THE BETWEEN THE LINES SERIES
(or what happened between the episodes)
For Disclaimers, see "Looking for Trouble"
2.21 Wings of Love
(post "Lost Mariner")
G: "Xena. Xena! I'm here!"
X: "Gabrielle! Hah! Gotcha."
G: "Xena -- oh Xena."
X: "Gabrielle, are you all right?"
G: "Yeah, I'm fine."
Cecrops: "Excuse me. Do you know who I am?"
X: "You're Cecrops. I wasn't gonna let you take off with my best friend."
Poseidon: "Now, Cecrops! Give me the Warrior Princess! Cut the rope! Do it! And you'll go free!"
Cecrops: "No, Poseidon! Love redeems me! I finally figured it out, you bastard! It isn't that someone loves me! It's my love for others! The love you had for Gabrielle, Xena! When you risked your life for her! The love Hidsim had for me, when he died! You're right! It really is -- just that simple!"
-- Lost Mariner
I lift another piece of wood and drag it over to the bonfire on the beach. Any remains of Cecrops' ship that wash up, we're burning. Xena talked to him and they decided it was for the best. It won't be long before word gets out the Lost Mariner has come ashore. Xena said there are people out there who are just pig-headed and stupid enough to try to dive for his treasures, and Cecrops agreed with her.
So many pirates came after him in the last three hundred years, and nearly all either lost their lives or ended up on the cursed ship. Poseidon may not have won the battle for Cecrops' soul, but he has reclaimed his treasure. Not so much as a speck of gold dust has washed up. We assume it all lies on the ocean floor just off shore, protected in the clutches of the god of the deep. The whirlpool is gone now, but who knows what Poseidon would do if someone foolishly went searching for the goods?
Perhaps bad men who would murder for a pirate's chest deserved whatever fate they met. Perhaps not. Most of the men I met on his ship were good people, kind-hearted, and only wanted to get home to wives and children they'd left behind. Not a one wasn't sorry for the choices they had made, as far as I could tell, and they more than paid for them. But certainly any good and decent men who hear of the opportunity to get rich -- they don't deserve to die in an innocent attempt to raise the remains of the ship.
All the men have been sworn to secrecy as to the exact spot the ship broke up. With any luck, once we clear this beach of the evidence, it will become a peaceful place once more and no one will know where to hunt for the booty. I think the men who sailed with Cecrops have had enough of the sea to last several lifetimes. Not much chance any of them would risk a battle with Poseidon over a few measly strands of pearls.
I pull the piece of planking into the fire and watch the flames turn green as they lick at the still-damp wood. It smokes and hisses and pops, but Xena has fueled the fire with tar. It's hotter than Tartarus, and so the damp wood burns, along with rope, sails, and almost everything else we've found, save a few glass bottles and odd pieces of metal. Xena has a cauldron going over another fire across the way, melting those things that won't burn.
I look over at her and smile. She has her hair pulled back and in the low light of dusk, the firelight outlines the curves and planes of her face and body. She's simply beautiful. I could watch her for hours, especially at times like this as she stirs the pot, the muscles in her arms shifting and standing out as she works. Even from here, I see the sheen of sweat on her exposed skin. Mmmm. Nice.
My stomach flutters strongly in appreciation, surprising me. It's not that I don't often react physically when I see her, but it's been a while since it hit me so hard -- like the first time, all over again -- in that clearing in Potadeia, the first time I laid eyes on her, I felt it, although I had no clue why. I remember experiencing that sensation so many times in the past, and how long it took me to understand what it meant. I never knew what desire truly was, until I met her.
She looks up and catches me watching her, and that magnificent grin lights up her face. All for me. I smile back and give her a little wave. She nods and continues tending the cauldron, and I regretfully turn and trot back down the beach to more piles of wreckage the men have gathered and stacked.
I'm tired, but it's the good kind of tired, the weariness of a hard day of work and a job well-done. We're almost finished. A few more stacks and it will all be up in smoke. I can smell the scent of wood burning on the wind, and the sea breeze, and the wonderful rich aroma of the wet sand beneath my feet.
I have long since taken my boots off, driven by the need to feel the solid land between my toes. I have no desire to go on another boat anytime soon. In fact, I'd be just as happy if I never have to get on one again. Give me the still, dry land, any day. Life is much happier when I am able to digest my meals after eating them. And when they aren't rubbery and covered in slime. Squid -- ugh! I should spank Xena for not warning me about the side effects of the wrist pressure points, but she might enjoy it too much if I did.
I laugh quietly to myself at my thoughts, and as I stoop down to gather an armload of debris, I feel a warm hand curl around my shoulder. "What's so funny?" a voice I'd know anywhere burrs in my ear.
I look over in surprise and the wood tumbles from my arms. I gasp and place my hand against my stomach. "Don't do that!" I laugh in nervous relief that it's her, and bump my hip against hers. I was afraid it was going to be Altrech again. No amount of Xena giving him 'the look' went very far in deterring him. The man had been without a woman for way too long.
"Sorry." She pats my shoulder, leaving her hand there, and gazes intently into my eyes. My stomach shimmies again in a good way, and I swallow, pressing my hand more firmly against it. "Your stomach still upset?" She raises an eyebrow in question and takes the wrist of my other hand, making my stomach jump again.
