By Anne Azel
Disclaimer: The characters of Xena and Gabrielle are the property of Universal and Renaissance Pictures. No copyright infringement is intended.
My thanks to the readers who have been so kind in showing their appreciation of my stories. You are a great bunch! Special thanks to Lisa and Inga, my patient beta readers.
Warning: This story is alternative fiction, please do not read on if you are underage or if such material is illegal in your end of the swamp.
Special Note: I have described Machu Picchu and Huayna Picchu as they were. Sadly, a serious drought followed by a devastating fire recently has seriously damaged the stone work of Machu Picchu and almost destroyed Huayna Picchu.
Robin Bradley was squished into the centre seat of the centre row of an overcrowded 747. At least a sardine has the advantage of being dead, she thought, trying to remove the cellophane from her dinner without elbowing the lady next to her in the face. I don't understand why planes are not highjack for the purpose of throwing every other person off to make some leg room! And the toilets! Why don't they put up signs for the men telling them that you can't aim straight in turbulence and to sit down! That or issue wading boots at the door!
A steward came around and took away Robin's dinner tray. With relief, she folded up her table into the back of some else's seat. Wow! Six more inches of space all to myself! Now fortified with dinner, Robin pressed the button to lower her seat back and closed her eyes hoping to sleep through the next six hours.
Her mind, however, was too excited to rest. So this was it! She was really headed for Peru! It had taken six months of hard work to sell her idea to the network and then to finally get permission from the Sate Department. Three times, she had been refused and then, suddenly, everything had been approved and she was on her way. She mentally went through the list of things she needed to do, her mind gradually drifting, and finally returning to that night over ten years ago.
Robin had found the prefect spot! Let the others sleep close to the exhaust fans behind the Chicago main library or huddled in doorways until they froze, she had a better plan. Each evening during the rush hour, she would take the subway to the end of the line. Rush hour was the best time to sneak through the turnstiles without paying. Robin was an expert at it. Even when she was suspected, she had that innocent sort of decent face that made the operators doubt their suspicions.
At the end of the subway line, she would pick up the jogging trail and head up past the beautiful homes with their manicured gardens that sloped down to Lake Michigan. It took about forty-five minutes, on a good day, from the downtown area to get to the old, gracious house on the hill. Up there the air was cleaner and the beauty of the gardens made her feel happy. Also there was a heated garage converted from the original stables.
Robin had come to think of the garage as her home and the people who lived in the big house as distant cousins. She had a family, of course. Her parents had owed a run down tavern in a working class neighbourhood. People liked her parents. They would often sit and drink with their customers. Sometimes, they would drink too much and on those nights, Robin could never figure out which of her parent's was abusing the other.
She had grown up unwanted, unloved and spoilt with material goods. At fourteen, she had run away with her eighteen year old boyfriend whom she had been seeing secretly. Six months later, he had left her on a street corner, ending a relationship that was going nowhere. She was fifteen now and street wise. To her knowledge her parents had never looked for her. She did okay. Stole for what she needed and found good places like the garage to call home. When life became unbearable, which it did more and more frequently now, she would go with Roger. Roger would give her drugs in return for a roll in the hay. He liked kids and Robin looked younger than her age.
She never went near the house until she was sure the servants had left for the day. She knew the owner, well, knew of him. Tsakiris was his name. He was a Greek, a self made man who was now a multi-millionaire. He'd married a black American, who had been a dancer with the Detroit, African Dance Company.
Robin had seen her too, on Roger's T.V. set. She had her own talk show now. The only person Robin had seen in person was their daughter though. She was tall, graceful, and stunningly beautiful. Her skin was the colour of coffee with cream and her eyes were an amazing winter blue. She drove a B.M.W. with a parking sticker on it that said Chicago State University. Robin liked to know about the family. They were her family. She had tried to explain this to Roger one day after they had sex. But Roger had laughed and told her that she was just white trash and that no respectable family would have anything to do with her. Roger was right.
It was snowing hard that night, and the winds were howling, as they are famous for doing in Chicago. Roger had given her a hit that morning telling her that it was really good stuff but now she felt really sick. It took all her strength to get to the garage and when she did she found it locked. Her numb mind and her exhausted body could not think what to do. In the end, she had curled up under the boughs of a blue spruce. It smelt good in under there, and she was warm and tired and could finally sleep.
Joey had found her, and saved her life. She'd carried her into the big house and cared for her. Joey was wonderful. Joey knew and could do anything. She would take her places and would bring Robin small gifts that made the tears spill from her eyes. She loved Joey. She still loved and needed the drugs too. Secretly, she would go with Roger. Joey didn't know. Joey was too nice.
When the drugs were found in Joey's car, Joey had no idea how they had got there. She was arrested and her parent's had to fly home from their world cruise. Roger had planted them there, of course, and then tipped the police. Roger was a pimp and he hadn't wanted to lose a girl he was training up for the business.
When Robin had found out, she had gone to the police station. She couldn't tell them about Roger. He would kill her. Instead, she told them that Joey was a sucker. That she had planned to put the touch on her for money and then clear out everything from the house she could sell and skip town. She told them she was the addict and that she hide her supply in Joey's car. Joey was there, sitting at the table when Robin confessed. Her hands still in the metal cuffs. Robin would never forget the look of betrayal and hurt in those blue eyes.
Robin started awake. They were not far out now. Why the hell was she doing this!? Joey must hate her! Her mind drifted back six months, when she had met Gunnul and Jamie, in Turkey. They had told her about the Others, all the couples that seemed to be descendants of the original Host pair. Gunnul and Jamie believed that they were all somehow caught in some sort of a loop in the space/time continuum. Somehow, the love that the Others were able to find for one and another, despite the obstacles, was being used to help the Hosts through their own crisis. They had asked Robin to play her part. In order to maintain the equilibrium of events, somehow she had to resolve the rift that existed between her and Joey.
The seatbelt signs flashed on and the pilot's voice came over the intercom to let them know that they were fifteen minutes out of Lima, Peru. This was it. There was no turning back! Her hands clenched into tight fists as she steeled her nerve to face the most important challenge of her life.
