Copyright 2001 by Texbard

DISCLAIMERS:

All named characters herein belong to the writer, although there are inferences to characters owned by Studios USA and Rob Tapert. No copyright infringements intended.

Violence: None

Sex: Yes. Rated R. This story depicts two women who are very much in love.

Mailing Lists: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/texbard (updates + chat) and http://groups.yahoo.com/group/texbardupdates (updates only)

Jane Doe Press, Inc. will soon be publishing The Bluest Eyes in Texas. Also "Moondancers' Delight" (another Kennedy and Carson short story, not available on the web) will be included in their charity anthology, At First Blush. (Editor's note: Jane Doe Press is no longer in business. For the latest editions of Texbards books, visit StarCrossed Productions.)

Feedback Welcome: texbard@yahoo.com

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then you had to bring up reincarnation

over a couple of beers the other night

now i'm serving time for mistakes made

by another in another lifetime

how long till my soul gets it right

can any human being ever reach that kind of light

i call upon the resting soul of galileo

king of night vision, king of insight.

- "Galileo," by Emily Saliers (Indigo Girls, as performed on Rites of Passage, 1992, Sony Music Entertainment, Inc.)

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It was a dark clear night. A light breeze blew pleasantly across the beach, stirring up the loose sand in the higher dunes and rustling the long coarse grasses that protected them from erosion. A fire crackled cheerfully in front of a bright red tent that was expertly pitched on a square gravel-filled tent block. The carefully chosen campsite was several yards from the beach, under a tall palm tree, well away from the reaching fingers of the rising tide. Two figures were hunched over the fire, holding marshmallows and chocolate bars above the flames on the ends of twisted wire hangers.

"You are such a bad influence." Kennedy slowly withdrew her marshmallow from the shimmering heat, grunting with approval at the golden toasty shell that had formed over the melted gooey center. The health-conscious woman almost never partook of desserts, yet there she was, working on her third s'more of the relaxing evening.

"I don't know." Carson leaned over and peered skeptically at the sugary treat. "You seem to have practiced this before. Every marshmallow you've toasted came out perfect. Heck, Kennedy, yours don't even catch on fire. How do you do that?"

"Patience." Dark brows waggled in a flirtatious gesture. "And a skilled hand."

"Uh-huh." Well ... she sure does have skilled hands. I should know. The blonde's thoughts strayed pleasantly along those lines for several moments, until she gradually became aware of her lover's rich voice mere inches from her ear.

"Carson?" She watched the blonde shiver, and laughed quietly to herself. She knew Carson wasn't cold. Heh. I love it when I can do that to her with just the sound of my voice. "Hey -- you still with me?" She innocently waved one hand in front of a pair of blank gray eyes.

"Oh." Carson slowly turned toward her, feeling the blush creeping up her neck. She was grateful for the reddish glow of the fire, which effectively hid her embarrassment. "Yeah. Sorry. Just got distracted for a minute there."

"Well that much is obvious." She motioned toward the blonde's hanger. "Your marshmallow fell into the fire, so basically, right now you're just forging metal."

"Huh?" Carson pulled her hanger out of the flames. "Darn. Now I have to start all over again. And it was almost done." She started to reach into the plastic bag for another one, when she felt a warm hand wrap around her wrist, one thumb caressing her pulse point.

"Hold on." Kennedy squished her s'more together, mushing the toasted marshmallow between two graham crackers and a melted Hershey bar. "I really shouldn't eat another whole one. I can share." She smiled charmingly and held up the treat, waving it in front of her lover's nose, teasing her before she finally pressed the concoction against the blonde's lips.

Carson bit down, chocolate, cinnamon, and sugar exploding across her taste buds. She chewed with pleasure and then swallowed. "Mmmmm. Now I know you're blaming me wrongfully. You've obviously made these before." Green eyes bore into blue in an accusing manner.

"Yeah." The brunette nibbled at the edge of the cracker. "Guilty as charged. I spent a couple of years as a Brownie, although I never graduated to Girl Scouts. I didn't play well with others." She smiled ruefully. "Besides, I got bored easily during the meetings. I already knew how to camp. My father taught me everything I needed to know and then some, back home in Big Bend."

"I was a Camp Fire Girl myself." Carson accepted another bite of s'more. "But we never went on any real campouts. We mostly did day camping and arts and crafts. I love camping, too. We didn't have a lot of money growing up. Family vacations were often spent in screened shelters at Tyler State Park, or up at Lake Texoma. This was a great idea."

"Glad you approve." Kennedy scooted closer, offering the last bit of chocolate, and feeling Carson's lips close around her fingertips in the process. It was her turn to shiver. She reached out, tracing the edges of the blonde's mouth. "You've got a couple of crumbs there."

