Disclaimer: This is a short piece of fan fiction based on the
characters from Xena; Warrior Princess. Being the rightful property
of Universal Studios, it is not my intention to infringe on related
copyright laws or to make any profit.
As always I would be left looking totally illiterate without the
beta-ering skills of Moon Shadow.
Deliberate Stranger is the
third in the series I have affectionately dubbed "The Pay for Play
Chronicles". It follows on from As The
Candle Burns, and The Price Of
Silence. It's pretty essential that you've read both of
them first, or what follows is not going to make a great deal of
sense. None of these stories are connected to a previous work called
The Offering, so don't expect
continuity with the events of that story.
Warning: If you had difficulty dealing with the content of
either of the above mentioned stories, reading this will put you no
more at ease. There isn't any sex in this installment, but there's
plenty of talk which could possibly be disturbing if you're not
comfortable with anything around S/m or the use of strap on's.
Gabrielle sat on the very edge of the elegantly adorned pallet
unable to speak. Both her legs were pressed firmly together at the
knees to hide an involuntary shudder racking her limbs. Her compact
fingers fidgeted nervously with a loose thread she had discovered at
the base of her skirt. Grateful for the immediate distraction it
afforded, she continued to twirl the piece of cotton even after it
had come free from the fabric. She had no idea how in the name of
Hades she had gotten herself into this mess or how she was going to
get out of it. Outside and oblivious to the storm occurring at
torrential proportions within, sounds of steady rain drummed against
the building's roof and shutters and again she was thankful, if only
for the moderate cover it afforded the pounding of her heart.
Sitting parallel and at the furthest point of the make shift
couch, a young prostitute who Gabrielle had come to know as Arnise
also kept her eyes downcast, closely supervising the task of relacing
the front of her bodice.
The misunderstanding had left them both speechless. Neither
willing or able to move from the frozen positions they maintained.
Arnise chanced a guarded look at the blonde woman an arms reach
away, not allowing their striking familiarity to bother her as much
as it had the first time. Other than the minor disparity in hair
length, a negligible difference in age and slightly darker coloring,
Gabrielle could easily have been mistaken for her twin. The young
whore knew Xena's attraction to her was due largely to the
resemblance she bore to the Potidaean bard. It was why their
relationship had started in the first place, why it had continued and
why she was sitting in her own work room feeling like she had just
been caught stealing extra supper by her mother.
For the bard's part, Gabrielle was well aware of Arnise's every
move and her obvious likeness. She was aware too of being studied by
the blonde prostitute and had been aware of it, she realized, for
most of the last moon.
It had all started out straight-forwardly enough. Really, it was
no different from any one of the countless occasions Xena had left
her marooned in some unremarkable place while she went off to attend
to a just as unremarkable warlord or an unwanted intervention from
Ares or one of the other troublesome Gods. Only this time, where Xena
had left her was very remarkable and the cause of their separation
was nothing so simple as a mortal warlord or fractious deity.
Continual bad weather had caused some of the worst flooding along
the Corinthian and Argosian boarders that either woman could recall.
Hundreds were dead and thousands more had been left homeless or
without supplies. Major evacuations had been necessary from most of
the smaller townships.
True to her nature, Xena had volunteered in the joint civilian and
military presence that had organized much of the evacuation to
Corinth. She had left Gabrielle at the base, billeted at the largest
facility available, to help out with organizing medical supplies and
attending to the general comfort of the displaced evacuees. The two
had seen each other briefly five nights prior when the filthy and
exhausted warrior had brought in another group of homeless families.
There had been barely enough time for the two to exchange a handful
of sentences while the older woman took advantage of a hot meal and
bath before they were saying their good-byes again. Xena parted with
a sweet kiss on the top of the bard's gold locks, a hearty embrace
and a promise she'd be back to collect her before the new moon.
Fresh from her own bath and not ready to return to her room alone,
Gabrielle had come back downstairs to the main foyer of the building.
Xena had been gone less than a candle mark and the bard found herself
missing the warrior immensely. She hadn't known exactly why or what
had prompted her to enter the bad smelling, poorly lit area where the
business of the whore house transpired. Thinking back, she realized
she had expected it to be reasonably deserted what with the state of
emergency still in place. She had been hoping to run into anyone of
the girls who had befriended her during her time as lodger in hopes
that they would help her while away what remained of the evening
before she would be forced to return to the emptiness of the room she
was yet to share with Xena.
