Fanfic by Winona Whitener Title: Unrequited Disclaimer: Still don't own any of the characters. However, I do finally own the DVD and a copy of the video. :) Archive? Sure! Feel free. Pass on to people: *blush* Sure! I'm flattered.... Credits: To everyone who has had a first love. Thanks to Cathy Krusberg who still is willing to patiently edit my rambling. **************************************************************************** It has been many years since he has ridden through town. I know that he will stay at the old inn, perhaps one night or two and then move on. Many years have passed, and time has blurred my eyes and dimmed my ears, but I know him. You never forget your first love. You never forget the first time that you saw your first love. You never forget, entirely, how they moved and the sound of their voice. How they made you feel. Or when they left you behind. You forget a bit but then something happens and then you remember it all again. I remember, in the auburn of the sunset or the brown of the crackling leaves in the fall, the shading of his hair. I remember the exact green of his eyes--like the sun-specked meadow in the summer. I remember his voice--like the soft call of a faraway church bell, echoing and solemn. But most of all, I remember the day that he rode in. It was a dreary, rainy day. It seemed like the whole world was filled with only the grays and browns of newly tilled mud fields and the clouds and stone of the streets. I had been in the market that day, my head filled only with thoughts of getting home before I became as gray as the gloom around me. I had finally made a reasonable bargain on the meat and cheese for dinner, a bit of flour and enough sugar to finish making the berry jam that my mama made every year. I was caught in the tide of people rushing home, being pushed along the street, when suddenly the tide stopped, gathering on the sides of the street. _He_ had ridden into the main square of the town, like a dark angel astride his noble steed. His cloak flowed softly around him, like wings settling. His hair, curled and damp, flowed like satin around his broad shoulders. He had Power that seemed to radiate like a golden beacon from his entire being. The townspeople, usually friendly and outgoing, made way as his cyberhorse picked its way through the streets. He stopped, briefly, at the fountain at the center of town, gazing at the horizon. Then he nodded slightly, and turned towards the inn. Dismounting, he vanished inside. Slowly, the people began moving again. Within minutes, mothers had told their children to stay away from him. He was dangerous. That night, my best friend, Tasha, came over to help me finish putting one of the last batches of jam into pots and sealing them with a thin layer of beeswax. Mama always said that Tasha was incorrigible, wild and reckless, and a bad influence. So it shouldn't have been a surprise when she suggested sneaking out to the inn. "What?!" I whispered. "Sneak into the inn, silly!" she chuckled softly. "Don't you want to see if those muscles were all _his_?" "What? But how?" She smiled, her eyes glittering in the moonlight. "Remember when we had to sneak Katie a nightgown when she got locked out skinny dipping? We'll sneak out the back and down the alley and through the inn stables." "I really don't think that's a great idea, Tasha," I whispered. "Mama says that he's dangerous." I laughed too quickly. "And you saw the huge sword he carried...." "That only means that he's a Hunter, you scaredy cat." She smiled dreamily. "I bet _all_ those muscles are his." "I don't think that we should," I repeated. "What's the matter? Scared?" She grinned. "You did want to sneak out when we went skinny dipping...." I blushed. That had been a miserable summer day, hot and muggy and the creek was wonderfully cold. "We shouldn't mention that. My parents wouldn't forgive me..." She thought for a moment. "Do you want me to _promise_ never to tell _anyone_ about the skinny dipping?" I nodded quickly. It was so embarrassing. Particularly the part about where we almost got caught because McAfferty's rangy dog tracked us and treed us like 'coons for about an hour. McAfferty didn't have children of his own, being too mean to be caught by one of the local women, and so took great delight in chasing off younglings from his wide, cool lake. Of course, his old dog didn't care--we fed it enough treats and snacks to make up for it being owned by Mr. McAfferty. But it was noisy--noisy enough to wake the whole town, if you didn't catch it. So it started barking its head off and we tried catching it until we saw a light in McAfferty's house. Terrified, we scrambled up a tree with thick, leafy branches. The dog stood at the bottom, howling and barking, and