"Last mouthful, Diana," Rell said, waving the almost empty bottle over her shoulder towards the other woman.
"You have it. After all, you did cart it all the way here. Only right you get to kill the bottle," Diana answered. Stretching her back a little where it rested on their log, she settled the reporter's shoulders a little more comfortably against her chest.
In the course of trying to eat her meal, it became clear to the taller woman, that Rell was going to need some help. Her blistered hands could wrap around the scotch bottle without too much trouble, but a spoon was too thin for her to get a proper grip. Rell had protested she was perfectly capable of feeding herself; she only gave in when she spotted that glint in Dianas eyes she had come to learn meant the tall woman was not going to take 'no' for an answer. The most sensible arrangement had Rell leaning against Dianas chest, the dark-haired woman alternating between her own plate and Rell's as she fed them both. Even though dinner was long finished and the bottle now completely empty, neither woman really wanted to move. The close proximity felt right in some way, and both women were loath to move for the time being. Neither Rell nor Diana were willing to admit the relaxing effect of some excellent scotch was probably contributing to the ease they were feeling.
The pleasant haze of good scotch was lifting a few of the restraints Diana usually held over herself. She found her curiosity speaking for her before her mind had a chance to censor the question, or worry about its possible consequences.
"Tell me about Peter," she asked very gently. Diana assumed their marriage had broken up, and was curious to know what was so special about him that Rell hadn't taken a lover since.
"Why do you want to know about him?" Rell replied, a little shocked the taller woman even knew about him. Then again, Diana did make it clear back in LA she had checked out the reporter before meeting her, so knowing about her husband shouldn't be that much of a surprise. It was not like she'd made any efforts to hide her marriage.
"Just curious," Diana whispered back, the subtle feeling of her warm breath on the back of Rell's neck bringing the little reporter out in goose-bumps. "I mean, you don't talk about him or anything."
"He's dead," Rell answered sadly. "That's why I don't mention him."
"Sorry. I didn't mean to pry like that. Guess the alcohol is doing the talking for me," the taller woman said, a little uncomfortably.
"It's all right. That was a few years ago now. Hardly hurts anymore to think about him."
"So what happened?" Diana asked, tightening her hold around the other woman's body simply because she felt Rell needed it.
"Usual story - childhood sweethearts, that kind of thing. He was a few years older than I was. I went into journalism straight out of high school and he stayed at home to go to college. Bit of a late starter in that respect. Guess he wanted something I didn't. At least, not at that point, anyway. I'd been on the road for a couple of years and suddenly he turned up out of the blue, press card in hand, determined to work with me. He wanted to write the stories, while I took the pictures." She stared into the fire. "It worked for a while, but he wanted more. I didn't even see it coming, but he asked me to marry him one day, and I said yes. I guess it was what everyone expected of us."
"But you weren't really in love with him, were you?" Diana asked perceptively.
"No. That's the funny part. I thought I was, right up until I had say 'I do' to the love, honor and obey part of the vows, and then I wasn't so sure anymore. Id always worked hard at being completely independent of anyone, controlling my own life, my own destiny. But when I married Peter, I felt like I was handing over control of my life to someone else and I guess I didnt much like the idea. I mean, I did love him but I wasn't in-love, if you can understand that."
"I think I do," Diana nodded. "Then what happened?"
"We got married in South Africa and were going to honeymoon there. We hadn't been married one full day when he was killed. Someone shot him in the stomach. There just wasn't anything I could do. He died in my arms within a couple of minutes," Rell continued, clumsily wiping a single tear from her cheek.
"I'm sorry," Diana said, leaning against the side of the other woman's head, her lips a bare inch from her ear. "Must have hurt like blazes afterwards."
"Yea, it hurt but not as much as it should have, somehow. Peter died happy, though. I never told him how I really felt and I guess he never knew. I dont think Ive ever really been in love with anyone. Guess Im just waiting for exactly the right person to come along. Then again, being a journalist on the road most of the year doesn't leave a lot of time to get close to people, so I just don't make much of an effort anymore."
Sniffing back her tears, she turned a little to see Dianas face better and asked her own question. "How about you? Any great lost loves?"
Dianas dark head snapped back startled.
"You don't have to tell me. I guess I was just being nosy again. Must be my biggest failing," Rell said hurriedly, feeling as though she had overstepped some boundary.
"No. It's all right. Guess it's only fair, seeing I was asking about someone from your past," Diana answered, dodging for a moment to give herself some time to think.
"There was someone. His name was Mark. We'd worked together, too, and he got himself killed trying to save a childs life." Smiling at the memory, she continued. "To be honest, I think it was the only good deed he ever did in his entire life. I was always attracted to the bad ones, and he was definitely one of those. But he had a good heart under all that bluster; pity it got him killed in the end. We might have made a decent pair." Diana decided it was probably best to leave a lot of the details out, like the fact Mark had been working for one of the drug cartels. She had been asked to rescue a girl, a kidnapping victim, and run across Mark while in the compound. Diana had all but convinced him to leave with her and start a new life, when a lucky shot killed him. Although her own life had not been lived completely within the law, she felt she was making small differences in ways that mattered to her. At least it gave her life a mild sense of purpose, something she had been without for a long time.
Rell sat quietly, wanting to know more but not willing to push the other woman for information she was not ready to reveal. It was frustrating, yet intriguing. Even though she had sworn never to allow another to get as close to her as Peter, this mysterious woman was working her way into Rell's mind and soul without either of them being conscious of it. Rell was unknowingly having the same effect on Diana.
Together, they sat staring into the fire for a while longer, Dianas arms still wrapped comfortingly about the smaller woman's body. It felt natural, as though it was meant to be.
Half an hour later, when their physical closeness had ebbed away the emotional tension, Diana said, "Come on. Time we hit the hay. We've got another long day ahead of us tomorrow and if you think what we've seen was bad, wait 'til you see whats coming."
Groaning as she climbed unsteadily to her bare feet, Rell asked, "How can it possibly be any worse than what we've already been through? I've never seen jungle so thick or overgrown before, and I thought the Kakoda Trail was hard going."
"Tomorrow," she paused for a moment to drag out the suspense. "It starts going uphill," Diana replied wickedly.
"Ick. I can feel my thighs aching already," Rell said, dramatically. "Remind me to cut a length of branch to use as a walking stick," she said, starting to fumble with the buttons on her shirt.
From the beginning, both women had taken to sleeping naked at night because it was cooler. Their sleeping bags protected them from any early morning chill, but even this close to the highlands, the humidity was still too much to make sleeping fully clothed anything but miserable.
"Here, let me help you with that," Diana said, as Rell struggled to undo the buttons of her shirt with her blistered and bandaged fingers.
"I'll get it, just have to. " Rell started to say.
"Take all night about it," Diana finished. Gently pushing the reporters hands away, the taller woman slowly undid each button on Rell's shirt, stepping behind her to pull the material from her shoulders.
Rell couldn't help the momentary catch in her breathing as Dianas strong fingers slipped around each button; she took her time working her way down to the bottom of the shirt. An inadvertent knuckle brushed against the reporter's stomach, causing her muscles to jump in response. She could feel her heartbeat starting to speed up until she was sure the other woman could hear it thudding against her chest. Licking her suddenly dry lips as Diana moved behind her, Rell felt only the sensation of her shirt being slid sensually, from her shoulders, exposing her breasts to the cooler night air. She could hear the tall woman's breathing behind her and feel the warm, tantalizing brush of her hands as she gently peeled the sweat-damp material from Rells body.
Two arms wrapped themselves about her waist, feeling for the catch at the top of her trousers, Dianas shirt-covered breasts rubbing over the bare skin of Rell's back. The tingling worked its way quickly around the reporters body setting her nipples to hard points. The slow, scratchy experience of her zipper being lowered set a series of other feelings crashing through her body like a tidal wave, most of them centering between her legs. As the heavy material dropped away from Rell's thighs, she could feel Dianas shoulder touching the back of her legs, her breath brushing softly against her knee. One powerful hand on the small of her back balanced her as she stepped from her jungle trousers, to stand naked in the firelight. Trying to regain her self-control, the reporter watched as Diana unzipped Rells sleeping bag, indicating she should get inside. Everything seemed to be moving in slow motion, and Rell felt as though it was taking an eternity to walk the couple of paces to her sleeping bag. Once Rell climbed in, Diana zipped up the side and stepped back.
"See you in the morning, then," she said, appearing completely unaware of her effect on the reporter.
"Yea, in the morning. Night, Diana," Rell replied, quickly rolling onto her side. And she expects me to sleep after that, Rell thought, settling her hips and shoulder into the ground beneath her. If she can do that to someone just casually undressing her, what could she do if she really meant it? And would she even survive? The reporter eventually dozed off thinking about it and wishing there were some way of actually finding out. Just before falling into the oblivion of sleep, she silently cursed her bandaged hands, wondering if it was possible to live with so much arousal coursing through her body.
Diana squatted by the fire, watching as Rell tossed restlessly for some time before finally dropping into a peaceful sleep. It had taken every ounce of self-control she possessed not to brush her lips over Rell's bared shoulders as she helped her undress. In fact, she had been tempted to move her head the fraction needed to kiss the side of the reporter's knee, but at the last moment, she remembered the look on Rell's face as she spoke of her dead husband. Come on girl, Diana thought. She's made her preferences clear. She's into men and has no interest in women.
Stripping off her own clothing and climbing into her sleeping bag, she tried to convince herself she had not seen the obvious signs of arousal on the other woman. It was just standing about in all this cool night air, she told herself. Except that the night was muggy and warm, just like every other night in the jungle. Turning on her side away from the other woman, she forced her eyes closed, trying to tempt sleep. Just let it go, she thought. There's nothing there at all. She is simply here to get her story, and then leave. You'll probably never see her again after we get back to civilization.
Almost against her will, she rolled the other way, watching the little reporter as she slept. As her eyes slowly closed, she reminded herself of what happened to anyone she got close with. It didn't still the voice quietly calling in her heart.
"How are those hands feeling since I took the dressings off this morning?" Diana asked, turning Rell's free hand over to look at the healing blisters.