She had worked hard, finishing up her last year of highschool while in prison, and then applying to a local collage to study journalism. She'd worked as a proof-reader at a big daily to help finance her studies. After graduation, she'd been hired by a small newspaper in Tallahassee, Florida and had later made a switch to t.v. reporting. It had been a hard climb back, but she had owed Joey that.
Ambassador Joanne Tsakiris sat at her carved mahogany and gilt desk and wrote with a graceful hand across the page with a fountain pen. The room was designed to impress. The two end walls were lined with books. Across the large room from her, a sitting area formed a U around a crackling fire framed by a mantel piece of marble. Behind her, a wall of french doors opened out into a walled garden.
They would start with onion and truffle tarts. This would allow her to serve the new Gewurztraminer
that the American Wine Growers were anxious to promote. Then, a salad of mixed greens with New England strawberry dressing over pine nuts. An orange sorbet served in small, delicate cones would then be offered to clean the palette in preparation for the fish course. They would have Washington State rainbow trout accompanied with a prize winning California Chardonnay. The main course would be Texas beef served with fiddle heads and Idaho baked potatoes. A red wine, for this course, the Lagrein from that small winery in Maine. Then they would finish with a selection of American cheeses and fruit and serve the Cabernet from Rhode Island.
Joey sighed; she needed a degree in home economics not a doctorate in international affairs! She pressed a button on her desk and a few minutes later, Perkins walked in barely making a sound on the thick carpets. "Perkins, this is the dinner menu for the third. Please, remind the Sargent that it's regimental dress. Let the cook know that we'll be sitting forty."
"Yes, Ambassador Tsakiris," responded her attache. " Here are the applications for emigration. I don't feel you will be comfortable recommending any of them to Immigration. This stack is the requests for visas waiting your signature. I remind you, Ambassador, that the Senate Committee reviewing the progress of the Organization of American States will be meeting in October. Your report on Peru's readiness for a free trade partnership needs to be submitted by the end of this month.
Joey listened as she scanned her mail box, clicking on messages that she felt needed priority. "All ready done, Perkins. I just want to have one more meeting with the Association of South American Bankers, to make sure my figures are current before submitting. Is there anything else?"
"Thank you, Perkins."
Joey answered those messages that needed immediate attention. Then she stood and looked out the french doors to the garden beyond. It was a scaled down replica of Thomas Jefferson's walled garden.
Always, there were walls. There were walls inside walls; brick walls, security walls, fire walls, walls of protocol, it never ended. It was like being a prisoner. Is this what she wanted to do for the rest of her life?
She was proud of her success. Proud to represent the United States of America. Her father told her that she was ear marked for greater things in the diplomatic service. Her mother asked her if she was happy. Was she happy?
She frowned and wandered over to the grand piano that sat in front of one wall of books. Sitting, she did a few scales to warm her fingers up. Her mother would have liked her to become a concert pianist. The soft, sorrowful sound of an old Spiritual drifted through the room. Gradually, the rhythm picked up and the melody transformed into familiar Minstrel numbers, then fragmented and reformed into the fast, rhythmic beat of Swing. The patterns became more integrate and varied, the style now clearly Jazz. Slowly, the notes mellowed out into Blues. Once again, the haunting melody of the old spiritual reappeared then ended abruptly in a sour cord.
Joey stood and walked back to the windows. It was Robin Bradley that was responsible for her melancholy mood. Why had she over-ruled security to allow Robin to come and do her documentary? She wasn't sure. Partly, curiosity, she supposed, to see how Robin had turned out and partly, to promote the work of American Embassies throughout the world.
Who was she trying to kid? She just wanted to see Robin. She had loved the way Robin's face used to light up with devilment. She loved the way she laughed so easily, and got such joy out of simple things. Robin had made Joey happy. It was the only time in her life when she felt free. She just did things with Robin spontaneously, and didn't worry about the consequences. She should have worried, she supposed. Then she wouldn't have been arrested.
There was a discrete knock at the door, and Perkins entered. "Ambassador, Ms. Bradley, to see you."
"Please send her in," responded Joey, going to stand behind her desk.
Robin had arrived at the designated entrance, at the designated time, with her letter of approval, customs tourist card, and passport. All of these were taken from her. Then, she'd gone through a metal detector and been hand frisked. "Do all embassy guests have to go through this?" she asked the young marine who was making up plastic i.d. tags for her.
He didn't answer. Instead, he threaded two cards onto a metal chain and told her to put it around her neck. Then, he lead her to a side door off the parking lot and escorted her down a functional hallway to a room. "Wait in here," he ordered and left, closing the door firmly behind him. Robin tried the door. It was locked. What was this place? Fort Knox?!
Robin sat down on a grey metal folding chair by a plywood topped table. After a few minutes, a mountain of a man walked in. He wore a business suit pressed to perfection, but his military bearing and brush cut hair cut left little doubt as to his occupation.
"Ms. Robin Bradley?"
"I'm Major Sak, Embassy Security," the man said, coming to stand by the table. "I wanted to meet you before you were escorted to the Ambassador. You will note that you are wearing two tags. One indicates that you do not have security clearance and the other indicates that the Ambassador has approved your visit."
Robin's eyes widened in surprise. So it had been Joey who had made it possible for her to come here to do her documentary!
"I have read the background report on you and frankly, I have concerns. Why were you in Turkey, this spring?"
"I was on holiday."
"Turkey is a place were it is easy to obtain drugs, as are certain parts of South America," Major Sak observed. Robin felt her insides crunch, but she said nothing.
"You have served time for drug possession, have you not, Ms. Bradley?"
This time Robin reacted, the blood rushing to her face. "I don't do drugs, Major Sak! Nor do I associate with those who do!"
"That's good to hear," the large man responded conversationally. "You will please, follow me."
Robin dutiful trotted behind the human wall down to the end of the hall were an elevator stood ready. Sak stepped aside and indicated Robin should get in. "Please, make sure your tags are visible at all times, Ms. Bradley. The security staff will shoot anyone not properly i.d. whether they recognize you or not." He reached in a big, beefy arm and pressed a button. "Captain Perkins will meet you upstairs."