McAfferty stuck his head out the window, shouting at the dog drunkenly. We let out a little squeak, and huddled in the tree, watching the dog circle the tree and bark. McAfferty finally slammed his window closed. Some time later, he called the dog in. We stayed still, unless he was waiting to catch us. Finally the local church bell tolled and we crept down and back to our house, whispering excitedly about our narrow escape. If he hadn't called the dog in, what would have happened? What if our parents had found out? "Well then," she said excitedly. "Help me sneak to the hotel." I should have known that she'd talk me into it. We told our parents that she had offered to stay overnight to help finish the jam and begin pouring the candles that we made every year for sale and for use when the power went out from the heavy winter snows. My parents were overjoyed and promised a small box of candles to her for her help. Tasha hated pouring candles. "I hate pouring candles," she whispered pulling a face like she had bitten into a persimmon. "I hate standing with the pitchers of hot wax and I hate pouring it into the molds. I always get some splashed on me!" I shrugged. I didn't mind it, watching the clear liquid of the wax pour into the moulds around the wicks, cool, and then emerge smooth and solid. So we dutifully arranged things to finish the last batch of jam--wild strawberry, my favorite--and pulled out the spools of wicks for tomorrow and then bid my parents good night. Late that night, she shook me awake. I looked around groggily. She was already dressed and had smuggled up a basket. Had she even slept? "Wake up!" she whispered in a hushed voice. I turned over and kicked my blankets off in the dim moonlight. Finally staggering to my feet, I pulled on the first clothing that I reached for and we crept down, shoes in hand, to the back door. Suddenly, I saw her hand tuck something in that basket. I turned and gestured. She smiled softly--was she blushing?--and pulled the napkin or whatever she had covering the basket back. Inside was a small loaf of fresh bread, a smoked sausage, a wedge of cheese, a small tub of butter and another tub of the apple jelly that we had made that day, some fresh apples from the bowl on our table, a handful of nuts and a bunch of late grapes. I nodded, briefly wondering when she had managed to gather so much. Maybe she hadn't slept after all. Finally, after a moment of indecision, I went to our pantry and found one of the small bottles of homemade cherry brandy that my father made for gifts. She nodded silently and we went into the darkness. We must have been blessed, for no one was wandering the roads that night and we made our way to the inn. We were both shivering as we finally entered the stables. There was a single dim light--a small puddle in the darkness. "Hold on," Tasha whispered. "I've got to put this thing down a moment." I stopped and we stood for a moment as she set the basket down and flexed her arm, rubbing the striped spot where the woven basket had bitten into it. "So which room do you suppose that he's in?" Suddenly a shadow, only a shade different than the darkness around it, moved. We both looked, not sure of the movement. Had we actually seen something? "Do you suppose that there is someone here?" Tasha half whispered. I stared into the darkness, half shrugging. Finally, I reversed my grip on the bottle that I was carrying. I had seen a man hit another man in an alley one time, holding a bottle this way. The second man had staggered back and fallen. "Who's there?" I called softly to the darkness, hoping that we'd seen only a dancing shadow of the trees outside or something. Maybe a barn owl flapping around. The shadow moved again, closer and more menacing. In panic, I waved my bottle in what I hoped was a menacing way at the movement. Suddenly, _he_ stepped out, a shadow stepping out of the darkness and springing to life. My mouth went dry and inexplicably I blushed hard at the bottle in my hand. He stared at us quietly. We were probably a funny sight--two girls with an oversized basket, hair rumpled and flowing down our backs and me with a small bottle upside down in my hand. His eyes glittered in the darkness of the stables, emeralds with wary light. I had seen that look before in the eyes of a fox that had crept into the basket of laundry that I had accidentally left outside one night. I had stepped out to fetch the clothes I had forgotten, and woke the fox. We both froze in the moonlight, confused, in stalemate. Would he bite me? Would I hurt him? I saw his face, with a slight dent where his muzzle had been hit by something and a long, fur-less scar where someone's trap or something had cut him, his ribs evidence of his hunger. In the stillness