By Azurenon and Savanna Mac
Please see part 1 for all discalimers.
Xena placed the fruit and a large section of rind with a piece of bread on it, behind the stairs in the cargo hold, so they would not be easily seen by anyone else. She could feel eyes watching her, but thought it best not to say anything. The stowaway was obviously scared. The gesture of food would be enough to ease his fears about her turning him in to the captain.
The warrior started to go back to their cabin, yet considering the reason why she had left to begin with, she decided instead to stay up on deck and brave the rather chilly, but fresh night air.
"Shoulda brought my cloak," she mumbled, as she gripped the plate sideways in one hand and the railing in the other, while staring out at the full moonís reflection upon the dark surface of the water.
Four nights of this, she thought, her mind wandering right back to the previous incidents in their cabin. The cool wind whipped her long dark hair around her face, so she reached up and brushed it back behind her ear. Whatís going on with me? she wondered, as she thought back over all the lovers who had come and gone over the years. Those that had used her, those she and used, and then most of the rest which were just a short romp in the skins for mere sexual release.
The warrior sighed heavily, as she leaned her shoulder against one of the thick taunt ropes of the rigging. Xena had always felt that she wasnít the type to ever truly fall in love or be loved by anyone. Especially not someone as tender hearted and forgiving as Gabrielle. But, she could not deny any longer that she was head over heels in love with the adorable little bard. And this feeling was something she had never experienced before.
Of course she had loved a few people along her lifeís winding and tortured journey, but not even her feelings for Lao Ma could come close to what she was experiencing with Gabrielle. She had owed Lao Ma a huge debt for saving her life and trying so desperately to help her turn that life around. The latter had been her mentor and... yes, for a very brief time, her lover. But, the beautiful, soft spoken, oriental lady had also been so far above Xena spiritually that the warrior had revered her more than desired her. Sheíd felt obligated to serve Lao Ma, rather than meet her on an equal footing, as with Gabrielle.
The depth of her feelings for Gabrielle was far more immense and intense than anything sheíd ever experienced before in her entire life. And for someone like Xena , who was used to taking what she wanted, no matter the consequences or the cost, falling in love for the first time in her life had been an eye opening journey. For, not only had she rediscovered her heart along the way, she had also unearthed her very own soul. And the things she once could not have cared one iota about in the past; the consequences and cost of her actions, she now feared, in relation to the bard, far more than losing her very own life. And to complicate matters further, she desired the bard in ways that so conflicted with Gabrielleís naiveté that she dared not even reveal them, much less pursue them.
"What am I going to do?" she murmured aloud.
If only I could have her the way I dream about, she thought. My life would be complete then. For so long now Iíve loved her, desired her and longed to make her mine, she mused, remembering all the gentle touches, caresses and even heartfelt embraces that had past between them over the years. Am I destined to live out the rest of my life in fantasies? she wondered. Never to have the one I love know of this love I have for her? Will I never be able to show her the depths of my feelings? Share with her the intense and passionate desires I harbor for her deep inside? Is this the price I must pay for my past deeds? To be consumed by my own desires? To hold her only when she is unaware of my presence? To go to sleep each night hoping she will have one of her nightmares or vivid dreams in which she calls my name and reaches out for me?
Oh Gabrielle, if only you knew how many times Iíve wanted to do more than hold you in your sleep, she concluded, as her mind then handed her a host of special memories. Beginning with the night after Gabrielle had given her the ambrosia that brought her back to life. The bard had awaken Xena that night, calling out her name. And the warrior had moved her bedroll beside Gabrielleís in the hope that her mere presence might be somehow sensed and provide some form of comfort for her friend. In her half conscious state, however, the bard had taken things a step further. She obviously had sensed a presence, for she had subsequently rolled over, placing her arm around Xenaís waist. This seemed to have calmed her, for she stopped calling out Xenaís name and merely snuggled up close the warriorís back, murmuring unintelligible words from time to time.
What had you been dreaming about? Xena wondered now. Was it a nightmare about me dying? It certainly had seemed that way at first. Yet, later on when the bard was quieter, it didnít seem as if she were having a nightmare after all. Or at least, Xena would not associate the soft unintelligible murmurs and moans as being from a nightmare.
