The Journey
By Janet Lynne

Part 5

-9-

The small blonde was awakened by the sound of her mate singing softly to their daughter. She lay amongst the thick furs, enjoying their warmth and the pleasant sound of her mate's rich voice...so much so that she did not want to move. The sunlight had already brightened into a soft yellow and shafts of it were cutting through the dense foliage above her, suffused by the light morning mist, and creating dappled patterns of light and dark on the ground around her.

The lilting sounds of the lovely lullaby were carried on the light breeze and she closed her eyes again, allowing the pleasing melody to wash over her, setting her soul adrift. The strong warrior's beautiful singing voice contrasted sharply with both her tough image and her battle-roughened speaking voice, which had been hardened by many years of piercing war shrieks. The bard smiled as the sweet song warmed her to her very essence, settling over her like a soft, warm blanket.

She did not need to open her eyes to know that her mate was nearby, sitting against a log next to the campfire as she nursed their baby. This had become their morning ritual. Her mate often left the furs to feed the baby so as not to disturb her sleeping partner. The strong, disciplined warrior didn't mind the fact that her mate liked to sleep longer than she did, and in fact, relished it about her.

At that very moment, as she fed her baby, the dark woman was gazing at her still-resting mate, smiling at her happy, contented visage. She knew, of course, that the smaller warrior was awake, as she could discern her breathing pattern, even from that distance. She does hate to leave those furs in the morning. Hades, so do I anymore. She makes staying in bed so pleasant.

She looked down as the baby's suckling slowed and then stopped as she fell asleep at her mother's breast. The warrior chuckled softly as she disengaged the tiny mouth from her dark red nipple and lifted the sleeping infant to her shoulder and burped her gently. Guess I'll be able to return to the furs after all. She smiled as she glanced at her mate, whose short, blonde hair was spread out on the small pillow, and desire began to pool in her groin as her heart rate picked up and her blood began to race. What is it that she does to me? No man has ever had that effect on me. She shook her head at the realization that she was powerless under the spell of her small, feisty lover.

She silently returned to the sleeping area under the tree and gently lay the baby in her woven cradle, kissing her head tenderly and covering her against the morning chill. Then she turned to her mate and smiled as she noted that her breathing had deepened in sleep once again. Oh, no, my love...not this morning. She knelt beside her mate and pulled her leathers off over her head before climbing naked under the thick covers and covering her partner's body with hers.

The warrior-bard smiled as she felt her mate's body meld with hers and wrapped her arms around her even before she was fully awake. The tall warrior gently thrust her strong thigh between her mate's legs and kissed her softly.

"Mm...morning Xena," the bard whispered as the warrior's lips left hers.

"Morning Gabrielle." She gazed down at her mate and smiled as her eyes fluttered open.

"Gods," the small blonde breathed. "What a beautiful sight to wake up to."

"Mm, I could say the same thing." She said as she leaned down and gently captured a delicious earlobe between her teeth.

The bard tightened her grip around her lover and ran her hands down the soft skin of her back, throwing her head back and sighing as her mate's lips started doing wondrous things to her throat. Her warrior skillfully pulled her short top off with one hand and lifted it from under the covers, tossing it aside, her lips never losing contact with the soft, sweet skin of her mate's throat.

"Gods, Xena, you're good at that." She cupped her hands under her partner's firm behind and began gentle caresses. She felt her warrior's strong muscles clench at the intimate touch and was pleased to note that her breathing had deepened.

"So are you, Gabrielle." Her name rolled silkily off her warrior's tongue and rumbled through Gabrielle's body pleasantly. She lowered her head to devote attention to her bard's breasts and smiled against a coral nipple as she caused a deep moan to emanate from her partner's chest.

"Mmm, yes, Xena..." She brought her hands up and tangled them in the warrior's long, thick hair, as the oh so pleasant exhilaration of love began to course through her body under her lover's skillful touch.

They commenced their familiar loving dance, sharing their deep love and strengthening their special bond as their child slept soundly beside them. Around them, the beings of the forest began their day under a brilliant blue sky dotted with clouds, either oblivious to or not interested in the activity of the two humans beneath the large evergreen tree.

Janna awoke to the lovely sound of Ryan humming a lullaby. Still wrapped within the comfortable warmth of the loving dream, she smiled and snuggled more deeply against her mate's thigh. Ryan glanced down at her and smiled as she nursed Halley. She continued softly humming the old lullaby and caressed her baby's soft cheek with a finger.

Janna wrapped her arm around Ryan's waist as she lay facing her. As the lovely melody of the lullaby continued, it worked its way into her sleep-fogged brain and her consciousness slowly rose to wakefulness. As she blinked her way through the morning fog, she realized that Ryan was humming, rather than her warrior counterpart, and that she was humming the same melody Xena had been singing in the dream. Oh my God...

"Morning, love."

Janna looked up at her mate's smiling face and grinned happily. "Morning, Ryan." She closed her eyes as she reveled in her mate's warmth. Warmth was flooding her soul through their bond as well, as Ryan experienced a deep love for her daughter and mate. "God, honey, I feel good...you feel good...the Universe feels good."

"Mm," Ryan agreed.

"I was just having a wonderful dream. My warrior was feeding our baby and singing the same melody that you were just humming."

"Really, Janna? That's remarkable."

"The whole thing is remarkable, Ryan. Every damn thing about our lives."

