And From A Grape . . .

by Lead Fox

WARNING: This story has strong suggestions of romantic love between two consenting adult women. Those will small minds or who are under legal age (18 years, 21 in some States) should not read beyond this sentence. Those who are legal, live in States where such material is not illegal and those of understanding mind and heart please enjoy.

DISCLAIMER: The characters of "Xena," "Gabrielle" and "Autolycus" belong to MCA/Universal. The Gods and Goddesses, well, they belong to everyone. No copyright infringement is intended.

ADDITIONAL NOTE: This is the first part of a two-section story and is my first attempt at [alt] fanfic. This story is set post "THE QUEST" and pre-rift. If you have comments or suggestions (and please be keep criticism constructive) feel free to e-mail me at: Thanks!

Gabrielle had been quiet ever since the two had left Athens. Xena hadn't thought much of it, traveling with the young bard often was a bit weary on the ears and moments of silence were to be treasured, not questioned. Still, the warrior found herself glancing back every few paces, if nothing else just to make sure Gabrielle was still behind her. Leave it up to her to be so deep in thought to continue going straight half a mile after Xena and Argo had made a left at the fork in the road. The bard had been traveling so slowly and absent-mindedly that Xena had finally dismounted Argo and began to walk herself. She seemed to do that quite a bit since she and Gabrielle had first begun traveling together. Not that Xena minded but she had begun to wonder the point of having a horse at all if she was only going to ride a quarter of a mile at a time. She could easily trade Argo for a pack mule that would carry as many supplies and require much less grooming. As if sensing her owner’s betraying thoughts, Argo let out a snort and tugged at bit at the reins.

"I'm just thinking, old girl, you know I'd never go without you."

"Hmmm?" asked Gabrielle, looking up from her feet.

*Ahh, she speaks* thought Xena. *Maybe now I can get some conversation*

"Nothing," she said, picking up her pace again. *Damn. *

She looked back as her traveling companion again, who had returned her gaze to her feet as she walked. She held her staff in her left had and her right was at her mouth, her fingernail just between her teeth. She was too deep in thought to even bite them. This was getting annoying.

"Alright," said Xena, stopping and turning around to face the bard. "I give: what is it?"

"Wha? Did you say something Xena?" said Gabrielle, looking up quickly.

"Yeah, I asked you what is the matter with you today. You haven’t said word one since we left Athens and even then all you said was thank you and goodbye to the innkeepers," said Xena, her tone growling. It wasn’t until she saw the expression of fear in Gabrielle’s eyes that she realized how impatient her tone had seemed. When was she going to learn to control her own temperament? "I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to sound--"

"No, it’s okay Xena," said Gabrielle. "I just...I’ve been thinking to myself."

"About?" *Oh good, now she was in for a long story*

"Nothing much, just things," said Gabrielle, shrugging. She looked at Xena who continued to stare at her, expectantly. The stare made her feel uncomfortable. She had better make something up quickly. "I...I just saw a homeless family back in Athens and it just made me so sad."

"Oh, okay," said Xena. She was used to such sentimentality out of her friend. A dead animal on a roadside could make her deaf and dumb with grief for a week...and those were the rats. Sometimes it amazed her Gabrielle could follow her into battle at all. "Well when we get to the next village you can make sure we buy some nutbread and give it to a poor family, okay?"

"That would be great," said Gabrielle, making herself smile. As Xena turned back to the road and began to walk, she felt a twinge of guilt. She hated lying to her friend, but at least this lie would benefit someone in the end. And it had saved someone for the time being: her. Gabrielle hadn’t been quiet out of sadness for the homeless; she hadn’t even seen any poor families in Athens. She had, instead, been deep in thought about the night before.

Why did the inn have to be full and with only one room to spare? She slept every night by Xena’s side and had long ago grown not only accustomed to this habit but nearly reliant on it. However, even she could have used some time on her own in a bed of her own where she could stretch out and be alone with her thoughts.

