DISCLAIMER – Belong to Rob Tapert, Sam Raimi, et al, MCA, Studios USA, and Pacific Renaissance Pictures

A/N - Although I've posted quite a few fics, thiswas only the secondI'd ever written at the time. (the very, very first one was for Young Riders) I also consider it one of the best things I've wrtten (I'm sure you'll let me know otherwise. Please dont be too brutal though)


DAY 1

Menace turned and paced the room for the hundredth time muttering, 'I'm bored!' over and over. A bug trundling along the wall caught his attention. He flicked it to the ground and kept himself amused for the next five minutes by turning it on its back, watching as it righted itself, then turning it on it's back again. The whole time, he couldn't help but wonder how much longer it would take the stricken insect to right itself if he were to pull off a few of its legs. The demi-gods short attention span and boredom saved the creatures life. It scuttled into the nearest niche, as Menace went back to his pacing. After a few minutes he decided to pop in on his Uncle Ares.

Ares made a small adjustment to the General of the Green Army. He felt his idiot nephew's arrival before the twit even opened his mouth.

'Hey Unc, what're you doin'?'

The god of war looked up from his model replica of Greece. His nephew stood before him resplendent in a purple out-fit that would have made Aphrodite jealous. He shook his head and went back to rearranging armies and planning strategy. Menace picked up a couple of the pieces and began playing with them.

The young demi-god held them up to each other. To the red soldier he gave a falsetto voice, 'I'm going to kill you.'

The green soldier replied in a rough baritone. 'No, you flea ridden Gorgon. I'm going to kill you!'

They attacked each other, screaming.

Ares snatched them away, with a scowl, checking them for damage before placing them carefully back in their ranks. With out looking up he asked in an exasperated tone, 'What're you doing here?'

Menace moved to pick up the Green General. Ares warned him away with a glare. 'I'm bored Unc.'

'Go away and annoy someone else!'

'But isn't there anyone you want harassed?' he whined.

'No! Now get out before…' Ares looked up, but Menace had left.

He shook his head and muttered, 'I can't believe we're related.'

……

DAY 7

Xena's gaze was drawn to Gabrielle's eyes. Returning the gaze, the intensity grew as they drew together.

Gabrielle's mind churned, and she started to pull away. 'Xena…'

Xena put a finger to the bruised lips. 'Shh…' She kissed the abrasion tenderly. Gabrielle gave in and accepted the invitation. Softly rubbing Xena's shoulder, she ran her lips over the gentle ridge of her collarbone. Xena drew in a deep breath as Gabrielle's lips caressed the nape of her neck. Gabrielle hooked her fingers into the shoulder strap of Xena's bodice, and pulled it down. Lips followed fingers. The passion was undeniable. As their kiss gained intensity, Gabrielle again pulled away, frightened by the moment. Xena reached out calmly. A peaceful, loving, confident expression on her face. She undid the fastenings on Gabrielle's shirt. Leaning forward, she traced a blazing trail of kisses over the bruised ribs, and back up to Gabrielle's mouth. Gabrielle leaned into the kiss. They explored each other tenderly at first, then with increased lust.

Gabrielle woke with a start. Sweat slicked her body, and she was breathing heavily. Latent images from the dream that had woken her floated through her mind. The dream had started in a field of flowers. A warm breeze caressed her face. Meridian was walking toward her, and she felt such an incredible love toward her. They would hug, as though long lost best friends. Then, against her will she would take the knife that would appear from thin air, and stab Meridian. No matter how hard she tried not to grab that knife, she would find herself lifting her arm, gripping the handle, then the slight give as flesh made way for metal.

The dream had always been disturbing, forcing her to relive her first kill night after night. Despite assurances from Xena that the dream would soon cease, it had been almost two months before she'd been able to sleep dreamless through the night. Occasionally though an unknown trigger would set something off in her mind and she'd have a few sleepless nights before the dream would again fade.

Two nights ago after almost a year of peaceful dreams, the nightmare returned. The beginning remained the same, but from where she and Meridian would hug, the dream became a mass of fragmented, disturbing images. This morning had by far been the worst. With a distorted edition of what had happened the previous night.

Drawing her knees painfully to her chest, she rested her head on them waiting for her mind to clear, and the unease to subside. As the light slowly began to increase, so did the bird song, lending a cheerful aspect to the morning that did not reflect her mood. After a few minutes she felt a little better and more like herself again. She rose slowly careful not to wake the others, and gathered a few sticks to rebuild the fire.

Feeding the sticks into the smoldering embers, Gabrielle nursed the fire back to life. She held her hands close, warming herself until the shivering ceased. For a few moments she was hypnotized, watching the flames. Gabrielle let her mind clear. She saw nothing, heard nothing, feeling only the warmth of the fire. The cry of a hunting eagle bought her out of her reverie. She looked around to see if the others had been woken, but they remained soundly asleep.

