The Journey
By Janet Lynne

Part 7

-13-

See Part 1 for disclaimers

Two months later, late May

Ryan turned at the doorway to the classroom and gave one last wave to the children. As she did so, she was nearly knocked over by the force of the hug she received from a small, brown-haired little ten-year old. She wrapped her arms around him and pulled him close, then knelt next to him and signed, "I'll see you in September, Andrew. Have a fun summer."

The little boy nodded, near tears, and said, "Buh buh."

"Bye bye, Andrew," Ryan spoke as she signed. She then displayed the three-fingered hand sign for, "I love you," and stood, showing the sign to the rest of the class as they looked on.

She was greeted with nine little hands displaying the sign in return, accompanied by vocalizations of the phrase in varying degrees of understandability. Her heart lurched as she gazed at the classroom of children whom as she had grown to love, two of whom were moving on to Junior High in the fall. As the emotion stuck in her throat, she sent a private prayer to the Universe, asking it to look after the children as they made their journey through life. For these children, it would not always be an easy journey and she prayed that no one would ever…ever…take unfair advantage of any of them. She gave a final wave and bid the teachers goodbye again, then turned and left the small, portable classroom.

As she made her way across the grass field, toward the parking lot, she was reminded, as always, of the terrible tragedy that had occurred on the playground six years previously. As her heart was once again gripped by the pain and horror she had experienced on that unforgettable day, she thought, mother fucking asshole. I hope you're rotting in hell. Then, recalling what the spirit dudes had told her about the nature of the afterlife, restated the thought as, or, rather, have created for yourself an astral hell because of what you did. Prick. Grinning wickedly, she thought, karma's a bitch, dude. Every one of those little ones is gonna kill you just as horribly. Your next five deaths will be hell, just like theirs were. Ha! The thought, morbid though it was, gave her a small amount of pleasure. She couldn't muster so much as an iota of compassion for the killer, and didn't feel the least amount of guilt over the fact.

Ryan shook her head, trying to shake off the anger. It was difficult though, as she could still see the small bodies lying on the asphalt in pools of blood where the deranged gunman had shot them down before taking his own life. An expressive eyebrow rose knowingly. At least he did that right. She knew, without a shadow of a doubt, that had the coward not taken his life, she or one of her comrades would have...without giving it so much as a second of consideration. As he had not given the innocent children any, and all because their parents had sought refuge in America from the murdering, marauding communists in their home countries of southeast Asia, and the horrible, racist, pathetic excuse for a human had taken exception to that fact. Ryan had been one of the first responding officers to the scene, having been patrolling nearby, and her lovely, tear-streaked image had made news reports and newspaper front pages nationwide.

She blew out a breath, trying to physically let go of the anger and horror. Come on, get a grip, woman. As she reached her patrol car and sat behind the wheel, Ryan thought of her wife and daughter, and happy images replaced the terrible ones. I think I'll stop at home for a minute on the way back to the station.

While driving the short distance to their home, Ryan let the love she shared with Janna soothe her. She didn't allow the horror of the real world to pierce the protective shield that surrounded their life, always striving to leave "work" at work.

As she entered the pleasant neighborhood where they resided, she let the atmosphere of home and family calm her further. In the last fifteen years or so the more than a century old neighborhood had been transformed, changing from an old, worn down area full of derelict homes and rundown apartment buildings to an area where the pride of ownership was beginning to shine. A large percentage of the homes had been renovated to their former glory, including theirs under Janna's guiding hand, and high quality senior and low-income units were housed in the old apartment buildings. It was an example of urban renewal and historic preservation at their most successful, and Ryan and Janna both were pleased and honored to make their home there. Now, rather than dirty lots overrun with weeds, most of the homes featured green lawns and pleasant landscaping.

Ryan turned into her driveway and admired, as always, Janna's handiwork in the garden. Rose bushes in full bloom bordered both property lines, while an English-styled country garden bursting with summer color lined the entire front of the attractive sunshine-yellow two-story house. The lovely yard had never failed to raise Ryan's spirits when they were low, or after a long day at the station or on patrol.

She pulled her black and white patrol car into the driveway behind Janna's Wrangler and exited, making her way toward the kitchen door at the side of the house. She let herself in and dropped her keys on the counter, halfway expecting to hear music playing semi-loudly. As a silent home greeted her, she wondered, hmm, maybe she's in the darkroom. After grabbing a juice from the refrigerator and taking a large swallow, she nimbly used one hand to unfasten the buttons on her dark blue uniform shirt, and pulled the tails out of her pants, letting it hang open over the bulletproof vest that she still chose to wear, since she still responded to calls on occasion. As she left the kitchen, Ryan heard a guitar being strummed softly in the family room, accompanying Janna's soft singing voice, so she headed in that direction.

Halley lay on the floor, her attention focused on one of several toys that surrounded her, her pacifier bobbing happily in her mouth as it was sucked upon, while her mother sat on the nearby sofa working on a new song. Janna felt her mate's presence before even hearing her enter the house, and smiled. I love it when she drops in on us. She kept playing as the warmth caused by her wife's proximity bathed her heart center, and she closed her eyes, letting the feeling inspire her further. She softly sang the new line, then, somewhat pleased with it, stopped strumming and leaned forward to jot the words and chords down on the sheet of music paper lying on the coffee table.

Ryan stopped at the doorway to gaze at her girls. Halley was on her Navajo blanket on the floor, lying on her back under an activity center that sported various interesting objects suspended below it. She playfully grasped at a colorful toy, enjoying the movement she created. Ryan's smiling gaze traveled from her baby up to her mate, who sat relaxed on the comfortable sofa. Her eyes were closed as she strummed a pleasant melody and softly sang a verse. Ryan turned her ear toward Janna, straining to hear what she was saying.

"Love of my life, light of my soul…dawn of my joy; finally, I'm home."

Tears sprang to Ryan's eyes as she realized that Janna was writing the song, but even more so because, through their bond, she could feel the emotion behind the words. It's about me.

