Indian Summer by Anne Azel

Indian Summer Part 3

Disclaimer: The characters of Xena and Gabrielle are the property of Universal Studios and Renaissance Pictures. No copyright infringement is intended. The characters and events in the Seasons Series are the creation of the author.

As always a good deal of credit has to go to Lisa, and Inga, my beta readers and friends, who work hard on these stories with me. Special thanks to Fran who fought and beat breast cancer.

Warning: This story is alternative fiction. Please do not read on if you are under age or if such material is illegal in your end of the swamp.

You can contact Anne Azel at <> Anne's books are also available through Dare 2 Dream Publications at <>

It was late at night and the family members had drifted back to their various homes. Ian had left earlier right on eleven to show he could be a responsible and trustworthy date for Reb. He had liked Reb's family although he was in a bit of a daze about spending an evening with so many famous and rich people. He thought about his parent's modest little subdivision bungalow. It would nearly fit inside the Williams' livingroom and kitchen. His dad worked as a floor manager in a small plastics factory and his mom had a job as a secretary in a school. What would it be like to take Reb home to meet his family?

It had been kind of weird too to be in a room that was mostly filled with lesbian women. He found, however, that in a very short time he had just forgotten about it. Who people were sleeping with was really not such a big deal as people made it out to be. He wondered how his family would react. He knew his parents were pretty liberal minded but they were of the generation that often confused bigotry for righteousness.

Mac had stayed on after her parents had left and she and Ryan had gone for a walk down to the lake. The night was clear and the stars hung close and brightly reflected in the still water. The air was fresh and crisp and Ryan hesitantly put her arm around Mac to share body heat as they sat on the wood bench by the dock.

"Wouldn't being gay ruin your chances at getting a place on a shuttle flight? I mean, I would think NASA is very careful of its public image," Mac asked.

Ryan squirmed with embarrassment. "I have to stay pretty much in the closet publicly. But there has been speculation in the tabloids over the years about my orientation. I just don't deny or confirm the rumours. It is hard to have a private life when you are a Williams. People are watching to see if I can live up to the name."

"Does that bother you?"

"I don't know if bother is the right word. I am driven by a need to prove myself for many reasons, you know that." Ryan wanted to be honest but she also needed some breathing space. She wasn't used to heart to heart talks. She changed the subject. "How is the Master's Degree going?"

Mac understood and let the conversation take a new turn. "Well. I'm just about finished my thesis on how Greek mythology has shaped our modern concept of the super hero. I hope to have my degree by the spring."

"Then what?"

"Marriage was the next thing on the list," Mac stated and felt Ryan stiffen. "Then I think I want to write like my Mom. I've already had a few short stories published in magazines."

Ryan got up and walked to the end of the dock to stare at the heavens. Someday soon she would be up there, free floating on the edge of the universe. It was something she had wanted since she was a child. She turned to look at Mac. "If it would make a difference, I will drop out of the Space Program and ask mom to lend me the money to buy out my commission."

Mac looked up in shock. "I would never ask that of you, Ryan. I know how much it means to you to reach your goals your own way."

Steady green eyes looked into blue. "I know you wouldn't ask. I am offering to do so because there is nothing in this world more important to me than winning your love."

Mac stood up and walked over to Ryan, hugging her close. "You have always had my love, Ryan. Always. I am just not sure that is enough. I am not sure if this is just another Williams who has to win at all costs and will lose interest once she does. I'm not sure if you really do love me."

Ryan swallowed hard. "How do I prove to you then that I love you?"

"I don't know. I'm pretty confused at the moment, Ryan. You coming back has really turned my world upside down."

Mac leaned her head against Ryan's chest and could feel her strong heart beating steadily. It felt right in Ryan's arms, far more so than when she was being held by Stewart. She wasn't sure that she and Ryan could ever make something work between them. She knew one thing for sure now, she wasn't going to marry Stewart because if only for tonight she wanted to know what it was like to have Ryan make love to her. She wanted Ryan to be the one, not Stewart.



"Make a fire in the boathouse fireplace and then make love to me, please."

Ryan wanted it to be perfect. Mac was giving her a wonderful gift and she meant to show her just how much she was loved. Ryan got a good fire going and while she waited for the chill and dampness to leave the room she lit some candles, turned on some soft music and closed the bolt on the door so they couldn't be disturbed. She was as nervous as if this was her first time.

Mac was nervous too. She watched Ryan move about the room with hungry but also embarrassed eyes. She had often dreamed of this moment but now it was here it was so real, so intense it was scary as hell. The room above the boathouse was large and beautifully decorated with a small bar, and comfy, overstuffed furniture. Sliding doors led onto a small balcony and beyond the lake and stars blended into one.

Ryan came over with two glasses of wine and they sat close looking out at the night in silence as they drank. Then Ryan put down her glass and stood, offering MacKenzie her hand. Mac rose and Ryan took her into her arms and swayed against her to the sound of the music. Mac's hands ran up the front of Ryan's shirt and wrapped around her neck, her fingers gently playing with the hair at the nape of Ryan's neck. She felt her soldier shiver with desire and decided that she liked very much that she could get that reaction from Ryan. She could feel herself wet with need.

