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. My thanks to Lisa and Inga, my patient beta readers.
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.
They left the next morning on the first of their days filming, in three unmarked Ford Escorts. Captain Perkins drove in front with the equipment and supplies. Joey drove the next car with Robin as a passenger and in the rear of the small convoy was Sak and a sharp shooter by the name of Private David Luc.
They drove through the capital city of Lima, passing the new, functional, high rises with the lines of laundry hanging form the balconies. Progress, explained Joey, was one small step at a time. The standard of living in Peru was low due to a high population, years of mismanagement, and a poor education base. The beautiful old architecture of the colonial age stood now neglected and dog-eared.
A city of crowded, poor buildings had grown up around. On busy corners, people stood on the roads selling items to make a living, newspapers, fruit, crafts, cigarettes, anything.
They stopped by the roadside, where a river separated functional, neat homes from one room, dirty squatter shacks built along the edge of a railway line. Robin listened to Joey talk with passion about the need to equalize, to some extent, the gap between the have and have not nations. But when she tried to film the sequence, Joey stood stiffly and talked woodenly.
Oh boy! Camera fright! She lowered the camera from her shoulder and walked over to the Ambassador. "Joey, that was awful." Joey's face crumbled into worry. "I want you to forget about the camera on my shoulder, okay. Forget about maintaining the dignity of the office, and just talk from the heart. I give you my word that I will edit out anything you don't like." Trust me, Joey, just this little bit.
She moved closer and whispered in Joey's ear. "I love you. Talk to me. Tell me what you need me to understand." Their eyes met, and unspoken messages passed from one soul to the other. Robin smiled, encouraging, and Joey nodded, some of the fear in her eyes replaced by determination.
Robin's camera started filming again. " It is hard to believe that people can live in such poverty and with so little opportunity," started Joey, looking done at the railway squatter homes. "We live in a world were twenty per cent of the nations control eighty per cent of all the world's wealth. Countries like Peru must fight to get part of that remaining twenty per cent in order to develop their nation. The United States is committed to the principles of the Organization of American States, which will be implemented in the year 2005. It will allow for free trade throughout the Americas. A larger, stronger, trading block is good for us on the international market as we compete with such mega-organizations as the E.E.C. and allows developing nations the opportunity to close the gap between the have and have not nations. Economic strength goes hand and hand with political stability, and improved human rights."
Joey pointed out across the dry sands to a ghost town of partly built homes of mud and straw brick. "These are the homes of the future. The Peruvians stake out a piece of land at the outskirts of the city and build one room. As they get money, they add onto it, sometimes taking a lifetime to make their home a reality. On a weekend, you will see family groups all working together on a house. These are a proud, hard working people, who want a better life for their families and their nation."
Robin lowered the camera and ran over and gave Joey a quick hug. "That was great! I had tears in my eyes." Joey relaxed and began to enjoy the day. They traveled on down the highway out into the desert where high sand dunes skirted the Pacific Ocean.
"A lot of the early desert movies were actually made in Peru or Chile and not in the Sahara. The Humboldt current, from Antarctica, runs up the west coast of South America and keeps the warm, moist air of the ocean from reaching shore. South of here, where the famous Nazca Lines are, it hasn't rained in over forty years! That's why people can build their homes over such a long period of time. The climate is so dry and stable that there is very little erosion due to weathering."
Robin watched the long, graceful, brown, hand as it lay lightly on the gear shift. Impulsively, she placed her hand on top. Joey gave her a quick look, and then wrapped her hand around Robin's. After that, whenever they could, they held hands while driving. It was a small step towards a greater bond.
Joey pulled up in front of a jumble of ruined mud brick buildings that stretched out in all directions. "This is Pachacamac. Pacha means 'earth' in Indian. This site was called Earth-oracle. Come on, we'll look round," encouraged Joey excitedly. Robin saw a rare opportunity to film Joey at her best, with her eyes fired with interest, and her body radiating energy. She hefted the camera to her shoulder and just filmed.
Joey talked to Robin, forgetting the camera, and the security personnel that quietly trailed them, in her enthusiasm. "There have been three cultural centres here. Each invasion built and added to the former, respecting and absorbing their culture into their own. Because the city was never leveled in war, the site is a jumble of styles and cultures. The oldest culture was the Maranga, that lived here between 100 B.C. and 700 A.D. They built that pyramid over there," Joey pointed.
Robin handed her camera to a startled Perkins. "Race you to the top!" Robin challenged Joey, and took off at a dead run along the crumbled path that lead up the side of the crumbling, step pyramid. Joey gave her a head start and then took off, much to Sak surprise. He knew, of course, that Joey was physically fit, but he had no idea how athletic she was. He and his men followed at a much slower pace.
Joey overtook Robin near the top and pulled her behind some earthworks. Panting and laughing, they stood in each other's arms. Joey lowered her head and kissed Robin, feeling the warmth and softness of her caresses, sending roots of passion through her being. The heat of the day burned down on them.
"I love you," Joey whispered. "You make me feel alive."
"I love you too. You open up the world to me," responded Robin. Then they prudently separated and walked to where they could see the view from the top.
"Wow! Look at the size of this site!" exclaimed Robin looking inland. She ran to the other side of the pyramid, passing the men with a smile as they panted to the top. The view from the other side looked down on the coastal lands and the Pacific Ocean beyond. "This is going to make a great shot. Perkins, give me my camera, please. Just stand on the edge Ambassador, and talk to me," teased Robin.
Joey walked to the very edge of the last platform, scaring her security personnel out of a number of years of life. "This pyramid was not built as a tomb, but a sacrificial alter to the Rain God. It was built in a series of twelve levels, each one a little smaller than the last. The construction is very different from that of the pyramids in Egypt. Here a thick wall of mud bricks was built with an outside layer of cut stone. The entire inside of the pyramid was just rubble. That's why, as the outside walls collapsed, the pyramid took on the appearance of a mountain of loose rock."