Janna let the softly strummed chord fade as a smile lit her face. She knew that Ryan was watching her and could feel her wonder. She leaned forward and set the guitar on the floor, resting it against the side of the couch, then turned toward her tall mate. Her wife stood gazing at her teary-eyed, a forgotten bottle of juice suspended from her hand. She looked adorably rumpled with her shirt askew…no, not adorable…sexy…and Janna smiled warmly at her. She wore her black bulletproof vest over a starched white t-shirt and looked every bit the tough, proud cop...except for the tears threatening to spill.

As Janna turned her loving gaze on her, Ryan's heart lurched and she stepped into the room, wordlessly setting the juice on the coffee table, and knelt at her wife's knee. Janna reached out and pulled her into her embrace, kissing her dark head and sighing deeply.

As soon as she was certain that she could speak without faltering, Ryan muttered, "Janna, that was beautiful." She looked up into Janna's pleasant face with bright, love-filled blue eyes.

Janna shrugged self-deprecatingly as she said, "Thank you, honey, but I don't know. I'm having a hard time with it." She grinned wryly as she added, "I've never tried to write a love song before. I've always written songs out of anger, about injustice…I've never tried to write when I've been happy. I've been working on this since our New Mexico trip." She laughed. "I'm afraid I haven't had any practice writing happy songs." She gazed deeply into Ryan's eyes as she added, "But this is my life now. The anger is gone, for the most part. I'm filled with my love for you and I wanted to try to write about that." She shrugged again. "It should be so easy, because of what I feel for you, but…"

"God, Janna." The emotion rose to Ryan's throat again, blocking her ability to speak. However, she didn't need to. Janna pulled her up onto the sofa beside her and wrapped her arms around her tough cop's waist, resting her head on her strong shoulder. They sat in the quiet warmth of their love for several minutes, the silence broken only by the light sucking sounds of their baby's pacifier and of the rattle of her toys as she batted and kicked at them.

Ryan gently grasped Janna's chin and captured her lips. They communicated their feelings to each other that way for several more minutes, until Ryan pulled away and grinned lopsidedly, saying, "I'm not in the habit of having sex while on duty, baby, so we'd better stop now."

"If we have to, Ryan." She leaned forward and gently kissed her wife once more, then rested her head once again on her shoulder. Together, they turned their gaze on their daughter, who had turned and was quietly gazing back at them.

"She's feeling our love, Ryan."

"Mm, hmm. God, that's amazing Janna. Let's always try our best only to have positive emotions between us when she's in the room, okay?"

"Somehow, I don't think that's gonna be hard, love. We've fought exactly, what…two, three times…in two years together?"

"Yep."

Janna snuggled more deeply against her mate's shoulder as she absentmindedly played with a button on her open shirt. "I felt your pain a while ago, Ryan. Were you at the school?"

Ryan closed her eyes in remembrance and sighed. "Yes, love. It still hurts as much as it ever did, but you know what?" At Janna's shake of the head, she added, "Now I have something that takes my mind off it beautifully. Two somethings, actually, and they're both here in this room." She kissed the blonde head under her cheek.

"We're so glad we can help, love."

"What about you, Janna. Earlier I thought I felt some anxiety coming from you. Is everything okay?"

"Mm, wow…I'm surprised you felt that. I got some weird news but decided not to stress over it. I decided to focus on the song instead." She pulled away from Ryan and sat up. "Do you, um, have a few minutes, or should I tell you after work?"

"Well, what is it, Janna…is something wrong?" Ryan asked, concerned.

"No, not seriously…it's not to do with us…well, not really. I'll make it quick. You know that the guys, the Pansies, are starting that little west coast tour on Monday?" At Ryan's nod and small grin, she continued, "Of course, it's all they've been able to talk about for weeks! Well, anyway, they're supposed to leave Sunday for Monday's show in Seattle, but Brandon is in the hospital…he had to have an emergency appendectomy this morning."

"Oh, shit." Shit. "Sorry, Janna…shoot. That's terrible. Is he okay? Will they have to cancel?"

Janna nodded, then shook her head, concerned. "He's okay, yeah, but can't travel for several weeks. They don't know yet what they'll do. Um, they won't have to cancel if they can get a guitarist to fill in for those few weeks." She let that sink in, trying to gauge Ryan's reaction.

It didn't take her sharp wife long. Ryan's mouth curled into a grin as she said, "Oh, I see. And they happen to know a talented guitarist who also just happens to know all of their songs as well as they do…having produced them."

Janna looked down at her hands and smiled. "Yeah, something like that." Looking back up at Ryan, she added, "I'm glad you're smiling at the idea, Ryan, because it doesn't exactly thrill me."

"Well, Janna, what are their options? Is there anyone else?"

Janna shook her head negatively. "No. No one."

"And this tour is a huge opportunity for them? When their CD is already selling remarkably well?"

Janna nodded, affirmatively this time.

"Well, babe, how do you feel about it?"

"Very torn, Ryan. I will not leave you and the baby for three weeks…there is no way. But I don't want to let them down. This tour is really huge…beyond huge…they're becoming very popular on this coast." She sighed deeply. "I told Jeff that I would think about it, but I'm afraid I'm gonna have to tell him 'no'."

"Why, Janna? Do you not want to play?"

"No, Ryan, that's not a problem…I love to play. The problem lies in the fact that I won't leave you and the baby for three weeks."

"No problem. We'll go with you."

Janna sat, stunned, gaping at her wife. "What?"

Ryan grinned widely. "I said, we'll go with you. Is that a problem?"

Janna shook her head, her brows furrowing in confusion. "No, that's not a problem…are you serious? Wait…let me rephrase that. Ryan, you can't be serious! You, me and the baby spending three weeks on a rock and roll tour bus with two nineteen-year old guys and their twenty-five year old manager?"

Ryan shrugged, grinning. "Could be fun."

Janna let out a nervous laugh. "Oh, no, honey, fun is not quite the word for it. It's very hard and boring. The drives are long, the nights are late, sleep is short, tempers become even shorter…you often end up hating your band mates and can't wait to not have to see them again for six months."