They moved well together, bodies close and movements intimate. Finally, Ryan stopped and stepped back. She did not speak but instead used American Sign, Mac's first language. She signed confidently and Mac blinked back the tears that Ryan would have learned and maintained this skill for her.

"I have loved you from the moment you came into my life. I have waited for the day when we were each old enough and ready to share this very special moment. You are beautiful down to the centre of your soul. I know in my heart that you are the one that I am meant to be with." Then much to Mac's surprise, Ryan dropped to one knee and signed. "I do not want you to answer yet because I know you need time but I need you to know before we go any farther. I love you. Will you marry me?"

Before Mac could react, she stood and gently pulled Mac close again, dancing slowly to the smouldering music. Mac cried a little, then nestled into Ryan's arms. This was a gentle, loving Ryan that she had never really seen before. She dropped kisses on Ryan's neck. Ryan looked down at her and her head lowered. The kiss was fire spreading passion to the wet, warm folds of her being. She was swollen and ready to the point where the need was a hurt.

Ryan was in no better shape. With trembling hands she undressed Mac slowly and her trim, golden form standing in the firelight made Ryan squirm with desire. She stepped back, reluctantly breaking contact and slowly removed her own clothes and heard the gasp of pleasure as Mac's hungry eyes looked at her well toned and lean form.

Ryan stepped close again and the touch of their naked bodies together made them both moan with need. Dancing now as they explored each other with touches and kisses, Ryan was very aware of Mac's excitement wet on her thigh. She couldn't stand it any longer and stooped and picked Mac up into her arms, carrying her to the day bed. Her body lowered between the spread legs of the woman she loved and she felt the warm moisture of wet hair against her belly. "I love you. I want to make love to you. Is that still okay?" she whispered.

For an answer, Mac wrapped her legs around Ryan and reached up to capture her mouth with her own. She heard Ryan's soft growl of need as their tongues explored - entering each other's being, foreshadowing what was to come.

Ryan's voice came softly as she slowly let Mac get used to the touches, the feel, and the scent of her. She nuzzled at Mac's ear and the soft underside of her throat."There is always a faint scent of mountain herbs to your hair. I remember your youthful body and how it used to turn me on but those memories did not prepare me for the beauty of the woman you have become." Ryan's lips kissed small breasts, teasing the hard nipples with her tongue and letting her hands stroke and fondle soft, warm flesh.

"Oh Ryan," Mac moaned, bucking with need under the hard lean form.

Ryan's hands stayed on Mac's breasts but her head lowered, dropping kisses on a tight stomach and using her tongue to tease Mac's navel. "I am going to make you mine, lover. I'm going to enter you slowly and gently and do everything I can to make you feel all the love that I have for you. You excite me. Your soul lies gently with mine. This is right." As she whispered soft words of love and comfort Ryan slid down Mac's body and enjoyed for the first time the feel and taste of Mac's sex.

Her tongue caressed a swollen bud of desire and slipped between moist, hot lips to taste Mac's need. She felt the petite woman shudder with want and slowly she started to slip her two fingers into warm velvet. When she felt resistance she stopped and gave Mac pleasure with the rhythmic movement of her hand.

"Mac?" she asked.

"Take me. Take me,"came the soft answering moan.

Ryan pushed through and sensed Mac's pain, holding her close until it passed. Then she moved within her again. Slowly, gently, in the rhythm of love, she built the tension between them, whispering words of passion and need into the most intimate places of Mac's being. With a cry, Mac grabbed Ryan tight and went over the top in a long shudder of release. Ryan remained in her, feeling the contraction of her muscles around her fingers as the aftershocks still coursed through her lover's being. "I love you. I have always loved you and I always will," Ryan whispered and kissed the wet, warm sex of the only lover she ever really wanted.

They lay like that for sometime and then slowly, reluctantly Ryan withdrew from the warm centre of Mac's being. "You okay?" she asked, softly.

Mac looked at Ryan, now her lover. "I am a whole new person and I feel wonderful." She reached up and kissed Ryan's lips tasting herself there. The thought of where those lips had been just a short time ago rocketed sensations low into her being. "You are amazing."

Gently, Mac slipped down underneath Ryan's form, kissing and sucking on hard nipples and feeling her lover's hard muscles contract as she kissed along her abdomen. Then she was where she wanted to be. She wrapped her arms around her lover's thighs and buried her face in Ryan's sex. Ryan on hands and knees bucked with want as Mac's ate at her. Then fingers were pushed into her being and Ryan rode them as her lover enjoyed her sex. With a cry of release Ryan sat up contracting around fingers deep inside her. She was kneeing now over Mac's breasts her passion wetting Mac's hard nipples. With one last shudder she collapsed beside Mac totally spent.

Much to Aliki's surprise she woke to the smell of fresh brewed coffee. It wasn't often that she wasn't the first one up in the morning. Blurry eyed, she slipped into sweats and ran a comb through her hair before heading into the kitchen. Mac met her in the doorway and gave her a big hug and then poured her a mug of coffee. "You were so right, Aliki. Thank you."

Aliki smiled not sure what she was right about but glad that Mac was happier this morning.

"Good. 'Bout what?" she mumbled sleepily, taking a sip of the morning brew.