And of course, this had not been the only incident in which Gabrielle had cried out, reached out, or both in her sleep. No, there had been many more since. Xena had even awaken one morning to find the bard snuggled up in her arms, one of Gabrielleís arms around her waist and the bardís face pressed against her chest. It had been obvious they had moved into this position during their sleep and maintained it for some time, because when Xena had eased away, becoming too uncomfortable with consciously being so close, there was a spot of drool on her left breast, where the bardís mouth had rested. And although this should have been a bit disconcerting, at best, Xena had instead found herself physically and sexually stimulated by it. She had subsequently placed her fingers in the bardís saliva and slowly rubbed it into the exposed skin of her breast, making it, like she wished the bard to be, a part of her.
"Hmph," she grunted now, as that same small arrow of desire hit home in her lower abdomen, sending chills up her spine.
Could the bard possibly feel the same way towards her? she dared to ponder, as yet another set of memories flooded her mind. Bits and pieces of images from the time when she had been driven mad by the Furies played out before her mindís eye. She could almost feel and smell Gabrielleís long blonde hair as it was blown back into her face, while they were riding double on Argo; the bardís chest pressed against her face in the tavern; the sweet smell of lavender had been nearly as intoxicating to her senses, as the ale she had previously consumed.
She could also see Gabrielle in her arms; she had been getting her sleepy friend down off the horse. She had wanted to carry her inside the stable and make love to her. Then the memory turned fuzzy, until she was sitting up in the hay loft, completely nude with her neck hurting from where the bard had bitten her. What did I do to her, she wondered. Did I really mistake her for Callisto?
This thought then prompted a replay of one of her own dreams. She had thought she was making love to Gabrielle, at long last, only to find Callisto beneath her. She had then awaken abruptly, all of it having been a dream. Is this why I attacked her, she wondered now. Or more importantly is this how I attacked her?
You had to be laying on me, she continued, sorting through the memory, in order for you to bite my neck. And this thought of being naked with the bard against her, sent Xenaís mind swirling off to recollect even more nighttime dreams.
There had been one she especially liked to relive in her mind, even when she was awake. And what a beautiful dream that was. In it, there was no Callisto, only Gabrielle; making love to Gabrielle; hearing the bard claim sheíd never experienced anything quite so pleasurable before. Gabrielle wanting Xena to make love to her again and again.
The warrior shook her head now, to clear it of all these images. The last thing she needed now was to get all hot and bothered over Gabrielle again, especially since they would be sleeping so close together.
The one I love most in all the world and I canít even tell her, she thought, as tears welled up in her eyes; all the unanswered questions and unfulfilled desires threatening to overwhelm her.
Suddenly, Xena became aware of a presence. She turned quickly, searching the shadows cast by the upper deck upon the doorway leading to their cabin. Gabrielle, she wondered, her first initial thought being that the bard had come looking for her. But no, the small hooded figure who stepped quietly from the shadows was not the woman she loved. The warriorís hand automatically tightened on the plate in her hand, ready to use it like her chakram if need be. The figure proceeded to move towards her and stop a few feet away, the hood of their cloak, concealing their face from view.
"The food was greatly appreciated," said a rather soft, deep voice.
The warrior grunted, realizing this was the stowaway. "Youíre welcome," she replied, her eyes sizing this person up. Yet the heavy cloak covered all, revealing very little information. The hands were covered with heavy leather gloves, which prevented any ascertain as to size. And the shadows cast by the moon behind the strangerís back, as well as the hood over his head, prevented even a glimpse of the face encased within, even though the stranger was facing her.
"In answer to the question I see in your eyes: I am a traveler," the hooded figure said softly, crossing his arms at waist height.
The warrior cocked one eyebrow. "Something tells me youíre more than just a traveler," she commented, noticing the strangerís erect posture and soft tone.
"Iíve traveled many places and... learned many things. You and I have much in common," he responded.
"Oh we do? And howís that?" Xena asked, her curiosity having been piqued now.
"We are both searching for answers to the questions within our hearts," the stranger answered, without hesitation.
"And how do you presume to know anything about my heart?" the warrior asked, her irritation growing.
"They say... the eyes... are the window to the soul."
Xena grunted. "If so, then what do you see in mine?" she queried. And why will you not show me yours? she wondered.
"I see fear, sadness and longing."
"Good guess," Xena scoffed, as she turned away, feeling a bit uncomfortable now with this strangerís profound statements. "Youíre generalizing. We all crave those things inside."