"What's that large circle area down there in the plain?" asked Robin, when they had finished the taping.
"A local ring for bull fighting or cock fighting," explained Joey. "They are both very popular in Peru. Robin pulled a face and shuddered and they climbed back down to the base. Joey was off like a shot pointing out other things of interest on the site, talking only to Robin, while she kept the film rolling.
"This is a cobbled road of cut limestone. Notice that there is a wall down each side and behind it a wide flat bed. They think this lower, centre road was for foot travel and the high roads on either side were for carts. One going into the city and one leaving. This was the first freeway! It was built by the second culture, the Wari, between 700 B.C. and 1,000 A.D."
Joey took the camera from Robin, and then offered her a hand to pull her up onto the wall to see the ruined buildings on the other side. Their eyes met, and a squeeze of each other's hand, before letting go, reassured both of them of their love. Joey gave the camera back and waited for the red light to flash on again. " These people put very high walls around their cities with terraces and lookout platforms. Their homes were one to three stories high because the city was, at this time, very densely populated. The archaeologists have found all sorts of pottery, sculpture, jewellery and even textile fragments from these people."
Joey dropped off the wall and then reached up and swung Robin down. The urge to pull the smaller woman close was overpowering. Joey let go quickly, and put some distance between them. She just wanted this day over so that she could be alone with Robin again.
"See this square, stone tunnel running out of the sand bank here? This is Inca. It is the end of an underground water system that starts in the high Andes eight hundred miles that way," Joey pointed to a blue ridge of mountains in the distance. "It brought water to the city. Amazing, huh?! There are Inca waterways and canals that are still in use today."
Joey lead them back to the cars and they picked up the lunch baskets that the embassy kitchen staff had prepared. "Come over here and look down into the valley. This site has been reconstructed so you can see clearly the Inca style of construction. They usually built long buildings in the form of a large U. Then a wall was added on the last side to make a courtyard. The buildings were often up to three stories high, each story set back from the one below to make a balcony walk way. The facades were a mathematically precise set of doorways evenly spaced. The overall impression is of rows of natural colonnades growing out of the landscape."
They stood on the edge of a high ridge and looked down on a huge palace complex. The men gave the beautiful architecture a brief glance. They were more interested in scanning the many hills and ruins. This was ideal terrain for a terrorist attack. Robin filmed, while Joey stood at her side, explaining the significance of the palace.
"This is the Temple of the Chosen Women of the Inca. His harem, I suppose. The women spent most of their spare time weaving because the Inca could only wear his cloths once. The women that were chosen came here when they were eighteen and at thirty-five they could leave. Many chose to stay and teach the new women but if they returned to their village they were greatly revered.
"The Incas were the last culture to settle at Pachacamac. They took over this land in and around 1400 A.D. so they were here only for a short time. The Spanish arrived in 1532. The Oracle of Pacha had warned that the Inca Ataphualpa would never rule. It was proven to be true, even though he won the civil war and killed his brother, the Spanish used it as an excuse to execute him for murder."
They ate lunch in the shade of the Temple of the Chosen Women. Perkins made a valiant effort to get to sit by Robin, but Joey managed to herd her from the group, and keep Robin to herself. After lunch, they wandered through the cool of the restored buildings. An old woman, proclaiming herself to be the descendant of the Oracle, offered to tell each their future by looking at the pattern of the stones they cast.
The men each paid their 10,000 Soles de Oro, which was equivalent to an American dollar, and went first. "Your future is filled with red," she told Luc. "You will father many children," she laughed at Perkins, clapping her hands with everyone else. Perkins blushed deeply. "You should enjoy today," she told Sak, who rubbed his nose, but said nothing.
Then it was the women's turn. She looked at Robin's arrangement for a very long time. " You must have courage," she finally said, patting Robin on her shoulder in respect and smiling toothlessly. She did not ask Joey to toss the stones. She turned to her and took her hands. "There is little time," she warned and then picked up her magic stones, and sat back down by the wall to wait for her next customers.
It was a strangely solemn group that made their way back to the cars and headed back to Lima. It wasn't that the old woman had said anything meaningful or that any of them really believed in an Indian oracle; it was a presence of evil that had suddenly sent goose bumps up their skin. No one acknowledged the feeling but they all reacted to it. The men casually surrounded the two women as they all called it a day and moved off.
Old black eyes watched them go from the cool shadow of the wall. Knurled, brown fingers played absently with the worn stones. The black eyes shifted, and watched as a figure moved silently away.
"It was just an old woman trying to make a living. You know that," responded Joey, later that evening, as she sat propped up on the sofa, whiskey in one hand and Robin under the other arm.
"I know!" protested Robin," But you have to admit we all felt something! Al did, he told me!"
Joey let the pang of jealousy pass with an annoyed lifting of an eyebrow. "Okay, I admit, the lady freaked us out. Hey, that's her job!" She gave Robin a reassuring squeeze and a peck on her head.
"I guess so," admitted Robin. "What do you suppose she meant?"
Joey laughed. "Oracles are understood only after the fact!"
For a minute, Robin was silent, gently stroking Joey's arm as she watched the flames of the fire. "Joey, can I ask you a favour?"
"Sure, pet, anything."
"Can I sleep with you tonight?" She felt Joey stiffen with tension. "I just want to be close to you."
"Okay. I guess we should, huh? I mean we love each other, right?" Joey stammered.
Robin sat up and looked at Joey, her head to one side as she thought. "Why don't you want to have sex?"
Joey flipped her legs around and sat up. "I do want to have sex. I'm desperate to have sex. I'm just not sure I want it with you!"
Robin looked like she had been hit and Joey rushed on, realizing she had made a real mess out of explaining. "No! That's not what I mean! I mean I haven't, and you have, and I feel inadequate. I've never been in a situation were I wanted to impress and didn't have the skills to do so! The more I want to, the more stressed I get!"
