give you a peaceful afterlife."
Time slowed to an imperceptible crawl, and every second became a lifetime in and of itself. The explosion was silent to Randis ears. Only the buckling of the surrounding wall gave any indication of reaction to the blast. The wall supports collapsed, and the Marine felt searing pain flare... first in her leg as the bone was crushed, then in her back as it broke when she was pinned down. The last conscious sensation she remembered was the splintering of her cheekbone, and the burning of flesh. Then merciful darkness enveloped her, and removed her senses from brutal reality.
"Dont cry, love," Randi crooned as she gently wiped away the tracks of tears running down Gwens face. "Its over now, and truthfully, its more like a long remembered bad dream than anything else. Can I be perfectly honest here?" A tiny smile quirked the corners of her lips. "Death was much easier than coming back to life. That was truly horrific."
"Then why did you?" in a very small voice.
"Because you asked me to, and I was offered a second chance." Randi moved her hand to cup the bards face. "And I would have gone through far worse for the opportunity for us to be together again." She kissed Gwens lips almost chastely. Then she brought them together again for a long, passionate embrace.
"Im so glad you did," she said when they broke apart again for air. "Can you talk about it? Id like to understand."
"Yes, Little One. I can talk about it, but its not a very pretty tale. You sure you wanna hear it?"
Gwen lifted a hand and gently traced the lines of the face above her that had been so horribly scarred only the night before, and were now as smooth as newborn skin. "Yes, love."
Randi was more than a little confused upon first waking up. The last thing she remembered was the explosion of the dome, and horrendous pain in her body. Then... this, where ever *this* was. Was she dead or wasnt she? In all the stories she had heard about the afterlife, none of them explained the place in which she now found herself. The gargantuan cave wasnt a bad place. After all, it was warm and dry. But the loneliness, and the hollow, aching pain made it seem like hell on earth, or hell in death. How long she sat there was unclear, because time seemed to have no meaning in this place. And then....
"Waitaminute! Waitaminute! Just hold on a second there!" Gwen drew back in her arms enough to be able to look the Marine in the eye. "Youre telling me Aphrodite smacked you in the back of the head??"
"Oh yeah! Hard, too," unconsciously rubbing the back of her dark head. "Made me bite my tongue as well. See?" Randi stuck out the offended organ. "It was sore for days."
"Poor baby," placing a light peck on the body part in question. "But why on earth would the goddess of love hit you? I didnt think that was quite her style."
"Its not, not usually, I mean. She was just really angry and frustrated with me for not being honest with you, and for that kiss. We had quite a long talk about it later. Anyway.... "
Talking to her parents had done wonders for the Marines peace of mind. To know that they loved and approved of the bard was enough to almost, *almost* take some of her pain away. As it was, it did make her smile, and gave her a bit of comfort that they were not disappointed or ashamed of her.
The talk with the goddesses, particularly the seemingly cold love goddess had been hard, especially hearing Gwen pour out her hearts pain to Aphrodite. But that, more than anything else, had firmed her resolve to return to her bard. And it made the bearing of bones being crushed and reknitting, and flesh being burned and scarring not quite as horrendous in the Marines mind
It was that resolve, and watching Gwens daily suffering that allowed Randi to struggle each day through her healing process. Every morning the Sabre rose from her rest, and set to work, being subjugated to the bards life and thoughts. The emptiness and pain she felt from Gwen multiplied her own feelings a thousand fold, and provided her the impetus to improve her condition and heal. But it was her memorial service, realizing she had been gone from the bards life for a year that forced her to find her way home.
"I never expected to be healed so quickly and so completely," touching her face gingerly. "Aphrodite said six months of hard therapy for my body, and gave me no hope for my face. I was supposed to be scarred for life."
"Well, babe," came an otherworldly voice before the goddess it belonged to appeared, Im like, so sure we can revert you to type if thats what you like, totally want."
"In the flesh and at your service, warrior babe. Hey, cutie!" Randi looked a little confused at the goddesss advent, but the bard was completely stunned. Dite settled in a diaphanous cloud on the other end of the couch, peering at the couple in loving happiness. "I so cannot tell you two how seeing you so totally together like this just makes my heart like, pitter patter." Her eyelashes fluttered, and she fanned herself with small, rapid motions. She gave a sigh.
"Um, Dite, not to seem ungrateful or anything, but why are you here?" Gwens hold had tightened on the Marine while Randi was talking to the deity. Her eyes had yet to leave the love goddesss face, but she felt secure in the love and strength she felt in the arms surrounding her. Randi tightened her grasp around the bard in response to her unspoken fear. The Marine wondered silently to herself what the cause was. The bard could only remember her harshness to the goddess the first, and last, time she had seen Dite.
"Im actually here to like, answer your question, warrior."
"Why do you call me that?"
"What... warrior? Its what you are, isnt it? Anyway, I thought you might like to know the total truth. See, the final outcome of your injuries was a test... one for each of you. You had to be willing to come to her broken and battered. And she had to be willing to accept you completely, deformities and all. You both came through beautifully. Now, down to business. This," reaching out a hand toward the Marine who intercepted the small package neatly, "is from your mom. Nice lady, by the way. Anyway, she asked me to tell you About time, you two! and Congratulations. This," leaning forward and brushing the blondes lips lightly with her own, is from Randis dad, welcoming you to the family."
"Hey there, love goddess, you just watch where you plant those lips! This one belongs to me, and I dont share!"
"As if!! Chill, babe! Like Im gonna put the nix on the most bodacious duo Ive hooked up in millennia? Get real!" She grinned at the stunned expression on the bards face. "Ill expect an invitation to the wedding," she said with a smile as she disappeared.
Randi noticed the dazed look lingering on Gwens face. "Hey! Gwen?" The Marine gently grasped the bards chin, and turned her face until their eyes met. "Love? You okay?"
The blonde swallowed hard and closed her eyes in a prolonged blink before reopening them, and gazing into the blue she loved so well. "They gave us their blessing."
"Yes, they did. Is that a bad thing?" The brunette was more than a little confused on what was going through Gwens mind.
"No, love, no," cupping the face above her with a palm. "No, I think its a wonderful thing." She lowered her head and went on more softly, "Its something I wished for, early this morning." A hand raised her chin, and Randi met tear-filled green eyes.
"Oh, Little One," she slowly lowered her lips to meet those of the bard, and a long stretch of time was devoted to sharing love, devotion and tenderness. "I cant tell you what that means to me."
"You dont have to, Randi. I know you love and miss your parents, and I just wished, if they were happy about... us... I prayed for a way... I just wanted... I mean.... " The bard, at a loss for words, trailed off incoherently. But the Marine knew exactly what she was trying to say, and she gave the smaller woman a fierce hug.
"I know what you are saying, love. Shall we find out what Mama sent?"
"You dont want some privacy?" Gwen tried to slip from Randis lap, but the Marine held tight to the bard.
"No, Gwen, no. Im pretty sure it is meant for both of us." The tall woman brought her long arms to wrap more snugly around the bard so she could bring her hands together. Gwen, for her part, tucked her head under Randis chin, cozy and content. It was a small, square box, encased in parchment with writing on it. Carefully removing the wrapping, she placed the ornate, wooden box on the blondes lap for safekeeping while they read the note together.
Dear Children, (it read)
Words cannot possibly convey the depth of our happiness at your joining.
Yours has been a beautiful, and sometimes frustrating relationship to
watch grow and strengthen and blossom. We are both so glad you have
finally come together as one.
The box contains something Randi will recognize. Explain it to your
bard, daughter. She, of all people, deserves to know the history behind
it. It has a magic all its own... maybe it will help her recover her own
stories. It is one reason Aphrodite generously granted Gwens wish.
Know that you do now, and will always have our love and blessing on
your union. Soulmates are precious and rare. Love one another well,
and treasure each other above everything.
From Eternity with Love,
Mama and Papa
P.S. Randi, dont sit there goggling with your mouth open like a fish out
of water that we can write. Youd be surprised at the things you can
learn here. :-)
Randi snapped her jaw shut. Gwen giggled at the Marines reaction to her mothers command. The tall woman frowned at her, then had to chuckle softly at the absurdity of it all. Even from beyond, her mother was still a formidable woman. The bard plucked the box from her lap and offered it to Randi. The Marine took it and placed it in her hand, holding it so Gwen could take the lid off.
"Open it," she said quietly. The bard took a moment to admire the craftsmanship and detail on the cover, then slowly lifted it away. A gasp caught in her throat as the object inside came into full view.
"Randi, its beautiful."
"Hmm, yes it is, and its origins are very interesting. Would you like to hear the story?" Gwen nodded, interest and enthusiasm lighting her features. The Marine smiled to herself at the reaction. That sparkle... thats whats been missing. Its wonderful to see that coming back, even just a tiny bit. Randi cleared her throat and took a deep breath, ready to share the magical myth.
In ancient times, millennia ago, two soulmates had come together in the guise of a storyteller and a veteran fighter. They suffered adversity and trials, celebrated triumphs and successes, and became home and hearth to each other. When the two finally admitted their love for one another, even the gods themselves celebrated their union, for the joining together of two souls was a rare and beautiful experience, even for those who had been around almost since time began.
Not all the gods were happy, of course. There were those who were sure the darkness surrounding the soldier would spill over and taint the purity of the tale weaver. And there were others convinced the seeming weakness of the bard would destroy the strength of the warrior. But Aphrodite herself blessed their marriage, and those who were unhappy resigned themselves to the match, and eventually, some even grew accepting of it.
At their joining, the love goddess blessed the tokens they had each chosen for the other... matching rings. And these rings had been passed from generation to generation for thousands of years.
"I only have the bards ring, as the other passed out of the family more than a century ago. There is a story, however, that tells that when the soldier and the storyteller come together again, the rings will join as well. Because as soulmates, when we rejoin each other, it is always in some semblance of the warrior and the bard."
"Are we those soulmates, Randi?"
"What does your heart tell you, love?"
