Subtext: Yes. That's what the story is all about, after all. <smile>
Violence: Not in this story.
A Final Note: This one is the third part in a series of short stories set after "Friend In Need". The first was "Never", then came "Always" and this one can be considered the sequel to "Always". Although you don't have to read the other two to understand what the story is about - you're welcome to do so....<smile>
If you like to comment on the story, you can reach me at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Waves lazily lapping against the worn wood of the ship. Wood darkened by the water and covered with crusts of salt. The ship's belly swaying gently on the rolling waves brushing by. Ropes creaking in their suspensions. Heavy footsteps on sighing boards. Seagulls circling around the ship, dived into the sea to come back with struggling fish.
Then a hoarse yell.
Dirty hands closing around the railing as dark eyes searched the mist lingering at the horizon for the announced outlines of the harbour. Stubbly cheeks moving into a smile as a flash of light broke through the mist. The lighthouse located at the entry to the harbour. They had made it.
Bodies darkened by the sun and dirt started moving hurriedly around deck. Moving the sails into the wind to stir the ship more squarely into the inviting mouth of the harbour.
Laughter. Hoarse voices bellowing a song with no real sense or melody - and yet carrying all their happiness after months on the sea where there was nothing but water and fish. Sun and sky.
Death and Life.
But the nearing harbour meant they could for a little while indulge in all those little pleasures they had to leave behind when they had started their journey.
The men were smiling broadly. Already talking about which bars to visit. Which women to find to release all those fantasies that had carried them through the long...long months.
A breeze brushed through the moving mass of weathered bodies.
Leaving a slight chill on the back of the sailor who just emerged from under deck. Causing him to hesitate a moment before he closed the door again. Shaking his bald head at himself, he headed to the captain standing in the middle of the deck, observing his men's work.
Inside the ship it was dark and cool.
The narrow hallway leading to the crew quarters as well as the captain's cabin was lit only by two lights placed at the beginning and the end of the hallway. Throwing thick beams of shadows on the ground and the walls. Dancing when the light tilted due to the movements of the ship.
And for a moment it even seemed as if one of them moved.
Reaching for the last door at the very end of the hallway.
The small storage room that had been turned into a makeshift cabin. Holding nothing more than a narrow cot and a table. A small window allowing a view of the sky at the moment covered in heavy clouds.
A small frame stood in front of the window. Green eyes tracing the solid wall of grey. Able to make out the dark silhouettes of seagulls and other birds greeting them.
Then those eyes closed as a breeze brushed passed her bare back.
A gentle, yet hesitant caress...
As if tracing the tattoo it found there.
Gabrielle took a trembling breath and pulled on the shirt she held in her hands. Covering the colourful image of the dragon.
I like it
A gust of wind stirring blonde locks at the back of her neck.
She turned away from the window and sat down on the small bed. Still warm since she'd just got up. One of her hands came to rest on the pillow. Trembling fingers tracing along the surface. "I don't." Her low voice stirred the air for a brief moment.
She started to button up the shirt. Pale brows wrinkling in undisguised anger as the wind kept tugging at the cloth. "Stop it!"
The small room filled with only her breathing. The soft creak of the cot. Not even the dust was stirred by any movement. Again, green eyes closed and Gabrielle released a slow breath. Burying her face in her hands.
A sad laugh. More a pained whimper than a laugh. And she turned to put away her sleeping shirt and two scrolls that lay next to the cot. Turning to the table, she hesitated. Her fingers almost touching the urn still sitting there. She heard the deep voices of the men up on deck. Their heavy footsteps as they prepared to get the ship located in the harbour. Could already smell a strange scent that seemed to be a mixture of herbs and fruits.
Grabbing the urn, she carefully...gently put it in her bag and got up. "It's okay."
This time the touch of the breeze was barely detectable. But it was there. Touching her face for the briefest of moments. Without conscious thought she turned her face into the touch. Biting her lower lip to keep it from trembling.
A shudder ran through the entire ship.
The voices outside got louder. More laughter. Mixed with music and the shrill cries of seagulls. Now that their were in the harbour the scent of fish and wet wood became more noticeable and Gabrielle wrinkled her nose a little.
Then she lifted the chakram laying on top of the table. Moving it to catch little sparkling highlights in the shining metal. She was about to put it on the small hook on her belt but hesitated. And then slipped it inside her bag as well.