"Sleeping with Ryan."

Aliki choked and Mac rushed to pat her on her back. "What!?" Aliki managed to squeak out between gasps.

"I just got home. I stayed with Ryan last night."

Aliki held up a hand and bounced about the kitchen in a near panic. "I never told you to do that!"

Mac laughed. "Mom said you wouldn't be able to handle it."

"Your mother knows! You didn't tell her I told you to sleep with Ryan did you!" Horror was written all over Aliki's face at the thought of having to explain this one to her partner. "Because I didn't!"

Mac considered this. She was enjoying seeing her usually composed Mom in a state of total panic. "Well, not in so many words,"she conceded. "But you did tell me to be sure."

Aliki sank to a chair feel weak and shaky. "Are you okay?"

Mac smiled gently and came over and wrapped her arms around Aliki. She'd teased enough. "It was the most wonderful moment of my life. I love her very much and if it hadn't been for you I would have been too stubborn and hurt to see that."

Aliki's hands came up to pat Mac's. "That's the way it should be. So where do you go from here?"

Mac sat down and pulled her own mug of coffee over. "That's a tough one. Ryan has asked me to marry her. I haven't answered yet. I think I owe it to Stewart to end that relationship before I make any decisions with Ryan. I'm not sure whether Ryan and I are ready for a permanent commitment."

"Aah, how did your Mom take all this?" Aliki asked weakly, still in a state of shock.

Dawn came in then with Moppy on a leash and their old cat Sally-slurp following along behind. "I told MacKenzie that I was very relieved to have her following her heart instead of settling for conformity."

Moppy ran forward and stuck her big orange head under Aliki's arm demanding attention and almost knocking Aliki's mug of coffee over. "Dumb dog," Aliki muttered affectionately, scratching the dog's floppy ear. Sally-slurp jumped up and curled contentedly in Mac's lap.

Dawn came over and kissed Aliki's head and then joined them at the table. "You need to go wash up, Aliki. Ryan is coming over at eight to talk to us."

The look on Aliki's face was priceless but neither woman laughed until after Aliki had hurried off to shower. Mac's eyes looked thoughtful. "I wouldn't hesitate for a moment if I thought I could have the relationship you have with Aliki."

Dawn tried to be diplomatic. "Ryan has a brilliant mind, she's talented, and a hard worker, and I am sure she loves you."

Mac's sighed. "Oh she is all that alright, but she is also quick tempered, moody, driven, and totally confident that what she wants is right."

Dawn chuckled. "She is a Williams. But Janet seems to be able to handle Robbie with no problem."

Mac played with her now empty cup. "That's because Aunt Obbie believes that without Janet she would totally fuck-up. I don't have that leverage over Ryan. I'm going to have to live in the background while Ryan trains and flies off into space."

Dawn's eyes widened in mock shock. "Then more fool you! If Ryan is getting on with her goals then so should you. A commitment to someone does not mean that you can't have a life of your own. Ryan has five years to serve, you use those five years to make something of yourself. If you think you can make something work with Ryan it had better be an equal partnership or you will soon get to hate her."

Exactly at eight Ryan drove into the yard. Mac went out to meet her and they kissed holding each other close. Dawn watched from the window. It seemed so right and natural and yet she knew the decision to live an alternative life style was not an easy one. Still in Ryan's arm's Mac looked relaxed and happy. In Stewart's arms, she had always looked like an unhappy, little girl clinging to her big brother.

Aliki came up beside Dawn. "I never told her to sleep with Ryan,"she protested.

Dawn smiled. "I know, Sweetheart. You just gave her the push she needed to take a chance on love."

Aliki frowned. "What if it doesn't work out?"

"Then it doesn't. No what ifs, isn't that what you told her?"

Aliki nodded.

They sat down in the morning room and waited for their daughter and Ryan. Dawn's heart went out to the two of them when they walked in looking so happy and holding hands. Ryan clearly had raided her mom's wardrobe for the occasion. She was wearing pressed black dress pants and a brushed cotton grey dress shirt.

"Good morning," Ryan said formally, not able to hide her smile behind her formal manner. "I asked Mac if I could come here this morning because I wanted to tell you that I love your daughter and that I have asked her to consider marrying me. I hope you would feel comfortable in giving your blessing."

"Oh course we would, Ryan," Dawn said smiling before Aliki could say anything. "We want Mac to be happy. Come and sit down.

"We like you very much, Ryan. I think what we are going to ask is that you give Mac time to work things out. She is engaged to someone else as you know." Ryan looked stormy and her hand tightened around Mac's. "Mac needs time to be sure and to settle things in a way that will be kind and fair."

Ryan nodded. "I understand."

Aliki looked at Ryan with new respect. Ryan had grown up and the woman had control and better understanding of others. She had lost her chippy attitude. "You have to accept whatever decision Mac makes, Ryan," Aliki warned.

Ryan looked up with calm, sincere eyes. "I could never accept that I am not the one for Mac. I have always known in my soul that we were meant to be, but I give you my word that I will respect Mac's decision."

Aliki smiled and reached out and squeezed Ryan's shoulder. She liked the woman. She liked the old fashioned way she had come and asked for their approval. Stewart had not done that. He had merely announced that he had given Mac a ring and that they were engaged as if Aliki and Dawn should be thrilled.