Ryan smiled warmly and pulled her cute mate into her arms. "Admit it, Janna, you're dying to do it again." Janna collapsed against her, shaking her head and laughing, and Ryan added, "And with Halley and me along, it'll be fun. You won't be bored and I'll make sure you get the proper sleep." She nuzzled her wife's head, grinning wickedly into her soft hair. "You know I have my ways of making sure you're very tired at night."

Janna sighed, letting out the lust that had instantly begun to course through her body. "Oh my God, yes…you sure do."

"Well?"

"You're really serious about this?"

Ryan's expression grew serious. "Yes, Janna. Look, it'll kill those guys if they have to miss this tour, and they're good kids…they deserve this shot. And let's face it, having you in the band, even for just a few weeks, can't hurt them."

Janna grinned, pleased at her mate's compliment. She shook her head as she gazed into Ryan's sparkling eyes. "Well, okay. I'll let Jeff know. Thank you, honey...so much. Um, what about work?"

"I have two more weeks of paid vacation time, which I can take whenever I want…and if we're gone longer than that, it will just be unpaid. They're giving me lots of leeway, Janna. I think that someone up high must consider me an asset…politically." She shrugged, then added wryly, "I'm female and gay...it's probably an 'affirmative action' quota type thing."

"Whatever it is, you are a tremendous asset to that force and they finally realize it. I'll bet you become the first ever female Captain there, Ryan...maybe even Chief."

"Oh, Janna, bullsh…no way, babe. I'm not looking for that."

"But it's in you, Ryan…no question." She buried her face against her wife's warm neck. "Mm, how long did you say you could stay?"

Ryan sighed. "I should've been back ten minutes ago. I didn't log out on personal time. Later, baby, okay?"

"Mmm, but you're so sexy in your uniform…it's not fair." Janna breathed deeply of her mate's sweet, spicy scent and ran her hand under an edge of her vest.

"I have a few loose ends to tie up if I'm gonna be gone for a few weeks, so let me go take care of them and then I'll come home and leave my uniform on for a while. That okay?" She nuzzled her mate's sweet-smelling hair, the longing for her coursing powerfully through her body.

"More than okay. I'll play with Halley, then feed her an early dinner, and put her down for her nap. Then I'll be waiting for you. And um, leave the vest at work, will ya?"

"Absolutely, baby. Give me a kiss that'll last the next couple of hours, Janna."

