The Wise Owl
COPYRIGHT - Xena, Gabrielle and any other characters featured in the actual TV series are copyrighted to MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures. The story and any other characters are mine. I receive no financial benefit from writing this story. I thank MCA/Universal for their kindness in allowing fan fiction to exist.
LOVE/SEX WARNING/DISCLAIMER - This story depicts a love/sexual relationship between two consenting adult women. If you are under 18 years of age or if this type of story is illegal in the state or country in which you live, please do not read it. If depictions of this nature disturb you, you may wish to read something other than this story.
Of course, it was Gabrielle who suggested the stream and the time away from the world. She knew the warrior could use some time to regroup and she *definitely* could use some time to rest also. Like always, since joining Xena, it seemed like it was one problem or fight after another. Time between was rare, and Gabrielle tried to be sure Xena got as much rest as she would allow herself.
Gabrielle bent to pick up a rock. She tossed it into the stream. Funny how such a small thing as tossing rocks could cause one pleasure. She laughed gently. She knew the real reason she was pleased wasn't the rock or the stream. It was being where she wanted to be, with whom she wanted to be with, and doing what she wanted to do. And there was no place she would rather be than with Xena, doing whatever!
Just the sight of her friend - standing by the waters' edge - so composed, so strong, so intense - well, that was about the best sight she could imagine. Gabrielle stopped, trying to absorb the moment, to memorize it, to paint it on the canvas of her mind. The words would come later, on reflection of it. They always came.
Xena was standing with one foot resting on a large rock. She had been leaning on the rock, staring intently at something up in the trees, hands resting on one thigh. As she shifted she noticed Gabrielle standing a bit away, staring at her. One arm folded across her chest holding the other arm while her hand tapped her lips. Gabrielle was 'writing' in her mind, Xena thought.
"Gabrielle, come here a moment. I'd like to show you something." Xena said quietly.
Gabrielle blinked, coming back to reality, and smiled at her friend. She picks her way over to Xena. Xena places Gabrielle in front of her, facing the woods. She stretches out her right arm and points so Gabrielle can use it to located the object.
"Look Gabrielle, a pure white owl. I don't believe I've ever seen one of those before. Heard about them, but never seen one." Xena whispers trying not to make any unnecessary noises before Gabrielle can see it.
"It's really beautiful, Xena. You know, legend has it that the white owl is a symbol of incredible wisdom. There's a story behind that. Perhaps I can tell you about it later?" Gabrielle asks, knowing Xena won't say no to her request.
"It's getting late, Xena. Why don't you catch us some dinner and I'll go back and start a fire. Then afterward, we can bathe in one of the pools of the stream here."
Xena nods in agreement with the bards' suggestion and watches her friend pick her way along the bank before heading into the woods toward their camp. She bends down, removing her boots, and wades out into the stream to catch some fish for dinner.
Carrying two fat fish she's caught, Xena heads back to camp. A small smile plays across her face. 'I feel better.' Xena thinks. 'Should have known Gabrielle was right about a little time for ourselves. Seems she's been right about a lot of things lately. I'll have to listen to her more.'
Thinking about her friend back at the camp and what she was probably doing right now, Xena lets a wicked grin cross her lips. She slows her pace and begins to slip silently through the woods.
THWACK. THWACK. Gabrielle is almost knocked to her knees by something hitting her in the back. She stumbles forward, grabbing her staff, and turns ending in a fighting stance.
"What " Gabrielle's eyes are wide, looking for the danger. She hesitates. "What is that smell?" she mumbles, still searching around her.
Gabrielle glances down and sees 2 big fish lying on the ground at her feet.
Smiling, Xena steps out of the trees. Still looking at Gabrielle, she has to laugh out loud. Gabrielle is standing by the fire, leaning on her staff, trying to sniff her back.
"Xena, now I smell like fish." Gabrielle complains.
"I've told you to pay attention to your surroundings. You never heard me coming."
"Xena, no one could hear you coming if you don't want them to. You could sneak up on the wind if you tried! NO ONE is as quiet as you are. Give me a break!" Gabrielle is almost shouting now, obviously not a happy bard.
'Uh oh. Maybe I pushed it a little too far this time.' Xena thinks. She closes the distance between them.
"Gabrielle, I'm sorry." Xena says as she stops in front of her friend. "When I do things like that I only do them to help. I just don't want you to get hurt. I'm really sorry."