Not being able to shake the strangely desolate feeling from the dark dream, Gabrielle decided to clean the dishes from the night before, and to top up the water skins with fresh water.

Her mind pondered the dream as she began the mundane routine of dish washing. She knew a part of the nightmare was a residual of the beating she'd taken the day before, but the meaning of the fractured images from the rest of the dream eluded her. It was a frustrating feeling. Her dreams, always so vivid, were her escape. A freedom she never felt in her waking hours, she was able to obtain through her dreams. Flying with eagles, swimming with dolphins. Insights into herself, and others that were only ever forthcoming in her dreams. Not knowing what the usually clear images were telling her was distressing and frustrating, and she tried not to take it as a sign of worse to come.

…..

Xena woke slowly, luxuriating in the warmth of her bedding. She spent the first minute debating whether to get up and re-stoke the fire, or roll over and doze for a few more minutes. Turning on her side, she discovered the fire was already blazing. 'I thought it was a little too warm for this early in the morning.' She checked the bedding; Gabrielle was nowhere in sight. For Gabrielle to be up before everyone else was unusual. Most mornings she had such trouble rousing Gabrielle, she felt like dousing her staff-carrying friend with cold water. Xena smiled at the memory of the only time she'd actually used cold water to wake her friend.

It'd been about two years ago. She'd let the warriors enter the camp, pretending to be asleep. The first warrior bought his sword down. She stopped the blade by clapping her hands on it. A couple of kicks, one to his body, the other to his head, temporarily put him out of action. A frying pan and pot became improvised weapons as she focused on the fight. Two frying pan blows to the head downed another warrior. The next received a pot to the midriff. Another barely avoided the pot only to be slugged with the pan. She was having fun.

The first warrior got up again. This time prepared. Both swords were drawn. He lunged; she parried with the pot. He lunged again; she threw it aside with the pan. Lunge, parry, left right. He'd put up a good fight, but left himself open long enough for her to put the pot over his head. Over his shoulder she saw two warriors approaching her sleeping friend. Somewhat surprised that the ruckus hadn't already woken her, Xena dispatched the warrior by pounding the frying pan on the pot. She smiled at the memory. His head was probably still ringing.

Two steps, and she flipped a somersault, giving her customary war cry, she landed square on a water skin, sending a stream of cold water directly into the sleeping bard's face. The reaction had been immediate, and she woke, spluttering. Realizing the danger, she grabbed her staff and waded into the fight.

The fracas was over shortly after. When it was over, the only fatality had been the frying pan. Xena had used it like a chakram, knocking out three warriors that had tripped Gabrielle, and were ready to start carving.

Gabrielle had been livid at the loss of the frying pan; conveniently forgetting it had saved her life. For the rest of the day she whined about its loss. Even now it would be bought up, but usually in good humor. Xena grinned at the memory as she made her way to the stream. The only place Gabrielle would be as the water skins, and last nights dishes were gone.

Through the undergrowth Xena caught a glimpse of Gabrielle sitting on her haunches, water skins in hand, and dishes laying on the bank beside her, all but forgotten. Closing the distance in a few steps, Xena called out. 'Hey!'

Gabrielle, still lost in her thoughts, dropped the water bag and swung around. Suddenly off balance, she pin wheeled to keep from falling into the water. Xena stepped forward quickly, deftly catching the front of Gabrielle' tunic, she pulled her back from the edge of the bank. Xena's smile was replaced with a look of concern. 'You alright?'

Both feet now firmly back on the bank, Gabrielle swatted Xena's hands from her tunic in anger. 'Ow! Damn it Xena! Do you have to sneak up on people like that?'

As soon as the words were out of her mouth, she regretted them. Great, she thought chiding herself. All I'm ever doing now days is snapping. She gave Xena an apologetic shrug. 'I'm sorry, I guess the last few days…well, you know.'

Xena searched Gabrielle's face for the full truth. A few seconds and a raised eyebrow later, Gabrielle added, 'Bad dreams, I've been having bad dreams.'

'Can you remember any of them?'

Gabrielle shook her head, looked Xena square in the eye and lied. 'No.'

Xena looked at her, waiting for the rest. Gabrielle shrugged. 'They make me feel uneasy.'

Xena raised an eyebrow. 'And that's all you remember?' Gabrielle nodded.

'Sure?'

Again Gabrielle nodded, and smiled a little. 'Yeah.'

Xena searched her face for more information. There'd been a time and not that long ago, when looking into Gabrielle's eyes would tell her all she needed to know. Lately though she'd discovered her sidekick had become very adept at hiding her feelings.