The bard gave the question the serious consideration it was due. "It says that we have come full circle once again. That you are a part of me, the other half of my soul," she said finally, deliberately. She looked into Randis eyes. "My heart tells me I have finally come home." Gwen smiled. "Yes, love, we are those soulmates."
"Then, my precious soulmate," swooping the blonde out of her arms, and placing her down on the couch tenderly, then kneeling at her feet. "Marry me." The utterly shocked look on Gwens face made her stumble on. "I know its fast. Ive only just come back, and we just became lovers, but God, Gwen, Ive loved you forever and.... " She stopped talking when soft fingers covered her lips.
"I love you," she said as tears tracked silently down her cheeks. "Yes, I will marry you, just as fast as we can get everything arranged and everyone notified. Im not letting you get away again," with a smile. Then her eyes grew big and round.
"What?? Whats wrong??" The Marine moved from the floor back to the sofa, trying to figure out what had caused the sudden look of alarm.
"MY GOD!! Randi, no one knows youre alive!! We got to tell people! My folks, Tommy and Ella, Tiny.... "
" ... can you imagine Dittos reaction?"
"And what about Randall, and mmph... mmm.... " Her attention shifted and she concentrated on the wonderful sensations kissing Randi was causing in her body. "You know," she commented breathlessly when they broke apart, "I could grow addicted to this type of attention-getter." She went back for seconds, pulling away reluctantly when Randi rose, gathering the bard into her strong arms. "Randi?" Another passionate kiss was her only answer, and when the bedroom door shut behind them, there were no more questions.
"You said this ring is millennia old, and yet it looks so new." It was quite a bit later, and the two still lay tangled together in the sheets. Randi had finally slipped the ring on the bards finger, and Gwen was taking great delight in looking at it from every angle. "And how is it that the size is perfect? Is there a meaning behind the stones and their arrangement? And.... "
"Slow down, love," the Marine replied with a low chuckle. "Ill tell you all I know." She curled up a little closer behind the blonde, and drew the hand with the ring on it into her own larger one. "Every generation, there has been a guardian of the rings. When we met again as soulmates, we were the guardians, of course, and wore the rings in trust as our ancestors before us did. But in those many generations where we did not meet, one was chosen to hold them until the next came along. A couple hundred years ago, maybe a little less, there was a daughter and son who split the rings. The son took the warriors ring for his own, the daughter held the bards ring in trust. No one has seen it since, or knows where the warriors ring went after the son passed on. My family has held the bards ring until today, when Mama passed it on for you.
It was the guardians responsibility to maintain the quality and integrity of the jewelry, and it has been completely revitalized several times, and cleaned regularly."
"Well, your family has done a wonderful job of taking care of this. What does the inscription say?"
"Its a very ancient text... one I doubt many people can even read today, but the words have been passed through each subsequent generation with the ring itself. The words are Ani LDodi vdodi li. Translated, it says I am my beloveds and my beloved is mine. "
"What a very beautiful sentiment," the bard commented.
"Hmm, yes. And the significance of the stones is lovely as well." The band itself was a platinum base with the inscription engraved on it. Placed into the top of the band, all the way around, was an arrangement of sixteen stones set in a repeating pattern. Two diamonds, one emerald, one sapphire. "The two white stones, the diamonds, represent the two halves of the soul coming together. The two colored stones show the individuality of each half of the soul that was joined. Legend says the blue and green were chosen because of the vibrant eye colors of the first two soulmates were these two colors."
Gwen looked hard at the ring, and then looked up into Randis eyes. "Yep, I could certainly see that."
The Marine, who had turned to study first the ring, then the green eyes before her, merely grunted her agreement. "Me too."
Peace and quiet reigned for a few minutes, before the bard asked again, "But what about the size?"
Randi smiled wickedly. "I could say Mama found out through devious means, but shed find a way to come back and smack me for that." Gwen laughed lightly. "The truth is, that is part of the blessing Aphrodite put on it. Only we, true soulmates, can wear the rings, and they are made to fit the wearer at the time. That ring will fit only you, until such time as you... d... pa... move on. Then it becomes the responsibility of a new guardian, until your soul comes back to claim it once again."
"So when the son took the warriors ring for himself.... "
".... it became a problem because he was not one of the blessed and bonded soulmates. It is suspected that he either lost or sold the ring. But theres no real way to tell. Records from that era are piecemeal, at best."
Silence ruled in the room for a time after that, as the two dozed contentedly in each others arms. Finally, though, hunger once again drove them from the bed and into the kitchen. It was while eating dinner that the bard came back to something that had dawned on her earlier, but had subsequently forgotten about with Randis distractions. She smiled in memory.
"We *are* gonna tell people youre alive, right? It doesnt have to stay some big secret, does it?"
"Why would you think that?"
"Well, when I mentioned it before, you went to great lengths to take my mind off of the subject, and move it to something else." She grinned lasciviously. "Not that I minded the, um, distraction, but...."
The Marine laughed softly. "Oh, Little One. I was just being selfish. Id like... I wanted... to have you all to myself for the weekend. Because you know when this gets out, we wont have a moment to ourselves for a while. Everybody and his brother that knows either one of us is gonna want to come and see for themselves that its true. I wanted just a little time for us alone."
"You know, I think that may be the most romantic thing you ever said to me."
"Well, give me a little while. Im new at this. Im sure I can do better with practice."
"Youre doing just fine, stud."
"Stud, huh?" glancing down at herself. "I think I may be missing a few, ahem, accouterments in that department, love."
Gwen stood and backed up a pace, giving the Marine a thorough once over from head to toe and back again. Her gaze lingered at several sensitive spots on the tall womans body, making Randi blush furiously under the intense scrutiny. "Um mmm mmm, I dont think youre missing a thing there, stud. I think youre pretty perfect just they way you are."
Long black lashes dropped, and blue eyes were hidden from view while a second, gentler blush climbed up the Marines face. She peeked up from beneath her lashes, only to find the bard gazing at her in unabashed adoration. "Really?"
"I love you, Gwen."
"I love you too, Randi."
"Is this gonna become an every morning habit?" Randi was laying flat on her back, with the bard half sprawled on top of her. Gwen had one long leg pinned down with her own, and her left arm had been anchoring Randi down at the waist. Now it was softly chasing goose bumps up and down the Marines torso, while her ear remained plastered to the spot above Randis heartbeat. The brunette had actually awakened to the fingertips gently tracing her face, as though the bard was trying to memorize her features by touch alone. Randi sighed silently. It was gonna take them both a while to adjust to this.
"Does it bother you?" Gwen whispered, slowing her touch to a stop.
"No, Little One. I love it when you touch me. I just wish you didnt need the reassurance, and for that I apologize."
The bard drew a deep breath. "Randi, why did you leave me? You never answered that for me yesterday." She cursed silently to herself when she felt the tear slide out of her eye, and drop onto the chest beneath her face. She hated asking again, but she needed an answer. If she was ever to get any closure on this, Gwen needed Randi to be honest about this.
The Marine sighed, and tucked the smaller body in closer to her own. She squeezed briefly, and brushed a kiss over the top of the blonde head. A second sigh, and she said softly, "Lets get a shower and get dressed. I thought maybe we could take the bike out to our favorite barbeque place. Then we can find a quiet spot and talk. But you need to know this.... " Randi rolled onto her side so she was looking down into green eyes. "Leaving you was the hardest thing I have ever done, and coming back to you, regardless of the pain and work involved, was the easiest. I love you."
The bard didnt answer verbally, but instead wound her hands into the raven locks, and pulled the older woman down for a kiss. It was at once loving and reassuring and passionate, and Randi pulled away with great reluctance. "Cmon. Lets get ready and go for a ride."
They werent *too* late leaving the beach house. Randi offered to let Gwen drive, but she merely shook her head, and settled into the seat behind the tall woman. She grasped the Marines waist tightly, and gave her a fierce hug. Randi had to loosen the hold somewhat. "Let me breathe, love."
"Sorry," the blonde muttered, slackening her grip even farther. The driver turned around, and fixed a warm blue stare on Gwen.
"Dont be sorry. Never be sorry for loving me, please. I know you need some reassurance, especially right now. We both do." She took her helmet off, and removed Gwens as well. Then she cupped the storytellers face in her large palms, teasingly tracing the lips until they creased into a smile. "I love you. I have loved you since the first time I saw you perform ten years and more ago. I will always love you, in life, in death and beyond. You complete me, and nothing, *nothing* will ever change that."
Gwens eyes had widened when she caught the Marines reference to ten years ago. But that quickly slipped into the back of her mind at the eloquence of the vows that followed. "I love you too, Miranda Valiant." And though her mouth said nothing else, her eyes left little doubt in Randis mind exactly what she felt.
Randi leaned down and put a swift, chaste kiss on soft lips. "You ready to ride?"
The bard nodded her head, and replaced her helmet. "Lets rock and roll, stud." With a chuckle, and a whispered sound from the motor, they were off.
The glade where they stopped was a favorite. They had found the hidden dell when they had first started making the bike treks, looking for a place to stretch and rest awhile. It had become a regularly scheduled stop during their weekly rides together. In the fifteen months since Randis... departure, the bard hadnt been back.
Now, returning to the retreat was comfortable, and calming and went a long way in reassuring Gwen about the realness of their future together. She was still very emotionally fragile and having difficulty accepting that her reality had changed so drastically, not once, but twice, overnight. She desperately hoped that her new reality was here to stay. She wasnt sure she could survive losing Randi again... especially now.
Gwen saw the slight tremors in the Marines hand as the tall woman reached for her, and she took the proffered clasp, gently rubbing her thumb along Randis wrist. The Marine led them over to the large oak, and lowered herself to the ground, coaxing the bard to sit down in front of her. Randi wrapped her arms around the blondes middle for a very long time, shaking, but not crying. Gwen squeezed the hands joined in front of her, conveying her love to the woman seated behind her. Finally, Randi drew a deep breath, and started to speak.