"I can't argue with that, Janna." Ryan said softly as she gazed at Halley. She had finished nursing and was lying contentedly, looking up at her mother, whose wet nipple was lying against the baby's chin. "God, Janna, the baby is becoming so alert. Look at her, she's just watching me quietly."

Janna sat up to look at her daughter. "I know. Look at her eyes, honey. I see such wisdom there. As if she carries the knowledge of the Universe."

"She does, in a way, doesn't she? Babies are so much closer to Essence. I read recently that toddlers and young children very commonly see angels and talk to their spirit guides. I totally believe that, Janna."

"So do I, love. And they remember their past lives. When I was very young I had very clear memories of living in an Indian cliff dwelling and in an English cottage with a flower garden in front...and I had never been farther away from home than Disneyland."

"That's so cool, love. I want Halley to feel that she can talk openly about those things...if she experiences them."

"Absolutely."

A soft knock sounded at their door and Ryan called, "Come in."

As Marty entered, Janna pulled the covers up and tucked them under the baby, covering Ryan's bare breasts, and herself as well.

Marty smiled. "Good morning...I didn't wake you did I?"

"No, Halley was just having her breakfast and we were talking. What are you up to this morning?" Ryan asked.

Marty smiled at her niece and said, "Well, my timing is perfect then, because I wanted to ask if when Halley had finished her breakfast, Zac and I could take her for a walk around the ranch. May we? Give you a little quiet time for an hour or two?"

Ryan and Janna looked at each other wide-eyed, so much so that they appeared almost comical. Marty thought they looked adorable and smiled. She tilted her head in question and said, "Well?"

Ryan overcame the shock first and out stumbled, "Gee, Marty, um..."

Janna took over for her flustered wife. "Wow, um, Marty, we've never left her before, but..." she looked at her mate and added, "I guess we could...for an hour or so. Honey, what do you think?"

Ryan blew out a breath, which ruffled her bangs cutely, and looked at her wife. "I don't know, Janna...um, I don't know if I'm comfortable with that." She glanced quickly over at Marty. "No offense, Marty...we've just never left her with anyone else."

Marty approached the bed and sat down. As she did so, the baby turned her head away from her mother's chest and looked at her. "I understand. But, she'll be perfectly safe with us, and you'll be right here. She is three months old." She raised her eyebrows in question.

Janna turned to her mate and caressed her arm as she softly said, "Honey, I think it will be fine. We have to leave her with someone else some time...why not let the first time be when we're so close by? Hm?" She suddenly looked up, and exclaimed, "Oh my gosh! What am I thinking? Marty, you're watching her for us tomorrow while we do the sweat lodge. I guess a trial run is a good idea."

Marty smiled and nodded as Ryan looked down at the infant in her arms, who was gazing with such interest at her aunt, and sucked in a breath before letting it out, saying, "Okay. I guess it will be okay. But you won't take her far will you?"

Marty smiled. "No, Ryan. Not off the property. We need to feed the horses and check some fencing...just walking the perimeter of the place will take about an hour. I think she'll enjoy it. May I use the carrier?"

"Sure, Marty, and I'll think she'll enjoy it too. Thanks so much." Janna picked up her hand in thanks and Marty squeezed hers in return. "Here, um...let me get my robe on and I'll get it and some pacifiers for you."

Ryan, not at all sure of the idea, nevertheless offered, "She's um, been changed and what she's wearing is fine, but I think she'll need her little sweatshirt too." She handed the baby to Marty, who began cooing at her, causing baby giggles and gurgles.

"Okay, love," Janna said as she shrugged her robe on. She walked over to where the diaper bag sat, tying her robe as she went, and dug out a tiny, navy 'Police' sweatshirt and a handful of pacifiers. She returned to the bed and slipped the shirt on over Halley's head as Marty held her.

"Baby, maybe they should take the diaper bag...she hasn't done her morning poop yet."

Janna grinned as she faced Marty. "Oh, lucky you!"

Marty returned the grin. "Oh, I don't mind." She added with a wink, "It will be good practice for Zac." At that, Ryan and Janna both laughed, and some of the tension they felt was allayed.

"Okay, are we set?" Marty asked the baby.

"It looks like you are. Marty, thanks, this was a nice idea."

"We're more than happy to do it, Janna. It's not entirely unselfish on our parts, you know...we want to spend a little time with her."

"Well, thanks anyway, Marty...we appreciate the offer. Have fun." Ryan said from where she sat on the bed, arms wrapped around her knees over the sheet.

"Oh, we will. Won't we little one? Your uncle Zac is waiting...shall we go find him?" She directed her gaze to Halley's two mothers, and then looked down at her watch. "It's 7:30...we won't be back before 9:30." Her eyes twinkled a silent message.

Ryan grinned, almost shyly, and then looked at her daughter. "Come here, baby girl...give Momma a kiss." She reached for her daughter and Marty lifted her to her mother's lips. Ryan kissed her sweetly on the cheek and said, "Now you be a good girl for your aunt and uncle, okay? Momma loves you. Bye bye." She watched somewhat morosely as Janna approached and did the same thing, then walked Halley and her aunt to the door. She stood watching them walk down the hallway and then slowly closed the door, leaning against it and gazing sadly at her mate.

"I know, Janna...I feel like I have a hole right here." Ryan said, her voice cracking slightly as she lifted her hand to her heart.

"God," Janna exclaimed, "That shouldn't have been so hard should it?"

Ryan held her arms open to her wife as she said, "I don't know, I've never been through that before. Jesus Christ..." She shook her head and pulled her mate onto the bed, to sit in her embrace.