Mac smiled. The approval of her parents was important to her. She thought of the discussions she'd had with Stewart about the awkwardness of her parents being lesbians and smiled. There wasn't really any need for awkwardness, that was just the outer trappings of bigotry. Today felt so much better.

It was time to let Ryan off the hot seat Dawn decided. "Well, if we are all meeting at ten to go explore the cave then we'd better get a move on." Ryan went home to change, and the Pateas family quickly got ready.

When Ryan walked into the morning room of her parent's house three pairs of Williams' eyes looked up at her filled with curiosity. "You are wearing my clothes," Robbie observed with a raise to her eyebrow.

Ryan nodded and licked her lips. This was harder than talking to the Pateas clan and that had been hard enough. "I went to ask for Mac's hand in marriage," she admitted.

Everyone looked at her in stunned silence. "Mac has stopped throwing dinner at you and has agreed to marry you?" Reb asked in exaggerated disbelief.

Ryan blushed. "Not exactly. I have asked Mac to marry me and we've - expressed our love to each other. Mac has things to work out yet. I...I'm trying not to push her."

Janet smiled. "Don't you think asking for her parent's approval is pushing it a bit?"

Ryan shifted from one foot to the other. She knew she was glowing red with embarrassment. Her family was not making it easy. "I...I just wanted to do things right."

Reb giggled. "Did you get down on your knees or did you just wear creamed peas?"

"Funny kid. Your turn will come."

Janet looked at the clock. " You'd better go change. Ian will be here soon and then we'll need to head over to the Potts."

With relief Ryan made her escape and headed off to change. A few minutes later, a soft tap came at her door. It was her mom. The two women looked at each other and then Robbie took her daughter in her arms. "You are quite the woman. I am so happy for you. I couldn't think of a better daughter-in-law to have."

"Thanks mom. She hasn't said yes yet though."

"She will. She couldn't find anyone who would love or care for her better than you would."

"I gotta tell you that was the scariest thing I have ever done."

Robbie chuckled and let go of her daughter. "Understood. Been there, done that." Her face went serious. "This is your home. You remember that and you and Mac are always welcome here. We will support you in anyway we can. Now hurry up. Ian is here and we are about ready to go."

With the three dogs running around the Potts backyard and David's picnic lunch stored in two knapsacks, the family headed off in the Pateas van and Ryan's jeep to explore the mine. They bumped slowly down Lover's Lane and came out in the clearing. Everyone piled out and there was a good deal of joking about Ian being the only male in the group. With smirks and knowing looks, the women all passed him their knapsacks, canteens, ropes, and other equipment until he was nearly buried in the stuff.

Ian took it all in his stride and spreading his legs and folding his arms he laughed. "Hey, you can't all be femmes there have to be at least a few dykes amongst you. Besides, I am more into swinging from vines and pounding on my chest than lifting and bearing." He wouldn't have believed a few days ago that he could have said something like that to Reb's parents but the family had quickly put him at ease and were so open and natural about their relationships that in a very short time he simply had accepted a different world view.

"Wouldn't you know, ladies, we gotta help the guy," Robbie laughed, and everyone came and picked up their stuff for the expedition.

The mine shaft went straight down about twenty feet and then seemed to tunnel out north from there. One by one they each rappelled down the rocky sides until they were crowded in at the base. Robbie and Janet led the way down the tunnel of rock. It was about two metres wide and four high and seemed to be more of a natural fissure in the rock than a man made tunnel although here and there they could see that it had been widened. The roof above their heads was sometimes rock and other times just a mass of roots and dirt. In places pencil-thin beams of sunlight penetrated the gloom.

Behind Robbie and Janet came Reb and Ian, then Aliki and Dawn and at the back were Ryan and Mac. Slowly, they followed the fault along for fifty metres or so. "This must have been open to the sky back a hundred years ago," Aliki commented.

Janet moved her light over the rock walls on either side of them. "It's certainly no mine."

"Maybe it's a sink hole that washes out through this fissure," Ian suggested.

Reb laughed. "Or that is where great-granddad's meteorite hit."

Dawn flashed her flashlight across the pebble and rock floor. "Look!" To their amazement, the uneven path shone with bits of gold.

"Wow!" Reb whispered.

Janet laughed. "Fools gold. Pyrite. So this was the river of gold. I wonder how many people got suckered in by those two old coots tale of riches."

Ian looked around carefully. "You can see a water line here on the rock. I'm thinking maybe a stream runs through here in the spring with the winter run off. That is probably what washes out the mineral deposits."

Janet sighed. "One thing is for sure, too many people got suckered with dreams of gold. I see light up ahead." They moved on but several of them picked up some of the pyrite as a souvenir.

Dawn looked at Aliki and winked. Years ago her uncle had found gold in the Swan Hills of Alberta. The nuggets he had panned had made Dawn rich. They didn't talk about it though. First, because they did not want the beauty of the area destroyed by miners and second, because Aliki was a little sensitive about the fact that she drew a very middle class salary for her work as a forensic anthropologist while many of the other members of her family, including her partner, were very rich. Dawn gave her partner a hug. There wasn't enough gold in the world to replace the one she loved.