The taller woman had meticulously changed the dressings morning and evening for the two days since Rell damaged her hands; she was aware that infection was their biggest enemy in the middle of the Amazon forest. This morning, the injury appeared healed enough to do without the light bandages, so long as Rell kept her hands off the panga knife and left Diana to cut a path through the thick jungle.
Glancing down as Dianas strong fingers began to gently feel the healing edges of the blisters, Rell saw the faint green staining from the pulpy mass the other woman had used to stop any infection.
"Considering how messed up they were, they don't feel all that bad now," Rell said, enjoying the taller womans touch. "Still a little stiff, but I think using this walking pole should help ease it over the next couple of days. Will that green ever go away?"
"Yea, it'll fade in time," Diana replied, glad to see the wounds had dried completely.
"I still can't believe its only been two days since I ruined my hands. Whatever that stuff was, I think you should market it."
"Sometimes these jungle medicines are more effective than anything in the so-called civilized world. At least they don't cause as much harm as some of the drugs in Western medicine." Diana didn't release her gentle grip on Rells hand as she stepped a little closer, looking at the sky over the shorter woman's shoulder. "There's a storm coming," she said, after seeing the beginnings of a dark blur on the far horizon. "I think wed better find some cover, and soon. These tropical storms can be pretty violent. I don't want us caught in it."
Rell turned enough to see what Diana was looking at, noticing the fast moving blur. "I've been caught in a few storms before. I find them pretty exciting," she said, a grin starting to twitch at her lips.
"I think the storms we get around here might give you a bit more excitement than you bargained for," Diana replied. She started down the small rise they had stood on viewing the surrounding countryside before the trail dropped below the level of the tree-line again. "If you think the jungle's been bad, the storms are far worse."
"Oh," Rell said, her long walking stick moving in counterpoint with her steps. "Is there any shelter around here?" she asked.
"Uh huh. Off the track, to the left. I know there is something cave-like over there," the other woman replied, her eyes scanning for a decent break in the trees and overgrown vines. "At some point in history, a lot of rocks were washed off the plateau above, successive floods moving them along the valley floor towards a river canyon. It's cleared the ground pretty well too, so we can make better time than we have through this thick stuff. Where the rocks have piled up together, you can sometimes find gaps large enough to offer some shelter," she explained, her hands making graceful circles in the air as she described the rocks falling, then piling up. "It's not much, but itll keep us out of the worst of the weather."
Rell listened to the explanation, momentarily distracted by the other woman's hand movements. She had a brief mental flash of what those hands might be able to do to her body, then shook her head, forcing her wayward mind to concentrate on where she was putting her feet. Part of her hoped they would find a small cave so they could sit snuggled closely together. Over the past couple of days, as Diana had been helping her eat and dress, Rell had grown used to being physically near the other woman, and the feelings it was raising in her body; she had become accustomed to being in a state of near constant arousal. It was making it difficult to focus on the job at hand, as images of what shed rather be doing filled her mind at the most inopportune moments. Reminding herself one more time that Diana had chosen a life of celibacy after the death of her lover, Mark, she jogged along to keep up with the other woman's longer pace.
Far behind them, to the west of the highlands, the storm gathered strength. Pushed along by the El Nino effect, the storm soared higher into the atmosphere as it rose to climb the mountains, and the murky clouds rapidly filled the horizon as far as the eye could see. Hurried along by the racing upper level winds, it crossed the lands beneath it like some speeding malevolence, greedily sucking in the moisture given up by the jungles below. Over eighty inches of rain fell in the area each year and this storm appeared to want to dump it all in one titanic cloudburst. Slowing as it approached the wall of up-flowing air created by the highlands, it sulked, unable to move forward. Its thunderheads grew menacingly as more water was fed into it from the trees underneath. The first rumbles of booming thunder alerted the two women, still far from the sheltering rocks, that the tempest was about to strike.
The jungle grew silent, the birds, animals and insects preparing themselves for the blow to come. For the briefest of heartbeats, all was still. The rising wind held its breath for a moment, as every living thing in the forest below strained in the unnatural stillness preceding the storm. The clouds gathered themselves into a mighty black cloak in the sky, a whirling mass of water and power, finally unleashing a sheet of lightning across the darkened heavens as if announcing the intention of destroying everything in its path.
Temporarily blinded by the flash, both women missed seeing the rain falling from above like a dirty, gray blanket dropped from beyond. They did not miss the sharp retort of the thunder as it echoed, almost painfully, in their ears. In the time it took for the women to draw breath again, the jungle disappeared under the heavy, lace curtain of cascading rain.
Pouring over leaves and tiny branches, the rain rapidly pooled on the ground, filling the crevices where the tiny creatures sought shelter. Those not immediately drowned where they hid were swept along to be battered to death on the rocks and branches tossed in the swirling waters. First forming little runnels, then larger streams, the fallen water quickly became a mighty flood, gaining destructive power as it surged along the valley floor, and headed mindlessly for the small river canyon at the other end. The churning flash flood roared its way over the ground, obliterating everything in its path and heading for the two scampering women.
Oblivious to what was coming from behind, Diana suddenly stopped, waiting until Rell was level with her before attempting to speak. There was no way she could have made herself heard over the continuous booming of the thunder and the loud, steady shushing of the icy rain.
"RELL!" she shouted in the other woman's ear. "I'VE MISSED THE PATH!!"
Rell nodded in understanding. Diana pointed to herself and then to the small stand of trees part way up the gently sloping valley wall. Nodding again, the reporter knew the taller woman was going to climb into the high branches to see if she could spot the track towards the rocks where they hoped to find shelter. Pointing at the shorter woman, Diana made it clear she wanted Rell to stay where she was until she returned. Patting the dark-haired woman on the arm, Rell urged her up the slope while she herself moved around the tree. It was one of the few larger ones left standing after years of sudden floods over the valley floor.
Diana glanced back over her shoulder for a moment before scrambling over the low undergrowth. Somehow, through the shadowy curtain of cascading water and dim light, she had lost sight of the faint path to the rocks and needed to get herself and Rell back on track as soon as possible. The waterfall of rain was rapidly chilling both women and Diana had seen Rell hugging herself in an effort to keep warm. Gotta find that path and get us under cover, she thought. Neither of us is going to last long in this cold. Spotting a likely tree, she was quickly shinnying up its branches and scanning the ground for any sign of the trail they were supposed to be on. Shaking the water from her eyes, Diana tried to peer through the murk to find what she as looking for. Suddenly, over the rolling vibrations of thunderclaps and pelting rain, a new sound reached her ears - a low, rumbling roar coming from behind her. Twisting on her branch, her jaw dropped in disbelief as a tall, brown, churning wall of water rushed down along the valley floor.
"Oh no! Rell!" she gasped
Looking back down the slope, she saw the stocky reporter standing in front of a tree, sheltering a little from the heavy rain. With the noise of the thunderstorm right overhead, Rell was unaware of the danger coming towards her like an express train. Diana screamed the other woman's name. At the last moment, Rell turned to see the wall of water bearing down on her. There was nothing either woman could do to prevent the disaster from happening. One moment, Rell was standing frozen in place, her eyes like saucers at the sight of the on-coming water, and the next, there was nothing but a swirling, agitated wave where the woman had once stood.
"REEEELL!! REEEEELL!!" Diana kept screaming out to the reporter as she all but fell from her branch onto the ground. Stumbling over obstructing bushes and clinging vines, the tall woman ran alongside the fast moving water looking for the little reporter.
So, this is what my washing feels like, Rell observed silently, her mind a little slow to catch up with the sudden change in circumstances. After the first shocking moment, when she was certain she was going to drown, she realized her backpack was acting as a life jacket, keeping her afloat. Somehow, she had also managed to keep her grip on her walking stick as the floodwater had yanked her from her feet. Guess standing in front of that tree stopped me from being sucked under as the edge came past, she thought. Rolling over her pack, she pushed her face above the water, hurriedly sucking in another lung full of air before letting the pack resurface.
Beneath the water, rocks and branches bounced painfully off her limbs, tearing at her clothes. Eventually, she decided she'd had enough of being pounded by debris, and flipping over the top of her pack to breathe was becoming too tiring. Grabbing the straps of her backpack, she twisted until she was facing upwards, making breathing a great deal easier. With the pack riding behind her, she was high enough in the choking flood to see what was coming ahead. She soon regretted her decision to change position.
Far in front of her, the leading edge of the water tore at everything in its path, devouring huge chunks from the landscape as it ripped trees from the earth. Bobbing all around her were various forest animals, large and small, caught out by the unexpected flooding of their jungle homes. Most were already dead, or soon wished they were. Just gotta ride with this until it hits some flatter ground, Rell thought, swept along helplessly in the tide. Once we get to flat ground, it'll spread out and slow down. I should be able to get to the bank then.
Rell tried to stay calm, concentrating on staying on top of her backpack cum life jacket, until the flood lost some of its impetus so she could strike out towards the side of the valley. This was not the first time she had been caught in an unexpected deluge, so it was a little easier to keep her head until the water released her. Over the roar of the water around her, she heard a new sound. It took her a moment to identify the noise, but once she did, it filled her with a sinking dread. Just ahead, she could see where the flood had found its way to the riverbed it had been seeking, draining over the side of the canyon like some miniature Niagara Falls.
Oooooooh shit! I knew I would regret this trip, she thought as her section of the floodwaters joined the millions of gallons already flowing into the canyon beneath. It would be her last coherent thought for some time as she struggled to stay alive and floating in the tumultuous waters of the rapidly filling riverbed.
Diana raced frantically along the edge of the flooded valley trying to spot Rell's brightly-colored backpack or red-blonde hair in the rushing waters. All she could see were uprooted trees, floating dead animals, and more water. Her heart was pounding with fear that the other woman had drowned immediately in the onslaught, but a part of her prayed Rell had somehow survived those first dangerous minutes. If she still has her pack, she should be able to float with it, Diana kept repeating to herself like some ancient mantra. The tall woman herself had made a point of making Rell's backpack completely waterproof from the outside to protect the reporter's valuable camera equipment. Now the enclosed bubble of air on her back may well save Rell's life.
Stumbling through more of the clinging undergrowth, Diana thought she caught a glimpse of Rell's pack as it bobbed helplessly in the floodwaters. Still running, she shielded her eyes against the falling rain with one hand, trying to make out what was dipping and riding the waves ahead. Diana had just decided it was Rell when, to her horror, the brightly colored blob disappeared over the edge of the canyon and into the riverbed below.