They sat quietly together for several minutes, both missing their daughter acutely before Ryan broke the silence. She muttered against Janna's hair, "I guess this is the first in a very long line of firsts. There will be many more on her path to adulthood." She kissed Janna's hair and looked at her. "We'd better get used to it."

"I guess we'd better." She sighed and pulled the sheet down so that she could wrap her arm around Ryan's bare waist. Ryan responded by pulling the tie on her robe and letting it drape open so that she could do the same thing.

They sat in the warm comfort of their love for several more minutes, letting it soothe the mild ache that their daughter's absence caused. Presently, Ryan chuckled. "Shit, Janna, look at us...a couple of grown women reduced to fawning idiots when their baby goes outside to play without them for the first time."

Janna responded with chuckles of her own. "I'm glad no one else is around to see it." She pulled Ryan closer and burrowed into her side, kissing her neck as she did so.

"Yep, I'm glad too. It would not be good for my reputation." She nuzzled the soft head that was nestled against her shoulder and sighed as another, more pleasant emotion made itself known. She cleared her throat. "Um, so...what should we do with ourselves and all this privacy?"

Janna grinned into Ryan's strong shoulder. "Oh, I don't know...do you have any ideas?"

"I have ideas, sure. Did you have anything in mind?" Ryan bit her lip stoically and tried to clamp down on the desire that was starting to wield its control, so as not to influence Janna.

"Other than catching up on some sleep, you mean?" She grinned up at her mate and ran a finger gingerly along her collarbone. "Yeah, um, I do have some ideas. You're not overly tired are you?" She could feel her mate's cascading desire, as well as the fact that she was trying to control it...albeit unsuccessfully...and it was causing a similar cascading of sensations in her own body.

"No, I'm not tired at all. You?" Ryan looked down at her with serious, darkening blue eyes.

"Nope. I'm feeling very good, as a matter of fact." She grinned slyly up at her mate and Ryan mirrored the look, both finally admitting what they wanted.

"Mm, Janna, I'm glad," she said as she turned to face her mate, "Since last night's loving was interrupted by a little someone and I'm feeling kinda needy."

"Well, we can't have that, can we?" Janna answered as her robe was gently pushed from her shoulders.

"Absolutely not, "Ryan answered just before softly biting the inviting bare shoulder before her. "What should we do, love?"

"What you're doing is just fine, Ryan."

"After that."

"Mmm...what? Oh, um, do you think we have time for..." her concentration was broken by the gently exploring lips that were making their way across her breastbone. "Time for some Tantric love? Do...do you think?" She brought her hands up to tangle in Ryan's soft black locks.

"Mm, I don't know, baby...we've been going for more than an hour lately...and that's just the good part...that's not...mmm, God, you taste good....that's not counting the preliminaries."

"Well, Ryan, the pre...preliminaries are already under way." She threw her head back as Ryan's lips moved lower down her chest and thoroughly enjoyed the sensation of her desire building exponentially.

Ryan gave a taut pink nipple a sensuous caress with her tongue before answering, "That's very true. They're well under way."

"Tantra it is, then." Janna ran her hands down Ryan's back, softly grazing her skin with her short nails.

"Mm, baby, yes. Get in my lap, love." As Janna positioned herself in her taller mate's lap, Ryan continued her loving assault on her breasts.

Janna sighed, "God, Ryan, I'll never get enough of that." Ryan didn't answer, as the taste of her mate's sweet skin was beginning to carry her away. She fed hungrily at Janna's breasts, feeding her desire and quickly losing control.

Janna mumbled, "Tantra, love...let's slow it down," as her desire swirled within. Ryan's touch awakened a need in her unlike any she had ever experienced and she was quickly losing control as well.

"Sorry, babe...you turn me on so...I lose control." She looked back up and captured her mate's lips, tenderly, communicating love rather than raw need.

Janna reached forward and laid her palm flat on Ryan's heart chakra, and Ryan did the same, feeling her mate's heartbeat synchronize with hers. They connected physically with their already existing energetic bond and the energy flowed between them twofold. Then Janna reached down with her right hand and entered her lover gently with two fingers, and Ryan did likewise, creating a closed circuit within which their shared energy could flow. They came together for another passionate kiss and began to move together as one, beginning the cycle of love that would continue for more than an hour.