Nothing the major had said had been threatening, and yet Robin had got the clear impression that Sak was just looking for an opportunity to shoot her dead. She nervously rearranged her tags so that they could be seen better.
The door opened, and man about her own age stood there waiting. He wore a immaculate grey suit. Don't these guys ever sit down and get creased?! "This way, Ms. Bradley. Please wait here, while I see if the Ambassador is free to see you." Fear suddenly slashed at her insides. If she hadn't been equally afraid of being shot dead by Sak, she'd have made a run for it!
The door opened and a smiling Perkins indicated that she should step into the room. "Ambassador Tsakiris, Ms. Robin Bradley of the United Television Network."
"Thank you, Perkins," came a cool, calm voice and Captain Perkins left closing the door softly behind him. The woman standing behind her desk, bathed in the afternoon sunlight, radiated confidence and power. "It has been a long time, Robin," the beautiful woman said. "Please, have a seat," she continued, a long, graceful arm indicating the visitor's chair at the other side of her desk.
Robin realized that she had been staring at Ambassador Tsakiris in awe. Then suddenly, a wide smile lit up her face. This was her Joey! She walked across the room, circled the desk and wrapped her arms around the startled Ambassador. "Oh Joey! Look at you, an Ambassador and the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize! I'm so proud of you! I've missed you so much. I keep a scrap book of all the articles about you."
Joey found herself hugging the petite figure to her, lowering her head to touch the soft, golden hair. It still smelt like the sun soaked herbs that used to hang in her parents' greenhouse. "This is really not the proper protocol for greeting a senior representative of the United States of America," Joey pointed out with a nervous laugh.
"Screw protocol," responded Robin happily, but she did let go of Joey and go to sit in the chair that the Ambassador had indicated earlier.
Joey sat down, feeling weak kneed and flustered. The familiar solidity of her desk helped her ground her emotions. "So suppose you tell me why you are here?"
Robin looked up into those remarkably blue eyes. Joey was as beautiful as ever, perhaps more so, with the maturity of years. Her face was cut in classic lines, like a fine wood carving of some ancient African Queen. Robin told as much of the truth as she dared. "I pulled out every stop to sell my idea of a documentary to the network and the State Department. It is, I think, a good concept. But it was just a means to get to you. I...I need to resolve what happened to us all those years ago. It's important to me. The time I spent in prison, and the years after trying to get my life together, I never forgot you."
Tears brimmed in Robin's eyes and her chin quivered with the effort of holding back the emotion. "I used to say to myself, you are doing this for Joey because she believed in you."
Joey forced her face to remain expressionless. Inside, she was fighting the urge to wrap Robin in her arms until Robin's pain went away. "What happened back then is a closed issue," Joey said calmly. "I am more concerned with the here and now. I am not just a person now, Robin, I'm an officer of the United States of America. I'm taking a hell of a risk in allowing you in to do this documentary. I have no guarantee that..."
"That I won't betray you again," cut in Robin, shaking with emotion.
"That you are up to the assignment. You've never made a film documentary before, have you?"
"No," Robin responded quietly. She could feel her chin starting to quiver with the pain she felt at Joey's emotional distance.
"You have to understand that I'm hesitant to except your word without some guarantees," Joey went on, looking at the surface of her desk with eyes that were reliving the past.
The tears came now, rolling down Robin's face unchecked. "I lied that day, Joey. I'm sorry! I had too." Joey's head snapped up in shook. Robin tried desperately to explain. "Roger would have killed me! It was Roger who planted the drugs and tipped the police. I'd been still...going with him, to get the drugs...he was a pimp and he didn't want you taking away a kid he was training up for his business." Robin buried her face in her hands and sobbed uncontrollably.
Joey found herself on her knees beside Robin's chair. Robin throw her arms around Joey's neck and buried her face into the older woman's broad shoulder. "Shhhh, it's okay, Robin. Shhhh, I'm here," soothed Joey, holding the small, shaking frame close.
Joey was filled with uncertainty and confusion. Was Robin lying her way out of her betrayal of Joey all those years ago? Or was she a decent adult trying to resolve the poor decisions of a child? Joey just didn't know. What she did knew was she couldn't stand to see Robin in emotional pain.
After the tears had slowed. Joey whispered into Robin's hair. "Hey, how about we go sit by the fire and you tell me about what it is you want me to do, okay?"
Robin nodded, wiping away her tears. She followed Joey and they sat on opposite ends of the couch. The heat of the fire felt good on Robin's cold flesh. Joey waited. Robin shallowed hard and pulled herself together. "This is a small budget, pilot program. If it does well, and I think it will, then a series will be made highlighting some of the outstanding American women of this decade."
"If that happens, I would research a woman's career and achievements and then write a script for her to read, while a crew films. Then I'd edit it down for T.V. But on this pilot, I'm it: director, producer, sound, and film crew. I know you, Joey. I bet you know this country inside out."
"I've tried to get a feel for the land, yes."
Robin smiled and nodded. "So, I thought, I'd just let you take me places that you think are important. I'll have you talk about them, and your insights and views. Then we'll discuss what should go on to film, and I'll have you say it again, while I record it, okay?"
Joey's face didn't show the confidence that Robin's did. "Well, we can give it a try. I'm not really used to speaking on camera except in a press scrum, and believe me they are no fun!"
They talked about plans for the filming for almost an hour. Then Perkins arrived to remind Joey that she had a meeting. Joey rose and so did Robin. "Perkins will show you the way out." She smiled. "My office will be in touch."
That was it. Robin was taken back down through the functional halls of the working section of the embassy and out the car park door. Her tags were taken from her and her documentation returned to her inside a plastic bag labeled with a yellow sicker: Bradley, Robin, American and the date. Robin went back to the El Pardo hotel in Lima where she was staying and waited impatiently for a few days.
