Memories, Dreams and Schemes

part 6

by Azurenon & Savanna Mac

Please see part one for all disclaimers.

Chapter 6


Gabrielle waited a good distance away, while Xena collected Toxeus' weapons and his waterskin. His knife went in her left boot; his sword she carried in her hand; the waterskin over her left shoulder. "Okay, let's go," she announced coming up beside her. "I tied the horse up ahead."

"Horse?" Gabrielle queried.

Xena shot her a strange look. "Yeah... my horse."

"So, your name's Xena?" Gabrielle further questioned, walking beside the warrior now, taking nearly two strides to her one.

"Yep," the tall brunette answered, holding the sword out in front of her, as if she found this far more interesting than her companion, at the moment.

"He... kept asking me where you were. As if I should know. But, hmph... I didn't even know your name."

The warrior merely grunted, remembering what Toxeus had said to her.

"He said you... killed him... twice." Gabrielle glanced up at her companion. "What did he mean by that?"

"Haven't the slightest idea. I never met the man before. At least, not that I remember." She cut her eyes over at the blonde.

"He seemed to know you, though. And me," Gabrielle added, frowning. She shivered at the thought of the things he'd said and what he'd been about to do to her. "Nothing he said made sense. He was... crazy, right?"

Xena shrugged. "Nothing has made any sense since I woke up this morning," she grumbled. "What did he say?" she asked anyway, grasping at any thread, hoping to find some pattern to this insanity.

"Well... he said I was with you when you killed him." Both women looked at each other. Xena frowned. "But, that couldn't be so, because... we just met, right? And if you killed him... then how...?" Gabrielle paused and shook her head.

"Anything else?" Xena queried.

Gabrielle hesitated, unsure whether to reveal what he'd said about not being the first. She had no earthly idea why he had said this. How was he supposed to be able to tell anyway? She knew she was still a virgin. Wasn' t she? And then there was that comment about him giving her what Xena couldn' t...

"Hmm?" Xena prodded.

"Uh no, he was... obviously crazy. I mean, people don't come back from the dead... do they?"

Xena arched one dark eyebrow. "Not in my experience. According to him this was the third time I sent him to Hades." The warrior spotted the horse up ahead and quickened her pace.

Gabrielle wasn't sure why, but she was starting to feel a bit safer in the warrior's presence. She watched Xena stash the sword in a hoop on the saddle, then untie the horse.

"Cum 'mere, I'll help you up," the warrior offered.

"Uh, I... I'd rather walk if it's all the same to you," Gabrielle responded.

"Xena stared at her. "You'll ride," she said, her tone brooking no argument. "Now come on. It'll be dark soon. Cats usually hunt at night." She cupped her hands for the blonde's foot.

With the mention of the cat, Gabrielle walked over and placed her foot in the proffered hands. The tall warrior easily hefted her onto the horse. Gabrielle grabbed her open top as Xena went around behind the horse, then pummeled up over its rear. Gabrielle grunted as the larger body slammed into the back of her own. When the warrior's strong arms reached around her for the reins, she felt a calmness descend upon her, which she could not explain. The brunette's right hand was near her thigh, as she turned the horse with her left and clicked her tongue.

The horse turned and started forward, the movement of its body causing the warrior's breastplate to rub against her back. The sensation being not unpleasant, but somehow comforting. Gabrielle held onto the saddlehorn with her free hand; her halter held closed in the other. The warrior's hands were soon resting on each of her thighs, as the horse picked its way through and around the undergrowth.

Xena was reconsidering her decision to have Gabrielle ride with her. Especially in front of her; for, there was nowhere else to rest her hands, except on the soft, yet firm thighs. And to think she'd evidently had this woman the night before, caused her groin muscles to tighten. The smell of the blonde's hair; the contact of the sides of those pert breasts against the bend of her arm, only added to the sweet torture. She had to think of something else, before she acted on her impulses!