The sunlight, in warm tones of yellow and pink, illuminated them as they made love in their favorite position, a position with which their souls were very familiar, and they had only been resting together in each other's arms for a very few minutes afterward when their daughter returned to them.

~~~~~~~~~~

Ryan cinched the leather strap and checked the set of the saddle. Satisfied, she nodded and looked back at her brother, who sat astride one of the appaloosas. She gazed back at him, blinking in the bright sunlight.

"You look good up there, Zac. Takes me back."

"Yeah, Sis. We had a lot of great times on horseback, didn't we?" He patted the neck of his favorite mount thoughtfully. "About the only good times I can remember having as a teenager."

Ryan hoisted herself skillfully onto the horse's back as she replied, "Great times, Zac. I wish there'd been more." She grasped the reins and held them loosely in her hand as she gazed sincerely at her brother.

He grinned lopsidedly at his sister. "The best is yet to come, Ry. Giddup!" Clucking loudly, he encouraged his faithful friend and they took off, leaving Ryan and her golden mount sitting in a cloud of dust. She grinned widely and shook her head as she yelled, "Hah!" and her mare answered, following her stable mate's dusty trail.

Earlier, after Halley had returned from her outing, the three of them had shared breakfast with their hosts and then gone back to their room to share a bath. They sat in the warm, bubbly water together in a row: Janna cradling the baby to her chest as Ryan cradled her. Gently, Ryan cupped water over Janna's head and poured a small amount of lavender-scented herbal shampoo in her hair.

"Mm, lavender today, huh?" Janna asked as she lay contentedly against her mate's chest.

"Mm, hm. I love to smell this in your hair." Ryan said as she began to gently massage the shampoo into Janna's scalp.

"And I like the gardenia on you." Janna said as she turned the baby to face her and was greeted by a tiny, lopsided grin.

"Janna, you just insist on making me smell like a girl, don't you?" Ryan asked, mock-indignantly.

"You are a girl, remember?" Janna reminded her.

"That's not the point. I don't like to smell frilly. I like a clean, practical scent."

"Of course you do, honey. I also like the ylang-ylang on you." Janna grinned as she half turned and eyed her mate.

"Hmm...didn't you tell me that ylang-ylang is an herbal aphrodisiac?"

"Mm, hm."

"Then I'm glad you like it, baby." She finished her declaration with a gentle nip to her partner's neck.

"Yes, it goes nicely with that natural spicy musk scent that you insist on excreting. It turns me on no end."

"I'll have to get some ylang-ylang cologne then."

Janna laughed. "I'm sure we can get some from Joe and Ellen."

"Enough talk about aphrodisiacs, Janna, I'm getting hot again, and I'm still feeling sated from earlier."

"Then you must not have been sated, Ryan."

"Oh, I was sated, Janna, believe me. Sated to the point of paralysis, and so were you. I just can't get enough of you, baby." She ran her hands down Janna's sides and tenderly kissed her neck.

"I'm glad."

"Mm," Ryan sighed. "So, do you want to ride with Zac and I? Marty said she'd be happy to watch the baby again."

Janna's brows furrowed as she considered. "I don't know, honey. I'm not all that fond of riding...I've only done it a few times, though. Why don't you and Zac go...I'd just hold you back. I do not like to go fast, and I'm sure you'd enjoy letting loose a little, wouldn't you?" She looked back to see her mate thinking seriously.

"Honey, that's okay. I can let loose some other time."

"No, you go on. Marty and the baby and I can have a visit, and you and Zac can have some alone time. I think he'd like that, Ryan."

"Well, only if you're sure."

"I am."

"Okay, but I'd love to take you out with me before we leave. Since we've been here I've been having riding dreams from our warrior life...and you did feel good holding on to me while we rode with the wind...very, very good."

"I've been uncomfortable on horseback in many of those dreams, but I think I did eventually grow to love it. I do remember one dream where we were riding fast, just for fun, and it was exhilarating."

"Yeah, it can be."

"Okay, let's plan on it...maybe later today or tomorrow after the sweat."

"Done, love."

Ryan returned to the present and smiled as her horse carried her swiftly along the high desert plateau. She missed her mate, but smiled at the thought of her lovely face, and felt her through their link. She leaned low over her mount's neck as she followed her brother across the dry landscape, enjoying the feeling both the freedom and the sense of being close to her Comanche roots gave her.

The Comanche had been masters of riding, known for incredible feats of warfare and hunting arts astride. As teenagers, she and Zac had reveled in that part of their heritage and both felt extremely at home on horseback. They would ride for miles and miles along the hot, mostly barren plains of west Texas, their skill giving them feelings of power and strength that nothing else in their young lives did.

Their grandfather and father had taught them to ride during summer visits when they were very young: Ryan had sat astride her first horse at four, and Zac had joined her four years later. As teenagers, after their father died and Zac had moved to Texas, they would often ride together bareback, displaying immense skill as they raced and jumped gullies and fences, both proudly reveling in the expression of their Native heritage.

Remembering those days brought a smile to Ryan's face as Zac pulled up to a stop under a rare copse of cottonwood trees. With a wide grin, he slung his leg over the horse and dropped to the ground.

"You've still got it, Sis." He grabbed his canteen and downed a large swallow of water.

Ryan dropped to her feet as well, grabbed her canteen, twisted the top off, tilted her head back and drank deeply, letting the water soothe her parched throat. She had forgotten how the dust tended to coat the inside of her mouth and throat, but didn't mind it. It was a part of the experience. "Thanks, Zac. I hope to hell I wouldn't lose a skill that had been so ingrained in me."

Zac grinned as he led his horse to the tiny stream that still trickled in the gully under the trees. "Not you, Ry." He released the reins, let his mount stand in the stream to drink his fill, and sat on the bank in the sparse shade.

Ryan's horse joined Zac's and she joined her brother. She tilted her head back and took a lungful of the clean air. "God, I love it out here, Zac. You picked a nice place to live."

"Thanks, Sis...we love it, too. I was lucky to get the house as cheaply as I did...but it needed a lot of work."

"So, you're planning on hanging around here for a while, huh?" She took another sip from her canteen as she gazed around.

"Yeah." He remarked laconically.

"And if the Army has different ideas?"

"It's called 'retirement', Sis." He grinned at her look of surprise.

"Really? What would you do then?"

"Raise horses, what else?" He grinned widely at her, white teeth flashing in the sun as a breeze parted the meager shade.

Ryan laughed, "Yeah, what else? Zachary Zamora, Comanche Horse Trader. Breeder of fine Indian Paints! I can just see it, Red Hawk. That's cool."

"Yeah, and don't forget palominos."

"True, that's a beautiful pair you have." She became pensive for a moment as a strong dream memory flashed across her awareness. Zac noticed but looked away and let her have her moment. After a moment, she said quietly, "Hey, you remember when I told you that Janna and I think we've been together in other lives?"

"Of course, Puma...you are her Twin Soul."

Ryan nodded. "Right. Well there's this one life...took place in ancient Greece, we think. Anyway, we both visit it all the time in our dreams...it's like the pivotal life in our series of lives together, I think. We were warriors...both women, but a couple...and we had a palomino. Or at least whatever ancient breed they descended from. Looked exactly like this one." She gained a faraway look as she recalled her ancient counterpart's beloved mare. "She was a beautiful horse...carried the both of us with ease." She gazed at her mount as she rooted along the streambed.

"They're a good, strong breed."

"Mm. Yeah. This horse here really takes me back there, Zac. The only thing missing is having Janna behind me, holding on and laughing."

"It's remarkable that you have such clear recall, Ryan. That's very rare."

"Yep. Like Janna said not too long ago, 'Every damn thing about our lives is remarkable'."

"It is that, Puma. It is that." He agreed as he picked up a small stone and tossed it into the creek. He looked up at the sun and noted that it was noon. "Well, Sis, shall we get back?"

"Yep...if I know our ladies, they'll have a nice lunch spread waiting for us." She grinned in anticipation of the fine meal.

Zac grinned. "You got that right. And Marty wants to go into town to do some shopping...you guys want to tag along?"

"Yeah, I think so. We want to get some blankets and tobacco to share with Two Crows."

"Sounds good," Zac said as he pulled his horse up the bank of the gully and mounted him. As soon as Ryan was astride her mare, he said, "Race you!" And took off.

Ryan threw her head back and laughed deeply, her voice becoming lost behind her as she raced with the wind.

-10-

After their ride, Zac and his sister entered the house noisily, laughing heartily, but quickly quieted as they saw their wives meditating together in the family room. Janna and Marty sat side-by-side, each holding a quartz crystal as they quietly chanted in a Native tongue. An incense holder sat on the floor between them, with a thin, white wisp of smoke rising from the burning stick.

Zac grabbed Ryan's arm and pulled her into the kitchen, where he explained, "That is a Cherokee meditation that one of Marty's friends taught her. I'm glad she's teaching it to Janna."

"Yeah, that's cool...since it's Janna's tribe. I'll have to have her teach it to me. It's for achieving balance?"

Zac looked sharply at his sister. "How did you know that?"

Ryan answered honestly, "I can feel it...she's very balanced right now."

"Shit," Zac mumbled. Looking back up at his sister, he grinned as he added, "Speaking of balance...are you ready for the sweat? Have you abstained from the things that I told you that you need to abstain from?"

Ryan looked down at her hands, embarrassed. "Um, well, most of them." She faced her brother and added, honestly again, "You know that one of them was gonna be pretty goddamn hard for us, Zac."

He grinned at his sister. "Yeah, I know. But I think if you can keep your hands off of each other until after the sweat tomorrow, it'll be okay." He punched his sister in the arm. "Come, on, Ry...if Marty and I can do it, so can you guys."

Ryan grinned jauntily at her brother. "Oh, I don't know, Zac...it's already been established that I'm the bigger stud...you just don't know what you're asking, bro!"

"What! No fucking way, Ryan. That was a fluke. You are not gonna tell me that nine times in one week is normal for you two. I didn't believe it then and I don't believe it now."

"Well, okay...I will admit that now, since the baby's here, we're down to about eight...but I know that still has you beat...admit it, bro!"

"Ryan, I am just about ready to kick your ass..." Zac said as he reached for his sister, but she was too fast and had run from the room and exited out onto the patio. He chased after her and several minutes later, they could be seen rolling around in the meadow. Their wives watched from the family room after the meditation was finished and both laughed aloud at their mates' antics.