They had to take off their packs and wedge sideways to get through the long thin crack in the rock that sloped on about a forty-five degree angle. Squeezing out one by one, they found themselves on a small grassy ridge. In front of them, the cliff dropped off sharply to join hills of tall pines that undulated to the shores of Lake Superior way below. The view was simply beautiful. A hundred metres behind them the cliff rose again ten or fifteen metres to a ridge of pines reaching for the sky.

"Awesome place!" Reb concluded and they all agreed.

The cliff that rose behind them was not made of the granite rock that they had found the fault line in but appeared to be made of layers of sand stone and shale. "An old shore line or lake bottom that got lifted up at some time," Ryan suggested, based on her one geology course at university years ago. "It is certainly lift and fold geological action. See how the stratification isn't horizontal but is on almost a forty-five degree angle and look, are they mine shafts?"

The others looked where Ryan was pointing. They could see the normally horizontal layers of rock were on a sharp angle and that ten or fifteen dark spots on the cliff face indicated the entrance to caves or tunnels.

"Yes!"laughed Robbie, nearly bouncing with glee. "Ladies and token male, pick your cave and let the fun begin!"

They spent several hours checking out the low caves and tunnels, for some of them proved to be natural while others had been mined. Then they stopped for lunch. The conversation was the usual banter of Williams' wit. Mac, however, was quieter than usual. Ryan kept glancing at her wondering what she was thinking and hoping against hope that Mac was not going to turn her down. As soon as the picnic was over and couples started to break up to tackle the higher caves, Ryan whispered into Mac's ear. "I love you. Please don't leave me."

Mac looked up, startled to see the worry in Ryan's eyes. "Ryan...I'm sorry...I wasn't thinking about us."

Ryan's face crumbled into misery. "Oh."

"No silly, I was thinking about the shaman cave."

"What shaman cave?"

"Ryan! Aunt Janet's granddad's shaman cave."

Ryan snorted. "By all accounts, my great granddad wouldn't have known the truth if it was squeaking under his foot!"

Mac laughed and took Ryan's arm. "I know he could tell a good story but it seems to me there is always a grain of truth in what the old guy said. There was a hole in the ground. It's just that it was a sink hole not a meteor crater. There was a river of gold, but it's pyrite. So I figure there is a First Nation site too - of some sort."

Ryan rolled her eyes. "Let me guess, you have to find it."

"Of course. If it is a place of the ancestors, a sacred place, then I want to see it"

Ryan opened her mouth to say something then saw the intensity of the conviction in Mac's face and thought better of it. Learning about and respecting Mac's mixed heritage was something she was going to have to do. "Okay. Where are we going to look?"

Mac looked out over the panoramic view of Lake Superior far below. "I'm going over the cliff."

"No you're not!"

Mac looked at her. Ryan squirmed as warring emotions argued it out in her head. When she spoke it sounded peevish. "I suppose you are going to tell me the Salish are natural climbers from living on the edge of the Rockies for thousands of years."

"No. I'm going to remind you I have my advanced certificate in rock climbing," stated Mac pointedly. "I am qualified to instruct and I have paramedic training."

Ryan felt the embarrassment climbing up her face. "Sorry." She hesitated and then went on. "I might need some instruction."

Devilment flashed in Mac's eyes. "In rock climbing or tact?"

Ryan laughed. "Can we start this conversation again. "You think the Shaman cave is over the cliff, why?"

"Because it would show courage to get there and that is important." Mac moved over to the edge carefully and dropped down on her stomach to look over the side. The vertigo hit with force and she felt like she was sliding off the edge. Then she felt Ryan's strong capable hands on her legs.

"Thanks Ryan." Mac gave herself a few seconds to get used to the drop under her and then scanned the cliff face. It didn't take long to find the spot. She could still see the faint traces of red ochre of pictographs. "We are going to need a rope."

Reb and Ian had followed Dawn and Aliki up a rock chimney. Backs against the one rock face and feet braced against the other, they wiggled crab style up about twenty feet to a large, relatively flat ledge. The old wood supports not far inside the mouth showed that this cave had been mined and fairly extensively. Carefully, checking for cracks every so often, they moved deeper into the cave. It went in nearly twenty metres in a fairly straight line. Here and there they could see chippings along the side or cold drill bores where the miners had taken samples or had planned to branch off in other directions.

Reb found an iron hammer chisel and farther on Dawn found a rusty old oil lantern. Having come to the end without any further discoveries they made their way back down.

Janet and Robbie had chosen a cave farther along than the others but it turned out to be only a short passage. On the way down, however, Robbie pointed out a dark, low recess almost completely covered by bushes some distance away from the other caves. They had traversed the rock face carefully making their way over to the spot. The opening was several metres wide but less than a metre high so they had crawled in on their bellies side by side.

"Watch your plastic balloon thingy," Robbie cautioned.

Janet rolled her eyes although in the sudden darkness Robbie couldn't see. "What is the point, Robbie Williams, of getting breast reconstruction if you are going to keep reminding me I have an implant."

"Sorry...but be careful."