Gabrielle saw the frustration through Xena's smile. She felt bad, but until she figured out what the dream meant, she'd keep it to herself.

As they'd talked, the current had taken the dropped water-skin down stream. Xena chased it for a few yards before finally fishing it from the water. Turning to walk back, she watched Gabrielle pick up the remaining water skin and dishes. Gabrielle's evasion of what was bothering her was frustrating. She'd never been one to hold things back. There'd been times when the warrior had had to endure such a constant stream of chatter she'd almost felt like telling her to shut up. She never had though. Most of the time Gabrielle would catch herself. There would then follow a few moments of silence before she'd start off on another tangent. It used to irritate her. Now, she wouldn't do without it. Making Gabrielle's current silent spell that much more worrying. And she'd lied about the dreams. She didn't know specifically, but she did know she'd been lied too.

Gabrielle looked up and caught her staring. 'Something wrong?'

Xena smiled. 'Nope, nothing.' She headed back to camp. Gabrielle, silent, lost in thought lagged behind.

…..

Siromos woke slowly. Damn I'm cold he thought. Cold and uncomfortable. Trying to move reminded him that his ankles were bound. Rolling onto his back, he jarred his injured arm and winced at the pain. It took him a while to realize that his good arm, which had been tied behind his back, was totally numb. Probably been lying on it half the night, he thought.

Using his feet and mostly numb elbow, he inched his way to the nearest tree. The sleeping arm, blood flow now restored quickly became a nest of angry ants. Finally propping himself against the tree, he was able to relax for a few seconds.

While the girl was still asleep, and the other two out of camp, he decided to take the opportunity to try and escape. He had no intention of returning to his regiment, but anywhere was better than being tied up like a pig for slaughter, waiting to be executed for a crime he didn't commit.

As his good hand finally regained full feeling, he twisted it around, and by using his back, he was able to slip the rope down just enough to hook his thumb into the space it'd left. With a considerable amount of pain, and a lot of work, he was able to twist his wrist just enough to work the knot loose. In minutes he was bathed in sweat, but with each twist of his fingers, the first knot loosened, and finally came undone.

His fingers were cramping, and he was almost certain they had started bleeding, but he was determined to get away before the other two returned. The last knot finally loosened enough for him to slip his hand out. He checked his fingers, but what he'd thought had been blood, had only been sweat. Not wasting anymore time, he reached between his ankles and untied the rope. As he stood, he looked up to see Xena leaning against a tree, arms folded and a cold smile on her face. He immediately sat back down.

Xena crouched in front of him and retied the ropes while he glowered at her. 'Nice try slick, but I like you better with the bracelets on.'

As Xena retied Siromos, Gabrielle started breakfast by taking a few herbs from her pack and throwing them into a pot with the last of the flour. Mixing in just enough water to form a firm dough. She hung the pot, containing the fragrant dough over the fire to bake.

Xena who'd been watching from where Siromos was tied made her way to the fire. She slapped Gabrielle's shoulder. 'How's it coming?'

Gabrielle turned and stood. 'Bread should be done in about half an hour. I'll start the eggs later.' She nodded in Coralyn's direction. 'You going to let her sleep?'

Xena nodded. 'I figure she needs as much sleep as she can get. Our buddy Siromos is going to need a baby sitter though.'

'I'll watch him.'

Rather surprised Xena asked, 'Sure?'

'Yeah, why not? Nothing to do till the bread's finished anyway. Besides, I need to catch up on my writing.'

Gabrielle squeezed Xena's arm in friendship and gratitude. 'I'm fine.'

Xena watched her young friend rummage through her pack for her scroll, quill and ink. A sense of nostalgia washed over her. When they'd met, Gabrielle had barely been more than a hindrance. Now as Xena watched her young friend settle against a rock, she realized that if anything ever happened, she'd have a hard time coping without her.

Gabrielle paused a while before writing. Xena had turned to sharpening her sword. It was a sure sign that something was bothering her. It wasn't so much the fact that she was sharpening, but the small relatively inefficient strokes she was using. Gabrielle felt a pang of guilt, knowing she was the cause of it. Her gaze wandered over to Siromos who was watching her. He gave her a knowing wink and a lascivious smile. It took a split second before she realized what he'd meant. Flustered she looked away. Her mind went blank, and it was a while before she regained her composure enough to start writing.

Dear Diary,

I've been traveling with Xena for a long time, and I've experienced some really bizarre things, but the last few days take the prize. It all started a few days ago when I was returning from a week at the most incredible spa. They had the whole thing. Relaxation techniques. Getting in touch with the inner child. Poetry readings. Plays. Interpretive mud dancing. It was fantastic, and Xena would have hated it. Which is why I was traveling alone.

It was a hot day, and I'd been on the road since dawn. It was some time around mid-day, when…

TBC….