~~~~~~~~~~

The faint light from the dawn sun slanted through the trees, and the Native and part-Native people present nodded respectfully at their Grandfather's appearance. The medicine man, Two Crows, led a short chant to welcome him and then spoke to his sweat participants.

"Since this will be a mixed male-female sweat, I will ask that you only disrobe to the point at which you are comfortable. As you may know, sweats are usually done naked...we take none of our pretensions in there with us...but if you prefer to stay in your under things or in your swimsuits, that will be fine, and should not affect the outcome for you. There is no shame in participating comfortably. There is also no shame in not finishing the sweat. If you should feel overcome by the heat or by anything you may experience, please leave and wait for us outside. I may even leave early...every sweat experience is different...even for me." He looked to his three participants and nodded. "Now, if you will prepare yourselves, we will enter the sweat lodge."

He nodded again and began pulling his clothes off, and so did his guests. Ryan untied her robe and pulled if off, then helped Janna off with hers as well, and set them on a log together. As she stood naked in the cool forest, she grabbed her naked wife's hand and squeezed it gently, letting her pride flow through their link. Janna felt her mate's emotion and squeezed her hand in return.

Zac had also elected to do the sweat in the nude and stood unashamedly behind his sisters. When the shaman saw that his guests were ready, he said a short prayer and then dropped to his knees and crawled into the lodge. His guests followed in the same fashion and seated themselves inside the small structure in a circle around a fire pit.