Janet gave her lover a poke. When Robbie decided to worry about something she gave it the same intensity that she did everything else. Janet moved her flashlight beam around in a slow arc. The cave was large inside, about the size of a standard livingroom. The two women crawled forward and stood up. The blackness seemed to fight back the light from their torches. Cutting the darkness in slices, they could see that the cave had been used over the years as a shelter. Smoke blackened rock and bits of charred wood marked several old fire pits. On the far side the rock rose sharply. Here someone had used charcoal to express their discouragement on the rocky wall. 'No gold, No money, No luck. Haunted. Moran 1898.'

They circled the cave carefully but there was nothing else to see until Robbie discovered that a narrow crevice high on the far side led into another chamber. She crawled up and stuck her arm and head through so she could look around.

"It's another chamber, Janet. Come see."

Janet crawled up and Robbie moved aside so her partner could have a look. "It looks about the same size as this one. Lower though. It looks like quite a drop."

"About five feet and then a steep bank down to the cave floor. I think we can do it. Do you want to try?"


Robbie slipped through feet first and got herself balanced on the steep embankment. "You'll have to be careful, Janet. It's slippy and muddy."

"Okay." Janet wiggled through, being careful of her implant although she certainly was not about to admit that to Robbie. She felt Robbie guiding her legs down to the ground. The mud oozed around her boots. "Uck!"

"It looks like sediment must wash from the upper cave down into here. Careful going down." Robbie had barely got the words out of her mouth when the ground beneath them started to crumble and slide. Their feet slipped out from under them and they went skidding down the hill in a avalanche of mud and stone.

Janet landed on her back and had the time and sense to tuck her arms over her chest and cover her face. Still, she took an awful pounding on the way down and from her shoulders down, she was deeply buried in debris. Robbie was not so lucky. She tumbled and bounced to the bottom in a wall of mud and rock and was buried.

Mac and Ryan had rappelled down the cliff face and then edged along a narrow shelf to the mouth of the cave. It was not deep, only four or five metres but Ryan could stand upright inside. On the walls were pictographs and pictoglyphs made by the First Nations hundreds of years before.

"Do you know what they say?" Ryan asked, her voice almost a whisper. The simple cave had a presence about it. A feeling of sacredness. Ryan felt very much an intruder.

"No not really. This culture is very different from my own. I could guess at some of the uses and meanings. This is a very sacred place. These female figure pictoglyphs or carvings on the floor with the hole dug in the pelvic area are fertility cult symbols." Ryan looked shocked. "No, it's not what you think. The hole might have been used for semen but it was more likely used for an offering of corn, tobacco, or sweet grass. It helped ensure the health and wealth of the tribe."

Ryan nodded but said nothing. This was not her world and she had much to learn. "See here. The old fire pit has a ring of granite rock but there are also more porous sandstone rocks inside the ring. I suspect that this is a dream house. The cave front would be covered with a hide and these porous stones would be soaked and placed on hot embers to create a steam bath. The people would fast and clean their bodies and souls to enter into a dream like state to be in tune with the spirit world."

Ryan, squatting on her heels at the entrance of the cave, looked out at the magnificent view far below. A canopy of trees in golds and reds dotted with the deep green of evergreens ran in a wide arc framing the great lake that sparkled in the autumn sunlight until it mixed with the blue of the sky. Inland a high cliff formed a necklace that separated the trees below from the craggy hills behind. It was clean, pristine and beautiful wilderness. "I don't know how you couldn't feel close to the spirit of the land here."

Mac smiled. Ryan was trying to understand and that pleased her. "Over here the red and black ochre paintings or pictographs are easier to read. The dots represent days and the wiggly line water. So it was a four day trip over water to here. The circle means fire and this triangle shape an island. So they camped on an island somewhere near by. Probably that one out there," Mac pointed.

Ryan looked at the symbols on the walls with new interest. "That is fascinating. So the First Nations really did have a written language."

"Not so much a language as universal symbols for communication. Before the Europeans arrived, the First Nations had trading links from coast to coast and right down into Mexico. A lot of the lighter colours have faded away. They used white, yellow, red and black to represent the four directions."

Mac looked suddenly sad. "I think the place has been violated by people who should never have been here. I'd like to do a purification rite from my own people. Would that upset you, Ryan?"

Ryan looked out over the panorama. She had no god and yet up here, with the breeze gently caressing her face, she could believe if only for a little while. "You do whatever you have to do to put things in balance again. Any little bit towards peace and harmony has to be good."

She sat at the mouth of the cave, her back to Mac, giving her soul mate the privacy to perform the rituals that would give her and this place peace. She could hear Mac's soft voice chanting softly in her Salish tongue and after a while she could smell sweet grass burning. Mac always carried sweet grass usually braided into a thin bracelet or woven into a hair band. She always wore her spirit bag too but this she never opened nor revealed what was inside. Ryan knew it would carry the symbols of her totem - her spirit.

After a while, the chanting stopped and Mac came and sat beside Ryan. "I am glad you came, Ryan." Glad - Ryan's gut crunched. Glad was not a word you used about someone you loved. If Mac noticed the tightening of Ryan's jaw she didn't react but kept on with what she had to say. "You made me realize that I would be endangering who I am in marrying Stewart. It would have been an awful mistake."