"True enough. But, your fears and sadness center around your longing for something you believe you cannot have."
Xena glanced back at the hooded figure, wondering if he had overheard her talking to herself. It was entirely possible.
"Itís not hard to spot someone who fears their love for another will not be reciprocated in the same manner," the stranger continued.
Xenaís mouth dropped open, as her grip tightened on the plate.
"The love you feel is strong,... your passions run deep and so too.... do your fears," the stranger announced.
"You have no idea what youíre talking about, " the warrior retorted. "íCuz ... Iím not even sure... I know what love is," she admitted, as she turned away from the strangerís gaze. Now why did I say that? she wondered.
"Few of us do," the hooded figure acknowledged with a heavy sigh. "Most of us fear it , just as you do."
Xena was speechless. She could not fathom how this stranger could read so much from just her eyes. And even though she was uncomfortable with this conversation, she could not bring herself to walk away. Deep inside, she felt there was more going on here than just a mere conversation with an eavesdropping stowaway.
"But love is not something to be feared," he continued. "Just like the sea, love has no boundaries. One must first accept the power of the sea to overcome their fears, yes? So too with love. For love is the most powerful thing on earth."
Xena turned towards him now, realizing this latter part was something Gabrielle might say.
"What you fear however, is not love," he added. "It is your own expectations of it."
Xena nodded and tugged on her nose, for the stranger had hit close to home. "Someone once told me: Ďfill yourself with desire and find only illusion. Empty yourself of desire and find the greatness in all things.í"
The stranger nodded in response. " Very true. For true love does not ask for anything in return, it merely seeks truth."
"But what does that mean?" Xena queried, curious now as to what this strangerís message was about. For it was evident he had one and was bound to deliver it.
"To expect love to be returned in the manner you desire is to attempt to control another. True love does not seek to control nor manipulate, it seeks only to serve."
Xena grunted. All of this was going over her head at the moment. She ran her fingers through her hair. "What are you trying to say? What do you want from me?"
"I desire nothing from you," the hooded figure replied. "I merely recognize and empathize with your suffering."
"My suffering," Xena murmured, as she leaned back against the rigging. A part of her still felt wary of this person and yet another deeper part felt as if she were talking to an old friend and not a stranger at all.
"Then... it is wrong to want something you know you can never have?" Xena mused.
"I never said anything about right or wrong. Love is truth. And truth is different for each of us. The truth lies within each of our hearts."
"But you agreed desire is wrong," Xena pointed out.
"No, I agreed that to fill yourself with desire is to find only illusion. Love does not desire to conquer others. Love desires only to be of service to others."
"I... donít think I understand what youíre saying," Xena said with a heavy sigh.
"Take this fruit for instance," the stranger said, producing the orange she had left for him. "I have grown these myself, when I was younger. And in the beginning, this starts out as a blossom on a tree. A mere flower," he continued, holding up the fruit in front of him. "It takes several moons for the flower to turn into this fruit. And if you have watched this progression and nurtured it along the way, I can tell you from experience, that when this fruit becomes ripe for picking, it is often hard to do so. At least the first initial time. You feel a bit guilty for desiring to claim it for yourself. For you know that once you remove it from the tree, you can only admire itís beauty for a short while longer. And yet, if you do not pick it and partake of itís sweetness while it is ripe, it will surely rot right before your very eyes. And to allow this to happen... is to ignore a gift from the gods."
Xena looked from the stranger to the fruit in his hand. "Then why did you not eat that already?" she queried.
The stranger nodded. "I intend to do just that later, I assure you," he said, with a slight chuckle.
"Then youíre saying that desire is not wrong, as long as it serves a purpose?"
"I am not saying anything about right or wrong, my friend. The right or wrong of your feelings is determined by your own heart."
Xena turned away and gazed out at the sea, the moon now higher in the sky and casting a different light on the waterís surface. "I knew nothing but darkness, until... someone came into my life and brought with... he....them..." she corrected herself. "...the warmth and....radiance of... a full moon.... on a cold winterís night."
"And what if you lost her tomorrow? The great darkness came and swept your light away. How would you feel knowing sheíd never know the depth of your feelings, because you feared your love would not be reciprocated?"