Gabrielle looks into the eyes of her best friend and sees she really is sorry. Xena looks pretty upset and Gabrielle can't bear to see her friend that way. She softens her look, and all her anger fades away.
"It's alright Xena. I know - 'Don't be sorry, just improve!'" Gabrielle smiles at Xena. "I should have been paying more attention. You know I am grateful that you care enough to try and teach me, even if it is a little *different* how you do it!"
Xena looks down into the most beautiful eyes she's ever seen. Green as new leaves after a long winter. Without even knowing it, she holds her breath. Seems Gabrielle's' face just takes it away from her. She can't escape it - her heart is captured by this incredible woman.
Xena struggles to break the connection. And, while it is one of the hardest things she's ever done, she looks away and steps back. 'Gotta say something.' Xena thinks.
"Gabrielle, how about we eat those two vicious fish that attacked you?" Xena smile, easing the moment between them.
"Uh huh. I'll be glad to take a knife to those two." Gabrielle laughs, stepping away from Xena and toward the fish. "I'll have them ready to eat in a bit. Why don't you sit down and relax while they're cooking?"
"I think I'll go check out the area at least once more. I'll be back by the time the fish are ready to eat." Xena slips off quietly into the woods.
Gabrielle just smiles and shakes her head. 'Pretty much knew that's what Xena would do. Kind of glad she left though. My heart is beating a little fast and my palms are moist.' Gabrielle knew being that close to Xena was dangerous. She wasn't a fool. 'I've known for a while how I feel about her. I know the effect she has on me and still I do that kind of thing. Pretty dumb, bard. Bad bard!' Gabrielle berates herself soundly.
'I don't want anything to get in the way of our friendship. After all we've been through, I want her to stay in my life. Keep up the stupidity Gabrielle and you'll frighten her away. You know she doesn't think of you in that way. You are just her friend, nothing else. Get a grip. Learn to live with it! Don't be sorry - just improve.' Gabrielle chews herself out while she prepares the fish and lays them in the fire. Again, she is oblivious to her surroundings.
Xena watches her from the woods. She's finally able to breathe again. Hades - that was close. It took all of her considerable will power not to lean down and kiss those soft lips, not to wrap her arms around Gabrielle and never let go. 'But I can't. I know she isn't interested in me. She was married - for Aphrodite's' sake.' Xena thinks.
'I've got to learn to live with my feelings for her hidden. Should be able to do that. Done it all my life. But I never did it with love. I've never really been in love before, never felt about anyone the way I feel about my bard.' Xena smiles as this last though crosses her mind. She plays with it - trying to see all of the implications inherent in that one idea. Turning it around and examining it from all angles. Finally Xena sighs and thinks 'Get a grip - Warrior Princess' as she soundlessly slides deeper into the forest to check for any problems.
"Ummmm. That was delicious Xena. Thanks for catching such tasty fish." Gabrielle sighs, her stomach content - at least for the moment.
Xena, too, is full. Both are leaning back against a fallen log, not quite touching but close enough to speak quietly to each other.
"It's your cooking that made them so good. If I had cooked them we'd be scraping the black off our teeth!" Xena grinned. She knew her limits in the cooking area.
"Hey, how about that bath in the stream?" Gabrielle asks.
"Yeah. It will be nice to get clean. But let's go now. The sun's setting and it will be dark soon. I'd like to be able to see to get all the dirt off." Xena replies.
"Oh yeah. We definitely need to be able to see." answered the very, very bad bard.
Getting to the stream, they find a nice, deep pool. Both undress, trying not to look at the other. Gabrielle finishes first, as she doesn't have to deal with all the leather and armor that Xena does. She climbs in, pleased that the water is still warm from the sun.
"Ohhh. This feels so good!" Gabrielle grins.
Xena takes off her boots and slips in on the other side of the pool - careful not to touch her friend. 'The pool looks smaller with both of us in it.' Xena worries.
"Ahh." Xena breathes out, closing her eyes and enjoying the feel of the water. "You're right, this feels great. Pass the soap."
Cleaning everywhere she can reach, she turns to Gabrielle and hands her the soap. "Will you get my back?"
