Chapter Nine, Part 1
Rhian was tired. The events of the previous evening had drained her emotionally and physically. Between a headache and the throbbing in her cheek, she couldn't get comfortable. When she slept, her dreams were filled with images of Mace. Her mind when awake, settled on visions of Deven à the most dominate being the woman's azure eyes, and how they seemed to change color with the intensity of her feelings. She found that concentrating her thoughts on the other woman helped keep her mind off of the trauma that had entered her life.
Why was I so stupid? Why Rhian? Because you liked it. You liked dancing with her. You liked being close to her and wanted to be closer, and that scared the crap out of you. So what did you do? You acted like a child and almost got ... she stopped her thoughts there. She didn't want to think about what would have happened if Deven hadn't saved her.
Lying still in her bed, she pondered what a contradiction Deven was. She couldn't deny that she liked the martial artist, but refused to contemplate why. She remembered Kelly's words that day more than a month ago about Deven's attitude protecting a sensitive heart. What happened to you Deven? What made you so hard? She wondered again how it was that the woman had changed recently. What has brought about this change in you, and why?
Her eyes closed and in her mind she saw the martial artist flying through the air tensed and ready to strike. She saw Deven extend her leg sending Mace backwards several feet and then landing with the grace of a cat, poised ready to pounce. It had all happened so fast, and yet in her mind, it played out in slow motion.
She cringed at the memory of slapping the other woman. That Deven could have stopped the strike was obvious. So why didn't she? Rhian rolled onto her side. So many questions, and no answers. The one thing she was sure of, was how safe she felt in Deven's arms.
The other woman's gentleness had surprised her. Perhaps Kelly is right. Perhaps there is a depth to Deven that exists beyond some carefully erected defenses. Perhaps last night was a glimpse into the inner realm.
Rhian felt compelled to explore what lie beyond the fortress that guarded the formidable woman. The question she didn't want to explore was why she felt this compulsion. Why she felt any of the things she did for Deven.
The sound of the alarm startled her, and she sat up too quickly bringing on a wave of nausea. Stilling her motions she waited for her stomach to settle before rising and walking into the bathroom. Regarding her image in the mirror, she saw that her eye was now discolored and her cheek was still swollen. The cut didn't appear any more inflamed though, which she took as a good sign.
Her parents had been appalled and angry at what had happened to her. While she appreciated their caring, she didn't have the strength to deal with all their questions last night. She'd been grateful when Nicole had intervened pointing out how tired she was and that the questions would be better saved until morning. The subject had been dropped for the time being, and she'd been left to the quiet of her room.
Rhian slowly removed her night cloths and stepped into the shower. She'd taken a brief shower last night hoping to erase any traces of what had happened. She'd also insisted that her blouse and bra be thrown out immediately.
Now as she stood under the running water, she scrubbed her body as if she could wash all images of Mace down the drain. She gingerly washed her hair and face trying to avoid the cut as much as possible. The shower helped her to feel better, but she found that she still needed to avoid sudden movements of her head, because they seemed to bring on bouts of dizziness.
Dressed in work cloths, she made her way upstairs and found her family seated around the kitchen table. All conversation ceased as they each regarded the damage to her face. Attempting to ease the tension in the room, she smiled as much as her cheek would allow, hoping it didn't appear to be a grimace instead. "Good morning."
The awkward silence was broken by a sudden wail from Seana. Rhian stepped to her daughter and lifted her up in her arms. Holding the child close against her, she crooned softly until the crying slowed to soft hiccups. Pulling back, Seana stared at her mother and sniffled. "Mama got hurt!"
Rhian kissed her daughter gently. "Yes, mama got hurt, but it's okay sweetheart. It will get all better real soon." Setting her daughter down on the countertop by the sink, she cleaned the child's tear streaked face before covering it with small kisses. Seana squealed happily, filling the room with much needed laughter.
"Come on you. Time to finish your breakfast." She placed the child back in her seat and stepped back realizing she was the center of attention. "Please stop staring at me," she implored her family. The attention was making her anxious.
Her father cleared his throat. "Sorry, Rhian. It's just that... well, does it hurt a lot?" She slowly nodded her head. "Then maybe you should stay home today."
"Dad, I have a million things to do. Besides, I can't just sit around here all day. I'd go stir crazy."
Mac's first impulse was to tell her to stay home, but he'd had enough confrontations with his daughter to know that the head on approach wasn't always the most effective. "What do you say we compromise. You go see Dr. Allan. If he says you're okay to work, than fine. But limited. I don't want you driving all over town. If Dr. Allan says you need to rest, than you will come home. Deal?"
Rhian nodded her head gingerly. Crossing the room to the phone, she called the doctor's office to make an appointment. A quick explanation of the situation to the nurse got her an early appointment, and after hanging up the phone, she walked back to the table and sat down in her usual seat.