"First of all, I want you to know that I love you far above and beyond everything. And given a choice, Id certainly do things differently if I had them to do over." She nuzzled the bards cheek with her own for a very long minute. "But, we cant go back... we have to go forward from here, and I want you to understand the whole story."
Having just graduated boot camp with honors, and receiving a life saving medal to boot, Randi was more curious than concerned about being summoned to the base Commanders office. The yeoman sitting at the desk announced her, and shut the door soundlessly behind her after ushering her in.
"Private First Class Miranda Valiant, reporting as ordered, SIR." She stood stiffly at attention, awaiting a reply. The Marine Colonel in the chair behind the desk in front of her smiled slightly to himself at the strict bearing and response. She was the very finest the Corps had had the pleasure of instructing in a long time. If he had to lose her, at least it was to a unit worthy of her exceptional capabilities. And shed still be a Marine. He truly smiled at this thought.
"At ease. Private Valiant, allow me to introduce you to General Jeremiah Daetwyler. The general is in charge of the unit you are being assigned to." She looked at the tall, distinguished-looking man in the Army uniform who had been hidden by shadows until he moved forward at the colonels introduction.
"Sir?" The young Marine was a little confused. The squad was expecting their new assignments to be posted in two days. No one had said anything about a private audience with the base commander. It was more than a little disconcerting.
"Allow me, Colonel." The general spoke for the first time. "Private Valiant, will you walk with me?"
"Of course, sir."
As they reached the door, the colonel called out, "By the way, Private, the Corps is very proud of you. Congratulations."
"Thank you, sir."
They crossed out through the back of the building, and headed toward the now quiet, empty training yards. Randi remained silent, knowing it was not her place to speak. When they were out in the open, and far enough away from everyone and everything to be overheard, the general spoke.
"Private, you have been selected to become part of a select group of the Special Forces. You will report in two days time to," he showed her the destination, "this address with nothing save the clothes on your back. Everything you need will be re-issued to you there."
She digested this information, and he patiently waited, knowing there would be questions. And his patience was rewarded, though she took a little longer than he expected, and when she spoke, her question caught him by surprise. She didnt ask about the training, why she wasnt allowed personal effects, or how she had been selected.
"Sir, what is this unit called?"
"Valiant, you will be a Black Sabre."
"So why were you chosen to be a Black Sabre? Tiny explained a lot about them to me. And I just dont see you that way. Thats not who you are. I cant picture you.... " Gwen tilted her head back on Randis shoulder to look up into the partially hidden face. The Marine would have jumped up and moved away from the scrutiny if she could have done so gracefully, and with out injuring the bard.
"Please dont," said almost harshly. "I *never* want you to be able to see me that way. But make no mistake... I was the very best at what I did. As for why I was chosen, that was never explained. The only mention made to me was that the tests we took in basic indicated I was Sabre material. And for a while, especially after the training was finished, I was on top of the world."
Three months of basic training had been bad, but it was a walk in the park compared to the six additional months of Sabre training. There were days Randi went to bed in tears, so tired and hurting so badly that she wondered what the penalty for failing really was. It was whispered that failing meant death, but no one really believed it. No one wanted to test it out, either. So after her daily four-hour rest period, she was back in the trenches again, learning just exactly how much agony and humiliation a human being could really stand when pushed to the limits of their endurance.
At the end of her six-month course, she had a rock hard body, a chest full of medals, and the rank of corporal. She was pretty damned proud of herself, and eager to begin her "real" work.
At first it was exciting and thrilling, and knowing she was making such a profound difference was enough to excuse the methods the Sabres used in dealing with the rebels. And it wasnt like they were unhumanitarian about the issue either. After all, they were in a life-or-death, kill-or-be-killed struggle. But being a part of wholesale slaughter, even for the greater good, was wearing on the soul, and had a tendency to sober and mature the most outgoing of people. And Randi, who had always been somewhat soft-spoken and shy, began to turn more inward. Nothing noticeable, except to those few who had known her before, and who saw the difference when she finally got her first leave home.
That first sabbatical from the unit did give her a better perspective on the greater good. After all, though most of the populace enjoyed the peace and its prosperity, there were still those who wanted to fight and die over things that should no longer matter. She was one of the chosen few selected to stand between those who would destroy, and those who lived unknowing of the dangers waiting to decimate them. Randi returned to the Sabres after her two-week vacation, secure in the knowledge that she and her compatriots were a necessary evil in a still imperfect world.
The first time she laid eyes on the small blonde bard, she wanted to scoff. What could one tiny Army private have that made her the entertainment sensation of the capital city? She was quite fetching to behold, the Marine acknowledged, but the moment she opened her mouth and began speaking, Randi was entranced. Green eyes sparkled, and lips curved in a smile that implied a genuine love for her craft. But it was her voice, her inflection that captured Randis attention and imagination. The Marine didnt move for the entire three-hour performance. And when the bard was finished, and accepted her final applause, Randi rushed back to her temporary quarters and dashed off a note to her cousin Tommy.
Dear Tommy, (it read)
You know I dont get involved in the business decisions very much. That
is definitely your department, and Im fine with it.
HOWEVER, Im not above making a *strong* recommendation, so pay
attention, now. I dont have time to come re-enforce this in person, all
Tonight, I was witness to the most intriguing story teller you will ever
hear weave a tale. Im not kidding Thomas... shes fantastic. You do
whatever you have to do, but you get her to Midas when her hitch is
over. It will be the best business decision youll ever make.
Ill tell you this... Im spending the remainder of my R&R here in the
capital listening to her. She makes me feel... refreshed, renewed.
Youll just have to trust me on this, T. Gwen Goldman is the best.
More later. Love to you both.
For the remainder of her stay in the capital, Randi spent each evening in the presence of the small Army bard. She hadnt realized how tired of death she was until the renewal caused by Gwens stories wove itself through her soul. It was so wonderful to feel peace again, if only briefly, and though her friends had started out teasing her about giving up all their well made plans to listen to a *bard*, she continued her nightly vigil. The friends knew to leave off when she glared a "Look" in their direction, and they were content to let her be.
The blonde was never aware of the Marine, as Randi made it a point to blend in, just as her Sabre training had taught her. But for the week she was able, the tall Sabre sat under the spell of the blonde bard, comforted by the fact that it was warriors like her who made sure the world remained a safe, peaceful place for peace givers like Gwen Goldman.
For three more years, the Sabre did her duty exceptionally well, and rebellions and rebels, if not eliminated, were at least kept under tight control. She earned a reputation as the best of the best, an elitist, with a chest full of medals and an epaulet of multicolored braids to back up the claim. She grew colder and harder on missions, expressing very little emotion. Surprisingly, she also became more accurate, and more deadly. And she could feel her soul slowly dying, needing something she was not even consciously aware of missing.
The Marine was being sent to an adjacent territory to help eliminate some deadwood that had been harassing innocents in the near vicinity. But she found, increasingly, that duty and honor no longer made up for the hollow aching emptiness in her soul. She was getting careless, and losing her focus, and that could easily prove to be detrimental to herself as well as her teammates. She needed something to help her regain her sense of honor.
By chance, Randi caught wind of a bard who was performing nearby. No name was mentioned, but her curiosity led her to investigate, even while her logic laughed at her faith. But her faith was well rewarded, and that evening found a world-weary Marine basking under the healing words of Gwen Goldman. The blonde was no longer in an Army uniform, and she had grown from youthfully fetching to stunningly beautiful. Still, it was the storytellers words, and the sparkle in her very green eyes, and the smile on her lips that captured and held the Sabres attention.
For three hours a night, three nights running, Randi sat and fed her soul. She realized, amazingly, that she had yet to hear the bard tell the same story. Not odd, except when you knew that most storytellers, and entertainers in general, had a few customary standbys that they always did. It was a comfort zone for them, but not so with Gwen.
Finally, Randi reached a plateau of acceptance for herself, and was able to regain her focus. The Marine sat down the third night, and dashed off another email to Tommy.
Dear Tommy, (it read)
I have just spent three wonderful nights listening to Gwen Goldman
weave her magic again. She is amazing, T. Absolutely stunning.
It is my understanding that she has several contracts lined up already
so if you havent contacted her again, do so now. She is the kind of bard
Midas needs. She hasnt told the same story twice in the ten days Ive
had the privilege of listening to her. Dont let her get away without
at least *trying* to approach her further.
Gotta run. Lots to do, as usual. Give my love to Ella.
"Why are you crying, Gwen?" The bards tears were silent, but Randi could feel the small blonde shaking in her arms. She squeezed gently in reassurance, and felt relief flow through her when the small hands clasped over hers squeezed back.
"I n-never knew... I-I-I n-never r-realized... "
"How much of a difference I, my stories, made for you, in your life."
"Oh, Little One. You still dont know the depth that you have touched my soul. I hate to think what I would have become, where I would be now, if not for your words."
And now, the tears fell in earnest, as the bard knew for a certainty at last, that she had made a difference. And she had unknowingly made a difference in the life of the person most dear to her in all the world. And though she was no closer to getting an answer to why the Marine had left, she felt as though her understanding had been broadened, and she marveled at what her Sabre had overcome, and that she had gained strength and comfort from the blonde bards stories to do so.
When Randi had "retired" from the service, and returned home, she was greeted with a most welcome surprise. Tommy had taken her advice, and when they reached the mess hall, there sat Gwen working on... something. The Marine was too astounded to smack Tommy for not telling her, (though she did think about it later). She was simply overwhelmed for the opportunity to meet the bard who had unwittingly done so much to help the Sabre survive. Randi realized she and the blonde were staring at one another when Tommy prodded her forward toward the food, and a table.
"So you finally decided to take my advice, huh?"
"Yep, and it has to be about the best suggestion youve ever made."
"And you didnt tell me about it earlier because.... "
"I wanted to surprise you. I did start trying after you wrote me that very first time. It just took this long to get her here because of all her other contracts. Let me get her over here and Ill introduce you."
"No... but... wait.... " And then the bard was approaching, and instinctively, the Marine stood to meet her.