When they reached the cave, Xena slid off the horse, then helped Gabrielle down. The sight of the blonde's rear in her face; her own hands on the small, taunt waist was thoroughly distracting. She cleared her throat, as the woman grabbed her top and pulled it closed again.

"You rekindle the fire. I'll take care of the horse and get some more wood," the warrior said, her tone sounding like someone who was used to giving orders.

Gabrielle nodded and started to walk away.

"Oh wait," Xena called after her. "Here, take these." She grabbed up the saddlebags and held them out to the blonde. "There's some cheese, bread and apples in one of those. I'll go hunting tomorrow."

Gabrielle took the bags. "You know how to hunt?"

"Of course. Don't you?"

The blonde shook her head sadly. "Mother would never let me go with Father. She said it was too dangerous for a young girl."

Xena grunted. "You can cook though, can't you?"

"Oh yeah, that I can do," Gabrielle responded, proudly.

"Good, then I'll get the meat, you'll cook it." The warrior strode away, leading the horse behind her.

When Xena returned, the fire was rekindled and there was bread, cheese and an apple laid out on each of two separate plates. Gabrielle was sitting in front of one of these; the cape around her shoulders; the pink nightie barely visible beneath it. The other plate was sitting beside her.

"Did you see a stream nearby?" Gabrielle asked. "We could use some water."

Xena laid the saddle down and pulled a waterskin from around the horn. She tossed it to Gabrielle. The latter grunted when she caught it; for; it was nearly full. "So, that's where I saw it," she mumbled, then added, "I'd still like to wash my hands, though."

Xena glanced down at her own. They were filthy. "Come on," she said, "It's getting dark out. You shouldn't go alone."

Gabrielle smiled as the warrior turned away. She'd been hoping Xena would escort her, because she feared running up on the large cat. She' d had enough excitement for one day.

When they came upon the stream, Xena looked the area over cautiously, as Gabrielle bent down to wash her hands. The latter noticed the setting sun. "I feel dirty," she announced. Xena looked over at her and frowned. "I can still... smell... that man on..."

The tall warrior cut her off with a curt nod of her head. "Make it quick. I've still got firewood to round up."

"I'll help," Gabrielle offered, quickly removing her cape.

Xena looked her up and down. The pink nightie fit snugly, accentuating the blonde's breasts; the brown skirt peeking out from under the hem.

"Do you mind?" the blonde asked.

Xena looked up at her, then quickly turned her back. "I'll see what I can find around here," she mumbled.

Gabrielle slipped into the cold water and started shivering. "By the gods," she gasped, "this must come from the coldest place on earth." She quickly began rubbing her face and then her arms, at least making an attempt to wash herself off, since they had no soap.

Xena wasn't far away, her eyes straying to the stream, as she gathered dead limbs for the fire. She chided herself several times about this, but her eyes seemed to have a mind of their own. After all, she couldn't see anything, so what was the point?

When she assumed that Gabrielle had had enough time for two baths, she started back to the spot where she'd left her, carrying an armload of firewood. To her surprise, the blonde was just emerging from the stream and squeezing water from the ends of her hair. She wasn't looking at Xena, which gave the warrior time to peruse this vision of loveliness, in all her glory. Rivulets of water streamed over the pert round breasts; their nipples standing high and erect. Xena's gaze followed the water downward over the washboard abdomen and into the triangle of dripping wet curls. The soft, yet firm thighs that had so recently been beneath her hand, flexed with each movement the blonde made; their musculature highlighted by the sheen of water and the setting sun.

Gabrielle looked up; the feeling of being watched was overpowering. She found the tall female warrior staring at her naked body. The brunette licked her lips lightly, then sucked on the lower one. Gabrielle's first thought was to cover herself with her hands. And yet, she suddenly found herself mesmerized as the warrior's gaze met hers. In those eyes she saw none of the coldness of before, but a warmth of such intensity, it was almost like a caress upon her skin.