Gabrielle takes the soap. She can barely move as she's been watching Xena bathe and now has absolutely no strength in her body at all. 'How am I going to stand *just* washing her back, touching her, without doing something incredibly stupid? OK, I got myself into this, I'll have to get myself out of it.'
Gabrielle rubs the soap on Xena's back and begins humming a soft tune. She starts at the top of her shoulders and slowly works her way down, humming constantly. Concentrate on the music.' she thinks.
'Bad, EVIL Warrior Princess' Xena is thinking. 'Are you completely insane? Have you no sense at all? What in the world were you thinking when you gave her that soap? Ahh, but her hands feel so good, so soft, so gentle. And her voice, so .so Gabrielle. I think I love that the best about her - that voice. It just seems to wrap itself around you in its' gentleness.'
'OK - time to try for control. Come on, you can do it. You can. You can do this. Come on. Just speak and take control. You've conquered half of Greece, surely you can just speak and make sense. Nope - not gonna do it, are you Warrior Pussycat. That's what you are going to be known as - 'Xena - Warrior Pussycat'! Yep. That'll sure put the fear right into people. They'll just hear the name and start purring. Or they'll fall down laughing. That's the way to be fierce, to kill your enemies. Make 'em laugh to death. Great! Just great!' Xena shakes her head, amused at her own thoughts and weakness.
"What's wrong?" Gabrielle asks softly into Xena's ear. She's been finished a while but didn't stop. Now she pauses.
Xena shudders at Gabrielle's breath so close to her. "Nothing. Just letting my mind wander a bit. Thanks for getting my back."
"No problem. I'll be asking for the favor to be returned in a minute." Gabrielle scoots back and begins her bathing.
Xena goes to the side of the pool and props her arms on the rocks, facing out. Her chin is resting on her forearm. 'Nope - not going to turn around now. No way - not even going to glance back. Uh Uh. Stay right where you are Warrior Pussycat. Don't even think of looking at her. Just how much control do you think you have? Looking back will sink you for good, and you know you can't do that.'
"Xena, can you do my back now?" Gabrielle asks, moving to the center of the pool. She turns her back toward Xena and reaches the soap up over her shoulder for Xena to take. As Xena takes it, Gabrielle brings her other arm up and sweeps her hair up so Xena can get her neck, having already washed her hair.
'What movements this woman has. She's so spectacular.' Xena starts with Gabrielles' neck and very slowly works her way down.
Gabrielle heard Xena's intake of breath when she swept up her hair. 'Maybe .nah. You are such a bad bard. But those hands are so strong, so gentle. And having her this close to me - her breath warm against my back. Ohh, I don't care if I am the worst bard alive, this is worth it. OK, not gonna moan or anything here. Just grit your teeth and enjoy this torture. You did it to yourself. Now you've got to take the bad with the good. OK, I know what the good is in this situation, what's the bad?' Gabrielle's mind goes blank for a full minute or so. 'Oh Gods! I've finally done it. I've lost my mind!' Gabrielle giggles.
"What?" Xena almost whispers in Gabrielles' ear.
"Ah - nothing. You just hit a ticklish spot. Thanks Xena." Gabrielle rushes to say. She turns and moves back against her side of the pool, which she would SWEAR is shrinking by the minute.
The sun has set and the moon is out, the dusk phase of the evening is over. Now the two friends can see each other by moonlight. Shadows play across their faces like quiet dancers. The women don't speak, each wrapped up in her own thoughts and feelings.
Finally, Xena asks "What about that story you promised me, my bard?" 'Oops - mules breath! That just slipped out before I thought. Must be that famous Warrior Pussycat control!'
Gabrielle notices, but says nothing. 'After all,..' she reasons, ' I am 'her bard'. I travel with her to record her adventures. Wish there were another reason she called me that though.'
"Yes. Now let me think a moment to be sure I've got it." Gabrielle replies.
"Many seasons ago, into a beautiful forest wandered a young prince and his hunting party. The young prince didn't know he was off his land and on anothers'. The hunting party had been traveling for days and had been partly successful. They had gathered some meat to prepare for the coming winter. But this young prince was serious about his duties and wanted to be sure that they had enough food to last the entire winter for *all* his people. So they continued hunting."
"Well into the forest, they found a stream and decided to camp by it for the night. The hunting party was large in number and as they camped, they ended up spread out for quite a ways."