Robin laughed. "What's so funny!" Joey snapped, red in the face with humiliation.
"You are, Joanne Tsakiris, the biggest, tight-assed, over-achieving, idiot, I have ever met!"
Joey swallowed the rest of her drink and sat scowling at the fire. Robin reached over and took the empty glass from her hands. Then she kissed the back of Joey's neck, feeling her arch her back as the goose bumps formed.
"You listen to me, Joey. I don't want to have sex with you either. I could have got that easily over the last ten years. I want you to love me. I want you to trust me enough that you can feel my orgasm and know that only you can give me that completion."
Joey played absently with her watch band. "I don't know if I can." she admitted.
"Can we start by sleeping in the same bed?" asked Robin again.
Joey stood and offered her hand to Robin. She led her through to her private chambers.
The room was large and had been designed for a married couple with double walk in closets and two baths. Robin broke lose and looked around impishly, bouncing on the bed and checking in closets and drawers. "Your underwear drawer is neat! No one has a neat underwear drawer. My God, you fold your undies!" joked Robin in mock shock.
Joey stood in the centre of her room, arms crossed and the corner of her mouth quirked in a half smile. "Tight asses can only wear panties with straight creases," she observed.
Robin grinned over her shoulder at the jest, as she moved to Joey's walk in closet. She turned, wiggled her eyebrows like Groucho Marx and closed the doors. Joey waited. The doors opened again, and Robin stepped out dressed only in one of Robin's silk shirts.
Joey looked her up and down with a mixture of sheer wonderment and open desire. "That is a three hundred dollar silk shirt!" she growled moving closer like a lioness.
"Make it worth while," Robin challenged. She saw the look in Joey's eyes and pushed on. Let it happen, so Joey had no time to fret about her inexperience, Robin decided. She slide up Joey's body and kissing her hungrily. Joey forgot all her inhibitions, and picking Robin up, carried her to the bed.
Much later, Robin stirred and looked up dreamily into Joey's blue eyes. "You, okay, pet?" Joey asked.
Robin leaned down and played with a soft nipple with her tongue. Her lover moaned with pleasure. "I would just like to go on record as saying that the diplomatic service is excellent." She felt, more than heard Joey's laugh.
"Oh yeah! I'd really like that recommendation on my file!"
Robin looked up with sheer devilment in her eyes. "What?!" demanded Joey with a grin.
Robin smiled with the sheer joy of life. "Hey, I'm sleeping with the Tsakiris that had her face on the cover of Newsweek and Time Magazine! Neat!"
Joey laughed at Robin's delight, and then rolled her lover under her to show her again just how much she loved her.
The next day, they flew to Arequipa, a town farther down the coast. Perkins sat beside Joey going through the last minute paper work of a working embassy. While Sak and Luc discussed security matters. Robin settled back, in her first class seat, and enjoyed the after glow of a night spent in her soulmate's arms.
It had been wonderful - the excitement of having all her fantasies about Joey come true, and the sense of protectiveness and joy she took at being Joey's first lover. She had done her best to make it special for Joey, to give back to Joey just a little bit of the happiness and joy that Robin found with her. She didn't know how to tell Joey that she was her hero. Every success that Robin had was because she had been trying to live up to Joey's faith in her. Last night, she had tried to tell her with her actions that what she felt for her was only a small part lust and a whole universe of love.
Things were going much better than she had hoped. Not that Joey trusted her completely yet, she didn't, but they had at least recognized their love for one another. It was an important step in rebuilding the trust that she had destroyed. She had to look at the positive. When she looked on the negative, and saw how out of place she was in Joey's world, or considered the risk Joey was taking in her career and reputation in associating with her, it scared Robin. Robin didn't belong in Joey's world and she knew it.
Joey and Robin stood against the wall of the small, shabby Arequipa airport terminal waiting for Perkins to get the luggage and sign for the hired cars. Sak and Luc nonchalantly formed a human wall in front of them, both men dressed casually in jeans and T-shirts.
Robin smiled; their attempt at blending in failed miserably! Their military hair cuts and the way they alertly scanned the crowd identified them immediately as security personnel. Not to mention the fact that their clothes were pressed perfectly! They might as well have flashing signs over their heads!
"Joey, are you really in danger?" Robin asked, realizing suddenly, that the security being provided for them was overly tight. Robin moved to stand closer to her lover, unconsciously shielding her.
Blue eyes that had been far away in thought suddenly focused on the journalist. "American Embassies have certainly been targeted for terrorist attacks in the past. My work to resolve the ten year war in Central Africa made me very high profile. As a Nobel Prize winner, my face is very well known. That makes me a priority target."
Robin's eyes clouded with worry. "Does that bother you?"
Joey thought about that question. "I've been scared sometimes, in tense situations. You'd be foolish not to be! But one can't give in to terror. As soon as leaders do that, then the principles of democracy are lost. Change has to come from the will of the people not the narrow ideology of fanatics....I'm sorry. I didn't mean to preach."
Robin smiled and risked giving her lover a little bump. "You didn't. You were just being you, and I love you for it. In fact, I'd like you to say it again on film. It really sums up what you are all about." Joey's eyes softened and she reached up to give Robin's shoulder a reassuring squeeze.
Once organized into the cars, they headed through the city of Arequipa. Robin filmed, while Joey talked as she drove. "Arequipa is over four hundred and fifty years old. It's known as the White City because so much of it is made of white volcanic rock." Joey pointed out the windows. "That's them, the three volcanic mountains that surround the city; Arequipa, El Misti and Pishu Pichu. They are dormant but the area still gets lots of earthquakes."
They drove around the city, while Joey pointed out the significant sites. At the city square, they got out and toured the old cathedral and the beautiful Jesuit Monastery that had been converted into stores. Robin loved the colonnade of white volcanic stone columns, each one beautifully carved with panels of intertwined roses.