Digging into her own stubborn core, she found a fresh burst of speed and dashed towards the edge of the canyon as though her very life depended on it. Rell's life certainly may.
Rell found herself wedged into a small hollow in the canyon wall, watching the rising floodwaters around her. Her mind had yet to catch up with the fact she had found some kind of temporary safety from the maelstrom. It was completely beyond her comprehension that she had managed to find the little sanctuary. She had long ago lost track of which way was up or where anything was around her. Shed struggled simply getting enough air into her bursting lungs to keep her alive until the next time she popped up to the surface.
Her pack was still strapped firmly to her back, having been both a hindrance and a help in her fight with the raging river. It kept bringing her back to the surface but once there, the twisting water would spin her in dizzy circles before forcing her to the bottom again.
After several minutes of blinking vapidly at the river flowing past, her brain finally kicked in, snapping her awareness back to the present. She suddenly realized she still had her walking stick clutched in a death grip. Now, why didn't I let that go? Rell wondered. The flood was whirling around her knees, slowly creeping higher, as more water poured into the river from the valley above. Hundreds of tiny, and not so tiny tributaries added their own burdens to the deluge. As the heavily silted liquid moved past her, the eddy her little hollow created caused it to gradually eat into the softer earth, dropping small sections of her refuge into the water. It wouldn't take long for the force of the water to carve its way deeper into the bank, eliminating her hole in the wall. With no obvious way to escape, except by falling back into the river, Rell realized she had to do something to stabilize her exhausted body in its little pocket of temporary safety. Jamming her walking stick across the open space, she wedged herself behind it.
Come on, woman, think. You've been in worse situations than this and gotten out okay, she thought to herself, scanning the bank opposite and trying to peer through the rain to see what lay above her. Part of her mind was trying to remember a time worse than the one it now found itself in, and was coming up empty. Shrugging its mental shoulders, that part of her mind joined in the effort of trying to find a way out of the river canyon. Rell saw she was stuck beneath an overhanging section of the canyon wall, so there was no way up; the only way down meant getting back into the river again. No thanks, she thought. I barely got out of it the last time.
Looking over at the opposite wall again, she spotted movement through the gradually lightening rain. Breathing a sigh of relief, she realized Diana had followed the valley down until she reached the canyon, and was now searching intensely along both banks for her. She's never going to spot me in this cavity, Rell thought. Gotta make myself more visible if I want her to see me.
Leaning back against her soaking pack, she dug her boot heels into the soft earth before tugging her walking stick free from the hole's crumbling walls. With her other hand, she tore the partially ripped sleeve from her heavy jungle shirt, tying it securely to one end of her stick.
"Come on. See it," she mumbled desperately as she waved the impromptu flag back and forth. "See it. Come on, Diana. Look down."
Diana finally reached the edge of the river canyon, staring in disbelief at the amount of water rushing along what was once a lazy stream at the bottom. She's been swept downstream, the tall woman told herself, but how far? That pack should have kept her near the surface, though. Jogging along the high right hand bank of the canyon, she carefully examined both sides, looking for some sign of either the backpack she hoped was still strapped to the other woman's back, or some hint of her blonde hair. The last thing she wanted to see was Rell's broken and lifeless body draped grotesquely over some river rock or logjam.
Moving along the ravine's wall, the river gradually widened, the rush of floodwater slowing as a result. Less than half a mile down the river, the water had lost enough speed that Diana hoped, if Rell was still alive, she might have found her way to the bank. Dropping her pace to a fast walk, she searched the banks on both sides, praying to see something to indicate that the other woman had been there, or was still there now.
As she searched, Diana found herself wondering why finding the little reporter was so important to her. It was more than just getting to the top of the mountain driving her now. To Dianas surprise, the tough photojournalist had come to mean a great deal over the past month. Rells freely offered friendship and gentle trust soothed an ache deep in Dianas spirit an ache that Diana didn't even realize was there, until it had faded away. To the tall woman, Rell suddenly mattered. Pushing the thought aside, Diana promised herself she would think about it later. Right now, she had to locate the reporter in all that mud-filled water.
Stopping for a moment to survey the opposite bank, Diana caught a glimpse of something flapping from a shallow hole in the wall. Keeping her eyes on it, she moved down the canyon wall until she was level with the twitching shape. She almost shouted in sheer relief when she spotted the saturated reporter tucked into the tiny hollow, waving something on the end of her long walking stick. Motioning with her arms to let Rell know she had been seen, Diana then turned her mind to the problem of getting the other woman back onto drier land.
"River's too wide here to cross," she mumbled to herself, pulling the plastic-coated map from her pocket. Tracing her finger along the valley, then downstream, she saw that the river would continue to widen for some time. "Guess I have to go back upstream then," Diana muttered, checking the map to see just how far she needed to go before the banks were close enough for her to cross.
With exaggerated gestures, she pointed to the map in one hand, indicating she had to go back the way she came before she could cross the river. Rell nodded in understanding and settled herself to wait for the time being.
Id better make this fast, Diana thought, jogging away. She's already shivering, and thats not good.
Taking less time than shed thought, Diana found herself back at the point where the floodwaters from the valley still ran over the right hand side of the canyon's wall. Looking closely, she tried to gauge how deep it was. The rain had slackened off considerably, though the dark, ominous clouds still hung low in the sky and she could hear the continuing roll of thunder in the distance. Can't be too deep, she thought. It was just a flash flood, after all, not some overflowing river. Stepping into the running water, she edged her way carefully through it until she was finally safe on the other side. Even at its deepest point, it hadn't reached above her knees, but she had stumbled a few times, tripping on unseen rocks or branches lodged in the bottom.
Picking up her pace again, she headed further upstream looking for the narrowing of the ravine she had seen on her map. She estimated it to be less than a half mile from the valley, but she wished it were a lot closer for Rell's sake. Sticking as near to the canyon wall as she safely could, and jumping over any obstructions rather than wasting time going around, Diana set a fast pace to reach the narrowed section of the gorge.
A hard five minutes later, Diana arrived at the section of the ravine she had seen on her map. Not exactly the two minute half mile, she joked with herself. Probably would have been faster if I had ditched the pack. Standing on the edge, she guessed the distance from one bank to the other to be approximately eight or nine feet. Definitely not as narrow as I had hoped, she thought, wondering if she could make it across. The disconcerting sight of millions of gallons of dark, brown water boiling through the bottleneck the narrowing had created, caused her stomach to knot up on itself a little. Shrugging her pack off, she mentally prepared herself for the hurdle.
Standing a couple of steps back from the edge, she bunched her powerful muscles, tossing her backpack over the divide easily. Diana watched as it crashed into the tangle of vines and low shrubs on the other side.
"Now my turn," she muttered aloud. Taking several more paces backwards, she took off for the edge of the ravine, both feet hitting the ground bare inches from the boundary of the canyon itself. As tensed thighs prepared to spring her high into the air, she felt the ground drop slightly under her booted feet. Uh oh, this does not feel good, she thought, flinging her arms upwards.
The rush of stirred up liquid had seriously weakened the earth along the sides of the ravine, making them unstable to any show of force from above, such as someone landing heavily on the edge. Collapsing under the stress of Dianas jump, the right bank tumbled wearily into the flooded river, leaving the tall woman with no choice but to hope she could somehow make it to the other side. Stretching out her arms as she moved through the air, her hands connected with the edge of the canyon, her fingers curling gratefully around a solid tree root left exposed by the carving force of the water. Dianas legs and body followed behind, splashing into the river. Hanging shoulder deep in the flood, the tall woman began to claw her way up the bank to safety.
She had barely pulled herself a few inches up the soggy wall when a large rock, bouncing helplessly through the fast flowing water, slammed into her unprotected left side. Whoofing out with the sudden pain, Diana felt, rather than heard, the sound of a rib snapping under the onslaught.
"Kee-rist!" she hissed through clenched teeth. "If it doesn't rain around here, it freaking pours." Trying to ignore the grabbing pain of her broken rib, Diana struggled her way up the wall until she was finally stretched out on the ground above the river.
"Sweet Jesus, five minutes ago I was freezing my butt off in the rain and now I'm sweating like a field hand. Amazing what pain can do for a person sometimes," Diana said aloud. Rolling over to crouch on one knee, she gently felt her way over the break, hoping there wasn't too much damage. Prodding one particularly sensitive spot a little too hard, she sucked air through pursed lips as her rib protested the rough treatment. "Well, that's going to smart for a few days," she said, mirthlessly. "Looks like I won't be doing any more Jane of the jungle leaps for a while."
Finally climbing to her feet, she hugged her left elbow tight against the injured side as she dug out her pack from its landing place with the other hand. Slinging it awkwardly over one shoulder, Diana started a slow jog back downstream to the tiny hollow where Rell was wedged.
Watching the water creep higher up her body, Rell focused on staying inside her hollow until Diana could get back to her again. Wriggling her toes in her boots, she was aware she had lost nearly all feeling in her feet and the shivering was getting worse. Clamping her teeth tightly together, she tried to control the chattering.
"G...great hairy, horny toads. I am about to d...die of hypothermia in the b...bloody tropics." Rell's gallows humor did little to cheer her. The last of the storm-chilled water poured in from the valley above and swirled lazily around her breasts, stealing her precious body heat as it inched higher. The overhang was gradually breaking apart from the bank as the supporting layer of earth was washed away in the flood. Sections of the overhang would fall into the water near Rell, sending icy splashes over her body.
"This is not quite how I imagined myself dying, you know," Rell said to no one in particular. She was simply trying to stay awake and focused until Diana could, somehow, get her back up onto the ground above. "I figured on something a little quieter, maybe old age, perhaps," she giggled, the idea of simply wearing out from old age appealing to her slightly twisted sense of humor. As her body temperature slowly dropped because of the cooling effects of the icy water, she found it harder and harder to stay alert, her mind wandering in the most idiotic fashion.
Pressing back against her pack, Rell reset her feet in the mud at the bottom of the hollow watching, almost without interest, as yet another large section of the overhang separated from the rest, thudding into the water in front of her.