"No." I smile and she frowns, tilting her head in confusion, gazing pointedly at my midsection. I pat my belly and feel my own blush heating my skin. "No," I whisper softly. "Sometimes when I look at you --" I look down at my belly and back up at her. "Catches me off guard, but it's a nice kind of surprise."
"Ah." She smiles knowingly and places her hand over mine, and the sensation intensifies, like a lightning bolt to my groin. "Do you know how hard it is to avoid cutting your own head off in a fight, when your stomach is doing that?" She looks around and chuckles, then leans closer, taking a quick nibble of my ear lobe.
I nod slowly, concentrating on the nice chills dancing across my skin. "As hard as it is not to knock yourself in the head with a staff when your stomach is doing that, I'd imagine."
She laughs again, a nice, low growly sound. "First time I saw you." She strokes my hair now, pushing it back away from my face. "I felt that and took a blow to the head for it. Caught me so off guard I forgot where I was for a moment."
"Really? Way back then, no kidding?" I search her face and see the truth. I smile and lean closer to her, until our foreheads are touching. "I felt it then, too."
"Well." She backs off and I see regret in her eyes. "Much as I'd like to -- you know." She grins rakishly. "I think we're going to be camping on this beach with some of the men tonight, so --"
"Time to douse the fire between us, and return to the one burning on the sand down there?" I laugh lightly and take her hand, and we both stand. "I'd love to --too -- but truthfully, it will be nice just to share a bedroll with you that isn't laid out in a rocking hammock in a smelly ships' hold."
"Much as I love the sea, I'm in full agreement with you there, my bard." We walk slowly down the beach toward some logs that the men have dragged near the fire. We have some blessed privacy, as most of them are still combing the dunes and the shoreline for any last remains of the ship we might have missed. She sits down on one of the logs and pats the space next to her, and I eagerly take the spot, scooting close and resting my head on her shoulder. I sigh in contentment as she wraps one arm around me, and we watch the flames dancing in the rising moonlight.
"Xena." I need to get something out in the open, just so she understands. "When I saw you on shore and I called to you, Cecrops told me to think about what I was doing. But it never once occurred to me that you wouldn't be able to get us both off that ship. I -- if there had been any doubt, I just want you to know, I would've kept quiet. I didn't mean to be selfish. I just --"
"Shhhh." She kisses my head and I feel her breath warm my neck as she speaks softly into my ear. "No fretting. It's moot anyway. I was already planning to get on that ship before you ever called my name."
"But -- how did you know I was there?" I search her face and see something different there -- a fierce kind of love, and something different hits me in the gut, as I realize all that emotion in those eyes is on my behalf.
"I just did." She shrugs, some of the intensity erased in the process. "I can't explain it. I felt you." She touches her own stomach. "Right here. Sometimes I just --" She waves a hand about in the air, obviously at a loss to explain herself.
"Well, I'm glad you did." I snuggle close again and kiss her shoulder. "I couldn't bear the thought of spending the rest of my life on that boat without you." I blink at the sting of tears in my eyes. "Jumping would've been a better option than --" It hits me then and I almost double over at the pain of a loss that came so close. "Oh, gods." I turn and bury myself into her, and feel those arms pulling me close, her body rocking us as I fight just to breathe.
"Shhhh." She shushes me again, and one hand slides up my back, cradling the back of my head as she strokes my hair. "I gotcha. I wasn't going to leave you there, sweetheart. That was never an option, even if I didn't know how to get us off that ship."
"But you would have been cursed for life with me." I close my eyes, greedily inhaling the sea-salty clean scent of her skin, mixed with the musky sweat of our days' labor. She feels so good and so real, I can't let go just yet, and so I don't.
"And living out my life on land without you an even greater curse," she whispers, that fierce tone in her voice washing over me again. "Besides, I've seen what they do to women on ships. No way was I leaving you there to --" She trails off, realizing what she was about to say. "Never mind. Just understand that there was never a time when you were going to be left alone on that ship."
I sigh and smile against her, feeling my world righted. "That leap from the cliff, Xena that was amazing. I've seen you do some pretty incredible things, but I think that tops them all."
"I'm still not quite sure how I did that," she murmurs thoughtfully. She continues to stroke my hair and I feel her cheek pressed against my head. "I tested the wind and the springiness of that branch, but I shouldn't have made it half that distance. All I knew was missing wasn't an option." She releases a little grunt that means she's puzzling it out.
"I know how you did it." I raise my head and look up, meeting her questioning gaze. "You sprouted wings of love, Xena. That's how you did it."
She snorts and then laughs, but appears relieved. "Wings of love?" She shakes her head. "Are you a bard or a poet now?"
"Bard, mostly." I tuck my arm into hers and rest my head back on her shoulder. "But when you do things like that, it brings out the poet in me. Sometimes when you move, it's like a poem come to life."
I hear her snort again and I smile. We're going to be just fine. Poseidon lost and Cecrops won, but so did we. I love her now, more than ever, if that's possible. I feel her nuzzle my hair and then my cheek, and I turn, meeting her lips. It's short, but affirming, and ends with a little nose rub and our foreheads pressed together again. It's all we can do, for now, here on this beach with Cecrops' men about to come back from beach-combing. But somehow on this night, beside the fire, beneath the moon in the safety of her arms -- the warmth in her eyes and knowing what she was willing to sacrifice for me -- it makes me fall in love with her, all over again, and my heart sprouts its own wings, soaring up above the bonfire and onto the whispering night wind.
Next in the BTL series - The Object of My Affection (post "A Comedy of Eros")