"The prince didn't travel with luxury. He preferred to live as the others lived, with a simple bedroll by the fire. Midway through the night, the prince awoke in a clearing away from his soldiers, alone. The moon was full so he could see fairly well. Now, this prince was very brave. He felt no fear waking up with no one around that he could see. He called out "Is anyone there?" Silence answered him. He waited, using the time to gather himself and plan what to do next."
"As he looked around, he heard the flapping of wings close by. The prince remained very still so he wouldn't startle whatever it was. When the bird got close it settled on the ground directly in front of the prince. He could see it was a pure white owl now that it was close enough to get a good look. The young man remained very still so he couldn't scare the beautiful creature."
"At last the owl spoke 'Why are you in my forest?' the owl asked with the most melodious voice the prince had ever heard. It floated all around him, seeming to enter his body through his skin."
" 'This beautiful forest is yours? I did not realize we were on anothers' land. Please forgive me. We were hunting for food for the winter for my people. We will leave your forest tomorrow.' " The prince was an honorable man and did not want to take what was not his."
"The owl stared a few moments longer sensing that this was an unusual person before it. Again, it spoke. 'If you can answer one question correctly, you may hunt in my forest as long as you need to. If you cannot answer correctly, then you must forfeit your soul to me. Do you agree?' "
'The prince thought on the proposition for some time. His soul for his people. He saw his people dying of hunger if he didn't bring back food. For them, he said simply, 'I agree. What is your question?'"
"The owl said 'What is the one thing you cannot live without?'"
" ' Tough question.' the prince said out loud. 'There are many possible answers to that question, any of which could be right.'"
" 'Many are right, but only one is truly correct.' the owl replied."
"The prince got up and started pacing. He muttered aloud trying to find the right answer. 'Food. All things need food to live. That could be it. Or air, as nothing can survive without air. Water, without water one would surely die. But which is the right answer?'"
"The prince worried and worried with the question. He debated all the ideas that popped into his head. This went on for hours. Dawn was fast approaching on the horizon. The owl spoke again, 'It is time for your answer.'"
"The prince came and sat in front of the owl. His heart was breaking for he knew he did not have the answer. All he could think of was his people who would die without food because he had failed them."
"In a voice which shook with emotion, he answered 'Water.'"
Gabrielle stopped speaking for a moment. the silence was broken by the sounds of the stream and the forest creatures. Her eyes were fixed on something unseen, far away.
"Well, was that the right answer or not?" Xena asked. "It was one of the choices I would have made."
"That is what I thought" Gabrielle muttered ever so sadly and softly. Xena heard but made no comment.
" 'Ah, young man ' the owl spoke, 'alas, you are wrong.'"
" 'Before you claim my soul, what is the answer?' the prince asked. He was distraught that he had failed and others would suffer because of it."
"The owl stared at the young man. It could see his heart and thoughts."
" 'Prince, you know the answer. It's there in you already. But you were searching in the wrong place. You looked to your mind, when the answer was in your heart."
"It is love. One cannot live without love. And one who has never truly loved has never truly lived. For the purpose of life is to love."
" 'Yes. I see it now. What wisdom you possess. Before you take my soul, will you still allow my people to hunt on your land? I cannot bear the thought of my people starving. Please.' The prince begged for his people."
"The owl hesitated before speaking. Finally, 'I will grant your request on one condition.'"
" 'Anything.' the prince immediately replied."
" 'That you go back and rule your people with all the love and wisdom you have shown here tonight. Seek love wherever you may find it. Give your all to your love, and accept love in return. For only then will you truly live. Live long and rule justly, but most important - love, my prince.'"
"With that the prince was back in his bedroll by the fires with the people he cared so much for. The prince lived his life fully as the white owl asked and experienced great love."
Both women were silent for a long time after Gabrielle finished her tale, each lost in her own thoughts.
Finally, Xena said, "So he got a second chance really?"
Softly Gabrielle answered "With true love, the number of chances you get are limitless. For true love knows no limits."
"I want to ask you a question. But I don't want you to change the subject or any of your other tricks. OK?"
"Hummmm . I can conquer cities, lead armies, even travel with a bard. Yep. I think I might be able to answer a question." Xena teases.
"Very funny. I didn't know traveling with a bard ranked up there with leading armies!" Gabrielle chuckled. Then she grew serious.
"Have you ever known true love?"