Then Joey took them to the famous Convent of Santa Catalina. They walked through the walled, religious town now surrounded by the city. Most of it was deserted. The Order had moved to a section of the grounds where the housing and accommodations were more modern. "These were cloistered nuns," Joey explained, as they walked through the narrow cobbled streets of Spanish architecture. The men following at a discreet distance, so not to be picked up on Robin's camera, looked curious but vaguely uncomfortable in being in a world were only nuns walked before.
"Usually, the first daughter was married off and the second was given to the church to be a nun. It wasn't a cheap act of faith, believe me ! The family had to either buy or build a home for her within the grounds of Santa Catalina and put up one hundred pieces of gold for her training. Once her schooling was completed, the family had to give another two hundred gold coins before she was allowed to take her vows and become a nun"
Robin pulled a face from behind the camera and Joey laughed, walking over to her. "Are you a second daughter?" she asked, trying to find out more about Robin's family.
Robin, fishing in her battery belt to change over from a low battery to a new one, snorted bitterly. "I was the only one, unplanned and unwanted."
"I'm sorry," Joey said simply.
Robin looked up to see stormy eyes genuinely upset that Robin had not been loved. Robin shrugged, "It happens a lot." Then, she quickly changed the topic. "So only daughters of families that could afford to buy their way to heaven got sent here?"
"Oh no, a daughter of a poor family could come here to work as a servant to the nuns. Come on, down here," Joey indicated, letting the original topic drop. "I don't know if you can film in here, it's pretty dark."
"I can get it, if you move closer to that beam of light coming through the door on the other side of the wood screen."
Joey obligingly went to stand where she had been asked. "Yup, that will do it," Robin confirmed, "It will make for a nice dramatic shot with the contrast between light and dark on your face."
Joey nodded and waited for the red light to come on the camera. "Once a girl entered the monastery of Santa Catalina, she was never allowed to leave. But on a religious holiday, they were allowed to stand at this wood screen behind a black curtain and talk to family and friends that came to visit. They were allowed five to ten minutes depending on their seniority and their conversations had to be monitored by another nun!"
"It's beautiful and serene, but I bet most girls had to be brought here kicking and screaming!" commented Robin as they checked out the laundry which was a series of halved ceramic wine kegs fed by a central channel of water.
"Well, I guess there were a lot that would have chosen a more conventional life, but it was a time of great faith, and for many women life would be a lot easier in here than toiling from sun up to sun down for a family. Imagine bearing ten children; you would have been pregnant for seven and a half years!"
Robin whizzed on poor Perkins. "And you're going to have lots of children! Brute!" Everyone laughed and Perkins blushed a deep red.
"This is the last stop," observed Joey, leading them down two steps into a white washed room. The walls and ceiling had been painted with elaborate jungle vines, wild flowers and colourful birds. Robin filmed the room, taking a few close up shots of the detailed work. "This is an example of the faith I was talking about. All the nuns here came from the Arequipa area except the one who lived here and painted these designs. She was a poor Bolivian girl who had a dream that called her to become a nun. She walked alone carrying a fifteen pound cross as her only protection through the jungles from Bolivia to here. They refused her entry at first, but after hearing her story, they decided that God must have protected and guided her here. Her trip had taken her two years!"
"This room is lovely! I could live here," Robin nodded with approval.
"No, you couldn't. The nuns took a vow of silence and only talked when it was necessary. You'd explode!" Everyone laughed and they headed back to the main gate.
When they left Santa Catalina, Joey gave instructions for them to drive out to the county side to have lunch at an Inn that was still a working grist mill. They sat on a shady old patio over looking the cool, clear river. Farther down stream from them, the worn, wood wheel turned slowly moving the gears within the stone mill.
Perkins and Luc had managed to get themselves on either side of Robin and Joey was forced to sit across the table with Sak. She tried not to glower, while she thought of horrible fates that she could arrange for her pleasant and efficient assistant. Robin saw the look and smiled. She understood. Wouldn't it be nice if they could just date openly?! It wasn't fair to be denied even the simple pleasure of holding hands while waiting for lunch to arrive.
After lunch, the two women headed for the toilets behind the mill. Once around the corner, Joey grabbed Robin's hand and ran down the dusty farm lane and around the corner. Laughing and out of breath, they crossed a stone bridge, and stopped behind a big, old oak. Robin felt the rough bark against her back as Joey pinned her with her body and kissed her passionately. "I can't get enough of you," Joey groaned. "I'm going to have to kill Perkins!"
Robin laughed, doing a fair bit of fondling of the Ambassador's body too. "He's harmless," she gasped, as Joey sent a shiver of need down to the warm centre of her being.
"He's going to have lots of kids! They don't come in Cracker Jack boxes!" growled Joey, half in jest and half in jealousy.
"Well, he's not having them by me!" protested Robin. "You are the only lover I will ever need or want."
When a worried Sak came looking for them, they were laughing and joking as they came out of the ladies. Women! What do they do in washrooms, he wondered?
The small convoy of cars headed back to their hotel. It was a magnificent old colonial building at the edge of a tree lined square. Joey had craftily suggested, that for security reasons, it might be best for her not to be alone in a room. Robin was moved in and Sak was on one side with Luc and Perkins in the room on the other. "You are devious and ever-so marvelous!" Robin had praised her in a whisper as they hugged in the relative privacy of their room. Joey had smiled happily at the praise.
Dinner was tender beef cooked over a hard-wood fire and served with a hot pepper salad and roast potatoes. Sak relaxed enough to tell some funny stories about his earlier days as a recruit stationed in Hawaii. Luc, to everyone's surprise and delight took the stage for a set and played haunting Spanish melodies on a twelve string guitar he had borrowed from the local band. The evening ended, by them all giving Perkins a rough time again, about his future litter of children just to watch the poor man blush and splutter denials.