Janna happily complied.

~~~~~~~~~~

Janna clicked the mouse, sending off the last of her email correspondence and glanced at the digital display at the bottom right of the monitor. No sooner did the thought, mm, she should be home any time now, come to mind, than she felt the soft warmth of her mate wrapping itself around her heart, signaling her closeness. She smiled and pushed away from her desk, stretching. Glancing at the nursery monitor receiver, she noted the gentle, just perceptible rise and fall of the columns of lights, indicating Halley's gentle respirations in sleep.

She sat back in the chair and sighed, enjoying the buzz that her soulmate's proximity was setting off in her body. Just then, the ringing of the doorbell startled her. Hmm… She stood and made her way to the front of the house. As she neared the door, she could see a distorted dark blue form through the stained glass yin and yang design of warm yellow and white.

A cop…what? Briefly, she was gripped by the clenching fear that something had happened to her wife again, but the reassuring warmth from Ryan's heart chakra immediately replaced it. Maybe it's John, she thought as she pulled the door open.

Standing before her was a tall, dark police officer, looking all business. The cop nodded at Janna and said in a low, sexy drawl, "You reported a prowler, ma'am?"

Janna bit off a grin and tried to control the elation she felt as she replied seriously, "Yes, Officer, I did. Come in, please." She ushered the gorgeous cop into her home and said, "Um, I heard noises out back, near the gazebo. My baby is sleeping, so let me just, um, grab the nursery monitor and I'll show you the way."

"Thank you, ma'am." The cop nodded politely.

Janna led the tall police officer down the hallway to her office, where she ducked in quickly and grabbed the small unit, then joined the cop again and led the way to the French doors that led to the back deck.

As the cop followed the attractive woman through the house, the thought, Jesus, I wish all my calls were from babes like this, came to light and a large, feral grin found it's way onto the dark, attractive face.

The blonde woman thrust open the doors and motioned to the cop. "Right this way, Officer," she said as she walked to the gazebo and entered the attractive white structure. "I was in here, soaking, when I heard the noise."

"Okay, ma'am. Stay here, please, while I check out the yard. I wouldn't want you getting hurt." I wouldn't want anything bad happening to that beautiful body of yours.

Janna stood back and enjoyed the view with a large grin as the cop made a show of thoroughly checking the small yard. The officer soon returned to the gazebo and removed sunglasses, revealing brilliant blue eyes. "I'm sorry, ma'am, but whoever it was seems to be gone now. Could it possibly have been a cat or some other pet?"

Janna furrowed her brows in thought and responded, "You know, it very well could have been. My next-door neighbors have several large cats and they like to jump from the roof to the gazebo. I'm so sorry, Officer, if I've wasted your time." Janna looked coyly at the attractive cop, her green eyes glittering in the bright sunlight, and noted a tensing of the cop's strong jaw.

"It's no problem at all, ma'am. In fact, I've enjoyed being of service to you. Is there anything else I can do for you while I'm here?" The deep voice asked seductively.

Janna batted her eyelashes coyly at the handsome cop and replied, "Why yes, um, I think there may be," as she approached, laying warm hands on the cop's strong chest.

"I live to serve, ma'am," the tall officer said with a wide grin as she swept the small blonde into her arms. "And I would like nothing more than to serve you personally right now." She lowered her head and captured Janna's mouth possessively.

Janna moaned and wrapped her arms around her wife's strong body, enjoying the feel of the starched cotton of her uniform beneath her hands. "Mm, what did you say your name was?" She mumbled against the hot mouth after breaking the kiss.

"Norden-Zamora. Sergeant Ryan Norden-Zamora, at your service," she replied, grinning as she began to unbutton her shirt.

"I am so pleased to meet you, Sergeant. I cannot tell you how much."

Sometime after her incredible erotic encounter with the police sergeant in the spa, on the deck and on the darkroom worktable, Janna sat at the dining room table going over the tour itinerary while Ryan sat beside her, nursing Halley. Ryan looked over at her mate and grinned. "Janna, I am spent, baby. I just want you to know."

Janna looked up from the calendar and various printouts and smiled as she leaned back in her chair and stretched. "Oh, yeah? So if I wanted to go some more later, you'd be too tired?"

Ryan's eyes grew wide as she gazed at her mate. "Are you kidding? Um, no, of course I wouldn't be too tired…but um, where is this coming from, Janna?"

"I'm anticipating the total lack of privacy on the tour bus, Ryan, and thinking that maybe we should get in as much loving before we leave as we can."

"Wait a minute…you're serious? What do you mean 'total lack of privacy'?"

"Just that, honey. The bus we'll be using has six berths…sleep areas…and they're all together, separated by curtains. There will be no privacy. We're, um…let me see." She stuck the pencil in her mouth as she looked through the pile of papers. "Oh, yeah, here it is. We'll be on the bus, it looks like six or seven of the eighteen nights. And then there's all the travel time."

Ryan gazed seriously at her mate before smiling and saying, "Well, baby, those young men may just get an education then, because I am not missing out on my daily loving."

"Well, then, Ryan, you'd better brush up on your quiet lovemaking skills, because I don't care to have the entire bus know what we're up to when we're up to it. Okay?"

"Done, baby."

Janna eyed her mate mischievously and grinned, matching Ryan's sparkling smile. "We'll have to think of ways to keep Halley corralled too, since she's just discovered her knees."

Ryan winced. "Ooh, yeah, that's right. She would start to crawl just before this trip." She gazed down at the five-month old in her arms. "Isn't that right little Miss Halley? Momma's gonna be chasing after you for three weeks straight, I can see it now."

Halley stopped nursing for a moment and eyeing her mother, said, "Gick." Then went right back to her suckling.

"Yes, gick is right, my baby girl." Ryan smiled and leaned down to plant a kiss on her baby's forehead. "Janna, her hair is really getting long. Should we give her a haircut soon, do you think?"

"Probably, honey. She must get that from you. My hair doesn't grow that fast."

"I'm needing a haircut too…maybe you can take care of both of us before we leave on Sunday. What time do we leave on Sunday?"

Janna winced, which was really all the answer Ryan needed. "Okay, love, say no more…it must be before 8:00."

"It most definitely is. The bus leaves at 6:00 sharp."

Even Ryan winced at that early time. "Jesus, why? The show isn't until 9:00 Monday night. It's only 800 miles to Seattle."

"It's wise to allow plenty of time, and Jeff knows that. He's actually done a great job of planning this thing. And yes, we'll do haircuts tonight, okay?"

"Okay, babe. And you, little Miss Pretty Blue eyes, time to switch…this side is dry." Ryan deftly switched her daughter to her other arm and uncovered a fresh breast for her. Halley latched on like the old pro that she had become and closed her eyes contentedly. Ryan leaned back in the high-backed chair, also content. She watched as Janna delved back into the paperwork. Thoughtfully, she asked, "You're getting excited about this, aren't you, Janna?"

Janna looked up again and smiled, warming Ryan's heart. "Yeah, I am, Ryan." She reached for her wife's free hand and grasped it tenderly. "Thank you so much for doing this for me. I really appreciate it."

Ryan lifted their linked hands to her mouth. "I know, love. You're welcome. I think it's gonna be fun. I'm looking forward to it, too."


-14-

The large, modern bus traveled smoothly along Interstate 5, heading north out of California to Washington and Oregon for concerts in Seattle and Portland. After visiting the Pacific Northwest, the tour would continue in California, with the entourage turning south and hitting first Chico, then Sacramento, Fresno, Bakersfield, Los Angeles, San Diego and back up north to finish with two dates in San Francisco.

The atmosphere aboard was jovial and lighthearted, with a definite air of excitement. The young, all-gay band, Attack of the Pansies, had played numerous shows in and around their hometown, but this was their first real tour…short though it was. The length of the tour didn't matter to the young men…they would have been thrilled with a three-day tour.