Xena turned away and the spell was broken. Gabrielle shook her head and quickly grabbed up her nightie. Things were getting weirder by the moment.

As Gabrielle dressed, Xena put down the firewood and washed her hands thoroughly; her mind on the previous incident. She didn't know if having the woman around was such a good idea or not. For, she felt too attracted to her; too drawn to her in more ways than just a possible sexual conquest. And she'd never felt quite this way before about anyone else. Usually, she could take it or leave it. And always find other things to occupy her mind. But, even though there was a lot to sort out about this situation -far more than enough to keep her mind busy- she couldn't seem to keep it off Gabrielle.

After wiping her hands on her leather skirt, she picked up the firewood, realizing the instant she did, that the previous thorough washing had been for naught. I'll just have to use the waterskin when I get back to the cave, she thought. And get more tomorrow.

The two walked back to the cave in silence. They then ate in silence, as well. When it came time to turn in for the night, Xena took off, saying she needed to check on the horse. Watching the blonde make the fire, clean up after their meal, brush her long silky blonde hair, then remove the cape for bed, revealing the thin nightie - which only accentuated the pert firm breasts- had been too much torture. Her body craved the satisfaction and release sex could bring. She needed to rid herself of at least part of her frustrations, but bedding the woman just wasn't in the cards. At least, not right now. Gabrielle had been through enough for one day. They both had. And tomorrow Xena would concentrate on finding a way off this island. Then they'd go their separate ways, with whatever had existed between them, lost with their memories.

After surveying her surroundings carefully and making sure not to go back to the same place as before, the warrior gripped the knife -her only protection against any intruders- between her teeth and eased down into the stream "Umm," she moaned, the icy cold water feeling good to her overheated and aroused lower body. She hoped she wouldn't have to take many more of these.

Gabrielle heard the warrior reenter the cave. She'd already banked the fire and moved her bedroll -the one she'd woke up on this morning- across the fire from Xena's. She didn't feel comfortable sleeping so close to the warrior, just yet.

Xena noted the change and breathed a sigh of relief. Now she could rest easy. Well.. sort of. The fact that the blonde was closer to the cave entrance than herself was bothersome for some reason. Perhaps it was because she knew Gabrielle had no weapon. Then she remembered the staff she had hidden this morning.

Gabrielle heard the warrior moving around and then walking up behind her. She wondered what she was going to do. Had she done something wrong? Was Xena going to insist they sleep together? Or would she suddenly find a knife at her throat again?

"I believe this is yours," Xena announced.

Gabrielle rolled over and sat up. The warrior tossed the staff sideways into her lap. "I hope you remember how to use it."

Gabrielle shook her head, noting the carvings. For a moment one of the designs looked familiar. But like so many others that day, the feeling abruptly dissipated, as if it had never been. "I've... I've never seen it before," she offered, glancing up at the warrior.

"Then change beds with me," Xena suggested, her tone brooking little argument. "I'd rather sleep near the entrance in case of trouble." Gabrielle frowned. "I'd rather you be behind me, if you don't know how to use that," the warrior added. The blonde still frowned and remained seated. "Anything coming through there..." She nodded towards the entrance. " going to reach you first. Now, get up! Unless you prefer to be... dragged by the hair." Xena added the last bit out of sheer frustration. She was used to giving orders and having them obeyed, not explaining her reasoning for each and every one.

Thinking of the cat first and being dragged by the hair, Gabrielle was on her feet; the staff gripped in both hands, as if she did know how to use it.

Once again, Xena noted the pink nightie and looked away. "I'll find a way off the island tomorrow. Let's get some sleep."

Gabrielle nodded and carried the staff with her over to what had been Xena's bedroll. First thing she was going to do tomorrow was fix that halter, somehow, some way, even if she had to use vines; because it and the skirt were far more comfortable than the nightie for herself, as well as, for Xena, or so it seemed.