Back in their room, Joey handed Robin a box of chocolates. "I seem to remember that you could home in on chocolate within a fifty miles radius like a heat seeking missile," teased Joey. Robin's eyes lit up as she reached for the box, hungrily.
"Have one?" Robin politely asked Joey. Joey, pulled a face and declined, not being fond of sweet things.
"They say, that the best chocolate in the world is made here in Arequipa, Peru. Because it is made with all fresh, natural ingredients, they do not keep, so they are not sold anywhere else but right here. I am told that true chocolate lovers have been known to come to Peru for the sole purpose of eating Arequipa chocolate. So, what do you think?"
Robin chose a solid piece of chocolate so that she could judge fairly. It had a creamy, rich smell that was a delight in itself. With reverence, the sweet disappeared through Robin's lips. The chocolate melted slowly into a soft mousse. Vapours, with a hint of bitter chocolate, blended with the sweet taste of milk chocolate. The treat lasted a long time and when, with regret, Robin swallowed the last traces, a finish of fresh ground cocoa remained to tease her.
"Well?" asked Joey again, laughing at her lover sitting there with her eyes closed and a dreamy look on her face.
"You remember when I said that you were the only lover I would ever need or want?" asked Robin.
Joey looked surprised and a little insecure. "Yeah," she answered, a nervous knot already forming in her gut.
"Well, forget it! This stuff is MUCH better than sex!"
Joey snatched the box back.
They lay naked in each other's arms. Joey enjoying the aftertaste of chocolate that still haunted Robin's mouth. She slipped forward, half covering Robin with her long, graceful lines. Her hand followed a now familiar path, running long, dark fingers across blond, silky hairs. Robin groaned with need and her world shook. Then it shook again!
Joey rolled from bed and threw Robin her jeans and t-shirt. "Quick, we've got to get out of here. It's a quake!" Plaster dust snowed down as Joey took Robin by the hand and they wobbled to the shaking door. Opening it, they met the men in the hall. Sak grabbed Joey, covering her head with his arm. "This way, Ambassador!"
"No, Robin!" shouted Joey, as the second wave hit. Sak grabbed his charge around the waist and half carried her and half pushed her through the courtyard and entrance hall out to the safety of the open plaza. The earth buckled and rolled with a grating sound and chunks of mortar, stone and roofing tile rained down out of the dust clouds. Luc and Perkins came running over.
"Where's Robin?! Where is she? Robin!!" Joey cried frantically, trying to run back into the building. Sak, with difficulty and help from Luc, managed to restrain her.
Only after the worst of the after shocks were over, would he agree to let Luc and Perkins go back in to check. Joey watched quietly, as the two men stepped over debris and disappeared through the entrance, then with a sudden jerk, she was free and running towards the building with the much bigger, but slower, security officer in pursuit.
The wall of the courtyard had collapsed although structurally everything else seemed, superficially, okay. Robin wasn't in the hall or the room. If she hadn't made it out, it meant the wall must have collapsed on her. The four remaining Americans started to dig with their hands frantically.
"Robin! Robin! they called.
Finally, there was a muffled reply. "Joey! Are you okay?"
Relief almost made Joey pass out. "Where are you?"
"In the decorative well in the corner of the courtyard, but something fell on top of us."
"Us? What's on you? Are you hurt? Keep talking Robin!" Joey called frantically, as they tried to locate the well in the debris of the collapsed wall.
"I was right behind you when I saw this little girl. The wall behind her was just cracking up like a shattered windscreen. So I ran and grabbed her and the only place I could see for cover was the fake well. It's really dark in here. I think something's covering the top."
By now the frantic searchers had located the well and were struggling to push a large piece of wall off the crushed well top. Joey yelled down. "Don't worry, Robin. We'll get you out soon!"
"Hey, take your time," came the cheery voice, "We've got the chocolates."
The four desperate diggers froze in their actions and looked at one and another and then laughed in relief. "I'm for leaving her in there!" grumbled Joey. "She scared me half to death!"
"Yeah," sighed Sak, "At least until after breakfast tomorrow, anyway." A small tremor however, got them all heaving on the masonry again.
Two men with a distraught maid showed up searching for the woman's child. With the extra hands, they were able to shove the debris back enough that Sak could reach in and pull first the child out, then the box of chocolates and finally Robin, cut and bruised.
Joey was right there, wrapping Robin in her arms and holding on to her tightly, tears of relief rolling down her face. Robin clung to her lover. She had been far more afraid than she had been willing to let on in front of the little girl. When the small after shakes had hit, her heart had pounded, fearing they would be buried alive.
"That was an incredible brave thing you did," Joey choked, "Don't ever do anything like that again! You scared the hell out of me!"
The three men looked at each other. Luc scowled in disgust, Perkins looked hurt and disappointed and Sak scratched his ear in embarrassed amusement. "Ahhh, Ambassador? We'd probably should go out to the main square." Joey nodded, still too emotional to speak. With her arm around Robin, they led the way through the rubble.
Perkins was despatched to get the first aid kit from the car to treat Robin's abrasions and Luc was assigned to collecting wood debris for a fire to keep off the night chill. Sak stood guard at a discrete distance. Joey sat on the plaza ground, her back propped up against an over turned park bench. Her legs were out straight and she held Robin curled in her lap.
Around them, shaken people collected loved ones together or dug in the rubble. Emergency personnel and the army started to arrive to provide assistance. Already people worked to restore order. Sak had wanted to notify the army of the Ambassador's presence. Joey had vetoed the suggestion say they were safe enough and many others needed help.
"This doesn't look good," Robin muttered. "I'd better get off you."
"No. Our relationship is out in the open now. Stay where you are," responded Joey, holding the woman she loved close.
"But Joey! Your career!" protested Robin.