"Mm-hmmm." She finished off the chocolate and fished in her pocket for a handkerchief. "My mouth is all sticky."

"Oh?" The brunette distracted her and leaned close, nose-to-nose, trailing one finger down a sunburned cheek and across the curve of an upper lip. "Good." She stole a kiss. "I kinda like you all sticky."

"Yeah?" Carson's stomach fluttered, and she threaded her fingers through long black hair, pulling Kennedy closer as they shared another kiss.

"Yeah." She tilted her head, cupping Carson's face and kissing her for a more leisurely period of time, sampling the remaining traces of chocolate and cinnamon on her lips. "Have to make sure I got it all." She winked, cuddling up on the blanket they shared, their backs resting against a large piece of driftwood.

"Nice night," Carson remarked, settling against Kennedy's side with satisfaction. "It's so strange to be outdoors in shorts on Halloween weekend. Growing up in Dallas I usually needed long sleeves this time of year."

"We're far south enough that you can pretty much wear shorts year-round." Kennedy looked up at the sky, which was graced with a full yellow-orange moon and thousands of twinkling stars. "Galveston was a nice getaway when I used to live in Houston, but I like it here in Port Aransas a whole lot better. The water's cleaner for one thing, and the beach is a lot less crowded. Sure beats staying in Austin for Halloween. Sixth Street gets downright crazy."

"I'd rather be here, alone with you, any day, over a bunch of wild parties. It's strange, isn't it?" Carson felt an odd sense of dj vu. They truly were alone, with no other tent in sight. Their only companions were the sounds of the waves crashing against the shore, the occasional pop of the fire, and the salt-tainted breeze that rustled the palm fronds overhead. She closed her eyes momentarily, savoring an enveloping peace along with something else, a memory she couldn't quite grasp. "Doesn't it almost feel like we've been here together before?"

The brunette draped her arm casually across the top of the log, giving her lover a hug in the process. "It does seem kind of familiar." She felt it too, as if they had shared the experience hundreds of times before. She shook her head slightly to clear it. "Hey." She changed the subject, feeling a faint sense of uneasiness, something she couldn't put her finger on. "Look at the moonlight." She pointed toward the water.

"So beautiful." Carson watched the large rising orb and the wavering reflection of light stretching across the ocean's surface, a bright beam that seemed to be pointing directly toward them. "I always thought it was so cool, how you can walk along the beach and the path of the moonlight follows you. It's like magic, or faeries, or something."

"Speaking of magic, I thought we were going to tell a couple of ghost stories, weren't we?" Kennedy smiled wickedly. "In honor of the holiday and all."

"Oh, yeah." Carson mirrored her expression. "I was going to share the story of the lady of the lake. White Rock Lake, to be exact, not to be confused with Avalon. It's a small lake in Dallas, right in the heart of the city. Lots of bikers and roller bladers go there."

"So who's the lady of the lake?" The brunette prodded the fire with a stick, stirring new life into the dying embers and watching tiny red sparks fly up in whirlwinds above the glowing logs.

"Well ..." Carson put on her story-telling voice. Her gray eyes took on a deep thoughtful appearance, as she looked inside herself. "The story goes that back in the fifties, a couple was out at the lake on Halloween night parking. You know ... parking?" She nudged her lover. "Anyway, they decided to go skinny dipping and the girl ended up drowning."

"Is this a true story?" Kennedy was still feeling a bit out of place. It's like I've listened to her tell me stories my entire life. Weird. She tried to concentrate on the blonde's voice.

"Of course it's true." Carson poked her in the stomach in admonishment. "Now pay attention. They say in Dallas, if you're ever out driving near White Rock Lake on Halloween night, don't pick up any hitchhikers. Every Halloween, the ghost of the girl rises from the lake and tries to thumb a ride home. If she manages to catch a ride, all you'll find of the driver the next day is their empty car, and a puddle of water where the ghost girl sat."

"What happens to the drivers?" Blue eyes grew wide in feigned fear, and her voice rose in sarcastic alarm. "Oomph." She received a gentle backhand to her gut.

Carson pretended to scowl, but the glint in her eyes gave away her good mood. "When the girl figures out that she can't go home again, she takes the driver back with her to the bottom of the lake, because she doesn't want to be alone." She tugged on a lock of Kennedy's dark hair. "They say she looks quite a bit like you, as a matter of fact."

"Oh really?" The wicked smile surfaced again and one dangerous brow edged its way up. "Maybe I'm her. Maybe I'm gonna drag you out into the water, 'cause I don't want to swim alone. We could go skinny-dipping, like that couple." The brunette rose up on her knees, preparing to spring at her prey.