Xena spun around rather quickly, the plate gripped tightly in
her hand, as she realized this person knew more than he should have gleaned
from eavesdropping. "Who in Tartarus, are you? Ares,... Aphrodite... some other
god having a bit of fun playing games with a mere mortal?!!!"
"God I am not, I assure you. I am a mere mortal myself . And as I told you before, I am but a traveler."
"Yeah, a traveler who just happens to spout all this profound jargon," Xena said, moving towards the stranger now. "And you expect me to believe that. I wasnít born yesterday you know," she added, as she reached up and pushed the strangerís hood back.
Xena was rather shocked to find an oriental face beneath the hood; for, the strangerís voice had not displayed even a hint of an Asian accent. "Who... are you?" she asked again, taking in the smooth face, bowshaped lips and short, dark straight hair.
"I am originally from the mountain regions of the land of Lao," the stranger responded, pulling the hood back up around his head.
"Then you knew Lao Ma?" Xena asked, her curiosity once again piqued.
"No, but I knew of her. Her name is legendary among our people. As is yours now," the stranger replied. "You freed our people from a brutal tyrant and our kingdom will forever be in your debt."
"No, your people owe me nothing. I was the one repaying a debt I owed someone."
"I hope that I have in some small way contributed to the repayment of the debt the land of Chin owes you."
Xena was speechless. She could not think of a thing to say to this. And yet, it was begining to make sense why this stranger was mesmerizing her with such profound statements.
"The night is growing colder," the stranger said softly, folding his arms across his chest. "And your friend, she waits for you."
"How do you know.... so much about me?" Xena questioned, frowning.
"The eyes... are the window to the soul, my friend. Open to all who care to look close enough to see what is inside. We think we are all alone, that no one else could possibly understand us. And although itís true that no one can know all there is to know about us or feel our pain, they can sense all these things. We are all connected, my friend. And far more alike than we would like to believe."
Xena shook her head, for she she did not what to say now, anymore than she did a few moments before. "En... enjoy... your fruit," she finally stammered, as she started to walk away.
Suddenly a hand reached out and touched her arm. The intense warmth of the strangerís touch stopped her in her tracks.
"You must seize the moment, Xena," he whispered. The warrior felt her arm tingle beneath his hand, as if sheíd not only heard the words, but felt the impact of them upon her skin.
She glanced down at the hand on her arm and then back up into the shadows of the hooded cloak. "You never told me your name," she said softly.
"It matters not the messenger," the hooded figure responded, removing his hand and taking a step back, "only the truth of the message."
Xena nodded and glanced out at the sea. "Yes, but... Iíd like to know..." she paused, as she turned back to find the stranger was gone. "y-your... name," she finished, turning completely around now, searching the shadows for any sign of movement. She saw none.
A chill creeped up her spine. She wrapped her arms around herself, suddenly feeling the effects of the cold night air. As she moved towards the lower deck, she checked the shadows once again. Nothing. Not one sign of the stranger. Reluctantly, she gave up and headed back to their cabin.
Xena opened the door, to find the lantern had been lit. Closing the door behind her she spotted Gabrielle, lying on her bedroll, on the floor, seemingly fast asleep. The warrior shook her head, then started across the room towards her friend.
"I thought we had this settled," Xena said softly, staring down at the sleeping bard.
Gabrielle offered no response, her breathing remaining even and steady.
"Well, Iím not sleeping on that hard floor," the warrior mumbled, as she bent down on one knee beside her friend. "And neither are you."
When she reached out to shake Gabrielle and wake her up, she suddenly thought better of that idea. Her hand hovered over the bardís shoulder for a moment, then moved on to her face instead.
Iím so... afraid, Gabrielle, she thought, lightly touching the bardís face. Afraid my desires are selfish and... I will hurt you with my... selfish kind of love. If only I knew what was right, she added, her thumb slowly stroking the side of the bardís face. I want you to be mine. And that... it just sounds wrong, even to my own ears. Itís... so totally selfish. How, in good conscience, do I tell you something that may hurt you? she thought, considering what the stranger had said about seizing the moment.
The warrior sighed heavily. "Well,... at least I know one thing for sure,... sleeping on the floor is not right for either of us," she said aloud, as she reached down, easing one arm behind Gabrielleís neck and the other beneath her legs.