Xena was not about to be caught in the nude again, so after the blonde had lain down, she changed into the brown chemise, she'd found in her pack, placing her leathers, breastplate, boots and of course her weapons all within easy reach.


Ares was sorely miffed. "Dad, what gives with this Toxeus having his memories?"

"You never specified that he shouldn't," Zeus responded.

"But, it's complicating things, Dad. He's already planted the seed that the two of them were once together," the god of war grumbled.

"I think that was already established when they woke up, don't you, son?"

"Not for the brat!" he argued, losing his cool for the moment. "She seemed perfectly unaware of any... involvement before then. This isn' t fair!"

"Not fair? But weren't you the one who wanted Gabrielle to see Xena kill someone? The bard needed to see how ruthless she can be, right? And what better way to have Toxeus go after her with a vengeance, than to remember who she is and what she did to him, hmm? And besides, I did ask you if you wanted to add anything to..."

"Yeah, yeah, yeah," Ares mumbled. Damnation, he thought. The details were very important, but he couldn't think of everything!

"Can't change things now," Zeus added. "We can only sit back and see what happens."

Ares pulled down on his leather vest. "Later, Dad."

"No interference, son, remember," his father called after him, his words seeking out Ares' ears alone, as had been the case when he'd called him here before. "If you do, the test ends and I won't repeat it."

"I hear you," Ares grumbled in response.


Normally not a light sleeper, but with all that had happened the day before, Gabrielle found herself awakened by the slightest sound. Soft moaning sounds coming from the sleeping warrior had roused her a short while before and now the brunette was mumbling something, which was quickly followed by what sounded suspiciously like Gabrielle's own name.

Suddenly, the warrior jerked and sat up abruptly. Gabrielle lowered her lids to slits, to avoid being caught watching.

Xena glanced around herself. She was in a cave and there was a human figure over on the other side of the fire. But, this wasn't the cave she'd been dreaming about. For, surely that had been a dream, hadn't it? Unless that was reality and this was a dream?

She shook her head and wiped the sleep from her eyes. No enticing aromas emanated from her hands this morning, even though in her dream, she had been with Gabrielle. Been with her, however, being an understatement; she'd been making love to her. She'd been placing the passion mark on the inside of the blonde's thigh, while the latter took her beyond mere sexual satisfaction and into the realm of sheer bliss. She'd awakened just after professing her love for Gabrielle. And she could still hear her own words echoing inside her head: "I love you, Gabrielle."

Xena looked over at the figure across the fire. What did the dream mean? Surely she couldn't be falling in love with this woman. She'd only known her a day, hadn't she? She shook her head again, realizing that everything pointed to knowing her longer.

So, you bedded her more than once, she thought. So what? A dream is just... a flight of fancy, that's all. Nothing more! She shrugged away the thought that she'd never professed to love anyone, not in real life nor in a dream. She couldn't however, shrug off the immense dampness between her thighs.

She turned, noting the dim light outside. The sun would be up soon. She needed to get going. There was a lot to do today. Hunting first, then a trip along the shore to find a way off this island that she may well have missed the day before.

The warrior turned her back and Gabrielle watched as she climbed out from under the blanket. She was not wearing her leathers, but a short brown chemise. The cheeks of her behind jiggled slightly as she yawned and stretched. Gabrielle could not even begin to imagine why she found this sight fascinating, she only she knew did. The warrior then bent over to get her outfit, the chemise riding up higher on her cheeks. Gabrielle felt she should turn away or close her eyes, but she could do neither.

It's gonna be hot in both of these, Xena thought, I should wear just one. No sense getting both covered with blood, she concluded, thinking of the hunt to come. She'd seen deer tracks by the stream and intended to bring one down. Been quite a while since I hunted my own food, she thought, laying the outfit back down and straightening up.