"Now Kennedy ..." Carson saw the playful glint in the pale blue eyes, and decided to go along with it. She edged backward and then jumped to her feet, barely managing to escape as the taller woman lunged for her. "Ahhhhhhhh!" She ran down to the beach toward the water. Oops. This was definitely the wrong way. Bad plan, Carson. Her bare feet slipped awkwardly in the loose sand, until she reached the packed damp sand closer to the Gulf, regaining her sure footing.

"You can run, but I can run faster." The brunette raced after her, their laughter ringing off high rock walls several yards down from them.

Carson took off, running along the water's edge, looking over her shoulder every now and then toward the long lean body that was rapidly closing the distance. "Eeeeeek!" She screamed as two strong arms wrapped around her, hoisting her up and over the taller woman's shoulder like a sack of potatoes. "Kennedy, put me down!"

"Okay." The brunette waded into the water, oblivious to the cold waves lapping at her ankles. "I can do that." She gave her lover a smart smack on the behind with the flat of her hand. "Would here be a good place?"

"Ouch! No. Oh no." The blonde clutched at the back of her lover's shirt, grabbing handfuls of cotton as she warily eyed the menacing water below. "You're gonna get me all wet. I'm not letting go of your shirt, Kennedy Shea. You're going down with me."

"Yeah?" Kennedy swung her around, grasping her beneath her shoulders and knees, cradling her in her arms. "Maybe I like getting you wet," she growled. "Especially if we get wet together. The going down part doesn't sound bad either." Her eyes took on a smoldering glow that reflected the moonlight, and she allowed her desire to surface there.

Oh. Carson got lost in that regard, and felt herself dipped down, inches above the water. She forgot how to breathe. At the last second, Kennedy laughed and pulled her back up, spinning around in a circle, whirling faster and faster as she turned. Carson watched the stars overhead go blurry and released a giddy laugh. "Kennedy! I'm getting ..." Oh. Dizzy.

The brunette stopped, ducking her head and finding Carson's lips, nibbling softly, standing there in the knee-high water. She came back up for air, watching the pale light shining in Carson's hair, creating silvery highlights. "You're gorgeous, did you know that?" She felt Carson's heart beating against her chest, her own matching it beat for beat. "Still want me to put you down?"

"Not until we get back to the tent," the blonde whispered, reading the love that was written plainly across the taller woman's face. She curled one hand around the back of Kennedy's neck, pulling her down for another kiss. She was vaguely aware that they were moving, and she reluctantly released her so the brunette could see where she was walking.

Kennedy felt Carson snuggle up against her, laying her head against her shoulder, and she instinctively held on tighter. As they reached the tent, she somehow managed to work the zipper with one hand, keeping a firm hold on Carson with the other. She gently tossed the blonde onto their sleeping bags and crawled in afterward, leaning in and kissing her thoroughly. "Back in a minute." She backed out of the tent and quickly tossed sand on the fire to extinguish it.

"Now." She clamored back inside, zipping the mesh closure behind her, along with the tent flap, to provide some privacy in case any late campers arrived nearby. She unzipped part of the top of the tent and secured the lose flap with a set of Velcro loops, allowing some air to circulate, along with permitting a view of the stars overhead through another protective mesh window. "Where were we?"

"I think I was about to do something like this." Carson smiled seductively, tugging Kennedy's shirttail from the waistband of her shorts, and drawing the sun-faded blue cotton polo over her lover's head. She followed by unbuttoning the khaki shorts, vaguely aware of long fingers that were rapidly divesting her of her own clothing. She felt the breeze through the tent window, brushing against her bare skin, and then she was being lowered down on the sleeping bags, while a pair of soft lips covered her mouth.

"Mmmm." Kennedy sampled her lips. "Cinnamon." She deepened the kiss, and her fingers trailed lightly down to Carson's throat, feeling her pulse pounding against them. "You okay?"

"Uh-huh." Carson shook her head affirmatively in a dazed fashion, and urged the brunette back down for another kiss.

Kennedy's fingers moved lower, circling her lover's breasts and cupping them, her thumbs brushing across Carson's nipples. She broke away from the kiss, her lips following her fingers, closing around firm flesh. She felt Carson's hands take purchase in her hair, holding her head in place, and she smiled against her lover's salty skin. "Like that, do you sweetheart?" She moved to the other breast.

"Mmm. You know I do. Feels so ..." Carson was robbed of coherent speech, as Kennedy's fingers trailed lower, teasing her stomach and giving a gentle tug to her navel ring, sending a jolt of pleasure directly to her groin. "Oh, God."

The brunette continued further down, taking her time as her fingertips explored the sensitive skin of an inner thigh. A choked whimper escaped Carson's lips, and Kennedy rose up from a well-loved breast, making eye contact as she softened her gaze. "Still okay?"

"Yeah," Carson gasped and arched into her. "Just ... real intense for some reason." She bit her lower lip as she felt skilled fingers continue to play against her skin. "Need more."