A teenaged girl, Two Crows' niece and assistant, entered, still clothed, as she would be tending the fire outside, and, using large tongs, dropped a large rock into the small fire pit. She made the trip three more times, each time placing a stone in one of the four directions, and then a few more were added until Two Crows felt it was enough. The girl placed the last stone and then exited, closing the flap behind her and stayed outside to tend the large fire.

Ryan gazed around briefly and noted that the sweat lodge seemed nearly identical to others she had been in. It was a temporary structure, constructed of a frame of saplings which were covered by several large, heavy tarps. It measured roughly twelve feet across and the floor on the inside perimeter was lined with pine boughs. Smells like cedar.

The small opening that served as the doorway faced the east, letting the light from Grandfather Sun enter when the tarp was pulled aside.

Ryan's attention was pulled back to the sweat leader when he began to sing softly, leading them in song. She joined in, hearing her wife beside her do the same, and smiled as she sang the ancient sweat chant.

After the first chant was complete, Two Crows rose and picked up a bucket of water. He approached the pit that held the hot rocks and said a prayer before pouring water over the them. As the steam began to rise, he began another chant and returned to his place.

The steam and heat quickly filled the small structure and as the medicine man led them through more chants and singing, Ryan felt increasingly at peace and whole. She closed her eyes and sighed, letting out a deeply held breath, and felt her soul connect with Gaia, the Earth Spirit. Intuitively, she felt her soulmate beside her do the same thing, and she reached over and grasped Janna's hand.