As she descended the large staircase, Gabrielle found herself
drawn to a form that displayed a familiar stance and a voice that was
as known to her as her own. She told herself it couldn't be who she
thought it was - arguing that it was impossible. She remembered
feeling scared and excited all at the same time, a little like how
she felt when she opened a fresh piece of parchment for the very
first time. Her head told her to backtrack up the stairs while her
heart urged her to continue. Before she could will herself to listen
to the former, her legs were responding to the latter. All the while
she was slowly being enveloped in a sense of thrilling dread.
Propelled by some unseen hand, Gabrielle moved past the entrance
and into the room's protective shadows. The vision before her became
clearer, the unmistakable voice stronger. Her movements became
mechanical as she carefully maneuvered amongst the half occupied
tables of travelers and scantily dressed girls. Masculine and
feminine voices and sensual lute music intermingled as assorted lurid
jokes and petty squabbles swirled about her and she still kept
moving, seemingly powerless to stop. She found herself sitting down
at an unoccupied table no more than a staff length from a beautiful
raven haired woman and the familiar young whore.
She had heard the middle-aged proprietor of the establishment
shout over in the general direction of two tightly entwined bodies.
"No pay, no play."
But she hadn't been completely sure what the proprietor had meant
till she heard the Warrior Princess' reply.
"I'm good for my money." Xena had retorted gruffly before
laughing at some unknown joke.
The proprietor seemed less amused by the warrior's humor, growling
something about the dark woman taking her business to one of the
rooms before people started believing she was running some kind of
charitable institution. The warrior stepped clearly into view then
and with a playful and courteous nod in agreement, Gabrielle watched
her friend grope under the whore's short skirt before hastily
ushering her down a narrow hallway and out of sight.
If she was going to be totally honest with herself, Gabrielle knew
seeing Xena and Arnise together had been the end of weeks of
suspicion, not the beginning.
It had actually all started with the scar. A tiny mark in the
shape of an X that Arnise had just above her right breast. Though it
was no bigger than the length of her quill nib, from the moment
Gabrielle had laid eyes on it, she realized the magnitude of its
existence and the implications for the bearer.
Arnise's realization hadn't been quick enough and Gabrielle
reflected back on the morning her curiosity had finally gotten the
better of her. She'd spent a sleepless night imagining any number of
possible reasons for the mark, fantasying names that began with the
Greek letter that might account for the shape. But somewhere just
before sunrise, she had come to accept there really could be only one
reason - one meaning.
Unable to contain her inquisitiveness, she raised the matter over
breakfast. But she lost her bravado just as abruptly when the color
drained completely from Arnise's face. The proprietor, a motherly
figure named Bertha, had slapped Gabrielle soundly on the back as her
blonde counterpart hastily excused herself from the raucous laughter
of almost all present. Bertha had snickered and said something very
obscure about the mark denoting ownership. Gabrielle had already
ascertained that for herself but chose to appear politely surprised.
The portly shaped woman had gone on to add that a regular customer
had paid a phenomenal price to cut Arnise one night during an
extended session. But instead of having the mark tended to avoid
scaring or keeping it covered, the young woman had added ink to the
fresh wound to maintain the outline and dressed to display it.
That was until she and the bard became friends and she'd realized.
After that morning, Arnise always appeared wearing garments that
covered the mark completely and Gabrielle could almost have forgotten
"I'm sorry, Arnise." Gabrielle said quietly.
"Don't be," The young whore said with equal gentleness.
"It's not you who should be apologizing, Gabrielle - It's me."
Gabrielle tilted her head a little, finally braving eye contact
with the other woman. Pupils locked and they both felt themselves
again sliding back involuntary into a muted trance. Playing for more
time, Gabrielle smoothed the ends of her skirt back over her knees
and took an even breath.
"I needed to talk to you." She whispered.
"You've been avoiding me for days."
"You gave, Bertha, five dinar." Arnise explained.
"People don't give Bertha dinar just so they can talk to me."
She suddenly realized she had been fidgeting as much as the bard,
twirling the tassels on her bodice incessantly. She'd spent long
enough as a whore to be able to cover her emotions with a
professional smile, but her temple still pulsed with the realization
of just how close she'd come to completely disrobing in front of one
of her regular's dearest friends. A friend who was, if she was to
believe that customer, still very much a virgin and oblivious to the
true nature of the relationship the ex warlord and prostitute shared.
Gabrielle was right. She had been avoiding her for days. It was a
coward's way, she admitted, but the only way she knew she could
remain true to her word.