"Don't worry baby." Kennedy reached her goal, and began a gentle stroking motion. "I'm gonna take care of you."

She made good on her promise.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Two blue eyes fluttered open, peering around until they adjusted to the darkness. The breeze continued to drift through the tent, bringing with it the scent of salt water and a faint hint of campfire smoke. It was cooler than when they had drifted off to sleep, and she reached down, drawing an extra blanket over their sleeping bags, which were zipped together so they could share.

She smiled, feeling the solid warm body in her arms, and Carson's naked skin against her own. Wow. Their lovemaking had gone on for a few hours, and Carson was right. It had been ... intense. Like I could see down to the bottom of her soul. And like she could see into mine. She pictured wide-open gray eyes that had peered down at her with a probing depth that she had no power to avoid. Didn't want to avoid. She had felt naked in more ways than one, her own heart laid bare. Yet she felt completely safe in Carson's arms, as the blonde took her places she had no desire to leave.

Kennedy closed her eyes and nuzzled her face into Carson's fragrant short hair, resettling her grip around the blonde's waist and pressing more closely against her back, their bodies spooned tightly together. I could stay here forever. She started to drift off again, when she frowned, her ears detecting the faint sound of a fire crackling. Thought I put that out.

Her eyes flew open, and she carefully untangled herself from both Carson and the sleeping bags. She crawled over and quietly unzipped the tent flap, peering out at their fire pit. The remaining charred logs were black and lifeless, just as she thought. She scanned their surroundings and her nape hairs prickled, as adrenalin rushed through her system. What the heck? Way down the beach near the rocks, she could make out a campfire, with several people gathered around it. It was too far away for her to see their faces clearly, or be able to tell what they were doing at the late hour.

How did they manage to get down there without us hearing them? There was only one trail down to the beach, and it went directly by their campsite. She studied the revelers and her eyes tracked further out to sea. Huh? Silhouetted against the blue-black sky was a tall four-masted ship, its sails lowered so that only the skeleton of the rigging rose up against the starry background.

She scrubbed her eyes with her fists, but when she opened them again, both the boat and the campfire were still there. Curious, she quietly pulled on some clothing and her Tevas, and carefully slipped out of the tent, zipping it closed behind her. She grabbed a flashlight from a picnic table, but didn't turn it on.

She was afraid, and yet she wasn't. She picked her way down the trail to the beach, staying close to the dunes, careful not to make any noise. As she drew closer, she huddled down behind a tall willowy shrub and parted the grasses. From where she knelt, she counted a dozen men, all of them bearded and all of them dressed in ragged trousers and shirts, several with bandanas tied around their heads. They were seated on logs and laughing and as they passed around a large flask of what she could only assume was some sort of liquor.

On the ground she spotted several long sabers. Pirates? She frowned and crept to a closer dune, staying out of sight. One of the men pulled out a harmonica, and some of the others got up and danced around the fire. It dawned on her that while she could see the men laughing and dancing, she couldn't hear anything but the fire itself. The laughter and music were silent.

As she looked more closely, she realized that the men were transparent. She could see through the ones who were between her and the fire, the flames seeming to glow through their ghostly bodies. To her surprise, she felt her own legs moving, and she walked toward the circle. They seemed not to notice her, although she was in plain sight. When she was almost there, the men disappeared, leaving only the fire. Okay. I must be dreaming. She stepped inside the ring of now empty logs, and the fire itself vanished.

She didn't have long to ponder, as another crackling noise drew her attention to the rocky cliffs behind her. She spun around and gazed at the tall jagged crags, her eyes coming to rest on a warm light emanating from what appeared to be a cave. She found herself drawn to it, like a moth to a flame, as she scrambled over several large boulders, feeling the rough rock scrape at her knees and shins. As she approached the cave, she slowed down, moving to the cliff wall and pressing her back against it.

I must be insane.

She edged her way toward the cave entrance and poked her face halfway around the opening. She gasped, an almost inaudible noise, but the reclining figure inside heard her. A woman with long dark hair and vibrant blue eyes sat up. Kennedy swallowed. She and the woman could easily have been twins, save for different hairstyles. The woman was wearing a long-sleeved white shirt, the rest of her body covered to the waist with a thick fur. Next to her, almost hidden by the fur, was another woman who was curled up on her side, one fist tucked under her chin and the other arm pillowing her blonde head. The blonde woman was fast asleep.

The dark-haired woman placed a finger in front of her lips, and crooked the finger on her other hand, motioning Kennedy inside. Her feet obeyed, defying logic. Her eyes took in the small cozy cavern, noting the tidy fire in the center, two pairs of black polished boots with silver buckles sitting off to the side next to a canvas pack, and a well-sharpened cutlass that rested within reach of the sleeping furs, the fire glinting off the clean shining blade. "You ... know who I am?" The woman spoke in Spanish, which Kennedy also spoke fluently, although she processed the words internally in English.