of the stables, in the eyes of the Hunter, I saw that fox again, wondering if this was a threat or if he would be allowed to continue without...harm? Without trouble? Without hatred? "I beg your pardon," his voice, soft and soothing and musical like a church bell. He picked up his hat from a nail in the door of the stall. "I didn't mean to interrupt." His eyes never left mine. Tasha rushed past me, with the basket, I suppose. "You didn't! I mean, we were looking for you." Her voice sound somewhat distant. I was lost in the ageless green of his eyes. The weary, determined eyes that seemed to be forever searching for something, though I couldn't tell what. My heart melted for a moment, wondering what this Hunter had seen to make his eyes so old. Suddenly, he glanced away. "We brought you some things." Tasha gestured towards the basket and giggled. He nodded uncertainly and flipped a switch for another light to come on. Tasha kept giggling and showed him the food. If he found it a bit odd that a pair of youngsters were bearing him a basket of food in the middle of the night, then he made no mention--not a flicker of confusion or condescension or anything but the most remote, unfailing politeness. I finally walked closer. Handing him the bottle, I murmured, "Sorry. I was a little edgy...." I faltered. What do you say to a handsome man that you were going to brain with a bottle of cherry brandy? "I thank you," he said, softly, slowly lifting the bottle from my hand. Then, slightly louder, "If you ladies would care to join me, I was about to look for a small bite to eat...." Tasha grinned and disappeared into the tack room to fetch a blanket. She spread it over the thick layer of hay in an empty stall and began setting everything out. "Damn!" she said suddenly. "I forgot to bring a knife!" She looked at me suddenly and then at him. The corner of his mouth twitched a bit, and he pulled an elaborate dagger from a sheath on his hip. "Perhaps you'll allow me to do the honors?" Tasha, blushing harder than I had ever seen her, nodded eagerly. We settled on the blanket and watched his beautiful hands cut the loaf of bread, slice the cheese and apples and so on. Finally we each began to tuck into the picnic. I had finished my first piece of bread when I began looking around for the bottle. The Hunter, noticing me, pulled the bottle from the straw and jammed his slender dagger into the cork, pulling it expertly with a pop. The soft, familiar aroma of cherry brandy filled the air. He handed the bottle to me silently. I couldn't seem to stop blushing. There were so many images that were popping in my head--so many thoughts of what if. If Father Harrison had an inkling of the thoughts that flickered through, he'd have me on my knees doing penance until I was an old maid. If Papa had an inkling, I'd be on my knees much longer. "Thank you," I said softly, looking into those amazing green eyes again. A small flash of surprise flickered for an emerald instant, as if he were surprised, not by two silly teenagers with a picnic in the stables, but by simple human courtesy. I felt a brief tingle in my mind--perhaps my intuition was kicking in--of cold loneliness and a surrounding feeling of wariness and ....something. I just got the impression that he hadn't ever received a warm reception.... Suddenly the feeling vanished, and the normal reality of the stables resumed. He looked away, breaking contact. I took a careful sip of the brandy. Tasha was babbling on and on about the dance two days hence, what she was going to wear, who was going to be there and wouldn't he like to come? "I don't think that my, ah...business in Navarre will be completed by then, but I thank you for the invitation," he said in that soft voice of his. Tasha shrugged slightly. "Navarre is only an hour to the north and I'm sure that I can find you overnight lodgings if you wish...." She fluttered her eyes prettily. Guys usually fell all over themselves when she began laying on the charm. He shrugged eloquently. "It is a most generous invitation, but I'm not sure that I will be able to make it. After Navarre, I have to go north to Magarr Rocks, and I really don't think that my business can wait overlong. Perhaps next time. . . ." Tasha pouted, but when he said 'perhaps next time', her expression changed to acceptance. His voice was so clear and pure that it made you believe that the next time he was around, he would show up again. He took the bottle from me and passed it to her. Tasha took a small sip and began to talk again, of the fabulous buffet that was laid out last year and the wonderful dances. She took another small sip and then passed the bottle back to him. "Perhaps you can tell us about your adventures," I asked with a quiet desperation