Though the band remained unsigned to any record label…they preferred to remain independent, at least for the time being…Janna's music industry contacts had secured for them both interest from clubs, labels and distributors, and financial backing from interests who felt the neo punk band had a promising future. Ryan and Janna themselves could be counted among their backers, and Janna had produced their CD as well. The band, consisting of the rock standard trio of guitarist, bassist and drummer, played mainly gay-themed songs of their own composition, but also relied heavily on punk and queer punk standards, including several of Janna's songs. Their CD included three of her songs, in fact.

As the bus traveled along the Northern California coastline, through beautiful redwood forestland under a deep blue sky, its inhabitants visited raucously. The mood was high, as it tended to be on the opening days of a tour…later on, weeks into the travel, the mood would possibly be much different. However, on this particular tour, Janna knew, it was likely that the mood would remain upbeat the entire three weeks, as the young men reveled in their newfound profession.

Janna, Ryan, and Halley were seated at the table that sat beneath a large window behind the driver. Jeff, the band's manger, sat across the bus on the comfortable couch with his brother, Jason, the drummer. Their friend Brian, who handled the bass, sat nearby. They were all discussing their set list for the first show, to be held in a large club in downtown Seattle.

Janna sat quietly, not offering advice unless it was asked for. She felt that as a replacement player, she didn't have the right to intrude, however, the other members of the band considered her a full member. In fact, they each secretly felt that she made the band complete and, while concerned about their friend Brandon's health and sorry at his misfortune, were thrilled that Janna had agreed to take his place. The several times that she had performed with them locally had been exceptionally exciting shows. Plus, they all admired her both for her talent and experience, and also for her mentoring skills. They had all delighted in her friendship.

Ryan handed another rattle to Halley, who was seated at the table in a portable seat, and grinned at Jeff before saying, "So, Jeff, how does it feel to be the only breeder on a bus full of queers?"

The sandy-haired man threw his head back in laughter as he replied, "I'm pretty used to it, Ryan, thanks. Though all these female hormones floating around can be a little overpowering."

Jason added, "Yeah, but what Bri and I lack in testosterone, Ryan makes up for!"

Ryan laughed deeply, nodding her head in agreement as Jeff added, "Yeah, I guess so! But anyway, I'm more concerned about the age factor…I just hope I can keep these little boys out of trouble." He gave his younger brother a punch in the arm to punctuate his point.

"Hey, watch it, old man! We may be pansies, but together we can kick your ass!" His brother Jason replied.

"Hey, Jase…I hate to be an old woman, but watch the mouth, huh? This little one soaks up everything like a sponge."

"Sorry, Ryan, I forgot. It's not gonna be easy, but I'll work on it."

"Yeah, we know it's not easy…God knows I know how hard it is…and we hate to cramp your style, but it is important to us." She looked at Janna and then at each of the guys as she added, "I, uh, appreciate that you didn't mind me and Halley tagging along, so I'll try not to get too bitchy about the language…or anything else."

Brian responded, "Ryan, don't worry about it. We can watch ourselves, and we think it's great that you all wanted to stay together. It's cool."

Ryan grinned. "Thanks, Brian." She threw her arm around her wife's shoulders. "Yeah, I had to come along to keep an eye on her. She has a reputation for stealing the virtue of young groupie women."

"Ryan!" Janna slapped her mate playfully. "One time! One time in how many years, and then we ended up living together."

As Ryan grinned widely, the guys laughed and Jeff said, "Well, now I know who to keep my eyes on!"

Janna stuck her tongue out at him and slapped her wife again. "Troublemaker." She changed the subject by addressing Jeff. "Can I see the set list?"

"Sure," he said as he handed her a sheet of paper.

She perused it quickly, nodding her head in agreement. "Yeah, this looks good. But where are the encores?" She looked from Jeff to each of the other musicians.

"Do you think we'll need encore songs?" Jason asked, wide-eyed.

Janna smiled widely. "I do!"

"Wow, well, um…" Jeff faltered. "We've already got all of our songs, including yours, covered. Plus a few Pansy Div covers. Should we just use one of those?"

Janna thought for a moment as she looked at the song list. "No, I think the length of the show as you have it here is just right. We'll have to see, of course. See how the first show goes, but this looks good to me." She looked thoughtful again, trying to remember what other songs they had done while jamming together. She suggested, "How about classics? Something from the Ramones, or Pearl Jam…Nirvana, Black Flag?"

"Yeah!" Jeff exclaimed. "The last time you jammed I thought you did a great job with 'Outsider', 'Highest Trails Above' and 'Smells Like Teen Spirit'."

"Yeah," added Brian, "And Green Day's 'Welcome to Paradise'."

"Right," Janna said, grinning. Why don't you decide on two of those?"

"Yeah, yeah…" Jeff said as he looked back down at the titles he had jotted down. "Let's try 'Teen Spirit' and 'Highest Trails', and see how they come off."

"Sounds good," Janna said and the others nodded in agreement.

Jeff wrote in the other two songs and held up the paper. "There it is…the set list for the first show. I think it's gonna be great, guys." He smiled widely at his brother and friends.

"Cool," Janna said.

Halley, sitting beside her, then started to fuss a bit. Ryan replaced her choo choo in her mouth, but she spit it right out and frowned, her fuss becoming more vocal. "Janna, hon, I think it's time for her to eat."

"Okay, babe." She stood up and removed her hungry daughter from the seat attached to the edge of the tabletop. "Come here, my little love. Time to eat."

"Mind some company, sweetheart?"

"Absolutely not, love. Come on." Janna smiled at her mate, pleased to share her company. They made their way together to the back of the bus. Their bed was a double that sat at the very back, across the width of the vehicle, and offered a surprisingly comfortably large space. It was also the most private cubicle, with an actual door…a thin, sliding pocket door.

Janna climbed onto the bed with Halley and Ryan closed the door behind them before joining them. "She's probably wet, Janna."

"Mm, hm. More than wet, I think, by the smell of it."

Ryan gazed down at her daughter and said softly, "Well no wonder she's grumpy…I would be, too. Yes, I would, little Halley."

"Hand me the diaper bag, love."

Ryan did, keeping her yes locked with her daughter's all the while and eliciting a smile from her. "There's my pretty girl." She looked up at Janna. "God, Janna, is it me, or is she getting cuter by the day?"

"Well, I hardly think we're objective, but she does seem incredibly cute. Jesus, look at her mother…why wouldn't she be?"

Ryan did…look at her mother…and grinned as she nodded in agreement.

"Oh, you! I didn't mean me, silly. I meant you." Janna said as she pulled the dirty diaper away from Halley's soft skin, blushing faintly at her wife's compliment.

"Janna, you are the cuter one, by far, and she looks so much like you." She reached forward and pushed a strand of hair behind Janna's ear. "You are so pretty, my love."

"Honey, that's sweet, but you are the gorgeous one…we've discussed this before…and I don't think either of us is prepared to change her opinion."

"Nope!" Ryan agreed. She helped Janna to pull a clean sleeper into place and she picked up her daughter so Janna could ready herself. Janna pulled the vertical blinds closed and pulled her shirt off over her head, then removed her bra. She sat facing Ryan, and with heavy, full breasts, was a vision of lovely womanhood.

The sight of her wife topless never failed to take Ryan's breath away, even though they had been intimately involved for nearly two years, and she leered gently at Janna. "God, baby…I will never get tired of seeing you like that. I just wanna touch you, and caress you, and kiss you, and…" She sighed.

"A little later, honey, okay? We'll be in a hotel tonight." Janna said as she gently removed Halley's pacifier and introduced her to her breast.

Ryan crawled over next to the window and lay on her side, gesturing for Janna to curl up in front of her. They lay spooned together, the three of them, and remained that way for a long nap after Halley finished her meal. About an hour into their nap, Ryan woke up and lay still, enjoying the closeness of her wife and child so much that she could not put words to the emotion she felt. She cried quiet tears of joy and joined her loved ones in slumber once again, not to awaken until the bus stopped hours later for dinner near Portland.