"Gee, I wonder where Diana got to?" she asked herself. "Maybe she fell in?" Thinking for a moment, Rell answered her own question. "Nah. Knowing her, she'd probably walk on water." The image of Diana simply waltzing across the tossing waves set the little reporter off in a spasm of silly giggles. "I wonder if I fluttered my eyelashes at her, she'd ask me to dance with her?" Rell's giggles became outright laughter, seeing in her mind's eye the two of them dancing, cheek to cheek, on top of the swollen river.
Over her head, the entire overhang finally gave in to gravity and came thumping down into the water. Rell was momentarily buried in its musty smelling earth until she could shake herself free again. Looking up, she was greeted with the sight of a long, snaking coil of rope flying out over the new edge of the canyon. One end landed in the river, fascinating the reporter with its intricate swirls and circles before sinking into the water. The rope was quickly followed by two brown boots attached to a pair of long, familiar legs swinging down into what was left of the hollow. Rell watched blearily as Diana splashed into the river beside her.
"Hi ya, Diana. You wanna dance?"
"Ummm, not really," Diana answered. Completely focused on the job at hand, she had been a little taken back by the unexpected question. Oh boy, she thought, seeing the silly grin plastered across Rell's pale face, she really is cold. I've got to get her out of here, and fast.
"Sorry about the overhang hitting you, Rell. Had to break it away from the bank before it was safe for me to climb down."
"Is that what hit me?" she asked, seeing a slightly blurry shape she assumed was the other woman moving in front of her half-lidded eyes. "I just thought I'd been caught in another media crush. Real bad being this short sometimes," she said, a little sadly.
"Well, being short is going to be an advantage right now cause it means you're light," Diana explained. Even soaking wet, you're not going to weigh much more, thankfully, she added silently in her mind. "I need you to get out of that backpack though, Rell."
"But I'll lose my cameras," Rell replied, a surprised expression on her face. "Can't do that. I've got a job to do for this really beautiful woman. She's on a treasure hunt, you know," the reporter added in hushed tones, forgetting completely this was the very woman who had hired her to begin with.
"I won't lose your pack, Rell. Promise. But I can't get both you and it up this bank at the same time," the tall woman said, reasonably. Not with a broken rib, I can't, that's for sure. "I'll tie it off on the end of the rope and pull it up after us, okay?"
Rell thought for a moment, distracted by the closeness of the other woman. "Okay," she finally said. "But be sure you tie it tight. Gotta take my pictures. Only way to tell a good story. Lots of pictures," she said, as she wriggled out of her backpack.
Freed from the weight of Rell's body, the pack bobbed to the surface of the deepening water. Diana quickly knotted the rope through the shoulder straps as Rell watched owlishly.
"You've got pretty hands," she commented.
Diana glanced at her hands for a moment as she released the backpack to float in the water, secured on the end of the rope. Yea, pretty grubby right now, she thought.
"Okay, lets get out of this freezing water so we can get warmed up again," she said. Uncoiling another, shorter length of rope from around her waist, she maneuvered the smaller woman around until Rell had her arms looped loosely over Dianas shoulders.
"You havent got a lot of strength left in those cold arms, I guess. I need to tie you to me," she said, matching her words with her actions.
Once she felt Rell was properly secured, she took a tight grip of the dangling rope, digging her booted toes into the soft earth of the bank. Damn, she thought. If the climb down was a pain, this is really going to hurt. Least Rell can't see my face. Guess I should count that as a blessing. Cocking her head back for a moment before starting the long crawl back to the top, Diana listened to Rell mumbling to herself as she gently slid into semi-consciousness.
"Hang in there, Rell. Just a little longer and then I can get you warmed up again," she muttered, pulling them both up the rope. Gritting her teeth against the pain in her side from the broken rib, she inched them up the wall towards the bank.
Rell's awareness slowly emerged into a place that was warm, dry and unbelievably comfortable. Under her ear she could hear the soothing beat of someone's heart and the gentle rush of air breathing into lungs. All around her was the soft crackling of some material she couldn't identify. It was enough to have her opening her eyes to see where she was. She was greeted by blackness so complete, she had no idea where she was. Breathing in, she had to admit that it was the best smelling darkness she could remember ever experiencing.
"Hi there, sleepy," a familiar voice said over Rell's head, as a soft glow entered her dark little chamber, the rustling growing a little louder as the light filled her eyes. Diana carefully pushed back the edge of the sleeping bag to reveal the other woman's face in the firelight.
The reporter suddenly realized she was being held comfortably by the taller woman, and for some unexplained reason, she was totally naked.
"Hi yourself," she answered, wondering what had happened. The last thing she could clearly recall was standing chest deep in the flooded river wondering what had become of the tall woman. "Where are we?" she asked, lifting her head a fraction.
"About fifty or so steps back from the edge of that canyon you fell into," Diana replied a little wickedly.
"Oooh. The canyon. I remember now. How'd you get me out?" Rell asked, not at all inclined to move just yet.
"Tied you to my back and simply climbed up the side."
"You make it sound easy," the smaller woman commented, realizing it was probably anything but.
"No big problem. You were mostly out to it anyway. Once I got us up here, I built a fire and then stripped us both down to bare skin. Thought you might like to know that if you hadn't already noticed," Diana said. "You were absolutely freezing, so bare skin, a couple of space blankets and the sleeping bags supplied all the heat I needed to get you warmed back up again."
"Hurray for technology," Rell said, more disinclined to move than before. If this is as close as Im going to get to paradise, I might as well make the most of it, she thought, sensing the warm tingles that seemed to flow from the other woman's body. She could feel the way it was arousing all the pleasure centers in her body; although shed grown used to that over the past several days, it didn't make it any easier to ignore.
"I really can't believe it," she grumbled, distracting herself from the thoughts trying to make themselves known to her.
"Can't believe what?" the other woman asked.
"Two weeks ago I damned near fell on my face with heat exhaustion, and today I get bloody hypothermia," Rell explained. "What is it with this country?" she snapped lightly.
Lifting her head completely, she suddenly found herself trapped by a pair of impossibly blue eyes looking back at her. Something in their azure depths called to her soul, something in her own replied joyfully. Still tired and little shocked by her experience in the river, Rell didnt have the strength to fight with herself anymore. Tilting her head slightly to one side, she closed her eyes and gently kissed Dianas full lips. It was a soft kiss, undemanding, but rich with the potential passions the little reporter could offer.
Rell's movement was so totally unexpected, Diana was startled into complete stillness, astounded by what was happening to her. By the time her brain had caught up with the situation, and thought to return that mind-blowing kiss, Rell had broken away, ducking down against the taller woman's chest.
"Oh god, I'm sorry, Diana. I didn't mean to do that. I don't know what came over me," she mumbled, upset. Aware that her naked, completely aroused body was stretched full length over the other woman's bare skin, Rell tried to roll off. Sliding to the left, she tried to move over to the wide gap between Diana and the edge of the sleeping bag. She was barely halfway, when the dark-haired woman gasped in pain, her hand instinctively moving to protect the broken rib.
"What's up? Did I hurt you?" Rell asked, concern for the other woman temporarily wiping her embarrassment out of her mind.
"It's all right, Rell. Really," Diana said, a little painfully. "I just busted a rib when I was crossing the river."
"You should have said something sooner," the reporter scolded. Lifting herself up on her hands and knees, she quickly pulled down the long zipper where Diana had unfolded and then zipped their two sleeping bags together, making it large enough to hold both of them comfortably. "Let me see," she said.
"It's fine. I've had broken ribs before and survived. I'll survive this one too," Diana replied.
"You break a rib crossing that damned river and then tie my less-than-dainty weight to your back to get me out of it," Rell stated in very firm tones. "Let...me...look...at...you," she continued, spacing each word out to make sure the dark-haired woman knew she was serious.
The stubborn light in her blue-green eyes made it clear to Diana that Rell had no intentions of letting it go. Diana sighed, a little dramatically, secretly delighted that Rell had the courage to stand her ground.
"Okay, if you're determined to look at nothing," she finally answered. Rolling carefully, she exposed her battered left hand side to the firelight and the inquiring eyes of the reporter. A large, black bruise, easily the size of Dianas outstretched hand, covered the tall woman's ribs, the deepest part of the discoloration being right over the place where her rib was broken. "See, it's nothing," Diana said.
"Nothing, my ass," Rell snorted, gently feeling her way over the bruising, attempting to sense how badly broken the rib was underneath all the swelling. "Hmmm, feels like just a simple fracture. I should strap it for you, though. It'll probably make breathing a little easier. Where's your kit?" she asked, fingers still lingering softly over Dianas skin. "And why on earth did you let me lie on you for so long? It must have been killing you."
"Kit's in my backpack over there," Diana replied, pointing to her pack drying by the fire. "As for letting you lie on me, well, I had to get you warm again and that was the quickest way I could think of." What she had no intention of admitting was the way Rell had all but climbed on top of her while still only semi-conscious. Even though it hurt to breathe, having the smaller woman clutching her had felt so good to Diana that there was no way she wanted to move Rell from her obviously preferred position.
Although the little reporter was unaware of what she was doing, Diana had reveled in the chance to hold Rell close and gently stroke her warming skin with her callused hands. It had felt like some wonderful dream come true; it could only have been made better if Rell had been a willing participant in the embrace. Diana believed that if Rell knew what had been happening, and how the tall woman truly felt, her dream would have rapidly become a nightmare. Diana had reminded herself again about Rells desire for men - that much was clear. After all, she had married one. She had spent several minutes convincing herself that Rell's tight grip around the other woman's body was merely a response to her scare in the river. The tall woman refused to feel guilty for the gentle pleasure she had been feeling as she held Rell in her arms, but there was a wistfulness to the way she had softly stroked the other woman's skin.
Rell started to move from the warm sanctuary of the sleeping bag to pull Dianas first aid kit from her backpack. Standing up, the chill breeze blowing off the river laced its icy fingers about her body, trying once again to steal away her precious internal heat. Goosebumps quickly rose over her flesh and she shivered slightly in response.
"Here, wrap this around you," the tall woman said, dragging one of the space blankets from inside the sleeping bag. "That storm's left it a bit cold around here, at least until morning. I don't want you to start shivering again after I finally got you warmed up."