She'd even chastised the warrior for bringing the girl here,
wanting to know what Xena expected her to do if Gabrielle turned out
to be less gullible than the older woman thought. Her questions had
been met with heated denial. Xena didn't come to the whore to be
lectured or, chastised. When she had whipped her unmercifully after,
bitten and gouged at her, then penetrating her without thought of
readying her, Arnise was reminded just how truly dangerous the dark
beauty could be. And how foolish she had been to challenge her.
"I guess that means Xena doesn't pay just to talk either, does
Arnise ordered her thoughts, silently cursing the memory of her
last conversation with her customer. Xena had been so convinced that
Gabrielle would never discover the warrior paid for sex. If out of
some strange burst of illumination, Gabrielle's perception of her
broadened to consider it as a possibility - she would never ask.
Finally nearing the end of their last session together, Xena had
delivered clear instructions. If Gabrielle did ask, answer honestly -
but only what was absolutely necessary. The bard's mind didn't
deserve to be soiled with the lewd truths of her private needs.
Arnise firmed her jaw and shook her head slowly.
No Xena didn't pay to talk.
Gabrielle nodded. It was an accustomed empathetic gesture she'd
longed practiced in her travels. Not just because it put others more
at ease but also because it helped when she really didn't know what
else to say. Thinking was one thing. Having her suspicions confirmed
felt like she'd just been hit by a runaway chariot.
"I knew that." Gabrielle responded without conviction.
"...She paid you the last night. She was here, after she had said
goodbye to me, wasn't she?"
Her heart threatened to split in two as she watched the
prostitute's head lower a little in acknowledgement. She let
the additional information sink in along with all the other
fragments. It made her feel sick.
"....and before that, how often?"
"Often," Arnise answered softly. Then realising the bard was still waiting for a proper answer. She added, "Every time she's in Corinth."
Gabrielle did the calculations; they'd visited the richly
populated city possibly once a month in the last year.
"Well, I suppose that explains the continual disappearance of
funds," she offered faintly, knowing it really explained nothing
at all. She looked back down at the hands resting in her lap. These
were grown woman hands, hands that wanted to touch and be touched
back. Xena avoided her advances for a reason and she needed to know
"The X stands for Xena, doesn't it?" She remarked braver
than she actually felt.
The simple statement - so provocatively accurate, slid under
Arnise's own practiced mask of sereneness. The warrior had instructed
her to answer only what was necessary, no more. Yet this question
like all the questions the bard had put to her, in and outside this
room, attached no judgment. Did she not also owe Gabrielle the right
to her truth? So her own decisions could be drawn from that truth? In
her short life, Arnise had never imagined being faced with this kind
of predicament. To be stuck between her loyalty to one client who she
was genuinely fond of despite her formality, whose motivations she
understood better than any and all of the countless, faceless men she
catered to. Certainly her growing relationship with Gabrielle was
more along the line of friendship than customer, nonetheless money
had been exchanged.
Xena had painted Gabrielle with pin point accuracy right down to
one crucial detail. Her unfailing wisdom. Arnise had sensed from her
first encounter with the ex-warlord that any woman who chose to
travel with her would be no fool. Though Xena had not intended to
describe Gabrielle as such when it came to matters of the heart, she
couldn't have been more wrong. It was obvious Gabrielle was in love
with Xena as she was with her. The bard, who had from both their
stories risked her own life as many times as the warrior to defend
her, would gladly walk through Tartarus to find Xena. What was
blinding Xena to the fact that they could be much more to each other
than the older currently allowed?
She sighed quietly, realizing she knew the answer. The only
question that truly remained was whether it was her place to tell
"Yes." She confirmed finally, though the reply was barely
Arnise cleared her throat, recognizing how parched she felt. For
all their silence, her vocal cords felt like they had been in active
use for hours. She eased herself upward, pulling her own short skirt
into place before walking the distance to the table at the center of
the room. She poured herself and her guest fruit wine from the
pitcher, wordlessly returning to the bed and offering it to her
before she continued.
"Why do I have it now?" She asked cautiously. "Or why
did I agree to it in the first place?"
"Both, either." Gabrielle stammered, taking a rather large
gulp from the cup she been handed.
Arnise continued to study her, waiting patiently as the bard
"Xena gave it to me." Arnise finally said in hushed tones,
hoping keeping her voice low would somehow lessen the impact. Instead
she was forced to watch as a tear trickled down the sun tanned cheek
of her counterpart.