"Umm..." the bard mumbled, as Xena lifted her from the floor and into her arms. "Wha...?" she asked, as her eyes fluttered open. "Xe... na..." she murmured, her sleepy eyes seemingly struggling to focus on the warriorís face, as Xena rose to her feet.
The warrior then shifted the bardís weight, in order to obtain a more comfortable grip. The bardís right arm went around her neck.
"Al... ways..... safe... in your ahms.," the bard murmured, laying her head on Xenaís shoulder.
The warrior glanced down at her friend, as she proceeded towards the bed. Wonder who she thinks sheís talking to? she pondered.
The warrior set the bard gently down on the bed, then laid her back. Gabrielleís arm did not release itís hold on her neck, however, and Xena was pulled slightly off balance. Although she caught herself before she slammed into Gabrielle, she now found herself so close to the bardís face, she could easily, with only the slightest of efforts, kiss her.
Seize the moment, Xena, the strangerís words echoed in her head.
Xena stared at her friendís smooth, soft, supple lips for a moment. Her own lips quivering ever so slightly with the desire to feel these lips pressed against them.
Just kiss the girl, a voice inside her head suggested.
Xena started to do just that, but at the very last moment, she turned aside, choosing to place a kiss on the side of her friendís cheek instead.
"Goodnight, Gabrielle," she softly whispered.
"Um..." the bard seemed to respond, then mumbled something else unintelligible.
Reluctantly, Xena removed Gabrielleís arm from around her neck, placing it gently on the bardís stomach. I love you, Gabrielle, she thought. I just... donít know how to tell you. Or... even if I should. Would it be wise to believe the words of a mysterious stranger, she wondered. Is this fruit truly ripe for the picking? She shook her head sadly. Perhaps if she was awake..... No, let her rest. She needs it.
Xena then turned away and gathered the bardís blanket and sleeping skin from the floor. Carrying it back to the bed, she noticed the contents of the bedroll smelled like her friend. Without thinking twice, Xena raised the blanket to her nose and inhaled deeply; the sweet lavender scent acting like an aphrodisiac on her brain.
Iíve got it bad, she murmured into the soft fur. And Iím not sure how long I can go on this way, she added, feeling her groin tighten. Youíve got to get a hold of yourself, she admonished; while first shaking, then spreading out the blanket and sleeping skin over the bardís sleeping form.
"E-na," the bard mumbled, "wa-rm..."
"Thatís... right," the warrior responded, reluctantly tearing her gaze away from the bard and walking over to the other side of the bed, where she began removing her breastplate and boots.
Not wanting to disturb her friend, Xena eased down onto the bed gently and slid her long legs beneath the cover. Taking note of the lack of room, she then manuevered onto her side.
The bard mumbled her name once again, as well as, other unitelligable phrases, while Xena shifted into a comfortable position. The warriorís hands as always, moved toward her face, where she rested the right side of her face on her right arm; her chin cupped in her left hand. She felt the bard change her own position behind her; rolling over onto her side.
"Holí me," the bard mumbled.
The warriorís eyes darted back and forth, as she debated what she should do. She was positive Gabrielle must be dreaming about Perdecus or... possibly someone else entirely. Surely she wasnít talking to her.
"E-na," the bard continued, as Gabrielleís left hand touched the warriorís right side and eased around to rest upon her stomach. "need.... holí me."
She wants you to hold her a voice inside Xenaís head prompted.
No, not me. Sheís... sheís dreaming about someone else.
It was your name she called, the voice argued.
Well, maybe, but... there were other words between this that... I couldnít understand, Xena retorted, even as she felt Gabrielle shift behind her once again; the bardís head now resting against her back, her small body slowly conforming to the contours of Xenaís position.
Without thinking, the warriorís left hand moved to the hand still on her stomach, where it encased the smaller one beneath it.
"Umm... luv Ďou.... E-na," the bard whispered, pressing even closer to the warriorís body.
Xena stroked the hand beneath her own. And I love you, Gabrielle, she thought. I only wish I knew you truly felt the same way I do. For, I want so much to... make you mine, she added, all her senses suggesting that the bard did indeed feel the same, but her mind refusing to accept it. Three more nights of this, she thought, What am I going to do?
Xena was soon drifting off to sleep; the warmth and serenity of having the one she loved snuggled up so close, lulling her towards the land of dreams.
Continue to part 3
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