~~~~~~~~~~

Later, under the light of a gibbous moon, the bus entered Seattle. The city at night was sparkling with lights, and the moonlight shone on the waters of the sound with a rippling, silvery glow.

As the bus made its way to their downtown hotel, Janna gazed with a growing sense of excitement out at her former home. She had loved Seattle, loved living there. It had reminded her very much of her beloved San Francisco, and she had found similarities, in her mind, in the weather, as well as the cities' cosmopolitan and seaside atmospheres, and similar music scenes.

She opened a window partially and breathed deeply of the cool, wet, sea-fresh air, letting the essence of the city at night fill her. It brought back happy memories of an earlier, happy time of her life…a more carefree time. It had not been fulfilling personally, as she had suffered a painful breakup while there, but professionally, creatively, it had been a fertile time for her. When she had lived there, as well, she had begun to taste her first small bite of real success. Her band, 'The Tribe' began to hit big while they were relocated to Seattle, working with well-known musicians and producers involved in the grunge and punk scenes.

She had worked with and become acquainted with some of the biggest names in the late 80's, early 90's punk genre: Pearl Jam; Nirvana; Screaming Trees; Bikini Kill, and still counted some of the members of those groups among her friends. As they passed by the towering Space Needle, she felt a true sense of being in a former home and smiled widely.

Ryan felt Janna's excitement and squeezed her hand. Janna turned to her and said, "Oh, honey, I wish I had more time to show you around."

"Well, babe, we'll have two afternoons."

"Yeah, but that's not nearly enough. We have to come back some time and stay longer," she implored.

"We will, love…I promise."

"Tomorrow, if it's nice, we'll go to Pike Place. It's a wonderful place to spend the day…and there'll be lots for Halley to look at."

"Sounds like fun, baby."

A short time later, Ryan lay Halley in her portable crib and joined Janna on the large bed. She pulled her t-shirt clad bride into her arms and held her close. Janna snuggled into her place in Ryan's side, their bodies molding to each other perfectly.

Ryan spoke softly in the dark, quiet room. "I'm having a great time so far, Janna. I'm so glad to have the chance to share this with you."

"Ryan, I can't tell you how happy I am to have you here with me. I wouldn't have come without you, of course, but having you and the baby with me just makes this so special. It's not simply work for me now…it's a nice family trip."

"Mm. So, are you nervous at all?"

"No, I'm not, really. This is old hat for me. I don't mean to sound arrogant, but I have done thousands of shows…many at huge arenas much, much bigger than the big clubs we're playing on this tour…so I feel more at home than nervous. I think it's gonna be great to be back out on the stage. I'm looking forward to it."

"I'm glad, baby." She pulled Janna closer and kissed her hair. "Um, I know it was a really long trip today…are you too tired to love a little bit?"

Janna turned in Ryan's embrace and kissed her chin. "No, I'm only a little tired. I'm actually feeling kind of energized. I'm jazzed at being back, I guess."

"Good."

"That's good, huh?"

"It's real good," Ryan said as she pulled Janna's t-shirt up, revealing her lack of underwear and soft, full breasts beginning to come to attention in the draft of cool air, and in anticipation of being touched. The silver light of the moon softly illuminated Janna's body, just enough for Ryan to see her way around her wife's beautiful curves…not that she couldn't have found her way around Janna's body in complete, pitch black.

~~~~~~~~~~

The rolling motion of the ship nudged the small blonde from her slumber, and she lay, still nestled within the warmth of the dream, until the clanking of rigging above decks roused her completely. She opened her eyes and realized where she was, and the emptiness settled in her heart immediately once more. She swallowed a sob as the dark loneliness threatened to overcome her.

She still felt the warrior's strong arms and legs wrapped around her from the dream and she sighed deeply. Gods, it was only a dream…a memory. The realization sent a bolt of agony through her soul, her broken heart shattering into even smaller bits. Is this what you wanted, Xena? For me to carry on our good work with a broken heart…a tortured soul? The small warrior sighed. I know I told you I'd try, but I can't do it. Please forgive me, Xena. Eli promised me that those souls would be alright, so please don't be angry with me. I need you so much. I would rather be with you on the other side than without you here.

She uncharacteristically allowed herself to wallow in her misery, until a misery of another sort took hold. The rolling movements of the ship awakened her motion sickness and unleashed a wave of nausea, accompanied by a mild lightheadedness. She sighed and resignedly tapped the inside of her wrist, hitting the pressure point that would allay the sickness…as her partner had taught her.

She lay for a few minutes longer in her sleep netting and considered her loneliness. The pain in her heart continued unabated, never relieved but only put aside temporarily when she focused on other matters. So that's what she did…she refocused her attention on her mission. I must get home, so that she can be resurrected and return to me.

Her mind, unable to keep from returning to her lost mate, returned there briefly, and an image of herself entwined with Xena flashed across her awareness, accompanied by a jolt of pleasure. Gods, Xena, I miss your touch. She sighed deeply and frowned. Enough of this! Dwelling in the past will not help me right now. I have a serious task ahead of me. She chastised herself as she rolled to a sitting position and sat on the edge of the hammock. It swayed gently from her movement and she sighed as she settled her booted feet to the decking.

She arose, running her hands through her short hair, trying to straighten it. Somewhat unsteadily…sea's a little rough this morning…she made her way to the stairs and plodded up. She pushed up on the hatch and it opened, piercing the darkness behind her with a low, gray light, and she stepped out onto the deck and shut the door behind her, letting the bracing sea breeze wake her fully.

The biting, cool, wet wind hit her in the face and she breathed deeply, filling her lungs with the fresh air. It was extremely refreshing after the stuffy, stale air below decks and she determined that she would spend as much of the day as possible out on deck, despite the threat of rain.

Looking up into the gray dawn sky, she noted that it was heavy with thick clouds, announcing an impending storm. Great, I just love rough seas, she thought sarcastically. Sighing again, the warrior-bard went in search of fresh water and a little fruit for her morning meal.

Janna was awakened by her mate's soft caresses on her arm, but she stayed enmeshed within the dream for a bit longer. It had not been a happy dream but it had a happy conclusion…she had seen that in an earlier dream/memory. Therefore, she lay in bed, safely enfolded in her soulmate's arms, and finished the dream in a half-waking state, re-experiencing the resurrection and reuniting with her mate from that long ago life.

Lying in Ryan's arms felt exactly as it had felt for the bard lying in the warrior's strong arms, and she let that feeling wash over her, renewing her soul. In turn, Ryan's soul was renewed as well, through their strong bond. Janna sighed as the happiness filled her. She realized that the memory had been awakened by her proximity to the sea, and let the power of the ocean, her most comfortable natural element, soothe her soul.

"Morning, baby," Ryan's rich voice drawled, sending shivers the length of Janna's body.

Janna closed her eyes again and enjoyed the warm blanket of love that surrounded her. She was still feeling the loving effects of the dream, and coupled with Ryan's physical and emotional warmth, she was nearly carried away by the force of the sensation.

"Morning, love of my life." She added, quietly, "Light of my soul, dawn of my joy," and was rewarded by a warm hug and softly seeking lips. She returned the kiss and let it deepen as Ryan initiated their morning connection, which in turn deepened into a gentle lovemaking, lasting until Halley's soft gurgles and chatter signaled the end of her slumber.