"Thanks," Rell said gratefully, draping the shiny, metallic-looking material around her rapidly chilling shoulders. Blocking the kiss from her mind completely for the moment, the reporter started to dig through Dianas pack searching for the first aid kit. Finally finding it in a large, waterproof side pocket of the pack, she pulled it out, bringing several pieces of paper with it. One fluttered to the ground, opening out as it landed. Rell picked it up, intending to replace it in the pocket, when her eye happened onto the wording. Startled by what appeared to be poetry, surely not written by Diana, she held it up for the other woman to see.
"What's this?" she asked as she turned back to Diana. Crouching down, she handed the paper to the tall woman. Momentarily distracted by searching through the first aid kit for a wide bandage for Dianas ribs, Rell didn't see the expression crossing the other woman's face.
"It's..." Diana started to say. She stopped for a moment, then continued. "Strap my ribs, Rell, and I'll tell you about it afterwards. I was going to have to in a day or so, anyway," she finally finished.
Looking up, the reporter saw the odd grimace but decided that now was not the best time to push the issue. "Sit up for me then and raise your arms a bit," Rell said, patiently containing her rampant curiosity. Once the other woman was sitting up, Rell took the wide roll of sticky electroplast bandaging and began to wind it snugly around Dianas ribcage to support the broken left rib.
"This is probably going to itch like crazy in a day or so, but its better than puncturing your lung if you forget about that break," she explained, taking a secret, guilty pleasure in gently brushing her hands close to the other woman's breasts with each turn of the bandage.
Appearing to concentrate on what she was doing, Rell was thinking at warp speed about what she had done earlier. Rell, you are sometimes the dumbest thing on two legs. I'm surprised shes even letting me near her after that kiss, the reporter chastised herself. You know she has chosen to be celibate, and no matter what I think of that decision, I have no right to do what I did. I just hope she can forget all about it.
Almost against her will, the memory of those few wonderful seconds rose in her mind, causing her to flush with embarrassment and shame. Gently smoothing down the sticky edge of the dressing, Rell returned the rest of the roll to the kit at her feet. As she closed the lid, bringing her eyes back the ice blue ones watching her carefully, she thought, I really have to take myself in hand or I am never going to cope with the next couple of months. It's either that, or Diana might be beating me off with a damned stick soon.
"Okay, all strapped up," Rell said aloud. "Now what is it that you want to tell me about?"
Though it had hurt a little getting her ribs strapped, Diana had enjoyed the touch of the other woman's hands against her skin. Every time Rell's fingers had moved away, the taller woman could hear her body screaming for their return. Trying to distract herself, she watched Rell's face, the tip of her tongue poking just past her lips as she concentrated on what she was doing. She looks so young, so innocent, I keep forgetting she lives a pretty hard life sometimes. Must have seen quite a bit over the years, Diana thought. In her own field, I'll bet she is every bit as capable as I am. Better remember that and stop thinking I have to look after her all the time. For the moment, Diana didn't want to even think about the possible implications of that unexpected kiss. She had already partly convinced herself it was merely an overflow of gratitude on Rell's part.
Shaking her head free of her thoughts, Diana addressed Rell's question. "You remember how I said back at the rough camp that a prophecy had been stopping me from getting to the top of the mountain?" she asked. Rell nodded back curiously. "Well, this is that prophecy," she said, holding out the paper for the other woman to see. "When Hunk found me in the jungle, all but dead from heat stroke, he took me back to Ilha de Maraca to recover. While I was there, the medicine man cum local witch doctor came to Hunk's little shack one day, saying he had something for me. I was a little surprised because no one in the area really knew who I was." They also didn't know I was training mercenaries in the jungle not twenty miles from their town either, but Rell doesn't need to know that.
"What was it?" Rell asked into the momentary silence, her curiosity humming along with the tale.
"He gave me what looked to be an incredibly ancient scroll of some kind. I had to go back to the United States to get it translated from old Greek," Diana continued. Escaped would more accurately describe my frantic dash out of Brazil once my men realized I hadn't died in the jungle, she mused to herself.
"Anyway, after I had it translated, it turned out to be some sort of prophecy. I puzzled over it for months before it started to make any sense," she said. I also killed the man who did the translation. Really regret that decision now, but I was still thinking like a mercenary and a killer back then, regardless of the change Hunk helped me see in my heart. I simply didn't want to leave any witnesses behind. At least I made up for it a little by seeing to it his wife and children were looked after. The family estate can certainly handle putting his kids through college, she thought.
"And what did it say?" Rell asked impatiently. Now that she was having some of her questions answered, she wanted it all, and was finding Dianas pauses a little irritating.
"Oh, sorry. Guess I just keep remembering some the things that happened back then," the tall woman apologized. "Most of it was some sort of history relating to a group of women warriors from Greece."
"Amazons?" Rell questioned excitedly.
"As far as I could work out, yes. For some reason not made clear in the scroll, they had left their homelands and traveled across the Mediterranean. The scroll gave a description of their journey across the top of Italy, through France, over the Pyrenees Mountains, and through Spain to the coastline - Cape Ortega, to be exact," Diana said, remembering the translated story.
"Wow! That musta been some trip to make on foot," Rell gasped. She knew how long it could take to drive that far, let alone walk; it would have easily trebled the time, and there were no hotels back then to stop at along the way.
"The scroll made some slight references to the Samnite and other tribes further to the north of Cape Ortega. There's a little island in the mouth of the Loire River, across the Bay of Biscay where a group of woman sailors were said to live. They traded across the English Channel with some of the people they found there. It appears the Amazons learned about sea travel and long distance sailing from them. That part of the scroll was pretty obscure. Anyway, the women decided to seek out a new homeland and took to the seas. As far as I could work out from the little that was said in the scroll, they ended up on the coast of Brazil at the mouth of the Amazon River. I'm assuming that is how it might have gotten its name, regardless of what the history books might say. Men generally write those things anyway, and usually leave out any references to women. There was also a mention of a little village, a full-sized town now, called Macapa."
Rell's mouth was just about hanging open in surprise. "Wow just doesn't cover it anymore," she said. "That has to be one of the most amazing ancient sea journeys I have ever heard about. It can't be true, can it? I mean, this is all some sort of story, a legend perhaps?" she asked.
Diana shook her head. "As far as I have been able to find out, every word of it is the absolute truth," she replied.
"So where did they go after that?" Rell asked, still not believing what she was hearing.
"They traveled up the Brazilian coast a little ways before heading toward the Guyana Highlands, and that mountain, Paraque Cerro. The scroll never said why they went there, or how the documentation of their journey ended up in the hands of the medicine man."
"I gotta say it again - wow. So what does the prophecy have to do with all this, and why did you end up being given that scroll?" the reporter asked.
"The medicine man said the scroll had been handed down from father to son for thousands of years, and was to be given to a woman like me. It was in pretty amazing shape considering it was at least two thousand years old," Diana explained.
"A woman like you?" Rell queried, hoping she was about to learn a little more about Dianas mysterious past.
"Greek descent, tall, dark-haired with eyes of blue ice. The instructions handed down with each succeeding generation said a woman would be brought to the village by a mountain of a man..." Diana replied.
"That's Hunk, all right. He really is one seriously big human being - almost a Titan," Rell cut in.
"Anyway," Diana continued, giving Rell a bit of a glare for the interruption. The reporter shrugged in response. "This mountain of a man would bring a woman who was near death to the village; through a heart's change, she would find life again. I guess that pretty much describes me at the time. I was a little unfeeling in those days, so I suppose that is a kind of death. Hunk did help change my life though, so there was the heart's change the medicine men had been told to look for." Diana smiled to herself. 'Unfeeling' is a real understatement, she thought. Soulless might be a more accurate description. I just didn't care about anything or anyone until Hunk helped me see I could still make up for all my wrongdoings.
"Must have been one spectacular change of heart for them to hand over something theyd been holding for generations," Rell commented. "And what is this prophecy?"
Tilting the paper towards the firelight, Diana began to read the few lines shed transcribed to the sheet, instead of reciting it from memory, making sure she had it word perfect.
"With hair as though a moonless night,
Eyes of a frozen lake.
A gentle start. A violent past.
Redemption a way of life.
With flame red hair and flashing eye,
Sift through the sands for her.
Seek the storyteller, bright and bold.
Two separate halves become the whole.
To the Eastern sky,
On a Western wall,
A place of birth is found.
Not one alone knows the way,
Both joined at heart and soul.
When the time is right, a question asked.
Be warned, a price to pay."
"Well, it sounds pretty much like a prophecy to me. All obscure and full of veiled references, I'm sure," Rell said after thinking about the words for a moment.
Rell shifted a little from her crouched position next to the tall woman resting in the sleeping bag. An icy cold draft whipped its way up her back as the space blanket lifted. Shivering again, the reporter concentrated on trying to figure out what the words of the prophecy meant and how they related to Diana.
Seeing the little reporter shivering with cold again, Diana lifted the open side of the sleeping bag, indicating Rell should get back into the warmth it offered. It also meant they would be lying close together once more, but the tall woman decided not to say anything about that.
"Ummm, if its all right with you, why don't we separate those again. I mean, it can't be very comfortable with the two of us in there," she said a little nervously. She didn't want to admit aloud that being curled up in the sleeping bag with Diana was the most comfortable she'd been in weeks.
"Rell, you were hypothermic not so long ago and it won't take much to lower your core temperature again. Better you stay somewhere warm, at least for tonight. I'll know you're safe then," Diana explained, mercilessly using the logic of the situation to her advantage, summoning up her best don't-argue-with-me expression at the same time.
"It wouldn't take a minute..." the reporter started to say, suddenly catching the look in Dianas eye. "Oh god. Where on earth did you learn to do that?" she asked, climbing back into the sleeping bag with only minimal reluctance. "That is one amazing 'tude you have there, you know. I bet you'd make a devastating politician if you wanted to. Might get a few things done," she grinned at the other woman, babbling a little to hide her nervousness at being so close to Dianas nude body.
Rell carefully settled herself to Dianas right to avoid accidentally bumping her broken rib. Once settled, with only the very thin layer of one space blanket separating them, Rell continued to think about the prophecy. It was better than thinking about Dianas close proximity, or about how much Rell wanted to be doing more than simply lying there.