"That one room will be fine," Xena had told the innkeeper without so much as asking her or even looking back at her. Not that she really minded once they had gotten to the room, the bed was large and soft and there had even been enough room for their traveling supplies.

"They gave us the honeymoon suite, ‘magine that," Xena had said with one of her trademark smirks. Gabrielle had laughed at this and even Xena managed to expand her sarcastic smirk to a smile. But when Gabrielle had turned back to look at Xena she found herself more than a little surprised to see the warrior had already removed her breastplate and armor and was standing before her in nothing more than her leather underclothing. Her face must have shown her surprise.


"Nothing," she had replied. And it was nothing, it was just a bit of a shock.

"Well good, because I’m not sleeping in this tonight," Xena had said and proceeded to remove it. Gabrielle was very careful to keep her face neutral as Xena revealed her entire nude flesh to her best friend. Not knowing whether to divert her eyes instantly or to play it off as the ordinary, Gabrielle found her eyes darting around on the warrior’s body. From her face _but avoiding her eyes--to her hips and then suddenly to her breasts and then down to her feet and shyly back up to her stomach. "What it is? Gabrielle, if you aren’t comfortable with me--"

"Oh no, Xena, it’s fine," she had said quickly.

"Well, I just thought since we’ve got this whole room and big bed, I wanted to be as comfortable as possible. Leather does start to get a bit constraining, you know."

"Oh of course, it’s fine. It just caught me a bit off guard," she had said, laughing it off. Xena smirked again and nodded slightly. She took the corner of the blanket and pulled it back sharply. Gabrielle had watched her as she climbed into the bed and rolled over so that her back now faced the bard.

"Are you getting in or not?" Xena had asked, the familiar annoyance in her voice coming back.

"Oh yeah, sure Xena," she had answered quickly. *Well, if Xena did it then I might as well, too. * Gabrielle quickly undressed, herself. It was true, it did feel more liberating to be out of her top. A bit odd with Xena not ten feet away from her, but liberating nonetheless. *And besides, it’s not like we haven’t bathed together a hundred times. * She removed her skirt and looked up at Xena who still had her back to the young bard. Not moving her eyes from her best friend, she slowly let her hand drift between her thighs before she stepped out of her skirt. She _was_ wet. *Why in Tartarus did that happen? * Suddenly anxious that her best friend may roll over and see her, she slipped into the bed and pulled the covers up to her chin. She shut her eyes and sighed. It was very soft and nice and warm, much better than the hard Earth along the roadsides.

"Good night Xena," she said, rolling onto her side to plant a kiss on the warrior’s cheek.

"G’night," said Xena, rolling over at the same time. That was when the second event happened. It had been accidental, but it had happened. Their lips met. Only Xena didn’t pull away as Gabrielle had expected. Then again, neither did she as Xena had expected. Finally the moment was broken as both began to laugh.

"Oops," said Gabrielle, covering her lips as she giggled. Xena laughed and put her head back on the pillow.

"That’s was my mistake," she said with a wide smile that made Gabrielle feel much more at ease.

"No, I think it’s just the room wearing off on us," she said, joking more.

"I’m sure," said Xena, laughing. "Good night sweetie."

"Good night darling," said Gabrielle, her tone mocking just like Xena's. She leaned over and kissed her best friend on the lips again and rolled over. Their back facing each other now, Gabrielle found herself licking her lips very absent-mindedly just as she drifted to sleep.



"You’re doing it again," said Xena. "You know, if you ever want to be a warrior you’re going to have to learn not to let your guard down for a second."


"And that goes for simple self-defense fighting as well," said Xena, anticipating Gabrielle’s defense.

"I wasn’t _that_ out of it."

"That was the fifth time I said your name."

"Oh," said the young bard, blushing slightly. "What did you want to tell me?"

"Nothing, I just wanted to know where you went. Back to Athens again?" Gabrielle quickly recalled what she had told Xena before.

"Oh no, it wasn’t that. I was just thinking how nice it’s going to be to see the Amazons again."

"We’re not going to see the Amazons," said Xena.