She filled in her time doing some background research. She visited the outstanding anthropology museum, and went to the university to interview a number of experts there. One day, she went to the small, and well protected gold museum where the remainder of the fine Indian gold items, that had not been taken and melted down by the Spanish Conquistadors, were on display.
It was while she was returning from this outing, and crossing the lobby to step in the elevator that the bomb went off. It was a small bomb placed inside a paper bag and left tucked down between the cushions of a couch in the foyer. Robin had just stepped into the elevator when the explosion occurred. The force wave sent her flying backward and crashing into the wall before she slipped dazed to the floor. The elevator doors closed, leaving her in complete darkness.
Groggily, she staggered to her feet, only to be knocked down again as the elevator suddenly dropped a few inches and then stopped with a jerk. Robin tried to decide, in her shocked state, whether she should stay in the elevator and run the risk of falling to her death or force the doors open and take her chances with whatever was going on in the lobby. She could hear clearly shouts, crying, and sirens.
The smell of smoke seeping through to her sent her in a panic to the doors. With a desperate effort, she managed to push the automatic doors apart and step out into the chaos that was the lobby. Over in the corner, several people were comforting a seriously hurt news stand girl, whose life had been saved by the heavy metal counter. Bits of smoldering magazines and newspapers littered the floor. The two employees at the shattered hotel desk seemed to have faired a little better, although they were cut and bruised. Smoke drained out the shattered front window in a blue-grey curl.
There was little Robin could do to help, medical and fire personnel were already arriving to give aid. She wished she had her camera with her, no filming was allowed at the gold museum, and so she had left the heavy camera behind that morning. For a minute, Robin considered going upstairs to get her it and then rejected the idea. By the time she got back here the authorities would have the situation in hand, and she might run the risk of having her video camera confiscated. Instead, she moved to a quiet corner and tried to take in as much as she could. This story would make a good introduction to the explosive nature of the South American political scene and the courage that Joey had in representing America here.
Some time later, a medic stepped over to her. "You have been hurt, lady. Can I bandage your head?
I think you should come to the hospital. You might have a concussion." Dumbly, Robin reached up and touched the sore spot on the back of her head. Her hand came away covered in blood. Looking down she was surprised to see her shirt splashed with red.
"That's okay, the lady will be coming with me," said a voice, tight with stress.
Robin looked up with confused eyes to meet a pair of stormy blue. "Joey, a bomb went off," she said stupidly.
A strong hand took her arm and led her out of the corner, "It's okay, Robin. Give your room key to Perkins here, and he will bring your luggage over to the embassy. Okay, now, you come with me," Joey instructed gently.
Robin was led by Joey through the wrecked lobby and across the street, where Sak waited by the car watching the street with worried eyes. He helped the two women in and then slipped behind the wheel, glad to be getting the Ambassador the hell out of there.
"Here, lean forward and let me have a look," ordered Joey, reaching for the extensive first aid kit that was standard equipment in all embassy vehicles. She took a wad of dressing and carefully dabbed at the blood and matted hair. There was an oozing cut about four inches long along the base of Robin's skull. Joey supported the half conscious woman in her lap with one arm and held the dressing over the wound with the other, unaware of the blood that dripped down on her. She worried that Robin might have a serious head injury.
Sak had phoned ahead and staff medical personnel were standing by. Joey watched as they wrapped a neck brace into place and then carefully lifted Robin off her to lay her on the stretcher.
Robin was unconscious now and looked fragile and deathly pale. Joey followed the stretcher into the embassy.
Sak took Joey's arm gently. "Ambassador, you need to clean up," he said. "I'll hang around down here and report back to you as soon as the doctor has made an assessment." Joey looked down and was shocked to see that her camel skirt was saturated with Robin's blood. With effort, she stopped herself from being sick. She nodded and walked down the hall to the elevator.
Robin woke up with a throbbing headache. She reached her hand up but it was intercepted gently by another. "Hey, leave that alone," whispered a deep, melodic voice. Robin blinked, focusing her eyes, and then moved her head sideways to see Joey sitting on a chair by her bed. Joey was wearing an Independence Day T-shirt and blue jeans.
"Hi, aren't you working?" Robin asked.
"I took the day off," Joey smiled.
"You look cute," Robin mumbled in her sleepy state.
Joey blushed. "Ahhh, you've got ten stitches in your head so be careful. Fortunately, there was not any more serious damage."
"The bomb went off just as I stepped into the elevator. I think I hit my head on the hand rail."
"You were lucky you weren't out in the open. You might have been killed," observed Joey objectively, although inside she was a emotional wreck.
"Was it the Shining Path, Joey?"
"They have phoned a radio station and taken credit for the bombing, yes," responded the Ambassador still holding on to Robin's hand.
Suddenly, Robin's eyes sparkled with devilment. This was going to be a really powerful introduction to the dangerous situations that American Embassies often found themselves in "Neat, huh!?" she smiled.
Joey laughed in relief and at the sheer resilience and positiveness of Robin's personality. "Yeah, neat," she agreed giving the small hand a squeeze. Joey left Robin to sleep, and went back up to her office to clear some of the paper work.
Her mind however, kept going back to why she had charged like some white knight to Robin's side when she had learned of the explosion. Why had she been so upset to see Robin hurt and vulnerable?
Seeing Robin again had brought back very deep feeling, ones she had thought she had learned to suppress. She was attracted to Robin.
That evening, a much recovered journalist met Joey in the morning room for dinner. "The dining room is a barn of a place that sits fifty comfortably. So, I usually eat down here," Joey explained. They ate quietly together, talking of general things, re-establishing a data bank of shared information.
Robin had brought her research notes for the documentary series down for Joey to see. The woman sat flipping through the pages while Robin, beside her, stole the remaining french fries off Joey's plate. Joey had a beautiful shaped head, Robin thought as she observed the Ambassador while her intelligent eyes moved back and forth across the page. She had nice ears too. She liked the way her dark hair curled around her ear.
Joey suddenly looked up and their eyes met. "This is great stuff, Robin! I'm impressed," Joey smiled and Robin felt warmed down to the core of her being.
"Thanks," she blushed.