"I guess the first part is about you," she stated. "I can understand the references to moonless-night hair and frozen-ice eyes, but what is this "gentle start, violent past" stuff about?"
"I think it refers to my childhood, the gentle start. I was loved and I knew it, so it was gentle. I know of much worse childhoods to have endured," Diana said carefully, leaving out a great many details in the process, including the fact that she was no longer welcome at home after what had happened. If Rell noticed the omissions, she had enough sense not to push for more, yet. "The violent past, well, I suppose some of it might be considered violent."
"Uh huh," Rell commented. She had already made the connection between Dianas presence in South America and some of the many small civil wars that seemed to always be taking place. It was not unusual for westerners to get themselves involved with the South American locals. A 'cause' was better than the boredom at home. Getting involved with any of the local outbreaks might have caused the other woman to do things that could be quite violent. Many of the people could be extremely well-armed and wherever there were weapons, there was usually much savage bloodshed.
"Okay, what about the "redemption is a way of life" line, then?" she asked.
"I like to fix things. You know, problems and stuff. Guess that could be interpreted as some sort of redemption," Diana said, being deliberately vague with details again.
Rell overlooked the lack of explanations, deciding she would pin the other woman down about them one day, but not right now. There was the rest of the prophecy to sort out yet.
"Ooookay, if the first bit is you, what does the second stanza mean?"
"That's about you," Diana said carefully, wondering what the little reporter's reaction was going to be.
"Now, you are going to have to explain that one to me," Rell said, quite surprised.
Holding the paper up, Diana ran her finger along each line as she explained how she had come to the conclusion the second stanza of the prophecy was about Rell.
"The flame-red hair bit is that dye job you told me you did when you first became a journalist," she said.
"But I'm a blonde," Rell offered in reply.
Diana laughed lightly. "Well, a red-blonde but it does kinda flame in the sunlight," she commented. "Looks quite nice, actually."
Rell blushed with the compliment, but remained silent. It just felt so good to hear Diana saying things like that to her, she didn't want to break the mood by speaking.
"I interpret the "flashing eye" to mean your camera."
"Makes sense, I guess," the reporter replied. "I cant remember not having one in my hands; I even sleep with one sometimes."
"I noticed," Diana said, looking at the woman beside her.
"Okay, okay. So I have a strange teddy bear. What about the "sift the sands" line?" Rell questioned, not unhappy that the other woman was aware of her sleeping habits.
"I figure, with it being Amazons who wrote the original scroll, that they meant a woman. The "her" at the end just confirmed it. But it had to be a woman who carried a 'flashing eye'. So I started looking for women photographers in places where there was a lot of sand, mostly the Middle East and the Sahara Desert. I did check a few other places as well. The deserts came up empty but there were a couple of photographers in the Middle East. It was the "storyteller, bright and bold" that truly identified you, though," Diana explained.
Rell nodded for her to continue, fascinated by the other womans logic.
"I've seen your work, Rell, and you do tell a story with every single picture you take. Even with the really bleak ones, full of death and destruction, there are elements of brightness; I still have a copy of that flowerpot photo you took in Bosnia. The other thing is the way you are so bold with your subjects. Its not the subject matter, which is always interesting, but more the way you take the photos," the tall woman said.
Rell couldn't help laughing as she thought of some of the situations she had gotten herself into trying to get that perfect shot. Take her recent experiences in the harem, for example. Shed snuck in dressed as one of them, then once inside, whipped out her camera. There had been that perfect photo of a woman, the shadow of the of the window grill shading her beautiful face, giving the impression of someone trapped in a gilded cage. Well, that was how Rell had seen it.
"So, you found me. What about the rest of the prophecy?" Rell asked.
"I have no idea," Diana replied. "I've been trying to understand it for months and I still don't know what the lines mean. Maybe they have something to do with the mountain top itself. I just don't know."
"Why, exactly, haven't you been able to get to the top of that mountain if you have been trying for so long?" Rell asked, determined this time to get a full answer and not just the few details Diana thought she should know.
Diana thought for a few moments before answering. If it happened again, she'd have to explain anyway, so decided she might as well do it now.
"Because two, maybe three days from here, something I don't understand happens, and I find myself back at the rough camp again. I have no memory of how I get there. I simply wake up and there I am."
"Somehow I don't think teleportation is the answer here," Rell joked. "So, tell me what you do know."
"I get about halfway up the mountain side; it's quite a hard climb at the best of times," she started. "About halfway up there is a small plateau where I generally camp for the night. Actually, it is the only place to camp on that whole side of the mountain. I know the mountain is only two thousand feet but it takes more than one day to get to the top simply because its so steep in places. I make camp and go to sleep. When I wake, I am back at the rough camp again and two or three days have passed. I can't remember walking back and I have never had any sign of a head injury. To date, it has happened seven times and I still haven't gotten past that plateau."
"Well, no sign of head injuries blows my first theory out of the water," Rell said, thinking about how Diana could get back to the her rough clearing without remembering any of it. "Maybe someone is taking you back?" she offered.
"Maybe, but I would hear anyone coming into the campsite at night, and how do they keep me out for two or three days. The other point is, it has taken us almost two weeks to get here and I am back at camp in a few days. There just isn't any way to cover that ground so quickly. Well, none that I know of. The jungle is too damned thick," Diana said, her confusion apparent.
"So what makes you think both of us can get past that plateau if you haven't been able to do it alone?" the reporter asked, quietly, not too keen on the idea of losing time to something she didn't understand.
"That line in the prophecy. 'Two separate halves become the whole.' I think I needed to find you and bring you with me, to get past whatever is stopping me from reaching the top," Diana explained. "I have no idea why its important for you to be there too, but it must be. I think together, we can reach the top of the mountain."
Rell stared up at the few stars she could see overhead through the covering of branches and leaves. All along the river canyon, the ground was far more open than it had been in the depths of the jungle, but Diana had made their little overnight camp under a few trees to protect them from the sun when it rose in the morning. The two women had talked for a little while longer before deciding to get some rest. Diana dozed off quickly, probably exhausted from running along the river to find Rell, then rescuing the reporter. Rell couldnt have got Diana to admit to her tiredness, but she was glad to see the tall woman had slipped away into sleep so easily, even with her broken rib.
Rell, however, was wide awake and thinking deeply. She had pulled the space blanket off her body and tucked it under the edge of the doubled sleeping bag they were resting in. Though the storm had chilled the air, with both women generating body heat the sleeping bag had become too warm for the reporter to stay rolled up in the space blanket. Deciding an inadvertent contact with the other woman's bare skin was worth the risk, she had gotten out of the thin metallic blanket, and now felt a great deal more comfortable. It didn't help her fall asleep, though.
I still can't believe I actually kissed her, she thought to herself. What was I thinking? I've spent days constantly reminding myself that Diana is celibate, and what do I do the very first time I get close enough to her? I launch an all out lip lock. No wonder she didn't react. Rell felt a little disappointed with the lack of reaction. Even women who saw themselves as absolutely heterosexual kiss back a little, even if only curious about what it felt like to kiss another woman. I guess being celibate means not reacting at all, she thought a little sadly.
Brushing her fingers lightly over her lips, Rell remembered the feeling of kissing Diana. Her mouth was so soft, Rell recalled. I wonder what it would feel like to really kiss her, with her kissing back. She tried to imagine how it would feel, two fingers against her own lips simulating Dianas mouth. She could see it in her mind's eye, Diana closing the distance between their faces, the subtle smell of good scotch on her breath, just like the night they had gotten a little drunk together. Rell could still feel the whisper of the other woman's breath on the back of her neck as she had spoken. Just thinking about that sensation sent a tingle zinging up and down her body.
Abruptly pulling herself out of the developing fantasy, she glanced over at Diana as she slept. As far as the reporter could tell, the other woman was deeply asleep and, short of being disturbed by something coming into camp, Rell doubted anything would wake her until sunrise.
The past few days had been particularly trying for Rell. With her hands bandaged, and her body constantly aroused after the first night Diana had helped her undress, there had been little she could do to quiet some of her body's needs. Now that she had use of her hands again, she was stuck in the same sleeping bag with the woman who caused her heart to race just by looking at her. Rell checked on the tall woman again, finally deciding to risk it. If she didn't do something to calm her body's clamor, she didn't think she could be held responsible for anything that might happen. Besides, she thought, if I am quick and quiet, Diana will never notice a thing.
Closing her eyes, she called up what was quickly becoming her favorite memory of Diana. It was an image of the other woman, standing naked and relaxed by the side of some jungle pool they had found, still dripping from her brief swim. Lit from behind by the setting sun, the light bounced off the little water droplets that covered her body; it surrounded Diana in a rainbow haze so beautiful, that Rell had wished she'd had a camera so she could photograph it. Turning her head a little, Diana had let loose with one of those easy, heart stopping smiles she had in her arsenal of facial expressions, then reached out with one strong hand to help Rell from the pool.
Rell imagined that instead of reaching out to take her hand, Diana instead brushed her fingers lightly over the reporter's cheek. The stocky woman's own hand mirrored that movement in reality. She imagined Diana repeating that touch, only this time it continued down the side of her neck until her fingers rested on the reporter's shoulder. Diana entered the water again, stepping close to Rell, pulling her into a gentle embrace, one hand slowly running down the shorter woman's back, ending with her palm cupped over Rell's buttock. Soft lips began to nibble their way around the reporter's ear, whispering quiet nonsense sounds. Moving backwards, Diana eased both of them from the water, laying the other woman on a waiting bed of leaves.
One of Rell's hands had drifted over her chest, carefully supporting the weight of one breast as her thumb rubbed over the hardening nipple. The other hand began a slow journey further down her body until her fingers were easing their way through her little field of blonde curls. Skipping over her center, which already started to swell from the increased blood flow, and pulse gently with the beat of her heart, she stroked the insides of her thighs in the same way she was imagining Diana doing in her fantasy. She could feel the gathering dew of her own excitement as she watched Diana in her mind's eye.