"Ya know, as much as I wondered about all those ribbons you wore that day," the bard whispered so low Randi could hardly discern her words, "I was more curious as to what made your eyes so old and lost." She remembered that look so vividly, and it suddenly occurred to her when and how often she had seen it. Her conscious and subconscious minds abruptly met and a sudden, unreasoning anger sprang full-blown from her heart and mind, and spewed from her lips unchecked.
"You chose them over me repeatedly, didnt you?" She jumped up from her place sitting between the Marines legs, and started pacing steps away with her back turned toward the Sabre. Randi had jumped up at almost the same instant that Gwen did, and now stood stoicly, waiting for the bard to vent. It was bound to happen sooner or later, and Randi preferred sooner to later.
"You continually left me alone, because of them." She swiveled around, and reversed her course, heading straight toward the tall brunette standing braced against the old oak. "You habitually came back a bitch on wheels for days, Because Of Them!" Gwen emphasized every other word with a poke in Randis chest, and the Marine did nothing to stop her. "And finally, inevitably, you left me!! You left without a word... you left me to DIE... BECAUSE OF THEM!!!!! " The bard was screaming by this point. She balled up her fists and began swinging. Randi allowed the hits to fall, understanding all too well how desperately Gwen needed the release. " I HATE YOU, RANDI!!! I HATE YOU! I HATE YOU! I... Oh God," she sobbed, crumpling in tears into the Marines waiting arms. Randi slid them down the tree trunk together, cradling her lover protectively until the storm passed.
When it was silent, save for the harsh breathing left from spent tears, the Marine spoke softly. "Gwen, I never, never once, not once, ever *chose* them over you. The Sabres were my duty, and that duty and honour demanded that I go when called." She drew a deep breath and continued. "I dont much like who I am most of the time, and I havent liked what I do for a very, very long time." She paused again. "But for that long time, my honour was all I had left. I couldnt shirk the duty because of my feelings. Especially when my duty involved protecting you. From the moment we met, you became my greater good. And stopping the Ghost Rider became paramount to me." She stopped, removing one arm from around the bard, and running her fingers through her dark hair pensively. "Im not saying this very well at all."
"I understand, love." Randi breathed a sigh of relief at the endearment. "You could never be less than you are and still be true to yourself. But I wish you had told me everything then." Gwen gently stroked the smooth skin of the arm she was nestled in.
"I wish I could have, and at the same time I wish you were still ignorant to the truth." The blonde jerked upright in her arms, and she held on tight this time. "No, wait... not like... I dont mean about the fact that I love you... the fact that I have loved you longer than forever. God, Gwen, you are the very air that I breathe. Oh no, love, if I could do one thing over again, I would have told you about it years ago and consequences be damned." She smiled sadly when Gwen squeezed her arm in acknowledgment of the truth of that statement. "No, Little One, I would have spared you the truth of knowing who, or what, I really am."
The green eyes started to glow in anger again, but this time it was on Randis behalf, instead of directed at her. Gwen sat up and turned in the Marines arms, until she was completely sprawled straddle across her lap. She took the long, lean face into her small, capable hands, and lifted it up until blue eyes were forced to meet hers, however hesitantly.
"Now you listen to me, Miranda Valiant," her low, sibilant whisper caught the Sabres attention. "You listen real good, because I want you to understand the truth of what I am saying. I *KNOW* who you really are, though I am just now beginning to explore the height and depth and breadth of you. And I love *ALL* of you. We will get through this." She smiled into tear-filled eyes that smiled back at her, and slowly lowered her head for a kiss. It was soft and loving and possessive, staking a claim to the Marine that was unmistakable. "One more thing... "
"Whats that, love?"
"They cant have you back." A brow raised in mute question. "You did your duty, and you died for them. They cant have you back... youre mine now."
"Oh, really?" Both brows went up at this question.
"Yeah, really. I... I, um... I dont... damn! Im sorry, love. I shouldnt have been so hateful. I really do love you, Randi. So much. I just... Youre everything to me and.... "
Long, soft fingertips covered her lips, and prevented her from further defense of her earlier words and actions. "I know. No apologies, Gwen. You had every right to be angry with me. Are we okay now?"
The blonde head nodded. "Were better than okay now."
"We may have to remind each other of that now and then."
"Thats okay. Weve got forever."
The two sat together for a long time simply basking in the others nearness, taking comfort in the soft touches and whispered words they traded, knowing that a huge hurdle had been crossed, and they had survived it together. It didnt mean there wouldnt be any more bumps or problems, just that they could conquer anything as long as they faced it together. They had found their key.
Finally, the growling of two hollowly empty stomachs forced them to get up. "I guess wed better go get lunch. You still up for barbeque?"
Green, slightly reddened eyes rolled wryly in the direction of the tall woman. "Randi, when have you ever known me to refuse Rosies barbeque?" A long, low roll of thunder startled both women, and they turned toward the sound to see an ominous black cloud encroaching rapidly. "Wed better hurry though, before we get caught in the deluge."
They mounted the bike swiftly, and in mere moments were headed down the road away from the cloud. Their escape was not rapid enough, however, and the cloud caught them relatively unprepared. Randi had to slow to almost a crawl when her visibility all but completely disappeared. Had it not been that she knew exactly where the stand was, she would never have found it. As it was, she nearly missed it anyway.
The Marine pulled the motorcycle right up under the overhang, and shut it off. It wasnt completely dry with the way the wind was blowing everything in whipping gusts. But it wasnt pouring on them any longer either. Riding home is going to be real uncomfortable, though, Randi thought with a glance down at her sodden jeans. She spared a moment to be thankful for the leather jackets protecting their torsos, and the helmets on their heads.
Both women jumped lightly when the window they were perched next to suddenly flew open, and the proprietor, Rosie, stuck her gray streaked red head out the window and peered at them for a long minute. "My God," she finally muttered, "I havent seen the two of you in a dogs age. Thought youd given old Rosie the brush off. Yall cmon in out of the weather." And the little woman motioned them over to an almost unnoticeable side door entrance.
The two glanced warily at one another, never having been invited inside the small establishment that housed the barbeque stand as well as the older womans home. But Rosie had never given them any cause to doubt her sincerity, and they really would be more comfortable out of the wet. Randi offered her hand to Gwen to help unseat her, and then rose from the bike herself in one fluid motion. They went to the door they had been directed to, and almost magically it opened into a small mudroom. Both women were thankful for the fact, as they were dripping quite thoroughly all over the cool tile floor. They removed their helmets, and stood while the diminutive proprietor spoke.
"Here," handing them each an extra long bath sheet. "I dont have anything either of you will fit in, but if youll take your wet things off, and wrap up in these, Ill get them dry for you while you wait out the storm." Well-honed instincts long trusted kicked in, and Randi promptly assessed the situation for threats or danger to herself and Gwen. Finding none, she accepted the towel almost immediately, and began the task of removing her boots and disrobing. Gwen quickly followed suit. "Well, Ill leave you to it then," the redhead commented as she left them alone.
"Thank you, Rosie," the bard called out as she walked away. Rosie just raised her hand in answer.
Ten minutes later found them safely ensconced in the warm kitchen with cups of hot chocolate in their hands. Leather jackets had been hung in the mudroom to dry, and their outerwear was now tumbling lazily in the dryer. Rosie placed two plates of her famous barbeque in front of them, with the admonishment, "Eat up." They proceeded to clean their plates in relative silence. It was not awkward or uncomfortable. Both young women were both too hungry to speak more than basic table talk, and Rosie had been in the business long enough to recognize the signs. They would talk after bard and warrior were done with their meals.
Eventually, eating slowed, and Rosie brought out fried apple pies shed made for dessert. Gwen moaned in sheer ecstasy... this was one of her favorites, and she hadnt tasted one since right before Randi had left more than a year previously. She closed her eyes and savored the sensations. Each texture and taste was relished, with an almost hedonistic enjoyment. When she popped the last bite into her mouth, the bard opened her eyes, humming in appreciation. She blushed when she noticed gray and blue eyes fastened on her twinkling in amusement.
"Ya know," the redhead commented conversationally to the Marine, "I think I can honestly say Ive never seen anyone appreciate their food quite the way your bard does."
Now it was Randis turn to blush, being quite unaccustomed to the truth of that particular reference. She smiled indulgently, though and winked at Gwen. "Thats true, Rosie," subtly acknowledging both statements.
"Hey!" A mock pout. "Dont tease me. Ive missed this great food." A brief pause while she thought about the reason for that. "And Ive missed the trips out here to get it," she added more softly. She looked up and smiled when the back of Randis fingers brushed her cheek.
"Me, too, the Sabre quietly agreed. Guess well have to get into the weekend habit again, huh?" Gwen simply nodded her agreement.
"Good! Good!" Rosie interjected. "That means Ill be seeing yall around here more often again, right?"
"Id say that was a pretty good bet, Rosie." Gwen gave the older woman a smile. A thought occurred to the bard. "Are we holding you up from celebrating the holiday?"
"No, hon, I was open for lunch, and did a pretty brisk business, like I always do," stated matter-of-factly. "The storm caused me to close up a little earlier than I normally do, but my daughter and her family dont expect me for another," peering at the clock, "hour or so, anyway, and Im glad you both stopped by."
"Well, we appreciate your hospitality." Randi nodded her agreement to Gwens words.
"Its stopped raining, so we should head for home. What do we owe you for lunch, Rosie?"
"This one is on the house, hon," patting the Marine on the arm as she rose from her seat. "You just make sure yall come see me a little more often, okay? Now, let me go get your clothes. They should be dry by now."
They were, and she was back momentarily with them draped over one arm, and pointing them to her small bedroom to change. "I dont think yall will mind sharing," had been her only comment. A twin blush had been their only response.
Walking out into the setting sun, the world around them sparkled iridescently, reflecting the beads of fallen water poised on every surface. "Oh, Randi, look!" the bard suddenly exclaimed. "A rainbow." She cocked her blonde head. "A double rainbow, actually." She smiled in almost childish delight. "How beautiful."