~~~~~~~~~~

The sun warmed them comfortably as Janna walked beside Ryan, who pushed Halley's stroller. The baby sat upright, brightly taking in the new experience. The many sights, sounds, and smells of the Pike Place Market surrounded them as they strolled its length, bathing them in its rich textures.

"This place is great, Janna," Ryan remarked as they strolled along. "So much more than just the fish market that I expected."

"I know, it's great! I always loved coming down here, even though I'm not a big fan of seafood." She wrinkled her nose cutely.

"I think I've seen just about every humanly thing possible offered for sale down here." She glanced around, adding, "And in such a pleasant atmosphere." They passed a trio of musicians, and stopped for a minute to listen. The guitarist, violinist and bongo drummer were quite good, and Janna deposited some cash in their collection box with a large smile, garnering nods of appreciation from the trio.

They walked on and presently came to a booth sporting rainbow flags and various other rainbow decorations. As Janna gazed at the booth and they made their way toward it, she looked at Ryan and said, "It can't be, can it? We're in Seattle, not San Francisco."

Ryan grinned and said, "I don't know, babe, let's go see," and urged Janna on. They reached the colorful booth and noted that it did indeed sport pride items, as well as typical mainstream favorites.

"Ooh, honey, how about a rainbow sticker for the Explorer? Like mine?"

"Honey, I've never been into proclaiming my sexuality to the world, but if you want it, we'll get it."

Janna smiled cutely from behind her dark glasses, warming Ryan's heart. "Come on, honey…the truck is positively naked without one, and I know you're not ashamed of being gay."

"Absofurkinlutely not."

"Well?

It was Ryan's turn to warm Janna with a wide grin. "Okay, Janna, grab a couple."

"Cool!" Janna joyfully snatched a handful of the small, colorful decals, as well as a rainbow flag. As they walked away from the stall, Janna remarked, "I know our town isn't quite ready for a pride flag flying in front of our house, so I'll put it in back, over the deck."

"Good idea, Janna." As a cop, Ryan was all too familiar with her hometown's lack of tolerance toward homosexuals. She had not only arrested people for harassment and physical attacks, most notably her soulmate's attackers, but had also interceded on behalf of friends when they had been out together and targeted. She had earned a reputation within the department as the officer most likely to bring people up on gay bashing charges, and her coworkers didn't begrudge her the fact. They respected her and admired her ideals, even if not wholeheartedly agreeing with her "lifestyle".