Gently squeezing one breast, she allowed her other hand to make a sensual circuit of her stomach before returning once again to her center. Instead of passing over it, she slipped one finger through the swelling folds to press down softly on her sensitive nub for a moment. Moving it further, her fantasy lover slid one finger inside her moistening well, massaging the walls. Rell pushed her finger in deeply, biting down on her bottom lip to stop herself from groaning aloud. Withdrawing it again, she almost felt disappointed to lose the sensation, even though she knew it would be back again in a few seconds. The Diana in her mind teased the opening until Rells hips were starting to rise in search of that questing finger. Placing a second to join the first, she slipped both inside, delighting in the increased feeling.
She spent some minutes slowly sinking and withdrawing the full length of her fingers as she watched Diana doing the same in her mind. Not wanting to wake the real Diana beside her, Rell forced herself to lie still, her hips firmly pressed into the material of the sleeping bag beneath her. Her other hand, tiring of kneading her breasts, swept down, seeking her point of power. It lay nestled between her folds, bathed in slippery dew, waiting for her to pay it some attention.
In Rells her mind, Diana moved up her body to lay full length over her, two fingers still gently plunging into her opening, her thumb coming up to brush over her swollen place of pleasure. Rell's heart rate increased as she carefully began to stroke herself, feeling the sensations growing in her groin, flooding outwards to fill her entire body. She quickly matched the rhythms of both hands on her center as her lungs started to pant, trying to keep up with her heart's demand for oxygen. The power building up within her was quickly blocking her awareness to everything around her. No longer concerned with waking Diana, she increased the speed of her fingers, using a little more force to enter her flooding wellspring.
Rell quickly reached that point of no return where all she wanted was the release of orgasm, and nothing short of death was capable of stopping her. She felt the peak as it arrived, slamming her conscious mind into blankness for a moment, multi-colored lights streaking across her tightly closed eyes. Continuing to stroke herself rapidly, she rode the wave until she found herself exhausted on the other side. Gently massaging her center, she drew out the last few pleasurable shudders before letting her hands rest, quietly nestled between her tensed thighs.
Damn, she thought as she tried to get her breathing back under control. I most certainly needed that. Turning her head to one side, she checked Diana was still asleep, satisfied she had not woken the woman. Pulling her hands away from herself, she rolled onto her side facing away from the other woman, feeling tight muscles relaxing, to leave a humming afterglow in their wake.
At least it took the edge off, she considered briefly, yawning deeply before dropping into sleep without even being aware of it.
Dianas eyes opened groggily, unsure what had woken her from such a sound sleep. Turning her head slightly, to check Rell was okay, she noticed the intense expression of the little reporter's face. Wondering what kind of a dream the other woman could possibly be having, it took her a moment to become aware of the hurried, fluttering movements inside the sleeping bag. The tense, expectant energy flowing from the fiercely concentrating woman made Diana all too aware of what Rell was doing. Part of her cringed at the thought of watching such a private moment, even if it was happening right beside her. Another part of her mind avidly soaked in every impression it could pick up from Rell as the power of her release started to build.
A quickening pulse deep in her own groin made Diana aware of just how long it had been since shed last made love with someone - and enjoyed it. She forced herself to remain completely still, fearing any sound or movement would alert the other woman that she had a very appreciative audience. The scent of Rell's singular passion wafted up to Diana with every stroke of the reporter's hands over her heated center; the taller woman breathed in, relishing the odors.
The pitch and speed of Rell's hand movements suddenly changed as the peak drew closer, and Diana sensed the nearness of the release by the steady tightening of her companion's muscles. She tried to imagine what the stocky woman was actually doing under the cover of the dark sleeping bag. Diana found herself craving the sensation of gently sliding her own fingers into the Rells willing opening, and caressing the sensitive nub the other woman was stimulating so passionately.
Suddenly, most of the movement stopped and Diana heard the sound of Rell's teeth grinding together to try and contain any sounds of pleasure within her throat. It didn't stop the unbelievably low growl from rumbling deep in the other woman's chest and throat. She could sense the towering wave of sensual power Rell was riding, the flicking of her fingers not slowing for several moments. The taller woman felt the last slow strokes Rell was making and the gentle shudders of her body as she came off the high. Diana quickly closed her eyes, feigning sleep as Rell started to pay attention to the outside world again. She felt the other woman turn her head for a moment before rolling onto her side, her back to the tall woman.
Opening her eyes again, she glanced over at Rell, as her breathing evened out and settled into a sleeping pattern. I wonder what she was thinking about? Diana asked herself. Probably some man - maybe Peter. A tiny part of her hoped Rell had been fantasizing about a woman. It didn't matter whom, but it would leave a minute crack open to the possibility of feelings between them. Permitting her eyes to close again, Diana felt honored to have witnessed the intensely personal experience of Rell pleasuring herself. She felt only slightly guilty, yet honored none the less. Diana would never say anything to Rell about what shed seen, but it was a memory she would cherish for quite some time.
The old crone crossed the small compound and headed towards the hut where her closest friend, the leader of the tribe, lived. Stopping for a moment in the middle of the square, she looked overhead to see the stars subtly lighting the sky. She enjoyed the view over the inner rim of the mountain, especially when the moon was full. It gave the village a silvery glow that often tempted lovers out into the night air, although not tonight. The savage storm earlier in the day had cooled the air too much, making outdoor activities unpleasant. The priestess Ardeen, the last of her line, sighed deeply before continuing her journey across the compound. She had spent the day fasting and praying, trying to decide if what she knew was true, or merely some deep need to help save what was left of the tribe.
Entering the antechamber of the hut, Ardeen nodded at the guard. A long-standing agreement between herself and the leader permitted the priestess to enter the hut, including the bedchamber any time of the day or night. It was an honor she rarely needed to use, but tonight was different.
She was startled to find the leader still at her desk working on her parchments at this hour, perhaps a candlemark short of midnight.
"Well met, Meropa," Ardeen said as she entered the room. "I'm surprised to see you still laboring this late." Sinking gratefully into a comfortable chair in front of the desk, the old priestess tried to ignore the sound of her bones creaking in complaint at being out on such a cool night.
"Well met yourself, Ardeen," the Amazon leader replied, wearily laying her quill to one side, massaging the tiny, tight muscles in her hand. "And what brings you to my home this late at night?"
"Social call," the priestess joked. An easy understanding had grown between the old friends over the cycles.
"Try again, Old One," Meropa said, locking eyes with the other woman. "You would not be here so late if the reason were not a sound one."
The gentle smile on the old priestess' face dropped away to be replaced by a completely serious expression. "She's coming," Ardeen stated simply. "I saw her in a dream the other night. She brings the storyteller with her as well."
Meropa sat back in her chair, stunned at the news. She ran her fingers through her curly graying hair. "But the prophecy is so old, I thought it no more than legend," she finally said. "I won't ask if you're sure. You would not have come if youd had doubts."
"You told me yourself about the woman the scouts have seen on the plateau over the past few cycles. I think this is the same one, but she has finally found the bard," Ardeen said, a guarded tone in her voice.
"There's a problem of some kind, isn't there, Ardeen? I have been your friend too long not recognize that tone," Meropa asked.
The old priestess sighed deeply. "Yes, there's a problem. They are not yet whole. Each still hides from the other. I heard the heart's cry in my dream. There is such loneliness in their souls, but they do not see the golden thread that binds them tighter than any secrets between them," she explained unhappily. It always saddened her when two hearts called across the divide, yet were not able to hear the longing. She was an old woman, and had seen it too many times before.
"You know the prophecy as well as I, Ardeen. If they are not whole, they will never find their way to us. We are bound by honor not to assist them in any way until they pass the portal," Meropa said. A wicked glint suddenly lit in her muddy blue eyes. "I believe there is enough slack in the prophecy, though, to allow someone to watch over them until they reach the place of birth. Don't you agree?" the leader asked, cocking one eyebrow at the other woman.
"If I wasn't such an old priestess, I might be scandalized by such a suggestion, but even I know Artemis is a forgiving goddess. After all, she did give us the prophecy to start with, and instructions for where to leave the journey chronicles," she said.
In her heart, she silently blessed the priestess who had first received the prophecy, and taken the time to scribe out the first long sea-journey of the Amazons, so that one day the warrior would be able to find her way back to them. No one had really expected it to take two thousand summers for the prophecy to be fulfilled, but those were the gods for you. Timeliness was never one of their strongest virtues.
"In your dream, did you see where they were?" Meropa asked. "It would make them a little easier for the scouts to find."
Ardeen laughed lightly. "No. I don't know where they are, exactly. You know how vision dreams can be sometimes. I only know that they are close enough to be sensed. They may still be several days away from the portal."
The Amazon leader grumbled a little under her breath about the vagaries of dream states and how they made planning difficult. "I'll inform the scouts near the plateau to keep a close watch then. There is only one way to the portal and the women will have to cross the little plateau to reach it," she said.
"There is one more thing I should tell you, Meropa. I sensed pain. I think one of them may be hurt - not too badly, but maybe enough to stop them from completing the passage through the portal," Ardeen said.
"If they are whole, as you say they must be, then nothing short of death itself will stop them from reaching us," Meropa stated confidently. "Neither the warrior, nor the storyteller can stand in the way of their own destinies. If Artemis can believe they will find their way here, then who are we to doubt it."
Rising creakily to her feet, Ardeen looked deeply into the other woman's eyes. "Sometimes, I wonder who is the real priestess among us, you or me," she said seriously.
Meropa allowed herself to enjoy the laughter bubbling out of her. "I have enough to deal with here, Ardeen. Get some sleep, my old friend, and let me return to my parchments. I would like to see my bed before the sun peeks over the rim in the morning." Making gentle shooing gestures, she urged the old woman to leave, hoping Ardeen would take her advice and get some rest. Watching the other woman as she slowly left the room, Meropa wondered if the priestess felt as old as she herself did that night. Then again, it might simply be all the parchment work in front of her. Sighing, she picked up her quill and turned her mind back to the dullness of crop figures and how many sheep they could safely graze next season.
Ardeen chose to ignore Meropa's suggestion of rest. Her mind's Other Senses would have kept her awake anyway as they tried to keep track of the two women she had only read about in prophecy, and in the most ancient chronicles the Amazons had brought with them from their original homeland.
"It has taken them two thousand cycles to arrive, and they couldn't have chosen a better time," she mumbled to herself. Entering the gray-stoned marble temple the built by the first arrivals some two millennia before, Ardeen paused at the altar where she had spent the day in prayer and deep meditation. Easing down to her knees before the altar, she quietly spoke to the goddess who had guided her steps for most of her long life.