"Isalba Cortez?" Kennedy's heart skipped a beat.

"Si." The woman nodded, her face revealing no emotion.

Kennedy closed her eyes, picturing a painting that hung in their guest bedroom back in Austin. They had purchased the painting while on vacation in Cozumel. It depicted two pirates, the legendary Isalba Cortez and her alleged lover, Meg O'Brien. Visitors assumed the painting was a portrait of Kennedy and Carson in costume, the resemblance was so uncanny. In the painting, Isalba even bore a scar similar to one that Kennedy had above her right breast, and Meg had a mole on her abdomen in the exact same location that Carson had one.

"Meg?" Kennedy hesitated, nodding toward Isalba's sleeping companion.

"Si." The pirate smiled. "She pulls at your heartstrings, does she not?"

Kennedy examined that, finding it to be true. "Yes." She moved closer, kneeling down on the other side of the fire. "May I?"

"Si." Isalba gestured toward a low flat rock, and Kennedy sat the rest of the way down, holding her suddenly cold hands out to the welcome heat.

"Why?" She stopped, collecting her thoughts. I am having a conversation with a dream ghost. No more chocolate right before bedtime for you, Nocona. She strengthened her resolve to eat only healthy foods. "Why are you here?"

"You have questions, have you not?" The pirate sat up fully, easing from beneath the furs and crossing her legs, which were clad in black pants. Meg stirred in her sleep and shifted, resting her head on Isalba's leg and curling one hand around her knee. The pirate smiled, absently running her fingers through long blonde hair.

"Yes." The scene before her was achingly familiar. How many nights have we sat like that, in front of our fireplace? Yet the familiarity went deeper, to a place far in the recesses of her memory.

"You want to know if you and she are soulmates?" The pirate looked outside the cave entrance. The tent Kennedy and Carson shared was a mere speck in the distance.

The brunette knew without question who 'she' referred to. "I know I want to spend the rest of my life with her. I just ... sometimes wonder... if it ... if us ... is a good thing ... for her. If she would be better off with someone else."

"You don't give yourself enough credit." Isalba tilted her head to the side, a tiny knowing smile playing at her lips. "And you can no more control the bond that draws the two of you together, than you can control the setting sun or the rising tide. You know that, don't you?"

"Yes." The knowledge settled into her heart, threatening to squeeze the breath from her lungs.

"What do you really want to know?" Blue eyes bore into blue.

Kennedy drew in a nervous breath. "Are we ... y'all ... us ...?" She paused and shook her head. "I can't seem to express myself very well right now."

"Look at yourself. Inside yourself." Isalba's eyes swept the lean muscular form across the fire. "Look at me ... at her. You are a vessel. I ... was ... a vessel. They ... were all vessels."

"They?" Dark brows furrowed in confusion.

"Don't you feel it?" Isalba's voice was low and steady. "Didn't you feel it from the moment you first held her in your arms?"

Kennedy closed her eyes, remembering a chance meeting at a dance club in Dallas, and an evening she didn't want to end. Or was it a chance meeting? She opened her eyes. "We fit perfectly together."

"Think harder." The pirate prodded. "How did that feel?"

If she concentrated hard enough, the brunette could almost feel it again, that first time she held Carson in her arms. They hadn't really talked much that evening, yet the communication between them had been constant, no real words needed. "It felt familiar. Comfortable. Like we had danced together before." Her jaw worked in silence for a long moment. "We had, hadn't we?"

"Si," Isalba nodded in confirmation. "Many dances, in many lifetimes."

"I kind of figured, that she and I ... and you and Meg." Kennedy drew in a deep breath in an attempt to calm shaking nerves. "When I first saw the painting, I just knew. But you're telling me that there were others, before?"

"Many others. Before and after me. More than I was ever able to trace." The pirate looked toward the rough rocky surface behind Kennedy. "Get up. Go over to the wall."

The brunette slowly rose to her feet and sidestepped, not taking her eyes off Isalba, afraid that if she looked away the pirate would disappear. She had so many questions. "Okay." She reached the wall in a few steps.

"See that part of the rock that protrudes slightly? Next to your right shoulder." The pirate squinted at the gray and brown stone. "Work it, just a bit. It should open up for you."

Kennedy studied the wall, and the part Isalba referred to. She pushed at the damp clammy surface. I don't see any cracks or anything. She shrugged, and dug into the protrusion with her fingers, holding on tight and wiggling the stone, finally feeling it begin to give way. After a few moments more of prying, the rock pulled loose from the wall, leaving a long narrow opening that went back further than she could see.