Gabrielle straightened her posture, willing herself not to
Fingers lightly grazed the embossed lines of flesh through her
blouse as a flash of memory struck Arnise and she recalled the night
that the permanent symbol of Xena's claim was created. She also
recalled the warrior had been quite open about Gabrielle accompanying
her on that trip and that their time together was about Xena
expelling weeks of pent up frustration over the bard.
"Perhaps nine moons ago. When she had, ... when the two of you
had come to Corinth after fighting the Horde." Gabrielle nodded,
herself remembering Xena's unease around her. There was a beat of
silence before Arnise continued to explain.
"She bought me for a night - and we....she....when we were,"
And swallowing her pride, refusing to appeared ashamed with the
admission, she added directly, "It means the bearer is the
property of someone." Through half lidded eyes she could see
Gabrielle's look of abandon. She'd hadn't wanted to hurt her anymore
than Xena's continual presence in this room was meant to hurt her.
Yet they both had hurt her, shamefully.
"As to why I have it?" Arnise whispered not sure even if
the bard still listened. "I consented, Gabrielle. It's what I do,
I provide sexual service for money."
Gabrielle tried to control the feeling of nausea rising up again.
The truth of her simple phrases rang through. As much as they denied
it, as much as either wanted it not to be, Xena was still chained to
her past through her desires.
"And she comes to see you, whenever she...." Gabrielle
stopped, suddenly too frightened of her own thoughts to continue.
There was silence again and Arnise realized she had to tell her,
had to let Gabrielle know what it was that made the difference to how
and what she shared with the warrior.
"She doesn't love me, Gabrielle. Don't believe for a moment
that I am foolish enough to think that anyone but you possesses the
Warrior Princess' heart."
The bard looked up, eyes full of unshed tears. She hadn't even
known if Arnise knew fully who Xena was, had been. But with each
passing disclosure she was forced to accept that this woman, no older
than herself shared possibly as many of the details of Xena's warlord
years as she did. It was not Arnise's fault that she shared something
with Xena that Gabrielle wanted but was somehow denied.
Arnise was still, balancing on the fine invisible line of
maintaining as much of Xena's confidentiality as she could and not
betraying this new friend.
"The first night that Xena came to me, she was.....strung out.
Her need was so apparent, so raw - so much so." She halted again,
reminding herself that certain things belonged solely between
purchase and customer. ".... yet all she could speak about, all
the occupied her that night was the realization that she was in love
with you, and that some how by taking care of her private needs, she
was betraying you." She had meant to somehow lighten Gabrielle's
resolve with the knowledge of Xena's love for her. Yet with the words
said, she realized there would be no real peace for Gabrielle in
them. She was actually confirming her worst fears, telling her that
her closest friend, the woman that meant everything to her had been
intentionally deceiving her for the Gods only knew how long. She
wanted to reach across the empty space that divided them and touch
the bare arm that trembled.
"She still hasn't taken you as a lover, has she?" Arnise
said, more as a statement than a question. She was growing very tired
of the games Xena was obviously playing with this woman's heart and
Gabrielle thought about the question intently, it should have been
as simple as either a yes or a no. But it wasn't. Yes, they had
finally spoken about their intense feelings for each other,
acknowledging that those feelings extended to physical longings. When
they were alone Xena had become more demonstrative in her affection
for Gabrielle. Now they always laid their bedrolls side by side.
Holding each other as they fell asleep and kissing had become a
nightly ritual but they had not stepped over the final line into
sexual intimacy. Xena had not indicated that she wanted them to.
"No." Gabrielle replied reluctantly.
She shook her head, exhaling from the frustration she was tired of
keeping to herself. "I mean we kiss, and we hold each other. One
time she touched my breasts and started to.....but she stopped
Then with unequivocal annoyance she added. "She stopped
herself and left me aching so bad I thought I would explode."
Arnise smirked in spite of herself, realizing the bard 's eyes
showed the slightest hint of mischief in them. They both seemed to
relax a little then and Gabrielle was reminded of the other reason
she had felt so utterly betrayed when she had discovered Xena turned
to Arnise instead of her. She genuinely liked the young whore and had
thought she may have found a new friend.
"She's afraid I won't like it, isn't she?" Gabrielle asked
after another lapse into extended silence.
Arnise nodded knowingly. "What Xena pays for is not, shall we
say, standard... She needs it a particular way and..." and she
found herself hesitating again. "With me, she can be herself,
totally herself. She cares for me, I know that - it's why she always
asks for me. But she doesn't have to... worry about hurting me. It
makes it easy for her to let go. To burn the fire out and concentrate
"I know I could be what she wanted if she just let me."