Her hand touched the rough wood of the door. Leaving the small room would mean to face life, again. To face all the people out there...alone...
You're not alone
The pale head turned ever so slightly. Gentle features looking tired. Green eyes without there usual shine. "I'm not?" Not waiting for a response, she opened the door and left.
Followed by pale blue eyes. No, you're not A breath of wind brushing through the narrow hallway.
Mustafa straightened out another piece of cloth. Brushing away tiny grains of sand that managed to end up everywhere. Even today where there was not the slightest breeze and the sun already beating down on the market with relentless heat.
Just breathing seemed to be too difficult a thing to do.
The massive man sighed and tugged at the collar of his tunic. His dark eyes straying over the mass of bodies moving through the narrow alleys leading past countless booths. Offering food, fruits, cloth, herbs....a sea of colours blending with as many scents. Familiar and strange.
He thought there wasn't anything that he hadn't seen.
Having worked on the marketplace for all his life. First with his father, than after his death he had taken over the business. Feeding his family and even managing to safe a nice amount of money to actually live a comfortable life.
He had seen it all. Nothing could surprise him. At least that's what he thought that beautiful, hot morning getting his stand ready for the day.
It was a flash of pale sunlight that distracted him from his routine. He looked up and dark eyes were looking around in slight confusion as he tried to figure out what had alerted him.
And then his mouth dropped open as he saw her.
Of course, he had heard of them. People with hair as fair as sunlight but he had never seen one of them. And now there was one....and a beautiful woman, too....walking right up to him.
He swallowed against his suddenly dry throat and unconsciously wiped his sweating hands against his tunic. Straightening the small hat on his dark curls, he took a step forward. Smiling at her.
"A beautiful morning to you." He had no idea if she spoke his language but being polite always insured a good price.
She wasn't tall. Even smaller than he was. The expression on her face was a curious mixture of amusement and...
Turning a little, she looked at him. And he was swallowed by eyes as green as the ocean. Just as mysterious and deep. Peaceful and stormy. Carrying secrets too deep to be revealed easily.
She stopped. Smiling at him and taking a closer look at his merchandise. Graceful fingers tracing along the soft silk and velvet he had just put out.
Mustafa watched as the small smile on pink lips broadened as a breeze rifled through a pale green cloth. "You like?"
Those green eyes met his - and for a long moment he was drowning. He had never seen eyes this beautiful. A strange mixture of green and blue...shifting every time the sun hit them. He had heard that the King had some very exotic slaves in his palace but he doubted that even he had seen someone like her.
He shivered a little as a cool breeze brushed past him. Tugging at his tunic.
Gabrielle tried to ignore the man staring so openly at her and again dropped her eyes to the piece of cloth that had caught her attention. Well... their attention. It felt very soft and yet it wasn't entirely smooth. And it certainly wasn't silk because she could feel fibres every time her fingertips brushed across it.
You'd look beautiful in it
She bit her lower lip to hide her smile though it didn't help against the soft blush creeping into her cheeks. Caressed by the soft breeze dancing around her.
"I don't know.."
Mustafa frowned a little as he heard her mutter something in a strange language. Her fingers still touching the pale green velvet. Usually he would have already tried to persuade her but something held him back.
"I don't think it is very practical for travelling. It certainly seems a little too warm for the dessert."
But it's nice Low. A gentle teasing tone.
Gabrielle turned her head a little and this time let the smile playing on her lips show. "Yeah, it's nice."
Dark, bushy eyebrows raised as Mustafa followed the strange conversation...part of it, anyway. His dark head tilted a little as he noticed for the first time that her hair seemed to move - as if a gust of wind had caught itself in those short, pale locks. Even her clothes seemed to move with soft brushes of wind.
Then the small form straightened a little and determined green eyes...now they were green, moments before as she had stood more squarely in the sun they had been blue....turned to him.
Although he didn't understand her language, the tone of her voice indicated that she was interested in buying the cloth. A pleased smile appeared in his face. He held up his hands. Showing nine fingers.
And got an indignant snort. Those pale locks shook and she lifted five fingers.
He was a little surprised. For some reason he hadn't expected her to bargain with him. Well, not that he minded. But five dinars....He shook his head and held up eight fingers.
Another shake of her head and she let go of the cloth. Obviously not interested in buying it after all.