Together, they embarked upon a spiritual journey, led by the wise shaman, which would strengthen their bond more than anything else they had ever done together...in any life.

~~~~~~~~~~

Two Crows led the sweat participants out into the forest and they breathed deeply of the cool, fresh air. He then led them into the nearby stream to cleanse themselves further. Ryan stepped into the cold water, still holding Janna's hand and gasped as her breath was taken away. Nevertheless, she immersed herself, bringing her partner with her, without complaint, and they relished the cooling water.

Ryan sat on the stream bottom and lay back, letting the cool waters soothe her super-heated skin. Dappled sunlight hit her in the face and she thanked Grandfather for his energy. She looked to her left and saw Janna do the same, and smiled. My God...there aren't words for what we just experienced together...nor for how much I love her. We are so deeply connected that I no longer know where I end and she begins...thank you, Great Spirit...with all of my being, I thank you.

Her silent musings and words of thanks were interrupted then, as Two Crows began a prayer thanking the water for giving itself to them. He thanked the water as he had thanked all of the spirits involved in their sweat; from the trees who had become their shelter, to the wood for the fire, to the rocks who had given up their life energy to the humans. Ryan, Janna, and Zac bowed their heads reverently and felt their gratitude as Two Crows solemnly recited the prayer. He then led them from the water and told them to dress and join him beside the fire. When his guests had rejoined him, those who wanted to discuss what they had seen and experienced, did so, and he answered their questions as well.

An hour later, as the sun sat high in the sky, they bid the shaman goodbye and thanked him for his services by presenting him with several blankets and a bag of tobacco. He thanked the women and Zac graciously and invited them to contact him again if they ever wished to do another sweat or needed anything at all.

On the drive back down the mountain, to Las Cruces, they were all very quiet, each still feeling rather ethereal and digesting what they had experienced. As the ranch came into view, Ryan broke the silence. "Zac, that was an incredible experience. Thank you so much for arranging it."

"Don't mention it, Puma. I'm very glad that both of you found it fulfilling." He nodded to her and then to Janna, who smiled and nodded in return.

"Fulfilling is not the word for it, Red Hawk." Ryan said as she glanced at her wife in the back seat of Zac's Cherokee. Janna quietly nodded her agreement and smiled, filling her wife with joy.

Later, as Zac and Marty prepared dinner and Halley slept beside them in her bouncer, Ryan and Janna lounged in the hot tub on the patio. Marty and Zac had wisely and correctly assumed that the soulmates needed some time alone to discuss their visions, so they had graciously declined their offers to help cook and steered the women outside.

As Janna lay against her chest, Ryan hugged her tightly while she gazed out over the desert. The blue of the sky was beginning to darken as Grandfather made his way toward the west. "God, it's beautiful here in the spring, Janna."

"Mm, hm." Janna mumbled in response, feeling utterly content. Her eyes were closed but she knew of what Ryan was speaking.

Ryan took a deep breath, pulling in fresh, clean air mixed with her wife's scent and smiled. "Janna, I wanna tell you about what I saw in the sweat...about my vision. Though, I have a feeling that you may already know about it."

"Mm, tell me about it, Ryan, and we'll compare." Janna murmured.

Ryan began, "Well, it was a combination, I think...a vision and out-of-body travel."

Janna smiled and nodded, knowing then that they had in fact shared the experience. "Yes, mine too."

Cool. "It started out as a vision. We were together, Janna, holding hands, like we were in the lodge, and we took off, flying. We flew low over the forest that the lodge was in and then we came to a raging river with a bridge high above it. I had the strongest feeling that the river represented the past...past challenges we have faced and overcome...and we flew easily across the bridge. We flew some more and came to another bridge. You got there a little ahead of me and waited for me on the other side...holding your hand out to me. I crossed the bridge and grasped your hand and we..."

Janna continued, "We continued on and each time we came to a bridge, one of us would be slightly ahead of the other and would cross, then wait for our partner. We would meet, hold hands, and continue on. And all of the bridges were different. Some were rope, some were wood..."

Ryan continued, "Some were steel. They ranged from flimsy and fragile to strong and sturdy, but each time, we had no trouble crossing, because we could see our mate on the other side, reaching out to us."

"Yes, Ryan! Yes."

"And the last one, Janna..."

"The last one was golden and we crossed it together, into a beautiful land. I think it was paradise."

"Yes, love. I think it was. But I could see beyond the beautiful meadows and forests and there were many more sets of bridges, waiting to be crossed together at later times."

"My God, Ryan...we did experience the vision together!" Janna exclaimed and began to cry softly. She lifted Ryan's hand from her waist to her cheek and reveled in her warm touch. Ryan leaned forward and rested her cheek against Janna's hair.

After several minutes, she asked, "What happened then, Janna? After the vision?" She waited while Janna gathered her thoughts.

"We returned to the sweat lodge. I opened my eyes and saw Two Crows looking at us. He smiled...a kind of knowing, kindly smile...and chanted something, then dropped some herbs into the firepit and I felt like I was whisked out of my body."

Ryan grinned, elated because she had experienced the same thing. "Yes, me too, Janna. I floated up out of my body and hovered at the top of the lodge. I looked down and could see all of us sitting around the fire."

"I saw you and I sitting together, holding hands and then Two Crows looked up...he looked right at us and nodded." Janna turned her head slightly and smiled at Ryan.

"Yep. He is a very gifted shaman. Then I grabbed your hand and we sort of popped out through the top of the lodge and we were outside, hovering above it."

"Yes," Janna added. "I saw the girl pick up another rock from the fire and go into the lodge. She came out a few seconds later and set down the tongs, then splashed water on her face and she sat next to the fire. And then,"

Ryan interrupted, laughing, "She looked up...right at us...and smiled!"

"Yes! That was so amazing! We both smiled and waved and then we took off. We rose above the trees and started flying over the forest."

"Yes! It was incredible, Janna! The feeling of flying. I felt so free and so unencumbered, and then I looked to my side and saw you and was filled with joy. My soul itself was joyous."

"Yes, that's a good description of how I felt. We flew together over the forest and then down the mountainside to the desert and then we were at Zac's house."

"Yes, I thought of the baby and suddenly we were there. We sort of popped through the family room wall and there she was. Marty was sitting in the wooden rocker, feeding Halley a bottle."

"And Marty stopped rocking for a minute, then started again and looked at us, and smiled!" Janna gasped.

"Yep, there's yet another wise Navajo woman, Janna. Um, when we came home, she smiled at me...a real warm smile...and said, "Did you enjoy your journey?" All I could do was hug her and nod.

"I saw that, honey. It made me cry."

"Everything makes you cry, baby."

"True. Back to the journey." She caressed the arms which were wrapped tightly around her abdomen and sighed. "Then we left and flew fast, toward the ocean. I was amazed at the sight of our home valley...how green it was. And then we reached the coast..."

"Santa Cruz...I saw the boardwalk." Ryan added.

"Yes, it was. Then we flew up, high into the sky. We left the Earth's atmosphere and headed toward the moon. I have always wanted to visit her..."

"That's why we did, Janna."

"Mm, yes. That was so unbelievable, Ryan! We flew low over the moon and I couldn't believe how many shades of gray it consisted of...and the sunlight was so stark...so...cold, yet intense." She glanced quickly back at her mate as she added, "Did you, um, see structures?"

"I sure did. In a huge crater...on the far side. I wonder if NASA knows about them?" Ryan mused. "I'll have to tell Zac, though he probably knows all about it and won't be able to confirm or deny it." Ryan's eyes sparkled, mirroring the grin she sported.

"Right, not without having to kill you!" Janna laughed, then sobered as she added, "I didn't get any sense of malice regarding the structures there, though."

"No, I didn't either. It was as if it were a friendly base or something. Very interesting."

"Yeah, very...and right up my alley of interest. I definitely want to explore that further sometime." She added thoughtfully, "If I'm supposed to."

"Yeah, baby. If you're supposed to. Then where did we go?" Ryan asked gleefully, nuzzling Janna's neck.

"Oh, that was so cool...we swooped back down into the sky and we were above..."

"Wait, don't tell me. Just tell me something cool about what you saw."

Janna grinned, "Okay. It was beautiful...it was night and this country, most of the edges, the coastlines, were brightly lit, while the interior..."

"Was as black as night. Yes, Janna! It was..."

"Australia! My God, Ryan, it was impressive. Such a huge place and so obviously sparsely populated. I'd love to visit there one day."

"Then we will, baby. We'll find a ship to take us there so you won't have to fly."

"Thank you, love." Janna sighed deeply and a tear rolled down her cheek.

"Then what did we see, Janna?" Ryan squeezed her mate as she kissed her neck.

"We continued on over the Pacific Ocean, and the sky slowly brightened and suddenly, Grandfather appeared over the horizon in front of us in a brilliant orange burst."

"Yes, and as we flew eastward, his light went from orange to yellow to white, and we were suddenly over the desert again, and then in the forest and then above the sweat lodge."

Janna continued, "We slowly drifted down and popped back into the lodge...it was cool the way there was an actual physical sensation to that...and then I was back in my body. I opened my eyes and saw you looking at me, with tears rolling down your cheeks, and then my waterworks started." She grinned at her normally stoic mate.

"Yep, baby, that is exactly what happened. We did have visions, Janna...and we had them together! That was so incredible. It was beyond incredible."

"Way, way beyond incredible, Ryan."

Ryan thought for a moment, then added, "But there was one more thing...um, maybe you didn't see it."

Janna grinned and turned in Ryan's embrace, straddling her lap. "Before the astral travel, at the end of the vision part...I was lying in your arms, in bed. We were kissing, very gently, very softly, and I felt filled with love for you. I opened my eyes and looked at you and you were old. You had white hair and a lined face. You smiled down at me...that same crooked smile that I can't resist...and I kissed you again."

Ryan swallowed hard and tears appeared in her bright eyes. "Jesus, Janna. Yes. You had white hair too. And such a beautiful, kindly face. I loved you so much. I felt like the most blessed woman on the planet to have spent my life so happily with you."

Janna responded to Ryan silently, with a love-filled gaze and a heartfelt kiss, and they shared their love together like that, quietly and respectfully, for long minutes. Grandfather sun smiled warmly upon them before he disappeared for the day, very pleased with the spiritual and emotional step they had taken together.

He almost envied the two humans for the journey they were traveling together. Not quite, but almost.