Unable or unwilling - she didn't know which - to tear her eyes away, Gabrielle watched as the warrior slid the shoulder straps of the chemise down and then wiggled out of it. By the Gods, she almost said aloud, seeing the musculature of Xena's ample hips and broad back; the shapely curves a rather pleasing sight. The warrior then bent over, once again, affording Gabrielle a view that made her blush; heat rushing to her cheeks and other unmentionable places. Picking up the outfit, Xena turned slightly sideways. Gabrielle held her breathe. The shapely round orb she could see was an enticing sight; the fullness of its underside; the rather large, erect center point thrusting slightly upward. You are beautiful, she thought, How did someone as lovely as you ever become a warrior? Some handsome, strapping man should have swept you off your feet long ago. Unless...

Her thoughts strayed for a moment. Gabrielle knew that Amazons were warriors known to live without men. Or at least, so the legends said. But, Xena had scoffed at being an Amazon. And even asked if she herself was one. Gabrielle almost laughed again at this absurd notion.

Then there was Sappho, the great poet, the tenth muse; she was well known for the beautiful verses she composed about loving women. Of course, Gabrielle herself had never read any of her poetry, for the muses' writings had been banned by the village elders long ago. But, she had heard some of them from passing bards, because she always remembered to ask about the muse. She wondered now, why she'd done that? She also couldn't help but wonder if Xena could be one of these women who didn't fancy men? The way she had held her own with Toxeus, then killed him so easily, with not the slightest sign of remorse. And she was following me yesterday, she thought. Why? She'd told me to go home, so why did she track me down? Not that Gabrielle was sorry she had, but... the question remained: why had she done so?

And then there was the way Xena had looked at her last night at the stream. This look had not been so much a leer, as she would expect from a man, but neither was it one she'd ever gotten from any other female. Except maybe that one female bard that claimed to know all of Sappho's poems, she corrected herself. And now, just the thought of how Xena had looked at her, made another rush of heat flow over her body. It shocked her even more to realize she had liked being regarded by Xena in this manner. She had not felt afraid or in any danger at all. She'd actually felt... flattered.

The hand closest to Gabrielle's mouth covered it, before she could gasp. For, the realization that she'd enjoyed Xena looking at her, accompanied by the fact that she, herself, was still intently watching and savoring every moment of observing the warrior dress, caused her great alarm. Was it possible that she was one of these women, too? After all, she had been naked beneath the blanket the other morning, when Xena woke her up. And it was obvious they had slept with their bedrolls close together.

"Build up the fire," Xena announced, breaking in on Gabrielle' s thoughts, as the warrior retrieved her weapons. "I shouldn't be long. There were a lot of fresh tracks by the stream yesterday."

Gabrielle was unsure whether to offer a response or not. For doing so, would reveal she'd been awake.

Xena quickly glanced over her shoulder, catching Gabrielle before she could close her eyes. "I take it you do like deer meat?" the warrior inquired.

"Uh, yes, I do, but... how'd you know I was awa...?"

"You weren't snoring," the warrior interjected, striding over to the saddle now. She then quickly reached down to her left boot and withdrew Toxeus' knife. "Here." She tossed the knife into the cave floor beside Gabrielle' s bedroll. "I assume you know how to gut and dress a deer?" she inquired, lifting the heavy saddle with only one small grunt.

"Yes, I do, but... I'm not... crazy about all that blood."

Xena arched one eyebrow. "Probably better that I gut it, anyhow. I would suggest you wear something... easily washed. Wouldn't do for either of us to walk around reeking of blood with that cat out there." She then propped the saddle up on her knee, freeing her left hand, with which she withdrew Toxeus' sword from the saddle. "I doubt you know how to use one of these, but..." She tossed the sword on the ground beside the knife. "...better to have it, than not."

Gabrielle glanced down at the sword and knife. She couldn't believe that the woman who had held a knife to her throat the day before was now going to leave her with a knife and sword.