Her mother brought her a plate of eggs, bacon and toast, which she debated refusing, but truth was, she was hungry. She ate her breakfast while listening to the small talk around the table. Everyone skirted around the previous night's incident, but no one actually brought it up.
Picking up her now empty plate, she carried it over to the sink aware that she was still the center of attention. She felt self-conscious and it made her very uneasy. Turning, she faced the group at the table. "Listen. Last night was one of the most terrifying things I've ever faced, and it was my own fault. I put myself in that situation. I was just lucky that someone was there who was able to get me out of it with as little hurt as possible.
So, can we please move on? You all are looking at me like I'm about to shatter. I have mixed feelings about everything, and I'm sure, there's still a lot to deal with. I had a difficult time sleeping last night and when I did, I had nightmares. But please, don't do this to me. Don't treat me with kid gloves. You've never treated me like that before, and it's just making things worse."
Her mother rose from the table and hugged her. "Sorry, Rhian. We just hurt for you, baby."
"I know, Mom. I appreciate that, but I need life to be normal." Her mother squeezed her once more before releasing her. "Look, I have to go. Dr. Allan will be waiting, and you know how cranky he gets when we're late." She kissed her daughter and then headed for the door.
Nicole caught up with her. "Do you want me to go with you?"
"Rhian, I don't think you should be driving," her father interjected.
"I agree with your father on this," Kate added.
Rhian hung her head in silent defeat. "Okay. Nicole can drive me to the doctor's and then to work. I'll see you all later." With that she left the house.
Plagued by nightmares of the past, Deven tossed and turned most of the night. Finally at five a.m. she conceded that there would be no more sleep, and decided a run in the predawn air would be better than wasting time lying in bed with her demons. The four-mile run up and down the hills around her home released much of the tension her body held from the prior night, but it did little to clear her mind. In fact, her thoughts wandered the whole time.
She replayed the prior night over and over examining it from various angles. She accepted that she felt something for Rhian though she refused to analyze that feeling too closely. Rhian McKenna is not a possibility so it's irrelevant what I may or may not feel for the woman. The best thing to do would be to cut her out of my life completely.
Better for you or better for her? "For her damn it! Now the question is how to do it without hurting her feelings." She slowed her pace as an irrational sense of loss gripped at her chest. This is getting way out of hand. I've got to put a stop to it. I have to. Increasing her stride again, she willed her mind to empty and forced all thoughts of the young blonde from her mind."This feeling thing is becoming a real pain in the ass!"
Once home she removed her cloths, took a quick shower, and then dressed for the day. Taking her mug of coffee with her, she stepped out to the sun porch and sat to watch the world come to life. She liked sitting here any time of the day or night just watching and listening.
The woods around her house were still teeming with wildlife, and it gave her pleasure to observe it from her quiet observation point. She regularly saw many indigenous birds as well as squirrels, chipmunks, deer and fox. There was a hawk in the area that often circled lazily over her property, and one night an owl silently swept by nearly startling her out of her chair as hooted near the window.
She often sat here at night watching the moon's journey across the sky. Many native people referred to the moon as Grandmother, and Deven still found comfort in that thought as it gave her a sense that her grandmother was indeed out their watching over her. In one of her more creative moments she had even written a poem about the moment when Grandmother Moon left the sky as Grandfather Sun rose heralding the new day. Like so many of her writings, it was rather morose.
She'd installed a couple of birdfeeders in the yard to attract the seedeaters, and now as she sat quietly watching the birds feed, she considered what was happening to her. Her life had taken an unexpected turn over the last few months. She'd realized that she was losing the control she so valued. The harder she'd tried to maintain that control, the more it had slipped from her grasp.
Then Rhian entered her life and with her came a small but profound lesson. A fact so simple, and yet, something she'd never had to contemplate before. The only reason she had control at all was because people gave it to her. Her fierce persona intimidated people into giving her control over them, but when someone refused to acquiesce, she had none unless she resorted to physically dominating them. Not having that control over others was something she was not used to nor was it an easy concept to accept.
Rhian had not given her an inch. Was the woman the cause of her downward spiral? Absolutely not, but she seemed to be a catalyst of sorts that had initiated a chain of events leading Deven to face a reality other than the self imposed one she'd created years ago.
She brushed a weary hand across her face. She'd prided herself for years on her ability to keep things in perspective. To live life the way she wanted or the way she felt it needed to be lived. Her life was orderly and controlled. She enjoyed her reputation as a player and was good at it. There were no complications or attachments to deal with, no heartache, and no problems. She never lied to her conquests. Never led them to believe there was more to their interaction than sex.
So what is it about Rhian McKenna? Why don't I just seduce her and finish it? What makes you so sure you can seduce her? She snorted. I can seduce anyone. Yeah? So do it. Put your reputation where you mouth is, Masterson. Fuck her and be done with her.