"I know, I just meant that when we do it will be nice." *Oh, that was a great recovery, she’ll never see through that one. *

"You do remember where I said we were going, don’t you?" asked Xena.

"Of course," said Gabrielle, her mind racing. "Delphi, right?"

"Delphi? From Athens?"

"Yes," said the bard, trying to sound sure of herself.

"Then why are we taking this route?"

"I don’t know, you’re the one leading here," she said, putting her hands on her hips and striking her most confident pose. Xena smiled widely and grabbed her friend by the shoulder. She pulled Gabrielle under her arm and began to walk again.

"Tell me you really knew we’re heading to Corinth," she said happily.

"Of course I did," said Gabrielle, putting her arm around the waist of her companion. *Phew, made it out of that one. *

"But do you know why we’re going there?"

"No," said the bard, not wanting to go through the previous routine again. As it was she was hoping Xena wouldn’t be able to feel her heart pounding in her chest. She did like the secure feeling of Xena’s arm around her, though.

"Well good, because I didn’t tell you yet." *Dodged another arrow there. * "Autolycus has gotten himself in some trouble again, no doubt trying to steal something three times his size. He wants us to come to his trial as character witnesses."

"Don’t you need character first for that?" said Gabrielle.

"Be nice," said Xena, smiling as well. "He’s helped us before and it won’t kill us to return him a favor or two."

Gabrielle looked up at the warrior princess. What was that look in her eyes? It was faint, but there was something there and it made the bard’s stomach feel strange. What was it that this self-proclaimed King of Thieves had over Xena that gave her such a strange gaze at his mention? Little did the bard realize this look was a much-diluted version of the very same expression she had been carrying all day.

"And who could act as a better defense than my little talker," said Xena, looking down at her friend. Her eyes had changed again and now held a much warmer quality. Gabrielle noticed something in her step. *By the Gods, did it happen again? Well I certainly can’t check now, I’ll have to excuse myself first. *

"Well of course, anything for you, Xena, you know, a friend helping a friend helping a friend, I’ll be right back," she spat out quickly and ducked herself out from under the warrior’s strong arm. She rushed behind the nearest large bush she could find. Puzzled, Xena watched her as she ran, noticing she was holing her hand on her lower abdomen.

*She must be sick. I guess it would make sense. *

"I must be sick. But that wouldn’t make sense, why would me being sick make" the bard wondered aloud. Then what could be causing this constant, but still disconcerting warmth between her thighs. Surely her friend didn’t have problems like his. She peered through the bush to see if she could make out Xena through the foliage. Yep, there she was, probably getting more impatient by the minute.

"What’s wrong, Gabrielle?" Xena had asked her that morning. "You’re not usually awake before I am."

"Oh, it was nothing...I just had a dream..."

"A dream?" Gabrielle looked up at her friend. *Gods damn it, had she said that aloud? * She closed her eyes and tried to see the dream again and found it suddenly difficult to remember. Since she woke up the images had been haunting her but now, with Xena peering, concerned, over her shoulder she drew a complete blank. "I were there and I was there. But you were dead..."

"Oh Gabrielle," said Xena, assuming this was all there was to the dream. She took her friend into her arms and hugged her gently, resting her chin on the top of the bard’s head. Gabrielle kept her eyes closed and let her mind continue wandering. It was no use, she couldn’t conjure up anything. "Gabrielle, I love you like my family..."

"I love you, too, Xena."

"And do you remember what I told you when you love someone so much?"

"We will always be together," said Gabrielle, pulling her head back and looking into the face of her friend.

"And I will never leave you," said Xena. This was nothing they hadn’t said many times before, but Gabrielle still found her eyes starting to mist. She lowered her head quickly, however, as she became suddenly aware it was not only her eyes that were growing wet. She shut her eyes and tried to force her thoughts elsewhere...anywhere. She felt Xena’s hand move up and down on her back. *Xena, I know you think you’re helping but you’re only making it worse. *

"How are you feeling?" asked Xena as Gabrielle joined her again at the road.