"And I wouldn't get any fancy ideas about using that against me, unless you wanna end up like... what's-his-name." The warrior readjusted the saddle back into both arms. "Rest assured, if you don't know how to use that, I can cut you into little pieces before you even know what hit you. And make no mistake, I won't hesitate to do so. I'll be back shortly," she said, all in the same grim tone of voice.

Gabrielle stared after her, mouth agape. There was no way she would ever try and use that sword or the knife, for that matter, against Xena. She had no doubt the warrior's warning was truthful and didn't intend to put it to the test. No, she needed Xena. Needed the protection she afforded. And she enjoyed the company, even if the warrior was rather quiet, moody and brusque. Plus, if they were stuck here on the island just the two of them...

The horse trotted by the cave entrance, Xena sitting proud astride its back, intruding on her thoughts. She needed Xena, she reasoned. And needed to get moving. As good as the warrior was at fighting, she might be back sooner than would be expected. With the biggest deer on the island, Gabrielle thought, though she wasn't sure why she'd make such an assumption.

Xena was back by the time the sun was barely over the tree tops. She showed up at the cave entrance, bloody and reeking of freshly killed meat. "Get your knife and sword and follow me," she commanded, a bloody knife in her own hand, still. "You're wearing that?" She frowned as Gabrielle emerged in her newly mended halter and the brown skirt; the knife in one hand and the sword dragging the ground in the other.

"I don't have anything else, but my nightie," the blonde said almost haughtily.

"You'll spend all day scrubbing the blood stains out of that thing." Xena sighed heavily. "I guess you'll just have to do it in the buff, then."

"Buff...? Oh no!" Gabrielle objected and not seeing Xena's smirk added. "I'm not... no way, Xena!" She inadvertently held up the knife, waving it around. The warrior glared at her now. "Sor-ry," she apologized, realizing what she was doing and lowering the knife.

"Go back in there and look in my pack," Xena ordered. "There's a brown shift. Too big for you, I'm sure, but... I don't want it." Gabrielle hesitated. "Go on," the warrior said brusquely. "I haven't got all day!"

"Where are we going?" the blonde inquired, Xena's shift hanging on her small frame; the hem well below her knees.

"I left the deer tied up in a tree not far away," the warrior replied, tiring of answering so many questions. Didn't the woman know anything?

"Why? Why not bring it to the ca...?"

Xena shot her a look of utter annoyance. "The cat will be attracted by the scent of blood."

"Oh yeah, of course... good thinking."

At least one of us is, Xena thought, turning away from the sight of the too large shift dropping far too low in front, nearly to the top of the blonde's pert pink nipples. Xena hoped to be long gone before Gabrielle began dressing the deer, so that she wouldn't be distracted by the way she knew the shift would gape open, revealing things she'd rather not see. For right now, that is. She had to stay focused!

The warrior loosened the rope tied around the tree and the deer fell to the ground. She had already gutted and bled it, for the most part, Gabrielle could tell. The evidence of this, however, was nowhere in sight. She's very cautious, Gabrielle thought, seems to think of everything.

"Skin only one side and use the pieces of hide to carry the chunks of meat to the cave." Xena directed, figuring she might as well act as if the woman knew nothing, so she could get going faster. "And pull the rest of the deer back up in the tree, each time you leave here. And no matter what... do NOT... drag anything on the ground, back to the cave. Take only as much as you can carry comfortably. Each time you come back here, you make sure you don't have any... visitors, you got that?" Xena started towards the horse.

"Wait... aren't you staying and..."

"No, I need to check out the island." Xena grabbed the horse's reins. "I figure you can handle this. I'm going to follow the shore, to try and find a way off." She glanced over at Gabrielle. "Don't worry, I... I'm not going to leave you. Looks like we're in this together." She paused, not liking the gentle tone to her own voice. "I gotta go clean up," she added in a bit more severe tone. "You just have something for me to eat when I get back, somewhere around midday. With any luck, we'll be going our separate ways soon." She then turned and lead the horse away. "Oh and be careful," she called over her shoulder. "Cats have a keen sense of smell. If it shows up, climb a tree or somethin'. But not the one the meat is in."