'Hades. What was that crack I made about conquering, leading and answering questions? But I did agree to answer. Let's see where this conversation leads.' Xena thinks.
"Yes, Gabrielle. I have."
"Ah, Gabrielle. You said a question, meaning one. That is two. But I will answer your question if you answer my questions. Fair enough?"
Gabrielle takes pause to think through this deal. 'Why does this feel like a set up to me? Well, I am a bard and so should be able to deal with this.'
"Agreed Xena. Ask away."
"Gabrielle, the same rules apply to you as did to me. OK?"
'Figured she'd think of that.' But Gabrielle just said, "OK."
"Have you ever known true love?"
"Yes." Gabrielle answered without hesitation.
"Wait a minute! That's two questions. How come you get to ask more than one question and I don't? You're changing the rules around here." Gabrielle gasps out, desperate for a way out of this mess she had gotten herself into. 'Oh, the bad bard has really gotten herself into bad trouble this time.' she thinks.
Warrior Pussycat to the rescue. "It's OK Gabrielle. You don't have to tell me about it if you don't want to. Forget it." This pussycat has got to stop letting her off the hook like that. Oh well, purrr.
Xena starts to stand up, saying "Come on, lets dry off and go back"
Gabrielle interrupts her by placing a hand on her arm to stop her leaving. "No Xena. I said I would answer you and now I will."
"I have known true love only once. I will never find it again because I will never seek it again. It is the most profound, all-encompassing, wonderful feeling I've ever experienced. The depths of me it touches; the way my love pulls me to the stars; the giddy, light-headed feeling I have when in the presence of my love. My loves' voice and glance burn holes in my soul. I shiver under love's touch. I cannot breath in the nearness of my love."
Gabrielle pauses, breathing deeply, eyes closed, lost in the thought of her one true love.
Xena's heart is broken. Her soul is beginning to tear itself apart. 'She loves another this much, this completely. I would give all that I have for it to be me she is speaking of.' Xena laments. She is quiet, breathing shallow, trying to stop despair from escaping her lips in a moan.
Gabrielle opens her eyes and continues, but her look is turned inward. "For my love, I would do anything asked of me. I could never betray that love. I only wish to be near my love and allowed to love back. I exist only for my love."
Gabrielle turns her eyes and locks them on Xena's eyes. She waits a moment, allowing herself time to even out her breathing, gathering herself.
"Xena, I have not answered your question yet." Now or never, bad bard, now or never.
Gabrielle moves toward Xena. She places herself directly in front of Xena - never losing contact with those eyes of ice and fire. She stops short of touching Xena.
Taking a deep breath, "Xena, that love is you."
Neither woman moves. Gabrielle because she is terrified of Xena's response. Xena because she is stunned.
'Gods - she loves me!' is the only thing that Xena can think.
Xena slowly stands and moves toward Gabrielle. She wraps her arms around Gabrielle, bending and nuzzling her still damp hair.
Softly, Xena whispers "My love."
With those two words, Gabrielle can again draw breath. She encircles Xena's neck with her arms and turns her face upward.
Xena touches her lips to her loves, gently, tentatively. Gabrielle returns the kiss, then pulls back, falling into those bluest of eyes.
"Can this be real? Are you here in my arms? Did you call me 'my love'? Oh Gods, if this be a dream, never wake me. Allow me eternity in this spot, with this woman." Gabrielle whispers.
Those blue eyes smile down into green. "Yes, this is real. Yes, I am in your arms, Yes, I called you my love. No, this is not a dream. And eternity will not be enough time for me to tell and show you of my love for you."
"Xena " Gabrielle stretches up for another kiss, this one not as gentle. She wants to capture Xena's lips, her voice, her breath. She wants to absorb Xena into her being.
Xena feels the strength and passion in the kiss. She feels her own desires rising. Tightening her hold on her bard, she moans softly into Gabrielle's kiss. "My Gods, I have never felt this before."
When the two break the kiss, only for a lack of air, both pull back. Both shiver, and noticing the other doing the same thing, laugh.
"Gabrielle, I would like to finish this and this discussion but lets' get out of this water, dry off and go back to camp. OK?"
Gabrielle nods and the women break apart, climbing out of the pool. Both dress quickly and as they turn toward the woods, Xena takes Gabrielles' hand in hers and keeps it.
"Gabrielle. That was one wise owl."
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