"How’s your stomach?" she asked. The bard almost smiled. *She doesn’t suspect a thing. *

"Better. I think I just ate something that didn’t agree with me."

"Well get up on Argo and we’ll ride to Corinth," said Xena. She boosted her friend up onto her horse and then climbed on herself. Argo let out a snort.

"I still don’t think Argo likes me."

"Well she doesn’t hate you. Now hang on and be sure to tell me if you feel sick again."

*If I hang on to you I’m as sure as Tartarus going to "feel sick" again. * But Gabrielle put her hands around her friend’s waist anyway. *There, this isn’t so bad. *

They reached Corinth within two days, despite rest stops and Gabrielle suddenly feeling "ill" one more time. Oddly enough, Gabrielle seemed much more relaxed afterwards. Telling Xena she sensed herself getting sick again, she suggested the warrior stop and try to catch them some fish in a nearby stream. Despite Xena’s warning that fish on an ill stomach was not a good idea, the bard insisted and rejoined her friend at the stream half an hour later feeling loose again and with a sudden voracious appetite. While Xena welcomed Gabrielle’s return to her normal chatty self, she found her sudden bursts of giggling to be strange and even annoying.

As the two came to the city, Xena suggested Gabrielle go find an inn while she found a stable for Argo.

"And Gabrielle," Xena called after her friend as they began to split up. "Try to find one with two rooms this time."

Xena eyed her friend as she walked off into the city. What was that look she had adopted when she suggested separate rooms? It wasn’t important, she supposed. She found a stable for Argo, offering the keeper a few extra denars to insure "proper treatment."

"I don’t want any trouble," said the stableboy.

"Don’t worry," said the Warrior Princess, "I’m not in that business anymore."

"What about your friends?"

"My friends?" asked Xena, raising an eyebrow.

"We know why you’re here. You’re going to try to free Autolycus," he said.

"I’m just here to see justice is done. If Autolycus is innocent, I’ll see him set free, if he’s guilty--" *And if I know Autolycus, he’s guilty* "--I’ll see his punishment is just."

"I just don’t want any trouble," he repeated. Xena tossed him another denar.

"Just see she gets fed and brushed and then treat yourself to a port," she said before she turned and left the stable. As she stepped out into the street, she noticed more eyes on her than usual. She tossed a few scowls at some of the onlookers and the others quickly returned to their business. *That does it, I have to talk to Autolycus before this trial. * She made her way to the center of the city, looking for the courthouse. The jail was bound to be somewhere nearby.

"Hey Princess!" a familiar voice shouted out. Pivoting on her foot, the warrior turned around in the direction of the cry, her face locked in a hard look. The King of Thieves flinched under its stare. "Hey, put it away, you’re on my side this time, remember?"

"Autolycus," said Xena in her usual, gruff, friendly manner.

"The King of Thieves himself," said Autolycus, attempting one of his patented hand gestures but stopped by the chained cuffs on his wrists. "What do you think of my new bracelets?"

"Cut the charm, I need to talk to you."

"Great, but you better duck first," he said. Xena did just as a splash of port hit the chained King in his face. Spitting, he shouted back at the escaping assailant, "That was a good one! You had the eggs yesterday, didn’t you? Ahh, let him run."

"Autolycus, what is going on here?" asked Xena, standing back up again.

"Oh nothing much. I angered the entire city by doing what I do best, only this time I get caught because of divine interventions. So now I am chained up like an animal in front of this courthouse were the locals throw rotten food and drink on me periodically. But all in the name of justice, right? Did I mention I am still innocent until proven guilty?" he said, wiping off his face with the back of his hand. Xena shot a glance around the town’s center.

"Well let’s start from the beginning. What did you steal?"

"Nothing," he said. Xena raised an eyebrow. "Nothing."

"Fine," said the Warrior Princess and she turned around and began to walk away.

"Uhh...that is to say that I didn’t make it away with anything," said Autolycus, quickly. Xena turned around again.