"I wouldn't stop you from being who you wanted to be."

Mac looked out over the spectacular view with eyes darkened with worry. "I don't know, Ryan. You are a Williams and whether you are willing to admit it or not that means you will steam ahead through life using your intelligence and talent to achieve whatever you want. I don't see how I fit into that picture."

"I am not asking you to fit into my picture. I just want to form a composite."

Mac laughed and leaned over to kiss Ryan's cheek. "You are impossible. Come on, we'd better be heading back. The others will be wondering what happened to us."

Reb and Ian had continued to explore caves looking for Robbie and Janet while Aliki and Dawn had called it a day and had climbed down to the small meadow once again. They packed things up and made sure the site left no trace of them having been there and then lay down in the grass to cloud gaze.

"Ian seems nice," Aliki stated after a while.

"Were you looking forward to having a son-in-law, Aliki?"

The scientist considered this in her logical, analytical manner. "Not Stewart. He's a stuffed shirt. Having a son-in-law would have been alright. I'm used to males having grown up in a house with a dad and three brothers." She went silent for a bit and then continued. "It would have been easier for Mac if she had not been a lesbian. You know what I mean."

"Yes, I know."

"What do you think?"

Dawn turned around so her head rested on Aliki's strong, lean chest. "To be truthful, I am not sure what I think. Ryan and Mac are meant to be together but I am not sure that Mac is strong enough to stand up to Ryan. I don't want to see her losing who she is. I mean, she was prepared to live a lie with Stewart. I don't think you can ever really be happy if you are forced to be someone you are not by your partner. I'm glad she is going to end her engagement to Stewart. I am worried about her not being strong enough to handle Ryan. You bunch are all...well, olives!"

Aliki tugged gently on a piece of Dawn's hair that she had been curling around her finger. "Hey! I'm not a Williams!"

Dawn snorted. "You all share the same blood and believe me you are an olive!"

"Is there anything we can do to help Mac?"

"No. And that's the hardest thing about being a parent. You do your best to train them to be strong, compassionate and intelligent people and then you have to stand on the side lines and watch your kids play in their own game of life."

Aliki thought about this for sometime as she sky watched. "I wish I had those years back so I could tell Mac what was ahead and prepare her better."

Dawn laughed. "You and every parent on the globe."

It was a few minutes later when Reb and Ian showed up looking worried. "I can't find Obbie and Mom. Ian and I have looked everywhere."

Dawn, who had got up at the sound of running feet, put her hand on Reb's shoulder. "Don't worry. Ryan and Mac are not back either. I imagine they are all together." But when a short time later, Ryan and Mac arrived having, they said, gone climbing on the main cliff face, the others started to get worried too.

"Isn't that typical of my sister to get herself lost," muttered Aliki, scanning the cliff. "What cave were they going to explore?"

The group spent the next hour retracing their steps and calling for Janet and Robbie. As the sun had shifted off the face of the cliff the shadows had moved and changed, making it harder to find the caves. They gathered at the base of the cliff once again. Aliki looking at her watch with concern. It was nearing four o'clock. They did not have more than three hours of sunlight left.

"Reb, you and Ian head back up to the truck and telephone George Drouillard to call out the fire department. We are going to need more people. Meanwhile, we'll start over and check the caves once again."

Reb nodded grimly and headed off with Ian at her heels. The others watched them go, fear now eating at their guts. It was Dawn who shook them from their shock. "Come on. They would be back by now for sure. Something has happened. We need to find them before it gets dark."

Once again the four climbed up to the caves, calling Robbie and Janet's names and checking each cave carefully. Mac could feel Ryan's fear like a cold mist that made them both shudder. Ryan was devoted to Janet and had easily accepted her as her other mother. Her relationship with her biological mother was far more difficult. But for all the problems Robbie and Ryan had with their mother-daughter relationship there was no doubt that Ryan adored her mother. Part of the problem had always been Ryan's near pathological need to prove to her mother that she was worthy of being Robbie's daughter. Mac reached out and rubbed Ryan's back. "It's going to be okay, Ryan."

The response was choked with emotion. "It's always okay but one of these times it isn't going to be. They've gotta understand they're getting older and can't keep taking chances."

Janet smiled. "They are risk takers just like you are but they are not irresponsible. You can be sure they would take every precaution and that they know what they are doing." Ryan nodded, too emotional to respond. Why had she stayed away so long?

Dawn and Aliki stood at the mouth of a cave that they had just checked trying to decide where to go next. Aliki's eyes darkened. This was so like her sister to get herself lost. It never occurred to Aliki for a minute that this might be Janet's fault. Janet was the reliable, sensible one of the pair. Just like Dawn kept her on an even keel. Aliki looked down and pulled Dawn to her dropping a kiss on her partner's head. "I'm lucky to have you. Let's try that cave over there."

"I'm with you," Dawn replied, giving her worried partner a reassuring hug.

Reb and Ian had hurried along the rocky fissure back to the vehicles where telephone communication could be established. She flipped up her phone and pressed George Drouillard's number. For many years George had been the fire chief but a few years ago he had stepped down and her mother had been voted in as chief. George though was still second in command. "Mr. Drouillard. It's Rebecca. My moms are missing up at the old mine down Lover's Lane. We came out to explore the caves and they didn't come back. It's getting late and we don't have much sunlight left to look for them. Thanks. Okay. Could you stop at my Aunt Elizabeth's and Uncle David's and pick up Dufus. He knows how to track Obbie."