"Put your hand in there." The pirate smiled in encouragement, noting the hesitation on Kennedy's face. "Go on. I promise there's nothing in there that bites or stings. Well, unless you grasp it the wrong way. Use your light."

The brunette had almost forgotten the flashlight, which she had clipped to her belt-loop. She unhooked it and shone the beam into the hole, bending over until she could see. About an arm's length inside was a bundle. Curiously, she stuck her hand in and withdrew the item, unrolling soft-brushed chamois cloth, revealing a small polished dagger with a gilded hilt. The hilt split partway down, curling over in opposite directions. She turned toward the pirate and quirked one eyebrow. "Buried treasure?"

"Of sorts." Isalba indicated that Kennedy should return to the fireside. "It's a breast dagger. Here ..." She extended her arm, palm up, and Kennedy placed the dagger in her hand. She dropped the weapon inside her blouse, indicating how it should be carried. She chuckled at Kennedy's wide blue eyes and withdrew the dagger, giving it back. "I recommend a leather sheathe before you try that yourself. Keep it. It's yours now. I ... don't know how old it is, only that in certain lifetimes, we ... owned it."

"We?" Kennedy shivered. "Are you and I ... one?"

"No." Blue eyes softened. "You and she are one. You and I carry the same half of a soul. She carries the other half."

"Are she and Meg ...?" She trailed off, afraid to finish the question.

"Si. Your soul. Her soul. You've been together through the ages. You'll continue to be together through the ages." She watched Kennedy flip the dagger from hand to hand. "I put the dagger in the stone a long time ago. On a night exactly like this one. I ... met you then."

Kennedy raked a shaking hand back through her thick hair, arranging the disordered locks. "How?"

"In each lifetime, we get a chance to see either who we were, or who we will become. Sometimes, both." She looked down at the furs, continuing to stroke Meg's head. "On that night, I saw my future. You ... are seeing your past."

"Why?" The brunette placed the dagger to the side, lest she drop it from her trembling fingers.

"We do not walk in peace, do we?" She smiled as Meg stirred again, clutching at her leg more tightly. "Except when we are with her, that is." The pirate's face took on a profoundly sad expression. "On that night I met you, I was convinced that my life was worthless. I felt that I could never atone for all the horrible things I had done to so many innocent people. So it was with those who were before me. Our soul carries a heavy burden, going back to ancient times."

"Are you telling me that my soul is doomed to be in turmoil for eternity?" Helpless anger flashed in Kennedy's eyes, along with a brief glimpse of defeat.

"No." The pirate sighed. "With each life, we seem to learn more. And each time we meet her, we are given the opportunity to find peace. Your life, it is in an easier age than mine was. Than the others lived in. You don't have to fight every day just to survive. You have a warrior's heart, yet you have never killed in cold blood. You have a chance to transcend the agony your soul has known in the past. You can finally give ... us ... lasting peace."

"But ..." Warrior? She thought about that, and her legal career, and the large volume of pro bono cases she handled, helping the less fortunate of society find better lives. I guess that can be considered war, on certain levels. Yet even her fight for the greater good of her clients had never filled the gaping hole in her heart. That space was reserved for Carson alone. Carson, who knew almost everything about her, good and bad, who knew of the inner demons she sometimes fought. Carson, who loved her completely and without question. Kennedy looked partway up, her face framed in the shadows of her dark hair. "Peace? How?"

"I don't have a clear answer for that." Isalba smiled sadly. "I only sensed it back then, when I met you. It gave me hope that my life wasn't in vain."

"But she's the key, isn't she?" Kennedy peered at the still-sleeping Meg. She's everything. Visions of Carson's soulful gray eyes drifted through her mind.

"That is the only truth I know." The pirate's eyes glowed with genuine love.

Kennedy stood, placing the dagger in her belt. She walked over to the cave's entrance and leaned against the cool damp surface, staring out at the endless ocean. "Why ..." she spun around. The cave was empty. "... did you come to me now?" she finished softly.

Okay. She flicked on her flashlight, walking around the interior, carefully studying the cave floor. Neither sign of the fire, nor any footprints other than her own were to be found. Without looking down, she placed a hand to her belt. The dagger was gone. She shivered until her teeth chattered. I'm sleepwalking. That must be it. She left the cave and picked her way back through the boulders and down to the beach. Where the pirates had danced, there was only flat unmarred sand. I'm going back to the tent, and hope that when I wake up, this will all make sense.

She made her way back to the campsite in a daze, unaware of exactly how she got there. As she neared the tent, her body shook violently, as if it were the dead of winter. She fumbled with the zipper, crawling inside the tent and closing all the flaps against the chill. She shivered out of her clothing and crept into the sleeping bag, hugging her arms around her torso in an effort to stop the shaking.

A warm body snuggled up to her, and Carson wrapped around her from behind. "You're freezing," the blonde mumbled, her eyes still tightly closed. Carson was only partially awake.