Perkins came back with the first aid kit and several bottles of drinking water. Joey used one sparingly to clean the worst of Robin's abrasions and put antibiotic cream over the top. Then, the five of them sat around the fire Luc had built and prepared to wait out the night. Robin leaned up against her lover, the shock of the evening finally beating out the adrenalin rush that had kept her going.
Around the large square fires burnt and shadowy figures huddled. Now that the worse was over, people talked and laughed shakily. There had been many injuries but no deaths that anyone knew about and the damage to homes nothing that couldn't be fixed over time. The people were used to quakes. Tomorrow in the light, when the worst of the after shocks were over and people could assess the damage, they would return to their homes and life would go on.
Joey looked down at Robin, who now slept peacefully against her. A soft smile hovered at the edge of Joey's mouth, and she reached to push a truant strand of hair off Robin's face. Sak watched with embarrassed fascination. "Ms. Bradley's got the right stuff. She showed a lot of guts back there," he observed, preferring talk to the awkwardness of silently watching the two women in so loving a situation.
"Yeah," she has," Joey admitted with pride meeting Sak eyes with frankness.
Perkins had been sitting moodily, looking at the fire. "Ambassador," he finally said, after swallowing his nervousness several times, "Robin is a very gentle, caring person..." He closed his mouth not knowing how to continue without offending and yet feeling a need to defend and protect a person that he really liked.
Joey smiled, admiring Perkins for risking his career by trying to protect Robin. "It's okay, Perkins. We both understand the consequences of our actions. We love each other." Perkins nodded sadly and went back to looking at the fire. Luc got up suddenly, and walked off, muttering something about looking for more wood.
For breakfast, they ate some of Robin's chocolates and washed them down with the bottles of water. Robin filmed some of the devastation and had Joey talk on tape about what they had experienced the night before. Luc went to rescue their luggage and Perkins got the cars to the safety of the road by running a slalom course through a rubble covered parking lot. Fortunately, the airport to the north had experienced little damage, the epicentre of the quake having been the downtown section of Arequipa.
They piled into their vehicles and made their way slowly to the airport. This time Sak insisted on driving Joey's car and the two women sat in the back, Robin under Joey's protective arm. The flight to Juliaca, in the Andes highlands was uneventful. From the plane window during take off, they could see that the majority of the quake damage was centred within just a few square blocks.
Robin spent her time checking and cleaning her camera. She would rewind and play sections of video over and over again, her eyes watching intently. Occasionally, she would freeze frame and stare at an image for the longest time. After she had packed everything away carefully, Joey talked.
"Please, Robin, I need you to be very careful once we land. We'll be at an altitude of 10,000 feet. The air is very thin. Walk slowly and don't try to talk and walk at the same time until you adjust. We'll take a taxi over the pass and at one point we'll hit 15,000 feet. On the other side is Puna by Lake Titicaca. It is the highest town and lake in the world at 14,000 feet above sea level."
Robin nodded, preoccupied, and sat quietly holding on to Joey's hand. Joey was surprised by her lover's lack of enthusiasm. Maybe she was hurt more than she had let on. She had lived through an explosion, fallen in love and been buried in an earthquake. Perhaps even Robin's zest for life had been worn down.
At Juliaca, they hired a taxi van to take them to Puna. At this altitude, it would have been foolish to drive the narrow, hairpin, dirt road over the pass even if they could have hired cars in this remote area.
Robin found herself light headed and queasy by the time they reached the top of the pass and started to drop down into the wide plain that held the great lake of Titicaca. Half of the huge, shallow lake was in Peru and the other half in Bolivia.
The hotel was a modern building and afforded a spectacular view of the lake. It was on a small island called Isla Esteues that was joined to the mainland by a single lane causeway. The exhausted group booked in the spacious lobby and then went to their rooms to sleep, agreeing to meet in the lobby lounge sometime later in the afternoon.
Robin and Joey showered together, taking turns washing the dust from each other's hair and bodies, too tired from lack of sleep and oxygen to do more than kiss softly before curling up naked together under the crisp, clean sheets. For a while, Joey lay there, enjoying the feel of being close and intimate with Robin. She closed her sore eyes for awhile and dozed. Then waking half an hour later, she crawled quietly from the bed, dressed and went down to the lobby.
At the main counter, she asked to see the manager and, showing him her diplomatic service card, she was escorted immediately to his office, so that she could use his internet system. She typed several messages, read each over carefully, and then clicked to let it go. For a minute, she sat and looked at the screen, coming to terms with what she had just done. Then she smiled and went into the control panel to wipe out the history of her e-mail.
Robin woke in the afternoon feeling slightly light headed but much recovered. Beside her, Joey still slept peacefully. You are so beautiful, all the way through, and I love you so very much. She leaned over and kissed Joey, softly. "Joey, love? I'm going down stairs. I'll see you there."
"Hmmm," came the sleepy response.
Robin busied herself taking some filler film of the lake and the hotel. Then, back in the lobby, she met Perkins and they ordered the local tea while they waited for the others. "What the hell are you doing?!" came Joey's angry voice from behind Robin. The journalist jumped, spilling the tea that she was pouring into Al's cup.
"Having tea with Al," Robin responded with an annoyed tone, as she put down the tea pot and hurried to wipe up the spill on the coffee table with her napkin.
Perkins stood, "Ambassador Tsakiris, I assure you that..."
"You're dismissed Perkins!" Joey snapped.
Perkins came to attention, "Yes, Ambassador," he said stiffly then turned on his heel and left.
Robin stared at Joey. "What are you doing!? That was really rude!"
"Not here. Upstairs, where it's private. Come," ordered Joey, her lips tight with suppressed rage.
They took the elevator up to their floor and walked down the hall to their room in a silence bristling with tension. As soon as they were inside the room, Robin wheeled on Joey. "What was that about!?"
"You're out of my sight for a few minutes and I find you drinking coco tea with Perkins! What are you on?! Come on tell me! I don't want anymore ugly surprises!"
"What are you taking about?! I don't do drugs!" snapped Robin in anger.