"Keep talking."

"Well, there was a rumor that outside the city there was a vineyard of Dionysus. We’re talking grapevines as far as the eye can see."


"Really Xena, do you think I, the King of Thieves, would waste his valuable time on simple grapevines? Of course not. Now the rumor also goes to say that these grapes all had certain special powers. One vine would grant infinite wisdom, another the gift of prophecy, the right ones even supposedly gave eternal life. Now can you imagine, Xena, if I had gotten out of that vineyard with five or six clusters of those grapes? Each of which had a hundred grapes or more? Not only could I eat them myself, but also they would be worth a king’s ransom on the black market. And, it would just so happen, that I would be the King in question."

"Get on with it, Autolycus," said Xena. Suddenly, her hand snapped up into the air, catching a rotten lemon inches from Autolycus’ jaw. Without even looking at it twice, she dropped it on the ground and continued to stare at the chained thief.

"Thanks. Anyway, I sneaked into the vineyard at night, planning to pick one cluster from every vine. One knowledge, one understanding, one prophecy, one immortality and so on... but as soon as I get there all the vines wither before my very eyes and shrink into the ground, disappearing completely. There is not a grape to be seen. Then I hear this growling sound, I turn around and my feet freeze in place. Suddenly, I can’t move anything from the waist down and I am staring face to face with Cerberus."


"Yeah, Cerberus. The multi-headed dog of Hades, sound familiar?"

"I am aware of who Cerberus is, Autolycus. I just wonder what he would be doing in a magical vineyard instead of at his post in the underworld."

"I don’t know, maybe he was out to mark some new territory. All I know is he was there and he did not budge until sunrise. Then he just vanishes right in time for half of Corinth to come running out and see me, the King of Thieves in their vineyard with all the vines vanished. And so they all swear that they will have my head for stealing all their vines. By the Gods, sometimes I wish I wasn’t such a good thief and my reputation wasn’t so high."

"Mmm-hmm, so you say the vines just disappeared?"

"Right back into the ground."

"Not a trace?" Xena asked, her mind mulling over the story Autolycus has just told her.

"Not a trace."

"There is someone else at work here," she muttered, more to herself than Autolycus.

"You’re telling me? So anyways, do you think you can help me get out of this?"

"Yeah, I think I can handle this."

"Great," said Autolycus, holding out his wrists. "You know, normally I could just pick these myself, but they took away all my tools."

Xena looked at his shackles and then back at him.

"Not that way," she said, rolling her eyes and slipping away.

"Wait, I_ oh, why bother?" he said aloud, just as he was hit from behind with four eggs. "Oh you could at least wait until I was looking!"

"Gabrielle, I need to go out tonight," Xena said when she met up with her friend at the inn.

"Well, hi Xena, it’s nice to see you, too. Oh, I’m fine, thanks for asking and you’re welcome about getting the rooms for us," said Gabrielle, sarcastically. Xena was in no mood to play these games.

"Gabrielle, I don’t have time for this," she said, putting her hand firmly on the bard’s shoulder. "I have to go out tonight to see if I can prove Autolycus’ innocence. It looks like he was set up by the Gods."

"The Gods? Which ones?"

"Well, I’d say Dionysus, but that seems to obvious..."

"You don’t think it could be Ares, do you?"

"I want to believe that but I just can’t see why. That’s why I have to leave tonight, I need to see if I can stir up some answers."

"Okay, well I’ll go with you then," said Gabrielle.

"No, you’ve been sick, I want you to stay here and try to get a decent night’s rest."

"But Xena, I already paid for two rooms," whined the bard.

"Well, I may be back after sunrise and I can get a few hours sleep before you get up," said Xena.

"But Xena," began Gabrielle.

"Gabrielle, just give it a rest, okay? Besides, with us in separate rooms it won’t be like you’re miss me anyway."

*Yes I would. * "I guess you’re right."

"Good," said Xena, smiling. "Now come on, we’ve got some time before sunset, let’s make the most of it. When was the last time you had a nice hot bath, anyway?"