Gabrielle's eyes immediately began scanning the woods around her, ignoring the barb from her companion, for the moment. She had too much else to think about. She needed to make quick work of this deer. That cat could very well be out there right now, sniffing the air, picking up the scent of blood and... She laid the sword down, close at hand and set to work.

Xena glanced back once more and saw the blonde already huddled over the carcass. Why she was so very concerned about Gabrielle, she didn' t know. Anyone else she'd ever teamed up with -so to speak -male or female, had always taken care of themselves. Xena had never worried about anyone but herself. Warriors and lovers came and went, either from disease or at the end of a sword, it was just the way her life had been for many years now and she'd come to accept it. So caring about this Gabrielle was something new to her. And something she didn't dare make a habit of. For, caring too much about any one person could be distracting to a true warrior. And besides, the blonde could very easily be gone when she got back. Either leaving of her own accord or... otherwise.

It was well past midday and Gabrielle was growing concerned. She' d noticed Xena's blanket was ominously missing. Had the warrior lied to her? Had she taken the blanket intent upon never coming back? Yet, her sleeping skin was still here, as was her pack. Gabrielle had thought once of rummaging through it again, but with her luck, Xena would catch her. If she returned, that is.

Gabrielle stared at the mixture of minced tubers and berries in the frying pan in front of her. She hadn't tasted it yet, having already snacked on cheese and bread, but she assumed the berries would add a nice flavor to the bland tubers.

She'd constructed a make-shift drying rack out of some straight branches she'd whacked off with the sword and lashed together with vines. Several rows of thin strips of meat were drying on it near the fire. The meat she'd saved for this meal was in a plate, already cooked and awaiting Xena' s return, at which time she'd empty the frying pan of its contents and reheat the meat.

She heard a noise outside and glanced up. She waited for Xena to enter, yet not even a shadow darkened the cave entrance. Quickly, she laid the frying pan down, away from the fire and reached beside her for the sword. She'd hefted it several times that day and was getting accustomed to its weight. She rose to her feet now, both hands holding the sword out in front of her. Not knowing how to use it bothered her, but having it in her hands felt good.

She moved towards the entrance slowly. Hearing another noise, she froze, listening. She heard nothing else and so sidled up to the entrance. There was the crunch of heavy steps on rocks... was it Xena or...? The footfalls stopped short of the entrance. Gabrielle held her breathe and mustered her courage. One footfall, then another and Gabrielle moved forward, pointing the sword at the intruder's chest.

"Xena!" she cried.

The warrior's hand was on her own sword behind her head. She seemed to breathe a sigh of relief, slowly lowering her arm. "You gonna use that?" she asked.

"Uh, no, no.." Gabrielle lowered the sword, which had still been pointed at Xena. "I wasn't sure it was you."

"Good to be cautious," the warrior commented, looking the blonde up and down, noticing the halter and skirt.

"Well, I know I don't know how to use it, but..."

"We'll have to fix that," Xena said brusquely and frowned.

"Whaddaya mean?"

"No getting off this island," the warrior grumbled looking toward the fire. "Unless you can swim for days."

"Oh." The disappointment was evident in both women's voices.

"All the meat cut up?" Xena inquired, quickly changing the subject.

"Yeah and... I fixed something to eat," the blonde responded. "You washed your hands, I presume."

The warrior cut her eyes over at her companion. "Meat looks cold, heat it up," she said grimly, turning and walking away.

When Xena returned, there was a bowl of gruel waiting for her and a chunk of steaming meat on a plate, along with a cup of water. The blonde was still busy heating up her own meat.