"Ahhh, why don't we head over to my study, and sit by the fire, okay?" asked Joey getting up. She was reluctant to end the evening. They had just fallen back into the easy way they used to have with each other, as if nothing had happened to separate them. Being with Robin again was...neat. The explosion at the hotel had brought home to Joey in a big way that what she felt about Robin went pretty deep.
"Sure," responded Robin, glad that the evening in Joey's company was going to go on a bit longer. She needed to talk to Joey. But it was hard to find the right words, when they were both carrying so much emotional baggage from the past.
Robin sat down on the sofa and Joey bent to light the fire that was already stacked and ready. "I usually have a night cap," Joey explained. "Can I get you something?"
A sadness passed across Robin's eyes but she smiled. "No thanks. I don't drink. I never have. My parents owned a tavern and they both drank hard. It just never appealed to me. But you go ahead!"
Joey nodded and splashed Scotch into a glass. It was Cardhu, a single malt whiskey from Morayshire.
A good Scotch was one of the few vices that Joey allowed herself. "I didn't know you had a family."
"Oh, yeah, I had a family," Robin answered, in a tone that indicated that she didn't want to discuss them. Joey took the hint and for a while they sat in silence watching the fire. The fire made Joey feel hot and bothered. She had loved the little street kid like a big sister, but Robin wasn't a kid anymore
and what Joey was feeling was a very different sort of attraction.
Finally, Robin took a deep breath and looking at the fire still, she said, "Joey, I need to tell you something and I need you to hear me out without, freaking out on me or anything, okay?"
Joey stomach tied in a knot. She got up and placed her glass on the mantel and braced herself mentally, her face expressionless. Had she been set up by Robin again? "Okay."
Robin licked her lips nervously and swallowed several times. Finally, she stood up and faced Joey. "I'm gay and I'm in love with you. I always have been," she announced. Joey was silent looking at the smaller woman in shock. Robin turned away and looked at the darkening embers in the fire.
She went on miserably, "When we were young, I tried everything to get you to make a pass at me. I was afraid to come on to you in case you were horrified and threw me out. I know, I'm not in your league, Joey. I won't ever embarrass you by coming on to you. I just needed to be honest about how I feel. It's important. I....I've never slept with anyone since. I don't ever want to have just sex again. I want it to be with the person I love. Who I've always loved."
Joey felt like she had been hit by a truck! Robin was gay!? But she'd been sleeping... Robin loved her?! She wanted Robin, she knew she did. Over the years, it was her fantasies about Robin that had made her slow realize that she was gay. But she had never planned to... what should...Finally, her mind just stopped trying to find logic in the situation, and her raging emotions forced her into action.
Robin stood looking at the fire. The room had remained silent for a long time. Had she horrified Joey? Should she leave? Suddenly, strong arms took her by the shoulders and turned her around. Blue eyes filled with hope and confusion looked down at her, then, very slowly, Joey lowered her head and brushed the lightest of kisses across her lips. Robin's insides melted and she groaned in need, reaching up to pull Joey back to her.
This time the kiss was hard and needy. Open lips allowed Robin to thrust her tongue into Joey's mouth sweetened by the Scotch. Joey started at the intimate invasion, then wrapped Robin closer to her and let their tongues dance to a rhythmic need.
The passion built, Robin, stood on tip toes to draw patterns with the tip of her tongue around Joey's cute ear. The woman gasped with pleasure and lowered her head to kiss and nibble at Robin's throat.
Robin thought she was going to come right there. "I need you, Joey!" she gasped.
The taller woman went still and pulled back. "What?" asked Robin in confusion. "Did I do something to offend you? Joey, I'm sorry, I...."
"No! It's not that!" reassured Joey, sitting down weakly.
"What is it?" asked Robin slowly sinking to the couch next to her.
Joey gave a quick look at Robin and laughed nervously, "We're going kind of fast here. We haven't seen each other in years. Ahhhh, I've never....you know," she confessed.
"Oh." Robin said. "Look, if you don't want to have a gay relationship, I'll understand." Robin tried to say this lightly, although her heart contracted in pain with the effort. "Or if you want to go slower..."
"No, I mean, I haven't...at all!" confessed Joey looking anywhere but at Robin.
It was Robin's turn for shocked silence. Then she blurted out, "How old are you?!"
Joey got up and paced the hearth rug in agitated embarrassment. "Thirty-two, damn it!" She rubbed her hand over her head. "It's hard to explain. I was always pushing myself. There was a lot of pressure. Two really successful parents to live up to and a public image to maintain. It wasn't just me, I represented a way of life, coming from a mixed marriage. Failure was not an option for me!"
"After the trouble..."
"You mean after I betrayed you and humiliated you and your family by getting you arrested on a drug charge," stated Robin bluntly.
Joey went on. "After, I just had to try harder not to make any mistakes. Not to disappoint anyone again. Then, when I joined the diplomatic service, well, everything has to seem to be proper, anyway. You can't afford to get a black mark on your record and still move up. There were opportunities, I just wasn't interested...I ...I wanted you. I loved you," she finished blushing deeply in surprise at what she had just said.
Robin gasped and jumped up, wrapping her arms around Joey tightly and burying her head into the woman's chest. She could hear Joey's heart pounding with emotion and smell the spicy, warm scent that she had never forgotten. "Joanne Tsakiris, I think that was the most wonderful thing that any human being could say to another!"
"You do?" Joe laughed nervously, rubbing her head along side Robin's. Tsakiris are you crazy?! What the hell have you just done?! screamed her logical mind. I don't care! I do love her! I do! her emotions warred. I don't care about the consequences!
"Yes," whispered Robin, kissing Joey softly. "We'll just go slowly, okay? Just learn about this love thing together."
Joey nodded and Robin kissed her softly, and then said good night. Joey did something that she never did. She poured herself another Scotch and sat down to try to think through the tidal wave of feelings that had burst through tonight. A few days ago, she had been looking forward, with some apprehension, to meeting a child that she had once befriended. Okay, who she had fantasized about over the years. Now she had to accept that, over the years her feelings had changed. She was in love. How had that happened?!