The Marine wrapped her arms around Gwen and pulled the smaller woman back against her chest in a hug. "Shall we follow it to the end, and find that pot of gold?"
"Nope," the storyteller answered swiftly, patting the hands clasped together at her waist. "I found mine already." She leaned back and accepted the kiss she knew would be forthcoming at that statement. The world faded out for the two of them for a long moment, and it was only the clearing of a throat behind them that caused them to separate.
"I am so happy the two of you finally found each other. Yours has been an interesting courtship to watch develop." Startled blue and green eyes met each other in question. Had everyone been able to see the love between them before they did? Rosie missed the interplay and continued speaking. "Now here, you take these fried apple pies home to have with your dinner tonight. And you come back to see me again, soon."
"We will, Rosie." On impulse, the bard gave the diminutive woman a brief hug, and a kiss on the cheek. "Thank you," she whispered.
Randi wasnt given the opportunity to decide on a farewell, because the proprietor simply stepped into her personal space and gave her a brief hug. "You take good care of her, Marine. What you have is beautiful, and precious, and rare. Protect it. That means taking care of yourself as well."
The Sabre looked deep into gray eyes that suddenly appeared far older than time itself. "I know, and I will, Rosie. I swear."
"Good girl." She didnt see the raised eyebrow, as she turned and headed back to her home. She stood in the doorway, watching as the soldier and the storyteller readied themselves to leave.
The two women put their helmets on, and Randi heard Gwens voice in her ear at the same time she felt a tug on her sleeve. She tilted her head in mute question.
"Randi, can I drive back?" The Marine could hear the impishness in her lovers voice, and grinned beneath the helmet. She waited until the bard was seated, and mounted the bike behind her. A little of their playfulness had returned to their healing, developing relationship. Suddenly, the rainbow portended a wonderful omen for their future together.
Rosie waved goodbye as they pulled away from the stand, and Randi returned it. She watched until the two were a mere speck on the horizon, before re-entering her house. "Thank you, Athena," she whispered.
The ride home was more than pleasant. Gwen was driving slightly slower than normal, distracted by the large hand absently stroking up and down her abdomen. Randi was humming softly, and the whole situation was conducive to distracting the bard quite handily. Finally, unable to take anymore, the blonde pulled the bike off to one side of the road and shut it off. The Marine came out of whatever self-induced reverie she had fallen into and looked around.
"Wha.... ??" But she never got to finish her question. The bard had already removed her own helmet, and quickly relieved Randi of hers as well. Without warning, the Sabre found herself with an armful of overheated bard, mouths firmly engaged in an all out lip-lock. It took a mere second for the surprise to become participation, and those large hands started caressing again. Reluctantly acknowledging the need for air, the Marine pulled back slightly, hands still roaming. "Not that Im complaining, but.... " and found her words cut off again as her head was drawn back down for a second, soul searing kiss. The world faded out completely, and all they knew was each other for the longest time.
This time it was Gwen who pulled away slowly. She looked at Randi with desire-darkened eyes, and said breathlessly, "If you dont stop teasing me, we wont make it home tonight."
A dark brow was rakishly raised, and a grin crossed the Sabres lips. "Teasing you?" Gwen looked down pointedly at the hands now lightly running up and down her rib cage, then turned her gaze back to the tall woman seated behind her. "Oh, is this a bad thing?" moving her hands again to deliberately tease a bit.
"No," the bards voice had dropped huskily, and Randi felt it start a slow burn in her belly. "But it is very distracting. And I can think of far more comfortable places to be than here on this bike." She watched as the Marines eyes darkened in turn.
"Hmm, I see your point." She leaned down for another kiss, then pulled away hesitantly. "Very well. Home, driver," she stated haughtily, replacing her helmet on her head. "I promise to behave until then. But once we get home," and Gwen could hear the evil chortle in the words, "You. Are. Mine."
"Love, Ive always been yours." And that admission threw the Sabre off kilter long enough for them to get home without any more... distractions.
"Did you really mean what you said earlier?" The two women lay curled up on the couch together in front of the fireplace. Even in mid-summer, nights on the beach tended to be cool, and after the ride home, they were glad for the warmth and comfort of the low fire. They were sharing the fried apple pies Rosie had sent home with them, washing them down with ice-cold milk.
"About what, love?" Gwen was humming happily as she consumed the pie.
"About having always been mine." The dark head was lowered shyly, and the bard could hardly make out the softly spoken words.
The blonde set the remainder of her uneaten pie on the table, and turned fully in the Marines arms, until they were fully facing each other, instead of side by side. "You really need to ask?" She lifted the Sabres chin, forcing the blue eyes to meet her green ones. Gwen saw the confusion reflected in Randis face. "Let me show you something." And she showed her highlights from all the holo chips Tommy had given her. "Even before my mind accepted it, my heart knew. I love you, warrior mine. Now and forever."
"I love you, too, my bard. Now and forever."
Gwen woke early the third morning alone. She told herself not to panic, that the last two days had been real, and not just some dream. Still she hastened out of bed, looking for her missing lover. Give her a break, Gwen. She probably just needed a bit of space. But she couldnt help the urgency that propelled her steps. She stopped abruptly at the bedroom door, seeing the holo vids replaying, and Randis somewhat huddled form sitting on the couch, wrapped in a blanket intently watching.
She moved quietly toward the Marine, hesitating when she was standing next to the taller woman. Randi opened the blanket in mute invitation, and Gwen accepted with alacrity, noticing, but not commenting on the tears that continued to roll down the Sabres face. They watched together in silence until the final dance, then Randi turned to the bard.
"Im sorry, love. I never realized how completely selfish and unfair I was to you, and I will spend the rest of my life making it up to you."
"Randi, were here, and were together, and thats enough for me. As for the rest, we have the rest of our lives together to concentrate on. Let the past go." A pause. "I missed you when I woke up this morning, by the way." Gentle fingers brushed away wetness on Randis cheeks, then continued to trace a now familiar pattern over the much-loved features. Randi sighed in contentment, inexplicably comforted by the soft touch.
The Marine smiled through her tears, and leaned forward to kiss the bard gently. "What do you want to do today?"
"Anything, as long as Im with you."
When they finally made it outside, they went down to the end of the dock to play with Pilot and Peanut. The two dolphins had been waiting, or so it seemed, and the four spent the rest of the morning in the water. It was a wonderful way to spend the morning, and both women were tired and hungry when lunchtime approached. They lay stretched out on the benches of the dock deck, sharing the picnic lunch they had packed together earlier.
"I guess the honeymoon is almost over," Gwen commented.
"Why do you say that? I dont see it being over for another seventy-five years or so." The Marine grinned rakishly at the bard, who couldnt help but return it with a faint blush.
"I was thinking more along the lines of Tommy and Ella coming back sometime tonight, and things returning to normal tomorrow. Real life is fixing to intrude on our peaceful solitude in a big, ugly kinda way."
"Real life can bite me," Randi muttered. "Besides, I intend on taking a very long honeymoon with you after the wedding. Real life be damned."
"Id like that," the bard admitted gently. "Id like some more time for just us."
"Thats what well do, then."
"But first, we have to let folks know youre alive again."
"Later. I want to spend the rest of the day alone with you. Tomorrow is soon enough to worry about everybody else."
Ella sat in the stern of the boat, chuckling lightly over the antics of her husband and son as one tried to teach the other about fishing. Unfortunately for Tommy, his almost two-year-old prodigy Randall seemed to be a natural fisherman, and was putting his old man to shame. It was very difficult for him to explain the finer nuances of fishing when the boys hook just seemed to attract the fish. It didnt take long, however, for the childs attention to waver, and Tommy brought him over to play with Ditto.
"Its been a nice three days, hasnt it?" he commented to his wife. They laughed together as the shepherd gave their son a thorough face washing, making Randall chortle in delight. Then they smiled as the boy yawned in sleepy contentment, and proceeded to use the dog as his own personal pillow.
"Its been very nice," the woman answered. "Its nice to get away as a family, every one in awhile." She paused. "I do kinda wish Gwen had come along, though. I worry about her. Shes so different, so... withdrawn... since Randis death. Its.... "
"I know, hon, but she said she had plans." Ellas expression showed quite plainly how much stock she put in that statement. "We have to accept her word, love. You cant blame her for not wanting to be around people, though."
"I know. It just hurts to see the shell of her former self that she has become. I wish there was something we could do for her."
"There is only one thing able to fix this, and thats just not a viable option any more. On the other hand, she is doing much better recently."
"Yeah, she is. But Im still pissed off with Randi. She best run and hide when I die, cause Im gonna kick her butt all over the afterlife for doing this to all of us. Especially to Gwen."
The man took his wife into his arms, and held her until he felt her calm. He was angry too, but for slightly different reasons. "I think, from the very, very little Ive been able to find out, she did it *because* of Gwen, and for the rest of us."
Ella turned her head and looked back at him. "What do you mean?"
He shrugged lightly. "I cant find out anything definite... anything specific, but all indicators point to her ensuring continued peace."
Ella snorted. "I dont care. Im still gonna kick her ass." Tommy laughed outright.
"I guess Ditto will be glad to get back home," Tommy said to Ella, as he steered the vessel towards his boathouse while the sun slowly sank toward the horizon.
The curly headed woman wrapped her arms around him for warmth. The breeze coming off the water was quite cool, even in mid-summer. She gazed at the shepherd who sat majestically still at the bow of the boat. "Why do you say that, sweetheart?"
"Just a hunch... and the fact that she has not moved from that spot looking in the direction of home, since you put Randall down. And speaking of.... " Almost on cue, they heard the child stirring. He didnt speak. At almost two years, he had yet to utter a single word. The specialists they had visited assured them that he would speak when he was ready. Tommy wondered what was stopping him from talking now, but put those thoughts aside as Ella brought the child back topside.
"Hey, boy! Thought you were gonna miss the chance to steer." The childs eyes lit up in delight. "Whaddya say, you wanna help your old man get the boat to the dock?"