"Yeah, I've heard that one before," Joey responded bitterly. Robin backed up, looking like she had been hit. "Coco tea is made from the leaves of the cocaine plant. Do you think I'm stupid!"
Robin looked at her in stunned shock. "W...What?!"
"It's not addictive in that form, so I don't think it will give you the kick you're looking for. It is used as a bronchial dilator to allow you to take in more oxygen at this altitude," spat out Joey, her lips pale from the lack of oxygen and emotion.
There was a long moment of silence. Then Robin straightened herself with dignity. "I don't do drugs. Perkins and I were told it was the local tea. I think I want to be alone for awhile, Joey."
Joey looked at her closely. Had she over reacted? Was Robin telling the truth? A greater dread replaced the one that had filled her when she saw Robin happily pouring the yellow coco tea. Oh God, what have I done?!
"Look, Robin if I..."
"I want to be alone," repeated Robin with an edge to her voice. Joey nodded and left the room. Down in the lobby she found Sak talking to a badly shaken Perkins. He turned when he saw Joey.
"Ambassador Tsakiris, I understand that there has been an incident," he stated.
Joey shook her head and sat down, indicating the others should do the same. "Perkins, did Robin ask for the tea?"
"No, Ambassador. We were waiting for the rest of you, and a waiter asked if we would like to have some of the local tea. I am sorry if I gave the wrong impression. I assure you..."
Joey held up her hand. "I'm sorry. I over-reacted. "Coco tea is made with the leaves of the cocaine plant. I..It would make Ms. Bardley...sick. Ahhh, a reaction with other things, you understand."
Perkins looked genuinely distressed. "Oh, I am sorry! We thought it was a herbal tea! I wouldn't expose Ro...Ms. Bardley to any danger!"
"That's okay, Perkins. My fault for over reacting. You can go now."
Perkins stood and withdrew, leaving Sak sitting with Joey. "She doesn't have anything on her. I've checked a few times," her security officer said.
Joey looked up sharply, eyes blazing with anger, then realized she was not in a position to criticize someone else's suspicions.
"When I saw her with the tea, I just lost it."
Sak nodded but said nothing at first, then he said. "When I first went into the military, I had a good friend. We'd joined up together. I loved him like a brother. We still keep in touch. But he was a lousy soldier. He'd panic under pressure. I just couldn't trust him. To be close to someone, you've got to be able to trust them."
Joey looked up and met honest brown eyes. "You don't trust her."
Sak thought about that. "Not at first. The prison record put me off and her visit to Turkey. But I can't find anything in her recent background that would indicate any problems and believe me, I've looked! It was clear to me that Ms. Bradley had got to you, and that could have been a big security concern." Joey blushed at Sak's blunt honesty. She thought until last night, they had been pretty discrete.
"I like her. But I'll go on monitoring the situation pretty closely because that's my job. It's yours too. Remember that, okay? And watch what you say." Joey looked down at her hands. Worry and chagrin written all over her face. He was right. Her office had to come first.
"On the other hand, I'd be surprised to find that Robin Bradley isn't what she seems; pretty, intelligent, deeply in love and a damn spunky lady." Joey looked up in surprise. "With due respect, Ambassador, it wouldn't hurt to go up there and tell that young lady that you made a real jackass of yourself!" He smiled, in a fatherly way.
Joey's eyes opened in surprise. Then she laughed and stood, placing a hand on his shoulder and looking down at him with that face that could turn a man's guts to molten lava. "Thanks, Sak. I owe you one," she said and headed for the elevators.
Sak watched her go with thoughtful and worried eyes.
Joey entered the room quietly to find Robin sitting in a chair by the huge picture window, a panoramic view of Lake Titicaca before her. Walking over, Joey placed her hands on Robin's shoulders. When the journalist didn't pull away, Joey risked bending down and kissing her on the head. "I'm sorry. I acted...like a jackass. When I saw you with the tea, I...I just lost it. It was stupid and completely uncalled for, can you forgive me?"
Robin's hand came up and covered one of Joey's cold ones. "I was sitting here thinking about the night of the banquet. I love you so much, Joey," Robin said, her voice heavy with emotion. "But what chance do we have? I don't fit into your world. I can't live with who you are. And you will never be able to trust me again. Maybe, we are the end. Maybe, our love was never meant to be, and our ways go in separate directions."
Joey's heart crunched in fear. "I don't think I could go on if I accepted that," Joey responded, coming around to kneel in front of Robin. She took Robin's shaking hands and held them between hers that were cold with fear. "Okay, I failed this test of our love miserably. But I don't want to give up on us. I can't. Please, Robin, forgive me!"
Robin wrapped her arms around Joey. "Oh Joey, of course I do!" she whispered into her lover's ear. "I'm just so worried about taking someone so special to this world and dragging them down! You have no idea what a hero you are to me!"
"I know you make me happy. You bring to my life...something very special. There is nothing I wouldn't give up to keep you," responded Joey, holding on to the woman she loved as tightly as she dared. "As for being special, the rest of us ran from that hotel last night, you stayed behind and risked your life to save a child. I think that makes you pretty special."
For a long time, they stayed that way, until Joey pulled back and looked at Robin. "I bet you're starved. All you've had to eat today were chocolates this morning!"
Robin giggled and nodded. Then she got that look of sheer devilment in her eyes. "So what do they put in the coffee, opium?"
Joey laughed. "Nope, sorry, just regular or decaffeinated," she responded pulling Robin to her feet as she got up herself.
Robin reached up and kissed Joey tenderly, "You are the only opium I would ever need in my life."