to change the subject. Tasha could prattle on and on about dances and parties if she wanted. He absently corked the bottle and set it down. "My travels are not stories for young ladies," he whispered. "I'm afraid that they are somewhat ...dull and rambling." I got the distinct impression, looking at him, of a silent, sarcastic laughter. Almost like someone was laughing at the understatement of the year. The town clock tolled twice and he pushed up from the floor, where he began putting the leftovers in the basket again. "It is very late and you'll probably want to rise early," he said. He looked at me again. I stared into those green eyes again. It was like I had known him all my life and was able to tell that he was becoming distinctly uncomfortable with this impromptu entertainment. Tasha cut off her polite yawn and started animatedly talking about some sort of other nonsense--the winter festivals, I think. I hurriedly began scooping up jars and scraps together and putting them in the basket. He and I both ignored her largely, though we made the correct responses, if I remember. I picked up the basket and started out into the "hall" between rows of stalls. Tasha insisted that he help her up and, with endless grace, he offered her his hand. She was gushing about seeing him again. I think he was becoming embarrassed at the ebullient attention. I set down the basket at the stall where his horse was stabled. Suddenly he was behind me. "Do you need me to carry that?" he asked. I blushed again. "We brought you the picnic. Most of the fruits and nuts make good trail rations. . . ." My voice trailed off. "Then I thank you." He seemed to be endlessly polite and gentle. Like the gentlemen and knights of the fairy stories. "I'm sure that they will be wonderful on the road." I am not sure, but it seemed that his voice changed here. "But it is late, and I'm sure that you want to go to sleep." Tasha nodded blankly at him for a moment, then nodded. I turned to find him looking at me. He turned away and began to lead us both out of the stables. Tasha, suddenly quiet, began to pick her way back to my house. I stared in amazement. Tasha hadn't spoken 2 words after that blank look--a record for her. He turned to me quietly. I stared at him and then the retreating form of Tasha before whispering, "What happened? She is never that quiet...." His eyes searched mine desperately for a moment and I felt a delicate pull in my mind. Whimpering softly, I began to draw back. He reached up and gently held my shoulder, his gaze locked into mine. Questioning. Asking softly.... Suddenly, I was slammed into a world of eternal darkness and blood. There was so much blood and it kept washing around me. Hideous laughter turned into screams. There were flashes of metal that were disorienting in their bright glare. And more blood and a terrifying clawing in my gut as suddenly my throat dried to a rasping desert and my mind filled with the dry desperation of ... thirst? Loneliness. Unbearable loneliness. Then, there was silence. I saw villages and towns that were unknown to me, but familiar in that way that dreams are. I saw, as I ventured closer, the people in them. I heard the overwhelming murmurs behind me that I knew were derogatory and rejecting. I saw fear, felt it. Saw the overwhelming brightness of fires and the warmth of families slamming doors and shuttering windows closing me in cool darkness. A dwindling hope. Yearning. _Hope for what?_, I asked silently. Hope for peace. Hope for rest. Hope to share.... Then my mind swam with unimaginable beauty. The midnight sky that wasn't black but startling deep blue-purple. The variations of shade and shadow that formed night-shrouded fields. The sparkling intensity of chapels washed with moonlight and silver on the outside and glowing with golden light from hundreds of candles on the inside. The infinite shades of reds and blues and greens from a hundred stained glass windows and dew-speckled fields of flowers. Hope for a home and love and more to fill it. I felt faint for a moment, like I had been jerked awake from a deep sleep and I found him staring at me. I was slumped against the doorpost, clinging to it. He was against the other side of the door, a steely cold look in his eyes in a crouch that reminded me of a tiger about to pounce. I rubbed against the doorpost, trying to shed the tickling prickling of my skin. "Wha---....what happened?" I rasped, my throat still not convinced it hadn't been dying of thirst a moment before. He stood straighter--still alert and wary, but slightly more confident. "Are you all right?" I nodded and watched as he brought me a dipper of well water. Never had cool water tasted so good, so intensely chilling the ache in my throat. He stood stiffly, like