Gabrielle smiled.

That night Xena left for the vineyards shortly after sundown. Gabrielle lay awake in her room, staring at the ceiling. It wasn’t like Xena had abandoned her or anything, she might as well just be in the room across the hall. Of course, if Gabrielle found herself awake in the morning hours from a strange forgotten dream again she would have to travel farther than just down the hall to confide in her friend about it. And she was doing this for a good reason...wasn’t she? As the young bard tried to remember exactly what it was Xena was off doing, it occurred to her that Xena had never really told her. All she had said all day was that it was a favor for Autolycus and she suspected the Gods were in some way involved. She’d even mentioned Hades over dinner. She wasn’t going to try to go to the underworld again, was she? Gabrielle sat up quickly and looked at the door to her room. Gods damn her, that probably what she had done! And Xena hadn’t told her because the warrior knew how much she would have worried.

*No, think Gabrielle. Xena trusts you, surely she would have told you if she was going to underworld, wouldn’t she? Unless she was worried that maybe she couldn’t return once she got there. But what about that "even in death I will never leave you" she always told me? That does it. * Gabrielle got off her bed and took her staff from the wall were she had set it. There was only way to find out what was going on. She’d have to go talk to Autolycus herself.

"Visitor!" shouted the gruff voice of the guard at Autolycus’ cell.

"Great," said Autolycus, none too heavy on charm as he saw the small figure of the amazon bard enter the prison chamber. He had hoped it was Xena.

"You don’t sound too pleased to see me," said Gabrielle.

"Pleased? I am pleased they let me come in to a cell at night. I am pleased when someone throws a decent meal my way instead of rotten fruit. I am pleased when a woman tells me she was just late, if you know what I mean. To see you...I’m disappointed."

"Fine," said Gabrielle, turning around and starting to leave.

"No, wait, come back," said Autolycus, reaching through the bars after her. Gabrielle smiled. That trick of Xena’s really did work. She turned around. "Why are you here?"

"I want to know where Xena is."

"And you think she is with me?" said Autolycus, looking around his bleak cell. "Sorry, that’s one luxury they _don’t_ allow us."

"But you know what you told her and you probably know where she went to clear your name for you."

"Look, I told my story once already and no one believed me. Now I’ve told it to Xena and she may be out there doing something about it so that tomorrow when I go to court and try to prove myself innocent, I won’t have to tell the same story three times and still have no one believe me. So you want to hear it so you can go out and stop her? No thank you," said Autolycus, turning around, his back now facing the bard.

"Fine, Autolycus, we’ll do it your way. However, I told the guards I was going to be in here for a while, so I might as well kill some time until they are ready to escort me back out. Let’s about I tell you a story?"

"You wouldn’t," said Autolycus, turning back around.

"I’ll start from the beginning...the very beginning. It looked like it was going to be a normal day in Potediea until a whole army of ruffians stormed the village. Everyone was frightened, but among them was a brave young girl named Gab--"

"Okay, okay, I’ll tell you my story. But you can’t go off and try to interfere with Xena helping me out on this one, okay? For once I actually am innocent," said Autolycus. Gabrielle smiled and leaned against the bars while the King of Thieves retold his story again. Gabrielle response was very similar to that of her best friend.

"They just vanished?"

"Vanished," said Autolycus.

"And you didn’t get a single grape?"

"No, I didn’t steal a single grape," he said.



"What’s that, then?" asked Gabrielle, pointing to a bulge in the front pocket of Autolycus’ green shirt. Autolycus looked down.

"I don’t know," he said, reaching into his shirt. From the pocket he pulled a single, reddish-purple grape. "Oh, this isn’t what it looks like! This must have landed in my pocket after one of the citizen’s threw it at me in the square!"

"Sure," said Gabrielle, turning away and starting to leave.

"Gabrielle, you gotta believe me! I didn’t steal any grapes!"