Reb flipped the cell phone off and bit her lip in worry. "We are to stay here and wait for the guys so we can lead them to where the others are," she explained.

Ian nodded not knowing what to do or say. Things like this didn't happen in his family but he got the feeling in Reb's this was not unusual. "Is there anything I can do?" He put his arm around Reb's shoulder but feeling her restless energy and nervousness he gave her a brief reassuring squeeze and let go again.

"No. We'll just have to wait. Dufus will find them. I hope." She put the her cell phone away and wrapping her arms around herself she paced back and forth. Ian leaned against Ryan's jeep and waited.

George called a 911 immediately and cursed his way into his rescue gear. Janet was one of them. Her family went back to the first pioneers who had settled in the Bartlett area.

The arrival of Robbie Williams in Bartlett had been a shock but also a blessing. Her companies and support had taken a small, northern community that was struggling to get by and made it a viable concern. Many of the citizens' lives had been improved because of the Williams' corporation.

Not that it had been an easy transition. Having an openly lesbian couple in town was to say the least awkward. George had come to accept the relationship as had the others who worked with Robbie on the volunteer fire department. She had become one of the guys and Janet and Robbie's daughters, Ryan and Reb, had both been accepted as members of the team. It took some getting used to though having women doing men's work. But he figured that you had to move with the times or be left behind.

There were those in town that were being left behind. You were either for the Williams or against them and that had certainly split the community. Still over all, people had warmed to her especially as she had sorta married in what with living with Janet Williams and Robbie's sister marrying David Potts.

He headed out of his small motors shop as firefighters were starting to arrive, pulling their cars and trucks into any available space. One of the arrivals was David Potts leading Dufus on a leash. Those firefighter volunteers who lived close would ride in the truck or follow behind while those farther away would meet them at the site. George pulled open the doors on the new shed to reveal the emergency rescue vehicle that Robbie and Janet had given to the town a number of years back to help with the medical emergencies that were on the rise. More and more city folks had bought in the area and built homes or cottages, swelling the small town's population. He knew that the Williams were also part owners in the new medical clinic that had been built in town. That was the good side of them. The down side was a lot of time and energy seemed to be spent in rescuing that family from one thing or another.

"Come on boys, we gotta rescue Robbie and Janet again. They got themselves lost up at the old caves looking for the river of gold, I suspect. You know how damn curious that family is."

The others laughed but still took the situation seriously. Within minutes, they were on their way.

Janet had somehow spun around as she had skidded down with the debris. So when her forward movement had finally stopped she was facing head down buried up to the shoulders in mud and rock with her legs higher than her head. She tried to move her feet and discovered that other than wiggling her toes inside her boots, she was pinned tightly by the debris. The blood running to her head and the total darkness around her made her feel disoriented and kind of sick. "Robbie!" No answer. "Robbie?"

With effort, Janet managed to free one arm and then worked to get the other one out. It was slow and difficult work. Each small movement caused loose rocks and stones to rain down on her face and she was afraid of being buried alive. Still she knew she had to take the chance and hurry because if Robbie was buried she would not have long.

The cold and pain crept into Janet's body along with fear. She could hear herself whimpering as she worked to free her other arm. The flashlight she knew was on a cord around her wrist. She was hoping it had survived and stayed on her wrist and that she could use it to locate Robbie.

Suddenly, there was a glare of light in her face that was blinding. She closed her eyes against the pain and watched the red and orange swirl across her vision as she wiggled the rest of her arm free and grasped the torch. Stones and dirt bounced around her but she was beyond fear now and just working mindlessly to free herself.

Finally the arm and flashlight broke free of the dirt and with a cry of relief Janet fumbled to get a good grip on the torch. "Robbie?" She tried to control her panic as she forced herself to move the beam in a slow arc of the room. The beam quivered reflecting her shock and nervous tension.

Nothing. "Robbie!"

Then there, she had seen something out the corner of her eye. She moved the beam back. Only a few feet ahead of her, she could see the dirty tangle of a few strands of hair sticking out of the mud. Robbie was buried.

Janet reached out as far as she could and could not quite reach the dark locks. She sobbed in frustration and fought against her imprisonment. Over and over she reached but she was just that little bit too far away. She wiggled and strained and suddenly something gave. Rock and mud slid forward and she fought in a panic to stay on top. When it settled once more, she again focussed her flashlight where Robbie lay buried. By some miracle or blessing of the gods, she had slipped farther down but on an angle that brought her within a few centimetres of her partner. There was no time to be either careful or gentle. She wrapped her hand in the hair and pulled for all she was worth. Mud and stones shifted and ran farther down the hill and Robbie's head and shoulders, grey with mud, came clear of the muck. "Robbie?"

Janet cleared the mud as best she could from Robbie's nose and mouth. Her partner was not breathing. Fear gripped Janet's insides. Twisting her head and shoulders at a painful angle, she started mouth to mouth.

Continued in Part 4.
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