RATING: PG, but don't let that put you off.
SUMMARY: Xena/Lao Ma, Xena's POV
DISCLAIMER: As always, everything here belongs to other (much more wealthy) people. I'm just having fun.
A/N: I was Spring cleaning some old computer files and found this. I was happy enough with it to decide to go ahead and post it. It's just a drabble really, a "missing scene" from The Debt, after Lao Ma rescues Xena from those hounds and Ming Tzu ("Come with me if you wish your freedom").
I wore those layers of delicate silk as if they were the heaviest of armor. The robes were a welcome barrier, protecting my bruised body from the world. And I was relieved that its tent-like shape nearly disguised my crooked stance, my twisted legs. Until I moved, there were precious fleeting moments of forgetting about those legs altogether.
And so I found myself sitting on a large soft cushion on the floor. Cleansed, safe and armored. And terribly restless.
I glanced at this woman, this ruler of Chin, from across the table – a table she had ordered filled with every imaginable type of food. Even some meat for me. Everyone else in the room were alighting from table to kitchen, from room to room, like birds from tree to tree. They served this woman. But this woman served me.
She’d placidly watched as I tried to awkwardly eat with the thin wooden sticks I was given – then had quickly flung them aside and hungrily reached from bowl to plate with my bare hands. And this woman – Lao Ma – would quickly fill the bowls up again herself, wordlessly and attentively.
It crossed my mind, of course, that I was being given some sort of last meal. But then that gentle gaze would ask ‘what else do you need?’, and I felt myself relax a little deeper into her safe-keeping.
Finally, I felt my body fill and I leaned away from the low table and waited, warily, to see what Lao Ma would do next.
The ruler’s face was still, yet somehow radiated a pleased look. And it was with an unfamiliar sense of gratitude that I felt better to have pleased her.
“You should rest,” her words broke the easy quiet. “Would you like me to show you to a guest room?”
I half-shrugged, half-nodded, and Lao Ma glided up to her feet. I started to lift myself from the cushion when I felt my left leg lock, then buckle a little. A servant quickly came forward to steady me. I tossed her helpful arms away, glancing at Lao Ma. I didn’t want her to see me struggling. But Lao Ma’s eyes were cast down, as if she'd anticipated all this, and was allowing me privacy, dignity.
I painfully straightened, and concentrating on each step, managed to follow Lao Ma down the hall to a large decorative, carved wooden door. Two more female servants were waiting, and opened the door ahead of us, and we entered to warmth and candle glow and pleasant scents.
Watching the servants prepare the room further, I realized that the house servants were all women. And there was something else different about them. I saw in their careful attention to their tasks, their efficient but unhurried way, that there was no fear of their mistress, or of their own fate, in them. Then their bowed bodies backed out of the door and they were gone. The door shut solidly, but did not lock.
“I hope you are happy with this room.”
I glanced at the warm, wooden furniture, the soft fabrics, and frowned at her. But somehow Lao Ma knew it wasn’t the accomodations that troubled me.
“You probably have many questions. It might be best, though, to wait until morning.”
In the many years after, as I’d ruthlessly followed my rampaging heart, I would stare down many eyes, look into hateful and murderous faces without care. Yet, I found that I could not hold Lao Ma’s gaze for more than a few seconds at a time. My eyes would dart away and back again, to try one more time, only to be defeated once again by her calm and understanding. I was curious and irritated at the same time.
And Lao Ma stood silently.
‘What does she want from me?’ It was always a good idea to know the motives – and weaknesses - of everyone around you at all times. But this woman was a riddle. Then I remembered Lao Ma’s gracious hands bathing me, dressing my wounds, washing my hair, and the steady, soothing tug of the comb as she brushed my hair out. And the feel of her lips as she had breathed air and life into me.
I stepped closer to Lao Ma and looking only at the woman’s full lips set in a slight smile, I reached for the ruler’s head and drew it to my own. When our lips touched, parted and loosened back over each other and then opened to warmth and wetness, I felt even more life course back through me. Another kind of life revived within me.
But after just a moment, Lao Ma firmly took hold of my face and pulled our lips apart, looking steadily at me. “Why did you do that?”
Ignoring my own body’s reactions, I thought of what first drew me closer. “I pay my debts.”
A film passed over Lao Ma’s eyes. “I was a courtesan, Xena. I don’t expect, or want, that from anyone else.” She stepped back from her. “You don’t have to stay here. You can leave at any time. It would be…most dangerous for you outside these walls…” She paused. It was clear that it wasn’t a threat, but a genuine concern. “But I have no hold on you, Xena. If you choose to stay, I would be honored to have your company.”
Lao Ma inclined her head and waited. My mind barreled from thought to thought. I remembered Lao Ma saying she could see into my soul, and that she'd seen “greatness”. Skepticism and hope flickered in me, battling for space. I’d seen Lao Ma’s abilities, had been pulled into this presence she had. Even now, with her head and eyes lowered, she lost no power or authority. It confounded every warrior’s instinct I possessed, and refuted all my usual methods to convey strength and resolve to others and stay alive.
I hungered for this calm and control – something I assumed lost to me forever. My own insides churned almost constantly. If it were possible to be taught that…
In that moment, my schemes of gold and glory, Borias, my hard won army, my aimless fury - all of it - suddenly felt far removed. As much as I told myself that this woman’s power and knowledge could be merely useful, I knew that in that moment, all I really wanted was to draw this small, enigmatic woman to me and to be able to look fully into her accepting eyes and not flinch – those eyes that could see into my soul.