In her room, Robin was trying to come to terms with her own emotions. It was hard enough having to deal with what had happened years ago but now she was facing a new set of problems. She had thought the worst case scenarios would have been Joey hating her or not wanting to be involved in a gay relationship. She had imagined that Joey, being beautiful, charismatic, and a woman of the world, well, would have had plenty of experience. It had never occurred to her that she'd be a virgin!
For the first time in a very long time, Robin felt cheap. Joey knew her past and although she hadn't been sexually active since, she had sold her body to Roger for drugs and there was no getting around that. She just didn't know where to go from here.
The next morning, Perkins delivered the message that the Ambassador would be tied up for the day. h
However, she had instructed him to invite Robin to the formal dinner that she was giving for the president of Peru that night.
Robin was warmed by Joey's confidence in her. "Please, thank the Ambassador very much but tell her I can't go, I don't have a formal dress."
Perkins, with a smile, produced an envelope. Robin took it in surprise, and opened it up to find a note written in Joey's flowing hand. It read: I know you don't! I've instructed Perkins to take you to a store where you'll be able to find just the thing. It is a chance for you to be part of my world. Please.
Robin smiled softly, "I understand, Corporal Perkins, that you know where the best ladies formals can be found in Lima."
Perkins smiled broadly, "Sure do! I'll meet you at the parking lot at ten."
"Okay," laughed Robin brightly.
Perkins hummed all the way down the hall. This was his chance to get to know the beautiful Ms. Bradley better. He couldn't think why Sak didn't like her. But then Sak was very protective of Tsakiris. He was your typical tight assed Marine.
"So what do you think of this number, Al?" Robin laughed stepping out of the changing area to model a formal with a plunging neck line and low back.
Captain Allan Perkins' eyes got big. "I'll tell you, that would give a few old Ambassador's heart attacks!"
Robin laughed, her eyes sparkling with mischief. "Well, we wouldn't want that, would we?" she said, over her shoulder as she disappeared back into the change rooms.
Within an hour, a flattering but conservative dress had been found and Robin, with a grimace had handed over her credit card. She was going to have to talk to Joey about expenses. She was just now starting to get a reasonable salary. But she still had a student loan to pay off. This dress was going to max her card.
Perkins took Robin to the President's Square next. They wandered around looking at the beauty of the old Spanish colonial architecture. The cathedral was intricately carved limestone in a high baroque style that was truly breathtaking. Then they went to the Spanish Quarter for lunch and sat in the walled court yard under a sprawling tree to eat a tasty lunch that was a blend of Spanish and Indian cooking. They laughed a good deal and discovered that they had a love for football and thought along the same lines on social issues. All together, Robin had a really fun day and she thanked Perkins profusely for being such a good host.
Joey's day had not been as successful. She had words with Major Sak and she hated getting into arguments with her staff. He had objected to Robin attending the dinner. "Ambassador, I realize that you feel Ms. Bradley should be allowed a second chance, and that is very commendable, but she is an untried element. We have know idea how she may behave."
Joey felt her temper rising. "What does that mean?!"
Sak wisely did not clarify. "I just have reservations," he responded standing stiffly.
"Noted," snapped Joey angrily. "About the security for the documentary tour. I can't accept this report. The security would be way out of proportion to the need. Your people would just get in the way. I think it would be better if Robin and I just went off in an unmarked car and acted like any other tourists."
"Out of the question, Ambassador! The Shining Path are very active at this time. To assassinate the Ambassador to the U.S. would provide exactly the sort of world wide coverage that this terrorist group needs!" growled the security officer with feeling.
"Well, this will not do!" barked Joey, tossing the report across the table.
Major Sak picked it up and fighting for control said as calmly as he could, "Anything else, Ambassador?"
"No, Major, that's all," Joey responded with the same controlled anger. Sak had turned and left without another word.
That night, Robin stood beside Joey in the reception line, and was introduced as the guests arrived. She wore a formal in brushed cotton that was both flattering to her figure and proper in its cut. The cost of it was all made worthwhile when Joey leaned close and whispered that she looked lovely.
Joey, of course looked spectacular. She wore a formal in deep red silk, enhanced with diamond earrings and necklace. It took all Robin's control not to stare. After the guests arrived, Joey excused herself and went to button hole the Ambassador from Brazil. Robin found herself surrounded by a group of Peruvian generals. She found them both charming and arrogant in their manner, like the Spanish Conquistadors of old. They made her laugh, and she found herself relaxing and having a good time. Every once and awhile she would look up and catch Joey's eye wherever she was in the room.
When dinner was announced Joey led the guests into the banquet hall on the arm of the President of Peru. Robin found herself at the far end of the table beside the Under Secretary to Agriculture from Ecuador. The table was beautiful. It was lit with shining brass candelabras that cast the room in a soft, mellow glow. Three cut crystal glasses, of different shapes, marked each place and sparkled in the candle light. Every place setting was gold rimmed and bore the crest of the United States of America. The cutlery was silver and there were four forks and three knives and a small spoon.
Robin recognized the fish fork but after that things got a bit dicey. Fortunately, everyone was eating the same meal so she just picked up what ever the man across from her did. She looked down the long table to where Joey sat at the end talking and laughing. The President of Peru sat to her right and the Ambassador of Great Britain to her left. It was a different world than Robin had ever experienced before.
Okay, Robin don't make a fool of yourself here. You've worked hard to escape your past, don't let yourself get overwhelmed. You can do this! She steeled herself to carry on but it didn't stop the butterflies from invading her stomach.
The meal was unbelievable and Robin tucked into everything that was served by the quiet and efficient Marines in regimental kit. The small spoon turned out to be used with the fish fork to de-bone and eat the trout. She declined the wines and drank ice water from each of the three wine glasses instead. She found the Under Secretary of Agriculture to be a big soccer fan and he was delighted to find that the beautiful, young American woman could hold her own in a discussion on this year's contenders for the World Cup.