Randall nodded vigorously, and leaped into his fathers arms. The two men turned their attention toward pulling the craft in safely to their inlet.
"I guess I know when Im not needed," Ella joked as she left them to their bonding time. She moved over to take a seat on the bow close to where Ditto maintained her vigil. Just as they came within periphery of the island, the dog let out a long, wailing howl. "Whats the matter, girl? Hmm? You still miss Randi, too, huh? Well, Ill tell ya, Ditto," gently scratching the dogs ears, "I think her being gone is something none of us will ever get used to."
The boat had no more than been tied up to the dock, when Ditto jumped off and hesitated, raising her snout to the sky again, and baying at the moon for a very long moment. Then without a backwards glance, she raced for home.
"Thats odd," Ella said mostly to herself.
"Did you say something, hon?" Tommy asked as they moved off the boat and headed up the dock toward the house.
"Hmm? Oh, I was just commenting about Ditto. Shes usually not in such a rush to get off the boat." She shrugged slim shoulders. "Guess Gwen is home."
"I suppose so. Hope she had as nice a weekend as we did." He wrapped his arm around his wifes waist, while hoisting his son onto his shoulder with the other, and they walked into their home together.
Ditto was confused. There was a fragrance on the wind that she remembered as familiar, but one that had been gone for a very long time. Even now, it was so faint as to have almost been imagined, but the dog kept determinedly on, heading home to her blonde mistress, and that scent.
When she reached the beach house, she paused, head tilted and tongue lolling out to the side. The scent was much stronger now, and with a sharp, staccato bark, she hurled herself toward the door.
Gwen was standing in the middle of the living room, hands on hips, chuckling in the direction of the bedroom. The shepherd bounded in toward the bard, only to come to a full halt as Randi exited the bedroom, arms full of blankets and pillows. With an ecstatic yodel, Ditto leaped forward, knocking the Marine squarely on her butt, and sending bedding flying in six different directions. The dog proceeded to try to give Randi a thorough face and neck washing, interspersing her tongue swipes with barks, growls and whines.
"Yes, yes... I missed you too. Yes. And you did such a good job taking care of Gwen, yes, you did. You are such a good girl." The Sabre was trying, unsuccessfully, to dislodge the canine from her perch atop her own body. It was more than a little difficult, though, with the bards contagious laughter hampering her efforts. Finally, Gwen felt a little sorry for Randi, and called the dog away. Ditto obeyed, reluctantly, coming to sit next to Gwens feet. The Marine was finally able to sit up herself, and spent a minute trying to catch her breath.
"My God, Gwen! What have you been feeding her? She weighs a ton!" She stood and began retrieving the pillows that had scattered around the room. The bard moved to help her.
"Oh, um, Reed set her up on a special diet. While shes pregnant she has different nutritional needs." Gwen shrugged inconsequentially, and put her stack down near the French doors. Then she walked toward the bar to grab the wine and glasses they had readied earlier.
The Sabre froze in mid pick-up as the bards words penetrated her mind. "Excuse me?" Gwen had picked up the bottle, and turned to find the Marine looking at her with head slightly tilted, and eyebrow risen almost to her hairline. "When did this happen exactly?"
Now it was Gwens turn to furrow her brow. "I thought you saw everything that went on."
"Not exactly. I saw and felt everything that was directed toward me or about me. Ditto having puppies was apparently not in that category."
"And me cutting my hair was?"
"Yep. You wondered how Id like it short, and you questioned it the entire time it was being done. I wanted so badly to be able to tell you to do what made you happy." She ran her hands through the short blonde locks. "Youre always beautiful to me."
The bard reached for the hand now tracing her face, and kissed the fingers softly. "As you are to me, love. Thank you." She entwined their fingers. "Cmon. Lets go curl up on the deck and watch the stars come out."
They were silent for several long moments, waiting for the sun to finish setting, and watching as the sky changed from blue to purple and finally to black. As the first stars made their appearance, Randi brought the conversation back to Ditto, and the question that had been niggling at her. "Gwen, what made you and Reed decide to breed Ditto?"
"We had nothing to do with deciding that. We merely offered her the opportunity, and she took advantage of it." The raised eyebrow made her continue her explanation. "Reed mentioned that the dog would be coming into heat, and asked me to bring her out to give her the opportunity to mate." The bard smiled. "It was actually kind of funny... she spurned the first two males that approached her."
"Whos the father?"
"You know the big guy, Phil?" A pause. "They made a cute couple," said with a smile. "They were together for a week before we came home."
"So, when is she due?" the Marine asked, after a few moments of silence.
"Reed figures another three weeks until Im... youre... *were* grandparents." She smiled impishly at this.
Outraged blue eyes faced her. "What?!?" Randi squawked. "I dont think so! Im not old enough for grand-parenthood!"
"Ahem," rubbing her nose lightly before continuing the conversation. "Well, anyway, Im supposed to take her out there next week, to give her a bit of a chance to settle in before delivery. And she is supposed to stay for six weeks or so afterwards as well, or at least until the puppies are weaned."
There was silence again as two sets of thoughts contemplated in the same direction. Then both women spoke at once.
"Would you mind.... ?"
"Could we.... ?"
They smiled at each other, then Gwen gestured for the Marine to speak. Randi cleared her throat rather self-consciously. "Um, Id really like for Ditto to be a part of our wedding. Would you mind if we waited until she was back from Reeds before we.... "
The bard threw her arms around the broad shoulders reclining next to her, which naturally resulted in her being pulled onto the larger womans lap to make them both more comfortable. This in turn became a long hug. "Thank you, love. That was exactly what I was thinking. Ditto is as much a part of our family as anyone we know. I would really like her there too."
"I love you, bard."
"I love you too, warrior." Then there was a long stretch of silence while they reconfirmed their love with a kiss. "Um," as they pulled apart in a series of short kisses, "I could get used to this kind of treatment."
Randi loosened an arm from around the bards slim waist, and moved a hand up to cup to fair cheek. "For the rest of our lives, my love. For the rest of our lives."
Gwen closed her eyes and savored the words, accepting them for the promise she knew them to be. Then she turned her head and kissed the palm, and laid her head back to rest her ear just above Randis heart. They stayed locked this way for a while before the blonde spoke up again.
"We need to go call Tommy, love. Hes family too, and has a right to know as soon as possible." She felt the shudder run through the large frame beneath her, and looked up quizzically into haunted blue eyes. Now it was her turn to cup the planed cheek above her. "Randi?"
"What am I going to say to them, Gwen? How am I.... ? "
The small hand moved from cheek to lips, stopping the words that were pouring from the taller woman. "Randi, love," focusing the Marines attention to her face and her words. "You wont have to say anything. Not at first, I promise. And when he does start asking questions, you will just answer them honestly, like you did for me." The Sabre looked a little doubtful. "Trust me, warrior mine. Folks will be thrilled to have you back. Not many will question your motives in getting here. Now," easing herself up and out of Randis warm embrace, "let me go call them to come over. I think theyll like this interruption to their holiday."
"That was weird." Tommy looked oddly at Ella as he stepped back into the kitchen where she was fixing a light supper for the three of them. Randall was already sitting in his chair as the curly headed woman put the plates on the table. She and Tommy seated themselves, and began to eat.
The mans brow was furrowed in thought, and it took him a moment to answer. "Hmm? Oh, that vid call from Gwen." He fell silent again.
Ella shook her head. Sometimes getting answers from this man is worse than pulling teeth. "Would you like to continue to explain, or should I just guess?"
"Oh, sorry, hon. Gwen just asked that we come over in an hour or so. Said it was important."
"Annnnnddddd?" trying to figure out just exactly where this conversation was headed, and failing drastically.
"Thats it. Its just that... I dunno. She seems, different... more relaxed. Something happened this weekend, Id be willing to bet."
"This is a good thing, right?"
"I hope so. I truly hope so. She deserves to be happy."
"Ya know, it might work better if some of the food actually made it into your mouth, instead of merely being pushed around on your plate. Its got more miles on it than my boots did after my walkabout." When she got little reaction to her banter, the bard put her fork down, and moved to sit in Randis lap. Once she was situated comfortably, she cradled the long, lean face in her small hands, and forced the blue eyes to meet her green ones. "Love, Ill be right here beside you, always. No matter what."
The Marine smiled at this declaration, and leaned forward to steal a kiss. "Even when your parents find out?" And now Gwen understood what was really troubling her lover.
"Randi, I meant what I said." She clasped the larger hand in hers. "Always, all right?" She brushed the fingers held in her grasp with her lips. "I promise."
The Sabre relaxed a little, and crushed the smaller woman in an enveloping hug. "Thanks, Gwen." The bard returned the hug with equal fervor, but said nothing to disturb the moment. When Randi relinquished her hold, Gwen slid off her lap and offered the taller woman a hand up.
"Cmon. We may as well be comfortable til they get here."
They put their plates in the kitchen, and returned to the living room to curl up on the couch together. Gwen turned both the music and the fireplace on low, and let them work their magic. Slowly she felt the large body behind her begin to relax, and she melted into it. Words were not necessary, as their souls communicated silently. Strong arms clasped gently around the bards smaller body, and Gwen lightly stroked the arms that cradled her. The peace and contentment that pervaded the room relaxed them both to a point that they never realized they had dozed off. And they never heard the knock that came at the door shortly thereafter.
"Thats weird," Tommy commented for the second time that evening, when he failed to get an answer to his knock. "She said to be here in an hour."
"Maybe shes indisposed, T. It happens, ya know."
"I know, hon. Its just that, since Randi died, Ive felt responsible for her somewhat. You know that." Ella nodded her head in agreement. "And this is the first time Ive seen any real enthusiasm from her in forever. So for her not to be here answering the door, after she called and made it clear.... "
"I understand, sweetheart. Why dont you open the door, and well let Randall find her? Shes probably out on the deck, and lost track of the time. Shell notice an almost two year old running through the house."