As Ryan, Janna and the baby walked on, a refreshing breeze blew in off the water, moderating the mercifully present, but warm, sunshine. They enjoyed the market with it's friendly atmosphere and wonderful food for a few more hours before Janna had to check in down at the club for the equipment and sound check.

~~~~~~~~~~

Ryan held Halley as she sat in a chair near the front door, watching from a safe distance as the sound check proceeded. Janna, up on stage, sawed off a scorching guitar lick and stood, waiting for Jeff at the back of the club to give her a thumb up. She received a thumb down. Cupping his hands around his mouth, he yelled, "No, Janna. I can still only hear your monitor…the speakers aren't picking up at all.

"Fuck," was the quiet muttered reply picked up by her mic, which did happen to be working. "So much for not wanting to spend money on a road crew. Jeff, can you get the club manager down here? I don't think the problem's in our equipment. I checked the sound board the day before we left, for Christ's sake." She turned to face Jason, sitting behind his drum kit. "Jase, check your drums now while we try to sort out the guitar mess." He nodded and launched into a riff.

They had been attempting to sort out the various kinks in the sound system for over two hours. Fortunately, Janna's experience had taught her that there tended to be bugs to be fleshed out before the first date on a tour, and had convinced Jeff that an early sound check would be necessary. She had taken on the mantle of guitar technician for the tour as well, and thankfully, that equipment had checked out fine.

As Ryan sat, trying to keep the squirming child on her lap happy, the door opened behind her, letting sunshine into the dim room.

"Ryan…how are you?"

Surprised to hear her name spoken by a deep, female voice, Ryan turned to see Joan, Janna's ex. She stood and offered her hand. "Joan, hi. I'm fine. You?"

The short, dark rocker smiled as she brushed away the offered hand and pulled Ryan into a hug. "Can't complain. Is this Halley?" She asked as she stepped back and smiled at the cute dark-haired baby in Ryan's arms.

"Yes. Halley, this is our friend Joan. Can you say hi?"

"Gick gur baa," the adorable girl gurgled, smiling.

Joan laughed, lighting her beautiful face from within. "Hi there, little one. It's good to meet you, too." Addressing Ryan she said, "Jesus…she looks just like both of you. She's beautiful."

Ryan beamed. "Thanks."

"So, uh, it sounds like the sound check is progressing?" She said as she looked toward the stage.

"You might say that. There seems to be a problem with the club's equipment."

Joan frowned, surprised. "Really? This is the hottest live club in town…their equipment is the best. I know the owner...let me see if I can lend a hand."

"I'm sure they'll appreciate it. Janna's getting pretty frustrated up there." Ryan said as she glanced at her mate, who was several rows up in the seating, talking to the sound person.

"Then it must be bad. She's usually pretty low key about these things."

"Mm, hmm."

"Well, I'll go see if I can help. It's good seeing you again, Ryan."

"You too, Joan." She watched as the diminutive woman with the huge aura strolled toward the sound area.

"Hey, what the hell'd you do Janna, blow the system out?" Ryan heard as the other woman approached Janna.

"Joanie…what the fu?" Janna said as she spied her old friend.

As Joan pulled Janna into her arms she said, "That's what I was gonna say...what the fuck's up?"

Janna kissed her old mate's cheek and stood back to look at her. She was dressed rather inconspicuously, for her, in worn jeans and a Harley-Davidson tank top, matching almost identically what Ryan and Janna were both wearing. Janna scowled as she shook her head. "I don't know. We've traced the problem to the board here. Our equipment all checks out."

Joan turned to address the young man manning the control board. "Where's Ben?"

"Um, he's off today. I'm his backup."

"Uh, huh. How come I haven't seen you before?" The direct woman queried.

"Um, because I just started yesterday." He replied, beginning to blush.

Joan turned back to face Janna and muttered under her breath, "I think I just figured out the problem."

"Where is Ben…is he home?"

The young man's reply was a nonchalant shrug of his shoulders.

"This is bullshit. Let me talk to the owner. He owes me about ten favors. He should be training this guy, not putting him in charge of a show. I'll be right back." She turned and made her way back to the club's offices and Janna began to feel hopeful for the first time in hours.

She turned and addressed the guys on the stage. "Hey, guys, let's take ten, huh?" She received nods of approval and turned, making her way toward her family.

Ryan reached out and pulled her wife against her, kissing her head and flooding her with warmth. "Maybe Joan can get it worked out, huh?"

"Probably, yeah." She leaned down and kissed her daughter, who was beginning to fuss mildly. "What's wrong, sweetheart…is this boring for you?" She kissed Halley's forehead and then Ryan's, before relieving Ryan of her happy burden and hugging the baby close to her chest. "I'm sorry about this, honey. I was hoping it would be a quick check and we could relax together the rest of the afternoon. But now I see she's tired and hungry and we're nowhere near done."

"It's okay, babe, I understand. You said there might be problems."

"Yeah, but not this bad."

"Well it's good you're getting it looked at this early, then." She pulled Janna close again, trying to lift her spirits.

Janna and the baby melted into her embrace and Janna sighed. "Mm, that feels good, my love. I'm so glad you're here." Janna sent her soulmate a burst of love through the link and felt Ryan's embrace around her tighten.

"I am too, baby. Both of us." She kissed her wife's head again and said, "Speaking of whom, it's time for dinner and a nap. I think we'll go back to the room for a while...if you're okay with that?"

"Yeah. I'd rather have you here than across the street, but I can tell that she needs her nap. She had a busy day."

Ryan grinned. "She sure did. She had so much to look at that I thought she might give herself whiplash!" She mimicked Halley's head turning from side to side.

Janna laughed. "I know! She's nothing if not curious."

"Okay, baby, we'll go then." Spotting Joan approaching in the company of a man, she added, "Sweetheart, if you'd like to go do something with Joan after this is fixed, go on. We're gonna be out for a while it looks like. Get some dinner or something if you'd like…just let me know, okay?"

Janna frowned, having no desire to do anything without her family, and Ryan noticed the emotion through their bond. Janna sighed and nodded, saying, "Okay. I would rather just come rest up with you two, but I rarely see her anymore and I would like to visit some. Thanks love. If I decide to do something, I'll let you know." She handed the baby back to her Momma and kissed her goodbye before capturing Ryan's lips and savoring them for a moment. "Bye, love."

"Later, baby."

As she approached her ex-girlfriend and her wife and baby, Joan was struck by the beauty of the moment that they seemed to be sharing. Shit, that's so nice. She watched as Janna kissed Ryan soundly and then watched her and the baby leave the club, sighing as she turned around to face Joan and the club owner.

"Janna, Max here has called the regular sound man, Ben, in to work the show. If there's a problem with the board, he'll be able to track it down. He should be here in about fifteen."

Janna, relieved, said, "Great, Joan, Mr. Greenfield. Thanks."

"Ms. Norden, it's Max, please and I'm sorry for the inconvenience."

"Thanks, Max, and it's Janna."

The man smiled and nodded and went to talk to his now-trainee soundman.

"Joanie, can we have dinner?"

"Oh, babe, I have a flight out at 6:00…I have to be in New York. If I'd known sooner that you were coming, I could've changed it."

"Darn. Well, can you stay a few more minutes?"

Joan looked at the clock on the wall and grinned. "I can give you forty-five minutes."

Janna mock-scowled. "Gee, thanks, for fitting me in, Joan."

"Anytime, Janna." She grinned, wrapped an arm around Janna's shoulder, and walked her over to the bar, procuring a mug of Foster's draught for her old friend. They sat together and talked about old times, the good ones at least, and the tough rocker with the heart of gold left having enjoyed her old flame's company immensely. She found herself wishing she hadn't made the recording commitment in New York, feeling intuitively that she would be missing an incredible show.


Part 8

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Thanks for reading!

Thanks to the following artists for providing inspiration in the form of music during the writing of this story: Pearl Jam, Green Day, Screaming Trees, Blink 182, Lit, Ramones (always), Joan Jett (forever), 3 Doors Down, Nirvana, Bikini Kill, Team Dresch, Tribe 8 (my Tribe), Katherine Fugate for her 'When Fates Collide' mix, John Huling, Dead Can Dance, Sarah Brightman, Sacred Spirits, Sarah McLachlan, classic dudes Schumann, Grieg, and Chopin, and of course, Joseph Loduca for his Xena soundtracks.