They had dinner on an open terrace on the top floor of the hotel and watched the sun set over the lake, fire and water blending in liquid reds and blues. It was a slow, relaxed meal, Joey having warned Robin to take breaks to replenish her blood with oxygen so that she didn't pass out. They sat and watched the stars come out while Robin had her coffee and Joey her night-cap. Robin found the way they made coffee fun. The waiter would pour a thick, hot, syrupy coffee from a silver carafe into the cup until it was half full and then dilute it with boiling water. The resultant beverage was rich and full bodied and very much to Robin's taste after she had added a heaping spoonful of sugar. The hotel Scotch was Pinch, a dubious blended endeavour that normally would leave Joey scowling. But she was having it with Robin and that made all the difference.
Robin sat quietly now, chewing on her lower lip. She looked over at Joey. Joey hadn't trusted her this afternoon. Should she risk telling Joey about her suspicions? Would Joey laugh at her and tell her that her imagination was running away with her? There was only one way to find out.
"I think you are being followed."
Joey sat up and put her glass down. Blue eyes focused seriously on Robin's face. "I'm listening," she said, and Robin felt her insides relax.
"I saw this man in the plaza square last night. There was just something about the way he moved, more like an animal; I was sure that I had seen him before. Then I remembered seeing him, or someone that moves like him, off in the distance at Pachacamac, in some of the video I took. And I filmed him, again, I think, when we were at the Jesuit monastery that had been converted to stores in Arequipa.
I went over the film this morning, and you are going to have a hard time believing me, but I'm sure it's him. And if I'm right, he has been at most of the sites we have!"
"We need to talk to Sak and his merrymen. Come on," Joey said without hesitation. She signed the bill and took Robin's elbow, leading her to the elevator. They went to their room and Joey called Sak to tell him they were having a conference in her room in five minutes. The men were there in less time than that.
Robin played the video while they formed a tight group looking over her shoulder at the small viewing screen. On the first tape, a shadowy figure back lit by the sun, moved along the top of a desert ridge for a second, and then disappeared from sight. Robin rewound and played it again. The man did move strangely, his arms swinging in time to his steps like a monkey would do.
On the second tape, a figure in the shadows of the colonnade walked between two pillars and was gone. Again Robin rewound and they watched. Again there was nothing to see but shadow. The dark figure moved with the same strange motion.
"What do you think?" Joey asked Sak.
Sak grimaced and shook his head. "I'd say Ms. Bradley has the sharpest eyes and best recall that I've ever seen!"
"I'm always looking for things like that. This is rejected footage because that movement would distract from the visual presentation. So when I saw it a second time and then a third, I became suspicious," she explained.
Sak rubbed his chin and looked at the others. "It could be a tourist following the same route. Thousands do every year, but he seems to be very elusive and I don't like the way Robin keeps picking him up on the tape, as if he is staying close to us. I think we need to take this seriously. Robin can you describe him?"
The journalist nodded. " He's between 5'6" and 5'8". I'd say around 35 years old. His skin is fairly light and his features more European than Indian but he has the thick cropped hair of a Peruvian with Indian blood. He has a large straight nose, dark hair and dark eyes, most likely brown, although it was hard to be sure by firelight. He was wearing old, grey dress pants that had been cut and hemmed at the bottom and on his right leg there was a grease mark about the size of a fist. His shirt was short sleeved and basically white with a fine pattern going vertically through it. He cuts his own hair or an amateur does. He is very under weight and he had a heavy five o'clock shadow....I'm sorry that's all I noticed," she finished looking from one to the other.
There was a moment of silence then Sak shook his head. "Bradley, anytime you wanta join my team you're welcome!"
"You did good, girl!" beamed Joey. Perkins smiled delightedly and Luc stayed in the background. He'd do his duty, but he didn't think much of mixed couples or gays. Neither was the way God intended as far as he could figure.
They discussed heading back to Lima. Perkins and Robin felt it was a good idea. Luc gave no opinion. Sak and Joey felt that it was wrong to give into the fear generated by terrorism. He hadn't approved the documentary, but now that they were committed, he felt it would send the wrong message if they quit. "Americans aren't cowards and they're not quitters, right Tsakiris?" he growled.
Joey smiled. She had really come to like her chief security officer on this trip. She had seen him in a different light, and she knew him to be trustworthy and fair, if a bit over zealous in his job. "That's how I see it," Joey said quietly, and that had ended the discussion. The men trooped out and Joey made sure the door was locked and bolted.
She turned to see a worried Robin fighting for control. "I've put you in great danger with this stupid documentary!"
Joey went over to her. "No, my job puts me in some danger. This could just as easily be some weird tourist who is completely unaware that we exist. Still it is best to be on the safe side and be forewarned and more cautious."
A knock came at their door and both women started. Joey frowned, and was about to reach for the phone to contact Sak when she heard his deep, gruff voice on the other side of her bedroom door.
"It's okay, Ambassador, it's room service with the oxygen. I'm right here with him."
Joey smiled and wiggled her eyebrow at Robin, then went over and opened the door. A hotel employee stood there with a canister of oxygen on wheels. Joey waved him in. "Robin, it is hard to sleep deeply in a thin atmosphere. This is air enriched with oxygen. Breathe it in until you feel your toes start to tingle, then your blood will be saturated with oxygen and you'll sleep better."
Robin smiled with that twinkle she got in her eye at any new experience, and sat down on the edge of the bed while Joey fitted the mask on. After few minutes, Robin nodded and Joey slipped it off to put on herself. When she felt the pins and needles in her toes, she removed the mask and handed it back to the operator. Sak lead him over to where the men were roomed and once again Joey locked and bolted the door.
Robin laughed. "Now that has got to be the most unique room service in the world!"
Joey smiled at Robin's joy of the most simple experiences, and came over and hugged her. "You're terrific, you know that?"
"Oh, yeah, I'm terrific, Ms. Nobel Prize winner before I'm thirty!" Robin snorted, rolling her eyes.
Joey took her face in her hands and looked deep into her eyes. "Yes, you are. I am very proud to be your lover and friend." She leaned down and kissed Robin hungrily and Robin responded to every need her woman had.
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