Tommy smiled in response. Gwen and his son had a very unique relationship, and seemed to be tuned into one another quite well. He instinctively knew when the bard needed loving attention, and even though they werent hers, she always had a story ready to tell him. It was an arrangement that suited them both.
So Tommy keyed in the lock code, and opened the door softly. Then he set his son down and let him loose to roam the house and find Gwen. The sight that greeted his eyes when the boy did, however, was a little more than he bargained for.
Ditto was the first to stir when Randall started across the floor, but this was an old game for them, and she was content to let him be. The dog watched in silence as the child walked toward the couch, his eyes focused on the sleeping women. And if her expression was anything to go by, the shepherd was inwardly laughing at the drama that was unfolding in the room before her. She watched as Tommy and Ella stood just inside the door, waiting for Gwens exclamation to indicate she had been found. Instead, they heard the murmur of voices, one deeper, one light, and then the most unexpected sound of all.
"Wuv!!" A childish but unmistakable outburst from their offspring. The two parents looked at each other in mute shock, frozen for a timeless moment by what they had heard. Then, rushing into the room, the tableau that greeted their eyes caused them both to stop dead in their tracks and stare.
Randall sat sedately on Gwens lap, patting Randis face and tugging not-so-gently on her hair. He was talking nonsense words to them and himself, obviously content with whom he was with and where he was. The Marine answered his babbling as though she understood every word. Finally, satisfied that she was the person he remembered, Randall buried his nose in Randis neck, and settled happily in her arms.
The Sabre didnt understand the tears that ran silently down Gwens face, but was satisfied the bard would explain her reaction when they were alone once again. For her part, Randi hesitated to look up, knowing the exact moment Tommy and Ella entered the living room behind their offspring, and honestly fearful of the reception she would receive from them. So she kept her eyes pinned on her namesake until he curled up into her. She took comfort from the grasp the blonde maintained on the arm still twined around her, and slowly raised her countenance to meet the shocked expressions of two of her very best friends.
"Hello, Tommy... Ella," The low voice was almost a whisper of sound. But the two people it was directed toward heard quite clearly, and both reacted very differently to the vocal confirmation of what their eyes had informed them to be the truth.
"Oh. My. God." Tommy slid into the chair nearest to him, and gaped at the woman who until five minutes previously had been dead to him for the past fifteen months. His mind was still processing a myriad of emotions and reactions to her sudden reappearance, and his knees gave out trying to cope with the shock. Ella, on the other hand, had no doubts as to her reaction, and crossed the floor in three smooth strides.
She took the Marine by a firm grip on the ear, and pulled, just hard enough for Randi to understand she meant business. Then she waited, ear still firmly in hand, while the Sabre placed a now unhappy Randall in Gwens lap, and unwound herself from the bards embrace. The blonde gave the hand she was holding a firm squeeze, and the woman she loved a reassuring smile. This was something they were going to have to work through with each of their friends. For the most part, Gwen expected acceptance. She did put Randall down beside her though, ready to intervene if it became necessary.
Randi took great consolation in the love she felt from her bard, relayed so readily through her look and touch. It gave her the strength and courage she needed to face the curly headed terror still clutching her ear. Quite a feat, when one realized Ella was a good half-foot shorter than the Marine she still held.
"What is wrong with you, huh? Do you know how upset we all were? Do you know how we mourned your passing? How dare you go and die like that... without even saying goodbye?!?" She waved off Randis attempts to interrupt and explain, poking her rather hard in the chest to emphasize each point. "I know it was a secret mission. That was simple enough to figure out, hindsight being what it is. I know it was for the "greater good". Thats just typical you. But, so help me, if you ever go and do something that stupid ever again... if you ever, *ever* die on us like that again... not even the gods will be able to help you. Do you understand me??"
Randi had stood very still and very silent during this entire tirade. Now she meekly nodded her head and responded, "Yes maam." Ella released the hold she had on the taller womans ear, and pulled her into a fierce embrace.
"Welcome home, my friend. It is so good to have you back with us again."
The Marine returned the hug with equal fervor, picking the smaller woman up, and letting the tears fall freely down her face. She didnt say anything, too overcome by Ellas reception of her reappearance to find the appropriate words to speak. They stayed that way for a very long minute, the dazzling grin on Gwens face lighting up the whole room, and causing the boy to babble a bit more. It was this sound that seemed to draw Tommy out of his trance, and when he slowly rose from the seat he had been in, the two women separated, and the Marine turned to await his judgment.
He raised his hand to her, and she didnt flinch, knowing if he struck at her it would be no less than what she deserved after what she had unwittingly put him, put them all, through. She didnt see the hair trigger lines of Gwens body perched on the edge of the sofa, ready to step between them... lines which visibly relaxed when the man simply began to trace the features of a well known and loved face, much as the bard did every morning. His hand smoothly glided over her face, across her shoulders, and down her arms, coming to rest lightly on her waist. Without a word, he wrapped his arms around her, and laid his head over her heart, listening to the strong, steady beat for a time. Then he straightened and looked her in the eye. "I missed you," he said simply, lifting her off her feet into a massive hug.
"I missed you, too," content for the moment to be rocked silently by the man she considered to be closer than a brother. It was the rather loud insistence of an almost two year old to be included in this activity that pulled them apart. Tommy and Ella laughed out loud for sheer joy at the sound, and Randi, though not understanding the cause, joined them. Gwen was happy to retrieve the child, and place him in the Sabres arms. Then she tugged the tall woman into a sitting position next to her on the couch, and indicated the chairs.
"Why dont you both take a seat? Im sure you have lots of questions. We might as well be comfortable, seeing as how were gonna be here for a while."
They did, and for the next hour, the questions from the two of them came rapid fire, and finally the Sabre had to hold up her hands for quiet. Randi told them exactly what had happened to her during her time away from them, stumbling awkwardly through a good deal of the basic story. Randall dozed happily in her lap, lulled to sleep by the familiar sound of her voice, and the remembered scent of her. Both Tommy and Ella sat entranced by the story the Marine told. The bard merely wrapped herself possessively around the older woman, and silently offered her all the love and support she could give. When the Sabre finally stopped talking, the couple sat there dumbfounded at what she had endured for love. The happiness shining from the bards face told a story all its own.
Before either could form a coherent word to comment on the whole bizarre situation, Randall woke with a start. He put his chubby little hands on either side of the Marines face, forcing her to meet his still sleepy gaze. "Wuv... sing." She raised an eyebrow at him, and he felt the need to reiterate himself. "Wuv... sing." A beat. "Pwease?"
Not even a heart of stone would have been unmoved by the plea, and Randi found her emotions entirely too close to the surface for her relative comfort lately. She gave a watery smile to her bard, then looked down at the small child. "Okay, there, stud," exchanging another mischievous glance with Gwen. "What would you like to hear?"
He clapped his small hands together enthusiastically. "Wuv sing. Wuv sing." The Sabre felt at a bit of a loss. It had been months since she had sung, and she knew everyone in the room was focused on her. She was drawing a complete blank at what to sing to the boy. Gwen came to her rescue.
"Do you remember the lullaby you used to sing to him? That is probably what he remembers." And so the Marine began to sing softly, her attention concentrated solely on the child who even at the beginning of the music had drooping eyelids. By the end of the first verse, he was soundly asleep in her hold, but she finished the song before gently rising, and placing him in his fathers arms.
Tommy looked down at his peacefully sleeping heir, before looking up into his cousin with loving wonderment reflected in his eyes. "We need to go home, and get the boy to bed. Will you be around?" still a little fearful that this was all a dream or a mirage his wishful thinking had conjured up in a moment of madness. "There are still a lot of things we need to talk about."
"Ill be around." She felt the bard come up behind her and wrap her arms around Randis waist, squeezing lightly. The Marine, in turn, pulled Gwen in front of her, and wrapped herself around the smaller woman, relishing the contact between them. She smiled when Gwen entangled their fingers together. "I promised I wouldnt ever leave like that again." She clasped the fingers wound tightly in her own even firmer. "Its a promise I intend to keep." Absently she rubbed her finger and thumb along the band on the bards left hand. Ella noticed immediately, and squealed, albeit quietly, in deference to her sleeping offspring.
"My God! We really do have a lot to talk about, dont we?" The happiness that radiated from the two women standing together before her was almost blinding in its intensity. "However, it will have to wait until later. Can we have dinner tomorrow?" The warrior and bard exchanged glances, then nodded affirmatively. "Good. Well expect you both at the house after work. That should give us plenty of time to talk... about everything."
They bid one another goodnight. By his relative silence, Tommy was obviously still in shock over the turn of events. He had whispered an "I love you", and given both woman a hug as though in a bit of a trance before walking out the door with his sleeping progeny. Gwen was actually looking forward to the moment he realized it wasnt his imagination, and was all quite real. Ella, being Ella, had accepted the whole thing without question. There are just some things you learn to go with, had been her comment to Gwen on the way out the door.
Now it was quiet in the house again. Randi shivered in reaction as she realized the first hurdle was crossed, and she had been accepted by three whose acceptance meant everything to her. The bard understood immediately what was happening, and drew the larger woman down to resume her place beside Gwen on the sofa. She whispered nonsensical words into her ear over and over, as she ran comforting hands up her smooth back. The Marine absorbed the sound of the bards voice like a sponge, taking the love she felt from her to heart, and letting it ease the fear she had held tightly to herself.
As the tension slowly uncoiled in her body, the Sabre wrapped herself more securely around the woman who had become her anchor. And the safety and contentment she found in Gwens arms allowed her to drift off to peaceful sleep.
The bard smiled to herself at the gentle snoring that emanated from the woman sleeping soundly on her chest. Life was good at the moment. Then she frowned a little. Of course, there were still her parents, and all of Midas, and Randis military friends to explain this wonderfully peculiar situation to. But for right now, for this one moment, life was good. She smiled as she joined her partner in a restful doze.