"SHUT UP! Just shut up!" Her voice shattered the quiet, scaring off several of the birds. "I can't. Even if I wanted to, I can't do it. Not to her."
She rose and left for the new school. As she neared her turn, she drove past it and continued on towards the Mackenzie Garden Center. I'll just stop and see how she is. Nothing to it. Right, Masterson. Keep telling yourself that.
Deven parked her Pathfinder in the garden center lot. She looked around for several seconds to get her bearings before walking towards what appeared to be the main building. Once inside, she had no idea where to go. She hoped to run into Rhian or Nicole, but didn't see either of them. Scanning the large room, she settled her attention on an older man who seemed to be in charge. "Excuse me. I'm looking for someone who works here."
Mac turned and faced the woman. "Well, seeing as I own the place, I suspect I can help you." He extended his hand. "Ryan Mackenzie. Everyone calls me Mac. Who would you be looking for?"
Deven accepted his offered hand and returned his firm handshake. "I'm Deven Masterson. I'm looking for Rhian McKenna."
Mac studied her for a few seconds. She's an impressive looking woman. "Are you a friend of hers?"
She wasn't certain how to answer that question. "Let's say we're acquaintances."
"Well then, she's around here somewhere." Mac saw Rhian enter the room through a doorway behind the tall stranger and called out to her. "Rhian, come over here."
The blonde looked at her father and an involuntary smile pulled at the corners of her mouth as she spied the martial artist. Even from behind there was no mistaking who the woman was.
Deven turned and as their eyes met, she felt a desire to open her arms to the smaller woman. She mentally shook her head. Where is all this sentimental crap coming from?
Rhian walked up and put an arm around her father's waist. "Hey, Pop." She then turned her attention back to Deven. "Hi there."
Deven smiled. "Hi yourself. How are you feeling?"
The younger woman grimaced slightly. "Well, if I don't move my head too fast, I'm not so bad. If I move too quickly though, I get lightheaded and a bit nauseous. But the doctor said everything is okay. It should heal up fine though I might have a small scar."
"I'm glad. That you're okay I mean."
Mac placed an arm across his daughter's shoulders as he watched the exchange between the two women. He'd never heard his daughter mention this woman before. The stranger had said they were acquaintances, but there was some sort of bond between these two. He could sense it.
Rhian turned her attention to her father. "Dad, this is Deven Masterson. The person who saved me last night."
Deven cleared her throat. "I wouldn't go that far."
Rhian watched as a slight coloring darkened the martial artist's complexion. So, you are capable of humility. That's good to know.
Mac held out his hand to Deven again. "Thank you for taking care of my daughter. There's no way I can possible express enough how much she means to us, and how grateful we are for what you did."
She accepted his hand, but felt ashamed doing so. If she hadn't upset Rhian in the first place, none of this would have happened. "Mr. Mackenzie, I."
"All right. Mac, I'm just sorry that Rhian got into that situation. She really was very brave. I don't think I would have been able to disarm Mace if she hadn't been so calm."
Rhian couldn't believe what she was hearing. "She's definitely exaggerating my part and down-playing hers. You should have seen it. She was so calm and cool. And then she was flying through the air. Kicked him right in the face." She found it interesting that Deven was uncomfortable being the subject of this conversation. "It was amazing."
The martial artist rubbed a hand across the back of her neck. "Now who's exaggerating?"
The blonde smiled. Deven was actually being cute though Rhian was certain that was the last thing she'd ever attempt to be. "Oh, I almost forgot. I have your jacket upstairs. I was going to take it to the cleaners. I think I may have bled a little on it."
"Don't worry about that. That's one of the nice things about leather. Stuff like that wipes right off."
Rhian looked up at the taller woman. "May I talk to you for a moment?"
One dark eyebrow lifted in question. "Sure."
Rhian gave her father a slight squeeze before pulling away. "Back in a bit."
Mac watched as she led Deven through the back door. He would never be able to repay Deven Masterson for saving his daughter. How do you put a price on something like that?
The landscaper led the way outside to the nursery. They strolled among the neat rows of plants, and Deven glanced at her several times. The younger woman wore an expression of intense thought. "You said you wanted to speak to me. So far you haven't said a word." Rhian blushed slightly, and Deven held back a smile. She found Rhian's blushing to be one of the most endearing things about the woman.
"Sorry. I, um...I was wondering. Can you, or rather, would you teach me how to defend myself?"
The martial artist stopped and regarded the woman. She hoped that Rhian's expectations weren't too high. Yes, she could teach her many things, but they would take time to master. "I can teach you some things, but the first thing is to be aware. You never should have walked out of the bar alone."
Rhian could not meet Deven's eyes and looked down at the ground instead. She knew what the martial artist said was true, but at that moment all she had been thinking about was her embarrassment and the need to escape. "I know. That was really stupid."