The seating arrangement had been made with care to stimulate conversation and people lingered over the cheese and fruit trays. It was late when Robin returned to her room and stripped off her dress, glad to see that she had not got any stains on it. She fell back onto the bed in her undies and stared at the ceiling. It had been a magical evening, and Robin had been completely out of her element. How could she have a relationship with Joey without embarrassing her?
As a gay lover from the other side of the tracks, she would have to be a shadowy figure in the background of Joey's life. Could she live like that? Would Joey want to take that risk? Robin felt a deep depression settle on her like a blanket. She loved Joey so much, and yet she could only see herself as a liability to her.
A soft knock came at the door. "Robin, are you still awake?" asked the voice that she loved.
"Yes," she answered quickly, sitting up.
"Would you like to join me in the study for a night-cap?"
"I'll be right there," answered Robin happily, her depression thrown back as she slid from the bed. She slipped a Noles Baseball shirt on, that on her, almost came to her knees. Then bare foot, she trotted up the hall to the study.
The Ambassador was, of course, prepared this time. She poured a chilled glass of watermelon juice for Robin. Joey poured herself a Lagavulin. It was a single Islay malt whiskey, sixteen years in the making. It had been a very successful night and that called for a special whiskey. The glass, however, stopped half way to her mouth when she saw Robin standing there. Robin looked down insecurely at her sweatshirt with the logo of a smiling cartoon Seminole wearing a baseball cap. "Ahhh, should I change?" she asked shyly, not sure what the protocol for late night wear while having a night cap with the Ambassador was. She was sure, however, that Perkins would be able to look it up in the regulations for her.
Joey smiled wolfishly and carried the drinks over, offering Robin the watermelon juice that she had poured for her. "No, I think you look cute as a button. It's just chilled juice. I think you'll like it." She leaned forward and kissed Robin tenderly. "I missed you, today."
Robin kissed back, "I missed you!"
"I was jealous," confessed Joey moodily, sipping her drink.
"Mmmm, of all those military types that cornered you before dinner. I had to force myself not to walk over there and knock their blocks off!"
Robin giggled and a pretty blush coloured her cheeks. "Don't be jealous. I love you," she stated simply reaching up to kiss soft, warm lips. "Come on, let's sit by the fire and I'll tell you everything I learned about your world tonight!" They moved over and sat close, Robin curled up under Joey's arm. What Joey learned was that Robin was indeed a very smart woman and that she had a way about her that made people talk. Joey gathered some very interesting tidbits from Robin.
"Thank you, Major Sak. The changes you made in your plans for security during the filming of the documentary are much appreciated. I can assure you that we will co-operate with you fully." Sak relaxed a bit. That was one of the things that he liked about Ambassador Tsakiris; she'd always meet you half way if she could. He was glad now that he'd swallowed his anger and pride and reworked the report.
"I think you made some valid points, yesterday, Ambassador." There, they had buried the hatchet.
Joey smiled and then went on. "I need you to check a few things that came to light last night. General Garcia indicated that the armed forces are not happy with this year's military budget. He felt, and rightfully too, that they had shown great patience and efficiency in breaking into the Japanese Embassy when it was held by the Shining Path terrorists and freeing safely all but one of the hostages. The military felt there should have been some reward forthcoming for a job well done."
"General Garcia is a powerful and ambitious man. The American government would not wish Peru to return to a military government especially with the O.A.S. negotiations going on. Keep me closely posted on Garcia's moves."
"Secondly, a Mr. Perez, who is the Under Secretary of Agriculture to the Ecuadorian government, indicated that he could arrange a meeting with the Shining Path. He might have been just bragging, or maybe he has a relative involved in one of the cells, but I think we need to look into it. The border dispute between Ecuador and Peru has never been resolved and certain individuals might feel that supporting a terrorist organization that undermines the economic and political stability of Peru is a very good idea. Have someone befriend Mr. Perez and find out what he knows."
"Yes, Ambassador," Sak smiled, "You seem to have picked up a lot of information last night."
"Actually, I learned nothing until I talked to Robin. She seems to have a unique ability to make people relax and talk."
"That's great," observed Sak, although privately he worried what the Ambassador might have let slip.
"I might have been overly concerned about Ms. Bradley. The information I've just received back on my inquires would indicate that she has lived a very conservative lifestyle since her release from prison, did well at school, has no debts except a five thousand dollar student loan, and has received some attention in her field for a series of articles she wrote about life on the streets."
"I'm glad to hear that," commented Joey evenly, although, she was uncomfortable knowing that Sak's people had been digging deeper into Robin's life.
"Perkins has taken quite a shine to her. I understand that they had a great day yesterday. He helped pick out her dress and then they toured the city and had lunch in the Spanish Quarter at that restaurant with the walled courtyard where you sometimes entertain guests. They're about the same age, and have, I understand, a mutual love for the Big Ten Football League.
Joey's guts tied in a knot. Her face retained a smile. "I'm glad they had a good time."
Sak nodded in agreement, feeling he had bonded a little closer with his boss with this friendly chat. "Anything else, Ambassador Tsakiris?"
"No, that's all, Major." Sak left the study feeling things had gone very well. Joey swivelled her chair to stare moodily out the window. Was Robin playing her for a fool? Was she going to be lied to and betrayed again? She was seven years older than Robin, and she had to admit, a bit stodgy. Could she compete against the young and charming Corporal Perkins? He'd taken her touring and to lunch. Robin had modeled her outfits for him. Joey had her stand with a boring group of old soldiers and then had stuck her at the end of the table with a bunch of clerks! Joey felt a cold dread spreading through her being.
Robin met Joey in the morning room for lunch. "Hi, love," Robin smiled, kissing Joey after she had checked to make sure no one was around.
"Hi," responded Joey with a lightness she didn't feel, giving Robin a quick hug. They sat down at the table and rang for lunch.
"So, what have you being doing today?" Joey asked, folding and unfolding her napkin on her lap.
"Reading up on embassy protocol," Robin revealed with a giggle. "Al lent me some books."
"Captain Perkins." Their meal arrived and Robin's eyes lit up with pleasure at the sight of the crisp green salad and Spanish omelette. Following proper protocol, however, she waited for Joey to start.