Xena sat down, drew her long legs up in front of her and crossed them, then picked up the plate. She took a bite of the meat and made a yummy sound. "U'm star-vin'," she mumbled around a mouthful, noticing that the blonde was watching her intently and frowning slightly.

That's evident, Gabrielle thought, pushing the meat around on the frying pan. "So what do we do now?" she inquired.

Xena shrugged and turned her attention to the gruel. When the blonde looked away, she ran her finger around the edge of the bowl, preferring to taste only a small amount of the concoction first, because it didn't exactly look appetizing . "Umm... you can cook," she announced, picking up the bowl and spoon and digging into the tuber and berry mixture, interspersing this with bites of meat she picked up with her hand.

Gabrielle merely watched. She'd never known anyone to enjoy her cooking so much. "You really think it's good?" she questioned, taking her meat out of the pan and putting it on her plate..

"Umm." Xena nodded, a bit more enthusiastically that she meant to and so qualified this with, "Yeah, it's alright. Warriors aren't good cooks." She dipped into the gruel again. "Wha' is... this anyway?" she mumbled around another mouthful.

"Just tubers and berries." Gabrielle answered, wondering if anyone had ever taught the warrior any manners.

"Berries?" Xena asked, her tone one of concern. "Where'd you find berries?"

"Not far from the stream," Gabrielle answered, picking up her own bowl of gruel now and dipping her spoon in.

"Red berries? Growing at the top of a bush about waist high?" The warrior further questioned, her tone gradually rising in pitch with each word.

"Yeah, how'd you kno...?"

"Don't eat that!" the warrior exclaimed, reaching over and slapping the spoon, that was headed to Gabrielle's mouth, out of her hand. "For the love of ZEUS!" she cried and jumped up. "Of all the idi-OTIC, STUPID... Have you eaten any of that?" she nearly screamed.

"No, why?" Gabrielle asked, eyes wide and staring.

"They're.. a very powerful... hallucinogenic!"


"Just DON'T eat any! GET RID OF IT ALL! TREAT IT LIKE POISON!" the warrior shouted over her shoulder, running toward the cave entrance.

Gabrielle jumped up now, too and ran after her. She found the warrior by a large tree, down on her knees. She was making herself throw up.

"By the gods, what have I done?" Gabrielle murmured.

"You nearly POISONED me!!!" Xena growled, then stuck her finger down her throat again.

"Oh Xena, I'm so sorry," Gabrielle said, approaching the warrior as she would any other friend.

"Get away from me you stupid little, BITCH!" Xena shouted, coming up off the ground and backhanding the blonde across the face.

The blow was so powerful and so unexpected, it lifted Gabrielle off her feet. She hit the ground with a hard thud that jarred her teeth. She grabbed her face and looked up at her assailant.

Xena saw the fear and hurt all mixed together in the blonde's blue-green eyes. Tears were welling up, even before she turned away and began scrambling to her feet. All of her movements carrying her away from Xena, until she was running for the woods.

"Gabrielle! GABRIELLE!" Xena shouted. "Get back here! I'm gonna NEED YOU!!!"

Gabrielle glanced back only briefly, then put on more speed. No one had ever struck her in the face before. She was hurt, confused and the tears were flowing like water now.

"DAMN IT ALL!!!!" Xena screamed to the top of her lungs. She knew exactly what these berries could do to a person, she'd witnessed it many times before. Men went crazy, hallucinating... reliving their past. She'd seen them kill their own comrades while reliving a past battle or confronting a monster that lived and breathed only in their minds. She'd also seen men take their own lives.

"Gotta got plenty of water in me," she muttered, trying to calm herself down so she could think clearly. "Need to tie myself up somehow. Don' t have time to find the herb that helps. Now, she's gone.... SHIT! I need her now and what do I do, go and... Spilled milk," she chided herself. "Calm down. Can't do anything about that now. Gotta get in there and tie myself up, or else I'm liable to kill us both!"

Continue to Part 7

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