"Yes, it was. The first defense is to be aware of your surroundings. If you'd been paying attention, Mace could never have snuck up on you. The second defense is to get away. Unfortunately, you didn't have an opportunity to do that." Rhian nodded her head. "Why did you?"
The blonde looked up. "Why did I what?"
Deven stepped closer to the woman and looked her straight in the eyes. "I'll teach you Rhian, but you have to tell me why you ran away."
The intensity of Deven's gaze unnerved her. She felt captured and unable to look away. "I don't know."
"Not good enough." She wanted to know what Rhian had been thinking at that moment and she needed to know if the younger woman was afraid of her.
"Please, Deven, don't ask me tell you that." A blush was creeping up Rhian's neck to her cheeks. She couldn't bring herself to tell the truth. She didn't understand it herself. She'd never been attracted to a woman until Deven Masterson had entered her life, and she couldn't tell her what she'd been thinking and feeling while they danced.
Deven's gaze turned soft. "Are you afraid of me?"
"No. I feel safer with you than anywhere."
She nodded slightly. "I'm sorry that I laughed. I shouldn't have done that." The alarm on Deven's watch pinged softly. "I have to go. I have this standing appointment. Listen, I will teach you. I think I'll instruct you privately instead of mixing you in with the regular curriculum. Come by the school and I'll get you set up. You should still plan on doing the cardio workouts."
Rhian was relieved that Deven wasn't pursuing the question and that she would teach her. "Thank you."
The martial artist smiled. "No problem."
They started to walk back towards the parking lot. "Um...how much will lessons cost?"
"We can discuss all that at the school. It depends on how long you'll be taking lessons and which payment plan you choose." She paused and looked around the nursery. "Or maybe we can work out a trade."
Rhian regarded her skeptically. "What kind of trade?"
Deven smiled at the younger woman's cautious tone. Smart girl. "Actually, my property is in desperate need of your talents. I like what you did for Kelly and Carl, and I'm hoping you can work some of that magic in my yard."
Rhian laughed. "Oh, don't make me do that. It hurts. Besides, I'm not a miracle worker."
"Kelly says you are." She stuck her hand out towards the landscaper. "Do we have a deal?"
Rhian placed her hand in the martial artist's. She felt Deven's fingers wrap around her own, and was once again aware of how nicely their hands fit together. "Let me see what I have to work with first. I'll need your plat."
Deven looked at her in confusion. "My what?"
"The survey of your property. You should have received a copy when you bought the house."
"Right. I'll dig it out for you." Realizing that she was still holding the smaller hand, Deven reluctantly released her grip. "When do you want to come out and review the disaster?"
Rhian took a mental inventory of her schedule. "Well, the soonest would be Sunday morning. Would 10 o'clock work for you?"
"Absolutely. Sunday it is then." Deven pulled out one of her business cards from her wallet and wrote her home address and phone number on the back. "Listen, you should take a few days off from the cardio classes. Give your cheek some time to heal. But if you want to stop by the school, you're welcome anytime."
The landscaper accepted the card. "Wait. Let me get your jacket." She turned towards the main building and disappeared inside. Waiting near the parking lot, the martial artist watched various patrons meander to and from the nursery while purposefully steering her mind away from the potential conflict of becoming Rhian's private instructor.
The young blonde returned and carefully handed the jacket to the martial artist. The two women regarded each other in silence for several seconds. Deven's watch alarm pinged softly again and she sighed. "I really do have to go. You take care of yourself. Stay out of trouble."
Deven laughed. "Yes, you." She turned towards her Pathfinder and waved over her shoulder.
Rhian watched her go and was suddenly overcome with a slight sense of loneliness. Rhian, you're being stupid again. Walking back into the main building, she decided to make it an early day. She really wasn't feeling all that well. She made her way up to her office and entered the appointment with Deven into the log before searching for her father to tell him she was going home.
Up to this story's index
All original fiction and poetry are the property of the authors and are subject to copyright laws, as well as other laws, including, but not limited to, other applicable state, federal, territorial and international laws and treaties. You are granted permission to print these pages or save to a file on your computer for personal use only. No other use is permissible, except where otherwise specified in writing or where the author's prior express written consent has been obtained. Any other use of the materials, including, but not limited to, distribution, modification, reproduction, publication, transmission, participation in the transfer of or sale of, performance, creation of derivative works, or in any other way, the use of which results in the exploitation of any of the materials, in whole or in part, for uses other than those expressly permitted herein, is strictly forbidden. The characters of Xena: Warrior Princess are the property of Renaissance Pictures, Universal MCA, and who knows who else. The characters of Star Trek: Voyager are the property of Paramount and who knows who else. Any use by an author herein is not intended to infringe on the copyright holders of the characters.