"Autolycus!" shouted Gabrielle, turning around quickly. Her staff swung up and hit the bars with a clang. Autolycus jumped back a bit, dropping the grape. It rolled from his cell, between the bars and toward the bard. She leaned over and picked it up. Angry, she walked back over to the cell. "You are a damn liar, Autolycus. I don’t doubt you _did_ manage to steal all the vines in the vineyard. You’ve probably got them stashed somewhere just waiting for when you get out of this mess. And even then you had to keep one as a souvenir for yourself. Meanwhile Xena is probably half way to Tartarus by now trying to save your miserable hide because she actually believed you!"

"Gabrielle, wait!"

"No," said Gabrielle, so angry she now found herself on the verge of tears. "I don’t ever want to hear from you again. If you’re stupid quest to be the world’s greatest thief has lead the death of my best had better just pray that the Gods will protect you, because you can be as sure as Tartarus no one else will."

"But Gabrielle, think! Don’t you think Xena would have noticed something in my pocket if it was there before?" called Autolycus, but it was too late, the young bard was already out the door. "Gabrielle!"

"Hey, leave the lady alone and shut your mouth," shouted the guard. "Try to enjoy your sleep tonight. It will be your last."

"Xena had better think of something," said Autolycus, sitting down in his cell and resting his face on his hands.

Back at the inn, Gabrielle was seething. She wanted to go back to jail and beat Autolycus with her staff...but how could she do that? He still was another human being...who just may have caused the death of the person she loved more than anyone else on Earth...and surely with the already angry mob out for his blood no one would blame her...they might even _thank_ her. Her stomach felt as though it were twisted in knots. She was so worried about her best friend. Gods, she hoped Xena was all right.

Xena stood looking out over the outstretching miles of grapevines. Each seemed to give off a calm glowing aura. There certainly was no sign of Cerberus anywhere and the vines didn’t even look disturbed. What was going on here?

"Ares! I know you’re behind this!" shouted the Warrior Princess. "Why don’t you come out an show yourself?"

There was no response. No flash of lights, nothing. "Come on, Ares, you’ve never been too cowardly to show up to a challenge!"

*Maybe he’s _not_ the one behind this. After all, what war could be sparked over enchanted grapes? *

"Dionysus! I want to speak to you!" she shouted out.

"Yes?" came a voice from behind her. She turned around quickly but saw nothing.

"Show yourself to me," Xena said, looking around her.

"Very well," said the voice. There was a flashing of lights and before Xena stood the Goddess of wine and fertility. "Why do you wish to speak to me, Xena? I’m usually not the goddess you would call upon."

"We need to talk."

Gabrielle stared at the grape. She couldn’t believe all this was over a grape. She wondered if any of Autolycus’ story was true. *How can a grape possess the power of eternal life? Or of prophesy? * She shook her head. It was probably just some tale Autolycus had made up from the start. He had probably been caught stealing from the vineyard of a king or wealthy overlord and made up the mystical power to make it seem more adventurous.

"Probably," said Gabrielle out loud and she popped the grape into her mouth. "It certainly tastes like any other grape."

"I tend these vines every night, I certainly would have known if anyone had set foot here."

"And you say no one came here or tried to steal any of your vines?"

"Of course not. I give my wine to Corinth freely, no one would ever need to steal from me," said Dionysus.

"Well somebody tried to," said Xena, looking around the vines. "And you never let your guard down."

"I’m a goddess, Xena, I don’t ever have to put a guard up. I just know," she said, starting to fade. Xena sighed, frustrated. This was going nowhere.

"Oh wait," said Dionysus, reappearing again. "You may want to ask Aphrodite. She did agree to watch them for me several nights ago. Maybe that was when you friend came?"

"What?" asked Xena, turning around. The goddess had already disappeared.

Gabrielle shut her eyes, finding herself suddenly tired. *This couldn’t be because of that grape, could it? No, that’s silly. *

Gabrielle found her eyes open again, though she was now in a place that most definitely wasn’t her room at the inn. Everything did look strangely familiar, though. She had been here before...and so had Xena. And why did she feel Autolycus had been involved here before as well?