"Yeah." The brunette smiled at the familiar comforting contact. This is a nice part of the dream. 'Bout damned time. "It's a little chilly outside."

"Mmmm." Carson hugged her closer. "Let me warm you up."

"Thanks." Kennedy's body gradually warmed, and her heart rate returned to normal, surrounded by her lover's sleepy embrace. Her experience in the cave became a distant memory. She drifted from one dream to the next, a deep slumber filled with vague images she would forget by morning.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The pleasant aroma of the fire, and ... coffee ... tickled Carson's nose. She rolled over and gingerly felt the other side of the bedroll, which was empty. A smile lit up her face and her eyes fluttered open. The pale light of dawn filtered through the nylon tent. Too early. Her nose wrinkled. But she made coffee for me. Gotta get up for that.

She struggled into some sweats and emerged from the tent, walking silently up to the brunette from behind and resting a hand on her shoulder.

"Yahhhh!" Kennedy jumped to her feet, tossing a half-full mug of coffee to the ground in the process. "Geez. You scared the hell out of me." She sat back down, feeling her body shake all over again. Damned dream.

"Sorry." Carson chewed her lower lip in worry. "Honey." She sat down on the log next to her lover. "Are you okay?"

"Yeah. I'm sorry too." Kennedy smiled at her tiredly, the dark circles quite evident under her blue eyes. "Guess I'm a little twitchy this morning. Didn't sleep very well."

"You ... were drinking coffee." The blonde carefully retrieved the dropped mug. She studied it, brushing sand from the rim. "Kennedy, you don't drink coffee."

"Maybe I should," she mumbled under her breath. "I just needed something to clear my head. I had a really disturbing dream last night."

"You want to talk about it?" Carson sat down again, lifting the coffee pot from the grill and pouring herself a steaming mug. She added serious spoonfuls of sugar and creamer, and scooted closer, resting her head on Kennedy's shoulder.

"No." The morning-hoarse voice spoke with certainty. "I ... just hope I don't ever have it again." She hugged her arms around her sweatshirt-clad body. The dream wasn't necessarily frightening. She just preferred to stay firmly rooted in reality, and midnight dreams of conversations with ghosts who claimed to formerly possess her soul were off her personal reality chart.

"Put on some long pants, if you're that cold." Carson watched goose bumps rising across her lover's thighs, just below the hem of her shorts. "Kennedy ..." she bent down, tracing a kneecap. "When did you hurt yourself?"

"Huh?" The brunette looked down. Her knees and shins were covered with scrapes. Oh dear God. Her gaze was drawn toward the cliffs. She squinted, making out a pile of boulders and beyond them, a cave. No. Just a strange dream, right? "Oh. I must've scraped my legs on the ocean floor when we were playing out in the water yesterday afternoon."

"No," Carson disagreed. "You didn't have those when we went to bed last night. I'm pretty sure I gave your legs some thorough attention. I would've noticed these." Her fingers lightly touched the fresh wounds.

"Ummm ..." Kennedy couldn't stand it any longer. She stood and held out her hand. "Wanna go for a little walk?"

"Walk?" Carson grasped the proffered hand and allowed her partner to haul her to her feet. "Before breakfast? I'm kind of hungry."

This caused the brunette to smile, easing some of her discomfort. Carson hungry. Now that's reality. "Just a short walk. Then I promise we'll come back and I'll cook up the best open-air breakfast you've ever tasted."

"Okay." The blonde walked along silently next to her partner, never letting go of her hand, sensing that she was working through something. She concentrated on the fresh morning air, and the sound of seagulls crying overhead as they dipped into the waves to forage for their breakfast. "Great morning, huh?"

"Mmmm." Kennedy was a few thousand miles away from her, or more precisely, a few thousand years. They reached the boulders just below the cave and she stopped, squeezing Carson's hand. "I wanted to check out this cave. I noticed it last night."

"Cool!" The blonde loved caves. "Especially at Halloween. Kinda spooky."

You have no idea. The brunette clamored over and through the rocky maze, reliving her dream from the night before, only this time it was daylight. Carson followed behind her, doing her best to keep up with her driven partner. They reached the cave's entrance and Kennedy stopped, feeling the cold finger of fear trail up her spine. Go on inside, you big chicken. "Um ..." She turned toward Carson. "Do you mind staying out here for a second, until I make sure it's safe?"

"Kennedy, if you think it's unsafe, then maybe ..." She felt a large hand close gently over her mouth.

"Please?" Blue eyes pleaded. "Just wait here for me."

"Okay." The blonde heard the almost-desperate tone in Kennedy's voice. What's up with her, anyway? "Just be careful."