~~~~~~~~~~

The next morning, the Zamoras bid the Norden-Zamoras goodbye and wished them a safe trip home. They headed north, through Albuquerque, and on to Santa Fe. While in Albuquerque, they visited with Janna's favorite great aunt, who was staying with her daughter. Over a delicious dinner, they shared the tale of the sweat journey, and though they weren't as deeply involved in their Native heritage as Janna was, her relatives were intrigued by the story.

As they drove on through the early evening twilight, toward the quaint Santa Fe inn they had stayed in before, Ryan remarked, "I need to tell you again how much I love your Aunt May, honey. She is so great."

"Yeah, she is. She's seen a lot...endured a lot...and has much to share. I think the thing that impresses me the most about her is that through everything, through terrible loss and hard times, she's retained her positive outlook. She has such a sunny disposition, and I admire that so much."

"You're just like her, you know, Janna."

"Am I? I don't know, Ryan. I've seen some things that have hardened me...especially in the music scene." She shook her head, not entirely sure she agreed with her mate.

"It's true, Janna. Look at how your positive attitude pulled me through after my accident. I would not have made it without you, Janna. No way."

"Oh, Ryan. You are the strongest woman I know...and not just physically."

"Janna, I have no doubts that you pulled me through. I felt so worthless and you pounded some sense into me. There is no one else in my life who would have done that...not and been successful at it. You have me so wrapped around your little finger that there was no way I was gonna disappoint you." She took her eyes from the highway and grinned at her mate.

"Is that right? Wrapped around my finger, huh? We'll just have to see about that, won't we?" Janna promised, and Ryan grinned again.

"Yes, we will, baby. How about later?"

"It's a date. Let's hope little Miss Halley doesn't have other plans." She rested her hand on Ryan's thigh as she turned to gaze at their baby in the back seat.

"I don't think she'll mind, Janna. She's been so good on this trip. Way better than I even dared to hope. Do you think the nice energy here agrees with her or something?"

"I think that it does, yeah. Plus, remember, she's empathic and picks up on the emotions of those around her. It's been an incredibly happy vacation for us, Ryan."

"Jesus, baby, it has that." She removed the soft hand from her thigh and brought it to her lips. "As good as last year's trip when I made you pregnant." Ryan's eyes sparkled at the memory and Janna felt a jolt of lust from her partner.

"God, Ryan...we're gonna have to do that again one of these days."

"Absolutely, baby. We know there's another little soul out there waiting to arrive."

"Mm." Janna became pensive for a moment before saying, "A little boy, I think."

Ryan looked sharply at her. "How do you know, Janna?"

"Just a feeling." She looked at Ryan and smiled.

"Jesus, Janna, you're good. You are right...it is a boy. That's one of the things my grandfather showed me when he gave me the warning vision last year."

Janna raised her eyebrows at her wife in surprise. "Oh? What else haven't you shared with me, love?"

"Nothing that won't be revealed to you in time, my love. Grandfather's wishes, Janna...not mine." Ryan gazed apologetically at her, then returned her attention to the highway. "We're coming up to our exit, baby...help me find it, huh?"

Janna shook her head at the successful change of subject, but smiled as she watched the highway signs fly by overhead. We are definitely going to finish this conversation later, I think.

Later, however, she found herself wrapped blissfully around her mate as she was made love to under the light of a waning gibbous moon. Past visions were about the farthest thing from her mind as Ryan's strong, loving hands did wondrous things to her body, while her lips consumed Janna's passionately.

"By the gods, Ryan..." Janna panted against the hot, soft mouth.

"By all the gods and spirits, Janna, I love you." Was the deep, mumbled reply.

The next morning found them again gazing at the site of one of their past lives. The three of them stood together, before Taos Pueblo, gazing thoughtfully at it before entering. Ryan held the sleeping Halley in the carrier on her chest as she held Janna's hand.

"Janna, do you think that Halley lived here with us? We had two children...a girl and a boy."

Janna thought for a moment. "My sense is that yes, she did...but I'm not sure she was our child." She furrowed her brows in thought and gazed at her daughter. "I feel an older, wiser energy about her. As if she were a parent to one of us, or maybe an elder or a shaman."

"I kinda do too, but she has that feel in this life too, even though she's our child."

"Well, yeah, that's true. It may just be that she's an older soul than either of us are and she was actually our child in that life. I think she was male, though."

"So do I, but don't ask me why."

"It's an intuitive thing, honey, and you're becoming good at intrepreting it."

Ryan smiled at her mate. "Thanks, Janna. Shall we go on in?"

"Lead on, babe."


Part 6

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