a soldier facing a firing squad, looking out at the town. "It's my fault," he sighed softly, like the words hurt him. "I'm sorry." He paused, with a quick darting glance to me. "I--I hadn't expected your mind to be so strong." What do you say to that? I glanced down, my mind reeling and finally focusing briefly on where did he find boots so fine. They were lovely, for boots. Finely crafted of tough leather with treads on the soles for traction and lovingly tooled. Finally, I said, "I'm sorry....." He must have grimaced or something, for there was a self-deprecating tone in his words. "I should have known better. I haven't--really...." I glanced up as he glanced away from me. He cleared his throat. "My father told me that there were some, few and far between, that were Gifted." He pronounced the capital 'G'. "That these Gifted had plentiful talents, and were able to resist such minor mind--...influences--" "Influences?" I stammered. He gestured to the road, which Tasha had long since vanished from. I suddenly understood. Influences over other minds. _Yes_. I jumped a little. It was like he had spoken, but I knew he hadn't. "What's going on? Please." My head began to ache with a dull throbbing in my temples. "You have a strong mind with a rare Gift. You can touch other minds, see what they are seeing, have seen, perhaps what they will see in the future...." He gestured slightly. "And so on." I stared at him for a moment. I felt my throat constrict, remembering the flashes and tumult and the painful feelings. "Is that the truth? What I saw?" He stared into space for a moment. Then, slowly, he nodded. "Is that all you have?" He nodded again. I looked down to the dirt, faintly ashamed. I had family and friends. I could go to most of the houses on the street and get shelter in a storm, warm food and a comfortable place to sleep with people who cared. I could ask anyone in town for help. I could tell my friends when I was lonely or hurting and I could offer them comfort in return. Yet this man, this courageous man, couldn't. He had no friends, no family that I could tell. He had killed over and over again in self-defense and for others. He would continue to kill. There was no holiday, no rest, no thanks. "What's next....?? I mean, what happens now?" I asked finally. He shrugged slightly. "I don't know." A brief pause, and then he dug into a pocket and pulled out a scrap of parchment with an elaborate seal. "To the east, there is a wise woman. Ryll'yana. She can help you develop your powers. She lives in the woods to the east of H'roan. You probably have other powers too...." I took the scrap of paper he handed me. It was scrawled with a feminine hand in some kind of script. Suddenly, I saw Ryll'yana--a woman who looked about 45 with long dark hair and a stripe of white down the middle that she wore in a tight braid. Now she was sleeping with a cat which looked to be a "soon-er". "Soon-er" be one kind of cat as any other kind of cat. He nodded. "I need to sit down and get a drink," I muttered, pulling out an old stool. D picked up the bottle I had given him and pulled the cork again. I took a sip and cradled it in my hands. "So what you're telling me is that I've got some kind of ... powers." He stood against the doorway in silence. "And I need to go really far east to figure out what to do with them." Silence. "Well isn't that just ducky?" I took a hearty swallow, suddenly coughing a bit as some went burning down my throat the wrong way. Hacking and coughing, I finally got it all down. It burned all the way to my belly. "So what about you?" He perked a little bit. "What about me? You've seen all that there is." I shook my head. My eyes watered a bit. "I don't understand it all, though." He let a small bark of laughter out. "Sometimes I don't either." I looked at him. "I want to help you.... I felt your loneliness and your desires." I gained courage from the brandy and from my words. "I felt these things and the feeling that you want an end to them.... Let me help you." His face suddenly went perfectly blank. "You can't. Your powers will undoubtedly be able to help many--perhaps with healing or something. But you can't help me." "It's not fair. I know about you, but you don't know anything about me." I looked him squarely in the eyes. "How do you know I can't help you?" He seemed surprised at that. For a moment, hope lit up his face like I had offered him food when he was starving to death. Then, just as quickly, he flicked back into his impassive mien. "I just know. Besides, I got to look into your mind while you were looking into mine." I blushed a little at that. There were so many things that I wanted hidden--so many embarrassing moments I could have lived without. What if he knew the delightful