Gabrielle offered desperate for some kind of anchor, some recognition
of her own place in the warrior's life.
"It's just that well, I have never been with anyone. I didn't
think much about it when we first started traveling, there was always
so much happening, she was extremely distant. I knew her preferences
were for women, but I..... Then I realized I was in love with her and
kept expecting her to...., so I saved myself."
Unable to pretend any longer, Gabrielle let out a huge
unrestrained sob and the full array of emotions generated since the
first hint of Xena's deception came spilling out.
How could she have been so foolish?
Arnise scooted up the bed till she had the other woman wrapped in
her arms. She cradled her close, allowing the storm of tears to
continue until Gabrielle lay relatively silent and exhausted in her
protective embrace. They had reclined against the collection of
brightly color pillows, slipping easily in an intimacy borne from the
whore's disclosure and stark reality of the dark warrior they shared.
Arnise lay quietly, occasionally tracing the curves that shaped the
bard's prominent biceps, soothing them. It wasn't until Gabrielle
looked up at her that she could also see the unquenched need in the
"Do you want to..." Arnise asked, her voice pitched
somewhere between curious and compelling. She usually prided herself
on being able to anticipate what her customers wanted without them
asking. However Gabrielle wasn't the usual kind of customer, she had
come seeking answers not a whore's personal services - or had she?
"No." Gabrielle shook her head. She had waited this long
for Xena to notice her, she could wait a few more days.
She took a deep breath, expelling it silently and allowing her
heart to return to a manageable pace. Then angling her frame to
regard her friend with renewed candor.
"But I would like your help with something."
"If I can, Gabrielle," Arnise responded carefully.
"I want you to help me convince Xena, that I can be everything
she wants. I want you to teach me how to be her lover."
The prostitute visibly faltered. This really was where she knew if
she responded she would cross the line in her agreement with the
warrior. Already she had answered too many questions, implied too
much where it had not been solicited. "Gabrielle, Xena's
"Brutal?" Gabrielle finished for her, knowing there was
more to the tiny X Arnise wore than had been revealed.
A lump rose up in the other woman's throat.
"Yes," she confirmed.
"I understand that," Gabrielle answered with surprising
confidence. "I also understand that she loves me. I want to share
everything with her, even the things that maybe, difficult. "
Arnise turned the bard's plea over in her mind, considering the
incalculable possibilities and consequences of fulfilling such a
request. She sighed inwardly reminding herself that in her line of
work she was often asked to perform acts that were not in her nature.
On the rare occasions when Xena had inflicted wounds that went beyond
what she had paid for, she had compensated her generously. None of
what happened between them was personal and she held no grudge. Deep
down, there was even a small part of her that had started to respond
to her customer's savagery.
Finally she nodded.
"All right, Gabrielle, what do you want me to do?"
Thoughts of sweaty bodies trapped in erotic embraces rushed
through the bard's overactive imagination as she allowed herself the
first glimmer of hope. Conscious too, though she wasn't entirely sure
how, that softly uttered poetry, gentle ministrations performed by
tender lovers like those she had read about was not what truly
excited Xena. 'I would willingly walk through darkness to be with
you.' she mused to herself.
"I need you to tell me what she likes," she said, clearing
her throat and suddenly feeling much warmer under the admission.
"And how I can go about satisfying her wishes."
This was definitely too far.
"Gabrielle, I can't." Arnise entreated, her voice dropping
to a warning timbre. "I've already said too much." She
reached down, clasping hold of one of the other woman's hands,
attempting to relay the sincerity of her words. "I have to
consider the confidence Xena shares with me. I know you and Xena love
each other but I just can't break my trust with her."
Both women's mood appeared to visibly deflate as Arnise's clear
objection settled over them. Gabrielle sat up, suddenly unable to
maintain the physical closeness with the other woman. She glanced
back over to the table where the wine pitcher sat, uncertain whether
another mug would relieve or increase the nausea that racked her
body. Beside the pitcher, the time candle continued to burn down.
There wasn't much time left and she was suddenly unconvinced that
even though the two had managed to speak about what was troubling
them both, Arnise wouldn't simply draw away again.
Arnise also sat up, feeling guilt and trepidation struggle for
prominence. Lightly she trailed her finger tips over the bardís
slightly sagging shoulder muscles. A silent gesture that spoke of not
wishing to break the connection they had managed to establish.
"I can't tell you Gabrielle." She said slowly, the plan
evolving as she spoke. "But if you are determined to know this
part of Xena, I think I know another way."
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