"Why are you staring at me?" the preoccupied Ambassador asked in annoyance.
"You have to start before I can, section twenty-seven, subsection three. 'When a grace is not given, junior members sitting at table will not begin dining until such time as the most senior member at the table picks up his or her utensils'."
Joey picked up her knife and fork and Robin smiled and dug into her food. "I am not senior," Joey muttered.
"Nothing. I understand that you and... Perkins had a good time yesterday," remarked Joey, pushing a piece of omelette around her plate with her fork.
"Oh yeah, we had a great time! He's a lot of fun. He took me to the President's Square to see the beautiful architecture and then we had lunch, sitting under this big tree, at this really nice restaurant. It was lovely. Al's a Big Ten fan, too." Absorbed in her lunch, and babbling away happily about her day, Robin didn't even see it coming. She jumped when Joey's fork hit the plate with a rattle and the Ambassador got up and walk to the window, standing there bristling with rage.
Realization exploded on to Robin's surprised mind. She got up and walked over to Joey. "You're jealous!"
Joey turned on her. " I thought you told me you loved me," she hissed, "just how many of us are you playing for fools."
Robin's face drained of colour and her eyes flashed with green fire. "I had a nice day with Al. He is a friend. Nothing more. I was a pretty messed up teenager, but I'm not the whore you seem to think I am. I've fought damn hard to escape that fate!" she responded, her voice tight with rage. Spinning on her heel, she stormed off.
Sometime later, the phone by Robin's bed rang. It was Perkins. "Hi Robin, Ambassador Tsakiris would like you to join her in her study if you are free."
Robin toyed with the idea of telling Tsakiris where she could shove it. No, that would just make matters worse, she thought. "Please let the Ambassador know that I will be right down," Robin replied, evenly.
Robin washed her face and applied some make up to her pale skin. After a moment's hesitation, she took two photographs out of her hand bag and slipped them into her pocket. Then, she headed down to the study.
She entered quietly and found Joey pacing nervously. When Joey looked up, Robin saw the pain and stress that was eating at the person she loved. Quietly, she walked across the room and wrapped her arms around the stiff form, letting her head tuck under the taller woman's chin.
"I'm so sorry," Joey managed to get out emotionally. "I never meant...I was so upset...I just got so jealous, I wasn't thinking straight. Do you think I'm a senior?"
Robin giggled at Joey's feeble attempts at explaining her feelings. "You, Joanne Tsakiris, are not a senior! But you are an idiot! Come on, lets sit down and sort this out."
Joey allowed herself to be lead by the hand to the couch and pushed down into the sofa corner. Then, Robin trotted over to the study door and stuck her head out. "Perkins, the Ambassador has a headache; she has requested no phone calls or visitors until further notice."
"Yes, Ms. Bradley," Perkins replied. He had noticed that the Ambassador had cut her lunch short and had come back looking pale. Probably her monthly, he concluded.
Robin locked the door and walked back over to a surprised Ambassador. "That was bad," Joey scolded.
"Mmmm. I need to tell you why I really came here, Joey. It is a pretty wild story and I'm not sure you are going to believe me but I think it is really important that you know so we both understand how I feel about you." Joey felt the dread returning to her soul. She thought she did know why Robin had come. She had said she loved her.
Robin climbed into a surprised Ambassador's lap and wrapped her arms around Joey's neck. "I want to do this every time you sit down," she murmured against Joey's lips and then kissed her with all the love that she felt. Sometime later, Robin, snuggled deep into Joey's arms, began her story. She took a picture out of her pocket and showed it to Joey. It showed two women that looked remarkably like them, close enough that they could be related. They were standing on a stone terrace over looking an ocean. The taller of the two stood behind, her arms wrapped protectively around a lame woman wearing a leg brace, who leaned for support on her partner.
"This one's Gunnul. She's Turkish. She is so like you, Joey! You could be sisters. This one's Jamie; she and I are alike. It's hard to explain, Joey, but I was called to Turkey. I just knew that was where I needed to go to get answers. I met Gunnul by the grave and for a second I thought it was you."
"Grave?" asked Joey, suddenly alert.
"Does it call you too?" Robin asked. She showed Joey the second picture of an old, worn grave sitting in a dense tangle of trees.
Joey took the picture and looked at it for a very long time. "I have this dream. I've had it for as long as I can recall. I'm looking down at this stone grave that is all carved with intricate patterns. I'm dead and the grave is mine, and yet I'm holding the hand of someone. We are going away together, and I am very happy and so...so at peace."
"Jamie and Gunnul have met a number of couples like us. They have all found their way to the grave, one way or another, over the last few years. Jamie and Gunnul are the Keepers of the Grave. They believe that the grave belongs to a warrior and a bard that local legend says traveled together, in ancient times, fighting for good. They think that we are the descendants of the original pair, and that we are caught in some sort of loop in the space/time continuum. The host pair seem to be going through a crisis and they are drawing on our love to help them find their way."
"Jamie and Gunnul have heard many stories. Some of the Others have had dreams, some have trace memories and others, like me, are simply called. All the couples they have met have gone through a crisis and have managed to hold their love together and come out stronger. You are like the warrior and I am like the bard. All the other bards are lame but I'm not. Jamie feels that's significant. The grave is no longer falling apart like it was. It is actually mending. They think that we are an important link in resolving the crisis that the hosts are facing."
Joey lifted Robin off her lap and stood to pace back and forth, trying to make sense of what Robin was telling her. To her logical and practical mind the whole thing sound silly and yet...she knew that grave!
"One visitor told them that the warrior and bard were not really human," giggled Robin, "That they had the blood of the ancient Greek Gods in their veins!"
"Ares," Joey muttered, looking at the black ashes in the fire.
Joey turned and looked at Robin. "I love you. I always have. Do you really love me?"
"With all my heart, Joey," Robin answered confidently, looking up with sincere eyes.
Joey nodded. "But love is not the same as trust."
"No, it's not. And I think that is our challenge," Robin said sadly.
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