Mustafa sighed. "Okay...okay....seven dinars." He showed her the number with his fingers. Adding a hopeful smile. Hope ticking his belly as she seemed to contemplate the offer. Then she indicated six.
Mmh...it was a fair price. He thought about it and then smiled. "For a beautiful woman such as yourself I will make an exception...it's yours for six dinars."
She reached into the bag she had carried over her shoulder...allowing him a brief look inside. Dark brows rose in surprise as he saw a sword. He took a step back. Even more confused by her. She certainly didn't seem the type to carry around weapons.
While she searched for the money, he studied her body more closely. She wore a loose shirt. Hugging her waist with every soft brush of wind.....reaching low over a short skirt that offered an excellent view of muscular thighs. His eyes lifted a little. Noticing the shift of muscles in her arms as she closed the bag and turned back to him.
Maybe she was a warrior after all...
He took the coins and folded up the piece of velvet. Covering it with a sheet of papyrus, he handed it to her.
Receiving a gentle smile as an answer and then he watched her walk away. Suddenly aware that the soft breeze that had been brushing through his stall was gone as well.
You look tired
Gabrielle sighed. "I am...I couldn't sleep..." He voice faded into a whisper. She took a trembling breath and brushed her hands through her hair.
She was standing in a small room. After her trip through the market near the harbour she had decided to spent a few days in the small town. It took some asking around and using every kind of sign language until she'd found a decent inn that had offered a room with a comfortable bed and breakfast and dinner.
Now all she wanted to do was curl up on her bedroll and not move for days.
How could you hurt so much...and not even be wounded?
There were times when waking up hurt.
Living through a day hurt.
....feeling the soft touch of wind brushing her skin hurt.
Closing green eyes, she released a slow breath. "Why Xena?" A soft whisper barely stirring the air.
Pale blue eyes blinked at the still form standing in the middle of the room. Shoulders trembling with silent tears. Gentle features tired and hurting.
Why?....I thought it was the right thing to do. Her voice was low and she knew how insufficient this answer really was. Why? Was there even an answer to that question? At least none that would take away the pain so obvious in Gabrielle's eyes.
Angry green eyes turned her way. "The right thing? What about us?....me...."
Shadows crawled across the wooden floor. Reaching. Touching. But I am still here. With you...I would never leave you, Gabrielle.
The bard actually laughed at that and turned away. Silent tears tracing down her cheek. "You did leave, Xena." A tired, defeated whisper.
A gust of wind. Touching the back of her neck. You can still hear me....feel me.
"It's not the same as...." The blonde head dropped. Small arms wrapping around a hurting chest. "It's not the same," she repeated. "As feeling you touch me. Hold me. Not the same as actually feeling the warmth of your body next to me at night. To know that there's no safer place than in your arms......I can't just turn around and see you smile at me. I can't just reach out and touch you...I...." A trembling breath. "It is not the same."
That's why you don't like the tattoo. It reminds you of my death.
Gabrielle shook her head. "Every breath I take reminds me of your death, Xena."
This time the gust of wind settled against her back. Close enough to stir the shirt she wore but not close enough to touch her skin.
Do you want me to leave?
Pained green eyes turning her way. The bard's face a mask of anguish. Lifting a hand as if reaching for something, she felt the soft touch brush through her fingers. A gentle caress that tickled her skin...moving along her arm to brush her cheek. To touch her lips for the briefest of moments.
As much as she hurt...just the thought of Xena leaving. Again. Would destroy her. She may be dying slowly at the moment with every new day she had to live through but to imagine to wake up alone. With nothing but memories and pain ---
"...don't ever leave..."
This time she felt the touch against her skin. Stirring tiny hair on her arms. She closed her eyes. Craving nothing more than Xena's touch. Helplessly surrendering to the need inside...
Her back touched the soft mattress even as the laces of her shirt came loose. Goosebumps chasing up and down her chest as she felt Xena's touch travel down her body.
Gabrielle kept her eyes closed tightly as her body was swallowed by warmth and tickling sensations. Drowning in a world of their own where she did feel soft lips touch her skin. Callused fingertips caress her belly. Where she was wrapped in the scent that was Xena and the warmth that was their love.
And where the tears tracing down her face for once weren't filled with pain.
Nah, not really - there will be most likely a fourth part. J