"This is my dream," she suddenly found herself saying aloud. "But, it’s not a dream it’s...a memory."

She looked down at herself and found she was wearing her amazon attire, the one she had worn while she sat as queen...while Xena was...dead.

"Gabrielle," purred Xena’s soft and husky voice. Gabrielle looked up. Of course. This was where she had spoken to Xena again after her death. Where they had...where they had kissed. Her heart beat faster as she saw the image of Xena before her. This was Xena, but she now appeared in a whole new light. Where Gabrielle had once felt such relief in seeing her friend, the feeling had now changed. What was this strange new feeling she had? It was surrounding her, growing inside her like a hunger.

"Xena? Does this mean...?" asked Gabrielle, nervously.

"No, my love, this is your dream. You always dream this," purred Xena. "Only now you remember it"

*My love? * "Because of the grape?" asked Gabrielle. Xena smiled and nodded. Slowly, her smile began to change from gently reassurance to something else...and the change caused that strange new hunger in the pit of Gabrielle’s stomach to grow even stronger.

"I’m going to take this off now," whispered the Warrior Princess, placing her hand on her armor. Instantly, the leather melted away and the Warrior Princess stood in front of her, completely nude.

"Xena, why did you do that?" asked Gabrielle.

"This is your dream, my love...this is what I always do," she said. Gabrielle stared at the body of her warrior, not afraid to look in her dreams. Her breasts were round and firm and the tanned skin of her body stretched out over her beautiful curves so smoothly that Gabrielle was overwhelmed with a desire to stroke it. *What is going on? * Her eyes danced along Xena’s long and muscular legs, starting at her ankles and traveling up, slowly, until their gaze rested on the dark triangle of curled hair just above her thighs. *I should look away...but why don’t I? *

"Xena, why are you calling me "my love"?" asked Gabrielle, looking back again into the piercing blue eyes of her companion.

"This is your dream, Gabrielle. I call you my love because in your dreams, you are my love."

"But why?"

"Because in your heart, I am your love...your true love," purred the vision of Xena. She stepped forward and placed her hands on Gabrielle’s shoulders. That hunger...she finally could place it. It was lust. Xena began to lean forward, to Gabrielle’s lips, her mouth opening as she did.

"Xena, why are you doing this?" the young bard asked, not knowing whether to pull away or give in to this towering and beautiful woman.

"Because you want me to," she answered as her warm, soft lips met the bards’.

"What in the name of Zeus are you talking about?" snapped Xena.

"Relax, sweetie. With all that stress you’ll go gray in no time flat," said Aphrodite, snapping her fingers to illustrate her point. "Anyway, it is very rude not to accept a gift of the Gods."

"But I don’t understand how this is a gift," barked Xena, resisting the urge to slap the Goddess of Love across the face.

"You will. Who knows you may even thank me," answered Aphrodite, disappearing with a flash.

"Aarrrggghhh!" growled Xena, releasing frustration. It didn’t work. *That does it! I am just about one deus ex machina away from renouncing all of Olympus! * She looked over to the eastern skyline. It was going to be dawn soon and she still had nothing that she could use to prove Autolycus’ innocence to the courts in Corinth. Tired and frustrated, she decided to return to the city and take at least a few hours advantage of her room at the inn.

The sun had already begun to rise by the time Xena reached the inn. As she walked down the hallway to the room Gabrielle had reserved for her, she heard a soft sound coming from her friend’s room. She placed her ear on the door and listened closely. She smiled to herself. *Well at least Gabrielle seems to be enjoying her dreams again instead of nightmares. *

She let herself into her room and fell, heavily onto her bed. This was going to be a very short sleep before a very long day. *Gift of the Gods, ha! I don’t understand that Aphrodite at all. * Xena shut her eyes and let herself begin to drift into sleep.

"Good night Gabrielle," she said to the empty room. Then she smiled and laughed slightly. "Yeah, I love you too."

Concluded In ". . . Came A Seed"

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