little fantasies that I had spun when I saw him this afternoon? Fancies filled with soft candlelight and romance and.... "You know, you're probably the first to be so honest with me...." he murmured. "I had no idea that women thought about such things...." I blushed. Yep. He knew. "God! I'm sorry! I'm so embarrassed," I stammered. "Don't be. It's very flattering," he said quietly. Then he smiled-- genuinely smiled. "I liked them. Particularly the one with the whole bottle of wine, although I prefer red to white." We both seemed smother a quick giggle, and then he turned serious again. "I'm sorry I just can't take advantage of it." I was grinning when I nodded. He stepped quite close then. "Please understand. I like--" He paused and began again. "I'm not good with words, but I am quite flattered and am glad that I got to see them. But my life is filled with blood and death. I couldn't take you into that." I nodded. I knew what was coming. _It's been fun, but we must part..._ He nodded. "However, there is one thing that I have to do before I go." He put his hand delicately under my chin and pulled my face up to meet his. His other arm, strong and steady, pulled me close. "I want to see what it's like to kiss you too...." I shivered at the smoky sensuality in his voice. I felt him pull me closer and felt his lips press against mine. Suddenly, I felt his mind brush mine. Then I burst into flame--my blood boiling from the sheer weight of the desire that flooded me. My body hot like I was being filled with my father's cherry brandy. Our minds locked together, welding a passion of perfect, telepathic understanding of what the other one needed so badly. He left the next morning. Just rode quietly out of town while the mothers breathed a sigh of relief, though no few mooned after him. No few of the fathers felt relief for their daughters. Tasha and I finished the jam and poured candles. We kept the secret of our little adventure between us, but we promised that we'd tell our daughters so that they would know to go after the desires of their hearts. Tasha finally snuck up on a soldier who swept her off her feet in a grand romantic gesture and finally, after a firey courtship, married her. I went east "to go to school" and learned from Ryll'yana. I finally found that I had healing powers, and what she said were "powers of the earth" and I said were "dirt talents". I found that I could help make cursed lands fertile and heal injuries and sickness. After several years, I returned to heal the hurts of my home town. My family didn't understand it, but finally accepted me again. I gained some small property where I planted herbs and flowers. I never really became interested in any of the men, so I remained an old maid and every child in the area became my grandchild. So he's back. Traveling through again to some other destination. I found out, through touching minds here and there and from general talk. He tracked a vampire through Navarre, killing him in the ruins at Magarr Rocks. He traveled on, his reputation fearsome, as he began to track more and more deadly prey. For a few years, I heard nothing of him, and then tales began to spread of a Hunter of unsurpassed skill and breathtaking beauty traveling south and east, through Navarre and to Moria, where a Noble is said to have taken up. He will stay here but a day. Perhaps two days if he needs supplies. Then he will move on, unaware of the wake of hearts that he could collect for himself. Or perhaps he does know. Perhaps he remembers the hearts that he has already collected. Perhaps he remembers me, as a young girl with her mind bursting with inexplicable sensations and feelings. But I am old, my eyes are dim and my hearing is muffled. My youth and beauty is a thing of the past, but burns in my heart. You see, I never forgot him--the Hunter. You never forget your first love. You never forget the way that they felt when they drew you close or how they smelled. You never forget your first kiss. Of course, no one could forget that kiss. What made it different? It was deep and passionate and heart breakingly gentle for fear of committing a grevious faux pas, like he was sure that he would end up ruining the moment and die of shame for the ruin. It had the crucial elements that separate those who love from those with grand passions and is what I think every woman wants. You see, you can tell, even without Gifts, when you are the center of a man's universe. You know when all he is thinking about is the way you feel and when you are the sole thing that makes his blood boil and pound through him. You know, without knowing, that all he wants--all he needs is you. You never forget what that felt like and you never forget the first kiss that leaves all the rest behind.