"I will." Kennedy pecked her on the cheek and then stepped inside, blinking as her eyes adjusted to the inner darkness. It looked ... familiar, like it had when she stood in the cave in her dream, after Isalba, Meg, and their campfire had disappeared. She swallowed hard and walked around, carefully studying the ground. There was no sign of recent habitation. Only sand and tiny shell fragments littered the cave floor. She gasped, as she moved further back and recognized some of her own footprints. Okay. So maybe I walked in my sleep, had a dream, and woke up in here last night. Maybe that part of the dream where I was alone in here wasn't a dream. Maybe that part was real.

I've never walked in my sleep before in my life. She sat down on a rock and rested her elbows on her thighs, cradling her head in her hands. Finally, she looked up, spotting the protruding rock on the wall, just like in her dream. She stood and walked over to it, her feet feeling like lead. She reached out, trying to dislodge the stone, but her hands were sweating, and they slid across the cool surface. She wiped them on her shorts legs and tried again.

It didn't budge.

Heh. Relief flooded her system. Just a dream after all.

She gave the rock one final shake just for good measure, and felt it give, just a little. I imagined that, just like I imagined the whole rest of it. She shook it harder and then tugged with all her might, and suddenly the rock dislodged and slipped out of her surprised fingers. Her heartbeat picked up, double time, and a fine sheen of sweat broke out on her forehead. Coincidence, right?

She knew the truth, however, as she reached inside and made contact with a piece of soft worn chamois. Slowly, she withdrew the bundle and unwrapped it, catching the breast dagger before it joined the rock on the cave floor. She held it out away from her, almost as if she were afraid it would bite her.

Isalba? She looked around, wondering if an invisible ghost was watching her.

She felt light-headed and decided fresh air was in order. Stumbling out of the cave, her knees gave way, and she leaned against the sun-burnished rock, sliding down until her bottom hit the sand.

Carson was at her side in seconds. "Kennedy." She touched a high cheekbone. "Honey, what happened?"

"Nothing." The brunette tried to get her breathing under control. Her skin felt cold and prickly at the same time. "Just needed some air. Got a little close in there. I'll take you on a tour in a little while, okay?"

"Okay. No rush. You sure nothing happened?" She looked anxiously at the cave, as if she expected a monster to come roaring out "You're white as a ghost."

"Ghost?" Terrified blue eyes peered at her. "No such thing." Right?

"I know that." The worried blonde continued to stroke a rather cool face. "Just an expression. Hey." She pried open the fist that was curled around the knife. "Oh. How pretty." What appeared to be a simple blade was in reality connected to a beautifully intricate curved hilt. "Kennedy, where did that come from?"

"I ..." She gazed out to sea. She could barely make out a tall four-masted ship, a tiny speck that disappeared over the horizon. Godspeed, Isalba. "... was told it might be buried in here."

"You never mentioned that before." Carson was still not convinced her lover was okay.

"I wasn't sure if it was real or a legend, until just now." Kennedy smiled. Deep light laughter drifted past her on the wind. She was certain Carson didn't hear it. She relaxed, as the pieces fell into place. She simply let go, and believed. "I ... heard about it from an ... old friend. Until recently, I ... hadn't seen her in a very long time." She handed the dagger over for Carson to inspect.

"Oh." The hilt felt warm in Carson's hand. She closed her fingers around it and reflexively jumped, just a little. "I feel like I've seen this before, somewhere."

Yep. "Maybe so. It's an ancient artifact. Looks like something you might see in a documentary or something." Kennedy reached in her pocket, where she had shoved the piece of chamois.

"Are you going to keep this, or should we maybe try to find out who it belongs to?" Blonde brows furrowed as Carson continued to trace the curved dagger hilt.

"The friend who told me about it ... it used to belong to her." Blue eyes turned inward. "She told me I could keep it."

"Must be some friend." The blonde smiled. "I'd like to hear more about her. Maybe meet her someday."

You've already met her, sweetheart. "I'll tell you the whole story, all in good time, Darlin'." The brunette studied Carson's face, as if seeing it for the first time. She reached across, touching first a forehead, and then trailing her fingers across two blonde eyebrows, and down along a pink cheek, feeling Carson lean into the contact. She pulled the blonde closer, until her lips were pressed against her ear. "Hey. Have I told you yet this morning that I love you?"

"Depends." The blonde laughed at her lover's tickling breath. "Did we fall asleep before or after midnight?"

Kennedy smiled. "Don't know." She kissed the sensitive skin just behind the ear in question. "Just in case ... I love you, Carson." Her arms closed around the smaller body and they huddled against the rock. "I always have, and I always will."

They sat together in comfortable silence, watching as the sun rose fully at the edge of the sky. Kennedy closed her eyes, savoring the warmth of the early morning rays, and the greater warmth of Carson's body against her. Peace. You were right, Isalba. This is peace.

 THE END


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