It was still quite dark when Randi roused from her nap with a crick in her neck from the odd angle it had been perched at on Gwens chest. She nuzzled the softness for a minute, inhaling the sweet scent before reluctantly moving from the bards embrace. A quick glance at the clock told her theyd only been asleep for a little more than an hour. She thought briefly of staying right where she was, and then thought longer about the big, comfortable bed waiting for them in the other room. Comfort won out in a hurry.
The Marine slid off the couch, softly pushing Gwens longish bangs away from her eyes, then scooped the bard up into her arms. She smiled quietly when the blonde nuzzled her in much the same manner as she had done to Gwen just moments earlier, before resettling herself into a deeper slumber. Randi made her way silently to the bedroom, where she swiftly stripped away Gwens shoes and outer garments before tucking her into bed. She did the same for herself, before crawling in to join her bard. She smiled in contentment when Gwen unconsciously moved nearer, and cuddled up against the Marine, who reflexively wrapped her body around the smaller woman and drew her closer. Twins sighs of serenity and satisfaction echoed in the room as the women moved deeper into Morpheus embrace.
Daylight found Randi waking once again to the gentle stroking of Gwens hands on her face. She was learning to delight in the gentle exploration as the bard reaffirmed the realness of her still new reality. She hummed in contentment as she pulled the bard into a fierce embrace. "Thank you," she whispered into the top of the blonde head.
Gwen stilled her hands, and edged back a little to look into Randis face. "What for?" She was just a little confused, though she blamed it on the early hour as much as anything else. She enjoyed the early morning quiet time spent with her Marine, but usually it didnt require much thought or discussion.
"For being here, loving me." A pause. "And for inviting Tommy and Ella over last night. They deserved a private announcement, and a little time to prepare."
Randi could feel the bards smile against her skin, though she couldnt see her face. But the happiness that radiated in her voice warmed the Sabre from head to toe. "As for the first, I cant imagine myself anywhere else. My place is at your side. And as for loving you, well, I couldnt help that part, and wouldnt want to if I could. It comes as naturally to me as breathing does, and is just as vital to my life."
She took a deep breath, and then relaxed into the hug the taller woman wrapped her up in. "I knew you were anxious about talking to Tommy and Ella, and figured the sooner you got it over with, the better youd feel."
"When did you get so smart?" And Randi jumped when she felt a sharp pinch on her stomach. "Hey!"
"Smart ass," muttered the bard, even as she rubbed the injured spot lovingly.
The Marine chuckled lightly, then gave the woman in her arms another squeeze. "Seriously, Little One," with another small kiss to the top of the head tucked under her chin, "thank you for your loving consideration. I, for one, greatly appreciate it."
"Anytime, love," with a return kiss on the chest on which she was resting her head. "Im glad things went so well, though I think T is still in shock. I hope Im around to see his face when he finally realizes its true. It is such a wonderful feeling." She hugged the Marine to her tightly, and basked in the return wash of joy she felt emanating from the large body beneath her.
"Yes, it is," Randi replied, as she shifted Gwen in her arms, and leaned down for a prolonged exploration. "I just hope things go as well with your parents," said with a sigh when their kiss ended. "I dont think they will be as forgiving."
"It will be fine, one way or another," the last part muttered too low against her skin for even Randi to understand the muffled words. But the Marine took great comfort in the bards insistence.
The two lay quietly wrapped together for a long space of time. Finally, they acknowledged the need to move, and Gwen went to start the coffee, while Randi headed for the bathroom. The Sabre wandered out to the kitchen several minutes later clad in nothing but a towel, her long, wet hair tied up turban style on her head. The bard jumped when large, warm hands landed on her shoulders, bringing her out of a self-induced trance. Then she fell into the startled embrace of the tall woman, who enfolded Gwen in her long arms without hesitation.
"Love?" Randi heard the almost inaudible sniffing, and grew alarmed. "Gwen?"
"Sorry, warrior," looking up with smiling, tear-filled eyes. "I was just realizing how lonely it was without you here, and what a wonderful difference its gonna make having you with me. Already, youve made more of a difference than you know."
Randi stepped back a pace so she could better look into the bards green eyes, gently wiping away the traces of tears that remained on her face. She cocked a brow in a gesture so familiar that the blonde had to smile, and questioned, "How so?" She got the distinct feeling that Gwen was referring to more than just herself.
"Why dont you get dressed and start breakfast, while I go get my shower. Ill explain it to you while we eat." Though a bit confused, the Marine nodded her agreement, and followed Gwen to the bedroom where they separated.
Randi had the meal almost finished, and was, in fact, just putting the plates on the table as the bard stepped, clean and dressed, from the master suite. The Marine took a moment to simply admire the beauty of the woman who held her heart, before silently gesturing to Gwen to take a seat. The blonde blushed furiously under Randis intense gaze, actually glowing under the love and desire she saw radiating from her lovers eyes.
"Now, would you like to explain what you meant? Because I get the distinct feeling you were referring to more than just yourself, and Im missing something very important."
The bard swallowed the bite of food she had in her mouth, and took a sip of coffee before replying. "Youre right, though you have made more of a difference coming back into my life than I will ever be able to express to you. I hope to spend the rest of our lives together showing you, however." She grinned a bit impishly. "But what I was actually talking about was the fact that last night for the first time in his life, Randall spoke." The Marines eyes grew wide and round in alarm.
Gwen expected the reaction, and calmly continued to explain. "Last night, Randall spoke his first words... to you, *because* of you. Tommy and Ella have had him seen by several specialists who assured them he would speak when he was ready. Apparently, he was waiting to talk to you."
The Sabre slumped back into her chair in disbelief. "My God!" Her hand clutched instinctively at the fingers that curled over her own. "I never knew.... "
"I think you are in for quite a surprise, love, when you see how many people your life, and death, really affected."
Randi swallowed hard, trying to accept the enormity of what she had just heard. Then she pushed away from the table, and walked to the French doors, looking out unseeingly at the vista spread before her.
The Marine took a deep breath, trying desperately to reel in her staggering emotional reaction. She felt herself foundering until a soft touch came at the small of her back, and suddenly, her world had an anchor, and stabilized. She turned, and the bard opened her arms, and the Sabre willingly fell into her embrace. The small blonde urged them toward the couch, and Randi complied.
"I dont know if I can do this, Gwen. I dont think.... "
"Shh, love, shh. Theres no need to rush anything. Why dont you stay home today? Maybe go reacquaint yourself with Randall."
"I dont want to lose any more time with you, Gwen. Weve already lost so much.... " She took a deep breath. "Im just not ready to face the questions, and comments, and stares." The Marine scrubbed her hand roughly over her face. "I guess you think Im just being a big coward about all this." She pulled slightly away from the bard, and hung her head. Her hands dropped to hang loosely between her knees. Her whole attitude was one of projected disillusionment and defeat.
Gwen moved closer, eliminating the minute space Randi had put between them. She took the large hands in her smaller ones, smiling to herself when they closed reflexively over her own. "Look at me, Randi." She noticed the hesitation, and continued. "Cmon. Stud. Let me see those beautiful baby blues." Then green found themselves captivated by a piercing cerulean gaze, and words failed her for a long moment. Then she cleared her throat to speak.
"I want you to listen to me very carefully, Randi, and understand what I am about to say to you." She waited until the Marine acknowledged her words with a nod. "Our lives have changed so dramatically in the past few days, and it is more than a little overwhelming. I have a feeling its gonna be that way for us for a while. Its gonna take us some time to adjust to all this, everything. So if you need a little time, love, its okay. I do understand. And I will never, never think less of you for needing." She brought a hand up to Randis face, and cupped her palm over the cheek plane. "Sometimes, Im gonna need too, and I know youll be there for me as well." She smiled when the Marine leaned deeper into the hand on her face, bringing Gwens small hand that she still held in her own to her lips and brushing it with a gentle kiss.
"Can I tell you a secret?" the bard continued before Randi spoke. "I really dont want to go into work today either. I really have no desire to spend any time away from you, as unhealthy as that sounds. But there are lots of people there that have been worried about me for a long time, and if I dont show up, it will worry them even more. I will be coming home early, though. I cant stand to be apart from you all day right now."
"I dont think it sounds unhealthy. I think it sounds wonderful. Are you sure youll be okay? Maybe I should just go in with you, and.... "
"Love, you need to do what is best for *you*. If youre not ready to face folks yet, it can wait. We have forever now, remember."
Randis lips curved upwards in sheer reaction to both the words Gwen spoke, and the love that flowed from her sparkling eyes. "I like the idea of forever with you." She took both of Gwens hands in her own, and helped the bard stand with her. "So cmon. Weve started our forever together. Lets keep it that way."
The blonde cocked her head to one side. "You sure?"
"Yep." A dazzling grin was the only response Randi got to that.
"You know, Dite, this has to be one of your best matches. You did very well!" Artemis and Athena raised the glasses in salute as the three of them stood peering into the scrying bowl.
"Babes, this was a joint effort. We all done good," and the love goddess returned the gesture, "though it is more them, than anything else" wrinkling her nose comically, as the three moved away from watching the couple. "Its always so nice when things turn out so well." She smiled. "Im really looking forward to this wedding."
Tommy was sitting at the breakfast table, listening to his son chatter to himself and them for the very first time. Occasionally, he could make out a few of the childs words, but the one he understood best was Wuv. Finally he pushed away his untouched food, and looked at Ella with eyes full of tears. "Its true, isnt it? She really is alive again after all this time."
His wife said nothing, simply nodding her head and opening her arms. He tucked himself into them, and cried his heart out while she held him tight and rocked him back and forth in a soothing gesture of comfort. When he was cried out, he pulled away slightly, readjusting himself to cradle the woman he loved. "Thank you, Sweetheart. I needed that."
She smiled into his chest. "Anytime, love. Im glad it was for such a happy reason."
He started to respond when the chime from an incoming vid call stopped him. "Its from Gwen." He moved to the monitor. "Hi, Gwen. Whats up?"
Even through the screen she could see the traces of tears in his eyes. Her only comment was, "Good morning, T. I need a favor."
"Sure. Name it."
Continued - Part 2
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