"Artemis, goddess of the hunt, patron goddess of the Amazon Nation. Your prophecy has brought hope back into the heart of an old woman. If these are to be your chosen ones, show me how I may ease their minds and souls when they realize they have a destiny among us. Guide me, Artemis, as you have done for so long."
The old priestess knelt quietly for some time until a gentle sense of peace slowly filled her heart. Climbing from her aching knees, she turned towards a set of roughly- cut stairs, polished smooth by generations of women walking over them. The stairs led into the depths of the mountain, to a series of chambers naturally occurring in the rock. Over the many cycles that the Amazons had lived inside the old volcanic basin, the chambers had been explored and then set up for various purposes.
Following the brightly-lit corridor to the far end, Ardeen unlocked the heavy wooden door to the last room. Pushing her shoulder against it, she managed to set the door swinging on its ancient hinges until she could open it enough to enter. Taking a candle from its sconce on the wall, she lit it from another just outside. Replacing it, she allowed her eyes to adjust to the lower light in the room. Surrounding her on all sides, were the carefully stored community possessions they had originally brought with them from their Mother nation. Many were so fragile they could no longer be handled and were spread beneath covers of thick glass so they could be safely viewed. Every Amazon girl-child was brought to this room at some point during her learning cycles so she could be taught about her history, and of the reasons behind the journey that brought the Amazons to the jungle.
In the far corner stood an ornate cabinet, built of rare local hardwood. Fashioned by the loving hands of a skilled master woodworker, it held what Ardeen saw as the most precious items in the village, if not the entire nation. Pulling the heavily patinaed brass key from the pouch at her waist, she inserted it into the lock and turned it. The locking mechanism had been designed so ingeniously, and crafted so cunningly that it opened with the barest of clicks, even though it hadnt been turned in several cycles.
Ardeen heard the faint creaking of the hinges as she opened the heavy wooden doors of the cabinet. Inside were two narrow wooden cases, again made of local wood and put together by the same loving hands that had built the cabinet. One was at least three arm lengths long, the other, only one and a bit more. She picked them up carefully and lay them on the nearby bench. Sliding the panel from the top of the longer one, it revealed an Amazon fighting staff, a narrow white merkin at one end. Ardeen lifted it reverently from its box, running her hands over the smooth wood.
"Will she know you when she holds you in her hands once again?" she asked the staff. "Or will she abandon her soul before she can accept her destiny?"
The priestess did not understand what sort of magic kept the staff from disintegrating; she knew that only the true owner of the weapon would be able to wield it. For any other to even try, it would mean instant death. This much she had seen with her own eyes as one young warrior attempted to use The Staff of Gabrielle as a way of taking the leadership as her own.
Laying the staff to one side, she pulled the panel from the shorter box. Nestled in the silken folds was The Sword of Xena. The metal scrollwork on the leather sheath glinted a little in the candlelight. It too appeared to be protected from aging by the same magic that protected the staff. The weapon was said to be so powerful that only the legendary Warrior Princess herself could possibly control it. It was sheathed in the same scabbard that the old stories said Xena wore strapped across her back her entire life.
Ardeen smiled for a moment remembering an old tale her mother had told her. According to the story, the only time Xena ever willingly removed her sword was the day she was joined with her soulmate. Xena had insisted, though, that it remain in her line of sight.
"Typical warrior," she muttered.
Ardeen carefully took the sheathed sword from its box, a little nervous that its power might somehow leap out to harm her. Then she picked up the staff and left the room. Once back in the main chamber of the temple upstairs, she lay both weapons on the altar, taking the sword from its sheath so the light of the many candles around the temple glinted from the blade.
"If you are truly the chosen of Artemis, then your weapons will call to you long before we show you they are here," she said aloud.
Ardeen retired to the little meditation room at the back of the temple to see if her Other Senses could pick up anything new about the two women headed their way. For the first time in many cycles, she was actually hopeful for the future of the Amazons, so did not begrudge the effort tracking them with her heart was going to take. Knowing they even had a future gave her more peace than she had thought possible. Settling into a comfortable position, she began to send her senses out into the night, seeking the two golden sparks she had seen in her dream.
Diana opened her eyes just as the first rays of the rising sun lanced over the tree line, illuminating the sky in brilliant pinks and sparkling golds. The very first thing she noticed was the weight resting against her right side. Glancing down, she saw the top of Rell's blonde head nestled into Dianas well-muscled shoulder. One of Rells arms was draped over her chest, just brushing where Dianas rib was broken. Then she noticed where the shorter woman had placed her legs well, one of them anyway. Rell's leg was tucked down between Dianas thighs, just a hair short of being pressed against Dianas center. Nice way to wake up, she thought. While she was trying to decide whether or not she really wanted to move, the other woman twitched several times then woke.
The tall woman could feel the heat burning across Rell's face when she realized how she had tucked herself around Diana during the night. Not sure if Diana was awake yet, Rell moved her head very slowly until she could look up into the dark-haired woman's face. She was hoping Diana was still asleep so she could ease away from Dianas body. Instead, she was greeted by an easy grin, and a soft "good morning."
The reporter tried to move away before the other woman could take offense at the intimate contact. Diana tightened her arm over Rells shoulders, causing her to look up in surprise.
"Get over it, Rell," Diana said simply. "Even friends hold each other at night."
"Ummmm, okay," Rell answered. "I just thought you might not like it, that's all."
"What's not to like about it?" the blue-eyed woman asked in all seriousness. Releasing her hold on the other woman's shoulders, Diana yawned, only stopping the deep in-drawn breath when her broken rib protested the unexpected movement.
"Still hurts, eh?" Rell asked, a little cheekily. She rolled onto her back, throwing her arms over her head to stretch out her own spine, grimacing in pain herself. "Ouch. Guess I get to hurt today as well," she commented, trying to extend her back a little more slowly. It was no more successful than her first attempt.
"Diana?" she queried, looking over at the other woman carefully levering herself into an upright position. "Is there any real need to rush off to that mountain today? I mean, we've been on the go for almost two weeks now, and a rest day might be really nice, especially after the battering we both took yesterday."
The tall woman thought about it, gently massaging the bruise around her broken rib. They were so close, less than ten miles, but once away from the river canyon, the jungle would thicken again before the women started to climb the mountain. She was not looking forward to swinging that panga knife with her rib still aching so much. And Rell probably could use a rest day, Diana thought, noticing the bruises and scrapes over the other woman's back as she climbed from the sleeping bag.
"Okay, I think we can take one day to rest and get all our gear dry," she finally said.
"Great," Rell said happily. "Speaking of our gear, where's my pack? I really need to get some more clothes," she asked, holding up the tattered remains of her trousers. Between the debris in the river, and the tall woman's struggle to get a semi-conscious Rell undressed, the clothes had become pretty torn up.
Diana ducked her head, pushing one embarrassed hand through her dark hair. "Ummm, it's still hanging over the edge of the canyon. I just didn't have the energy to pull it up once I got us over the lip of the ravine and then set up camp. I didn't think it would come to any harm, and it is waterproof," she admitted.
Rell walked carefully to the edge of the small gorge, aware the earth under her feet might have been weakened by the raging river the day before. Leaning forward, she looked over the edge to see her pack floating half in and half out of the water near the bottom of the canyon.
"Something tells me it isn't as waterproof as it used to be," she said.
"Shit. Your cameras," Diana swore, struggling to her feet.
"Should be okay," Rell finished. "I did wrap them in plastic bags to protect them a bit from all the humidity."
She watched the other woman climb painfully to her feet, supporting her broken rib with one hand. Part of her wanted to tell Diana to stay put, but they had been together long enough for the reporter to know how pig-headed the tall woman could be. Better to save the fights for something important, she thought. That immediately stopped her in her tracks. Why am I thinking about fights? she wondered. I've only ever had them with lovers in the past. She shook the thought from her head; she really didn't want to go there after what had happened between them the night before. She stood quietly until Diana was level with her and peering down into the ravine.
"Probably got punctured by something when you were in the river yesterday," Diana observed, watching the pack bobbing slowly in the water below. Reaching out with her right hand, she intended to start pulling the soaking backpack up. A surprisingly strong set of fingers suddenly wrapped themselves around her wrist before she had even touched the rope. Looking up, she saw the stubborn set of Rells face.
"Oh no you don't, Miss I'm-Too-Butch-For-My-Jungle-Pants. Let me remind you that you have a broken rib. I am more than capable of pulling my own pack out of the damned river - by myself," Rell stated clearly. "You can just go and sit back down again," she ordered, making shooing gestures with her free hand.
Unable to keep the half-grin from her lips, Diana moved away from the edge of the canyon and back to the fire in slow, only slightly exaggerated movements. She was well aware of Rell glaring at her the entire time, two solid fists set on defiant hips. Capable and stubborn, Diana thought, settling back on the sleeping bag to watch Rell battling with the heavy, waterlogged pack.
Once she was sure Diana was not going to get up again to help, Rell turned her attention to her pack. Taking a firm grasp of the taut rope, she inched the pack out of the water. Great, hairy, horny toads, she swore in her mind. This thing is heavier than I thought it would be. Maybe I was a little too quick to pass up the offer of assistance. Well, got myself into it, might as well get myself out again. Straining against the weight, she slowly drew her backpack upwards.
Diana had no intentions of moving once she had gotten herself comfortably settled, one protective hand supporting her rib in an almost instinctive gesture. For the moment, she was more than happy to watch Rells well-defined muscles rippling under tanned skin as the heavy pack was raised. The fact that Rell was still completely naked only made Dianas viewing all the more pleasurable. With Rell's concentration totally fixed on the rope between her hands, Diana allowed her eyes to blatantly drink in the sight of the reporter's nude body. Must sunbathe in the nude too, she thought, realizing the tan covered every square inch of available skin. The thought of gently running her fingers over all that sensitive flesh crossed Dianas mind for a moment. Forcing the image away, she reminded herself again: capable, stubborn, incredibly beautiful, and absolutely straight - don't you forget it for a second. Even though she knew she would never have her little fantasy fulfilled, she continued to watch the other woman drag her pack over the canyon edge.
Continued in Part 3
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