Part 2

white ones and red ones
and some you can't disguise
twisted truth and half the news
can't hide it in your eyes
lies lies lies yeah
oh you know I know

Lies, Thompson Twins

Now let me see. That should be good enough. Gabrielle placed the doll back in the bag and sat down on the bed. She fluffed up the pillows and leaned back against them. She wanted to ensure that she looked her best when the warrior walked into the hut. She positioned herself in a three quarter frontal to ensure Xena could see all of her naked body and tried out various poses until she decided on a half knee bend, one arm propping up her head, the other casually draped over her thigh. Guestimating the time of arrival to be almost imminent, she was not surprised when the door burst open.

"Gabrielle!" Xena seethed through clenched teeth, her veins on her temples pulsing, her body stiff, shy the subtle quivering of rage.

Gabrielle swallowed.

"Where is it?!" Xena growled.

"Where's what?" Gabrielle feigned innocence, inwardly sinking into the bed, wishing, in fact, it was a portal from which she could escape this room.

Xena stomped over to the bed and leered down at her lover.

"It's… umm…," She pointed at her purse weakly, "…over there." Gabrielle started to sweat as she watched the warrior reach over and grab her purse, lift it up and spill the entire contents on the bed. What's worse was that she had gone silent. Gabrielle watched in matrimonial fear as her lover reached down and scooped the xena doll from the pile of goods. She turned towards her, doll pointed at her, as if to further a point that had yet to be spoken.

Xena stood there, frozen in time for a moment, unsure of exactly what she was going to say next.

Now despite the gravity of the situation, and Gabrielle was under no illusions as this was indeed a situation, she found herself stifling a grin at the oddity of the image before her. Xena, shaking with rage, menacingly pointing a miniature of herself, at her as if it were a weapon, and she supposed indeed it was. Which further sent her over the edge and she almost burst into laughter but held herself in check to ensure she lived to see the dawn. And then she went into survival mode. "I, um, was trying to fix the suit, it's… um..badly torn... from the tower." Very good, very smooth.

Xena hesitated, her eyes narrowing further to nearly a single slitted line that could be drawn across her features as she considered this information. If her eyes weren't so narrowed perhaps she would have been able to check the dilation of the bard's pupils.

Gabrielle waited.

Slowly the doll began its descent until it hung limply in Xena's arm. She continued to stare at the bard. "I see." Xena finally spoke.

The guilt immediately covered the bard like a wet blanket. She swallowed as her eyes inadvertently followed the doll's descent. She could no longer look into the warrior's gaze. Then her eyes widened as she saw the first red droplet of blood hit the sheets. "Xena!" the bard gasped. "Your hand!"

Xena looked down. "Yeah."

Gabrielle practically flew over and grabbed it in her own hands, examining the damage. By the gods, it was a very clean cut across the palm. It would have had to have been a very fine and sharp edged instrument that would definite... "Oh gods, Xena," the bard whispered.

"It's just a scratch ." Xena sighed and sat down on the bed, letting the bard fuss over it. She was not going to let on that it hurt like Hades, as fine little cuts always did. Never mind the fact that she hadn't actually cut herself on her own chakrum in at least ten years. And even then she had been drunk at the time. Well, at least the volunteer's head had remained intact.

"Just sit here. I'll get some salve." Gods, gods, gods. Gabrielle got up quickly and went over to the saddle bags they'd brought with them. She began digging around for the salve and felt something crumble in her hands. She peered inside. It was the flowers she'd given Xena. They were now long dead, but unmistakably the wolfsbane she'd picked for her love in the meadow outside of Karyaes. Her heart dropped and she fought back the urge to cry. The guilt was so unbelievably black now and she was finding it hard to breathe. She let go of the delicate flowers and found the salve. She pulled it out and held it up to the light, then looked back over at Xena, who was watching her intently with a sad look on her features. Gabrielle burst into tears.

Xena sat there and watched this transpire in mild surprise, though not really. The bard had been lying and she'd known. "Gabrielle… It's ok."

Gabrielle shook her head, indicating it was, indeed, not okay. She couldn't bring herself to look at Xena. She continued to cry, looking down at the saddlebags in the hopes she could find solace in them.

"My hand hurts," Xena finally admitted.

This broke the bard from her self flagellation and she immediately got up and went to her lover, finally meeting her eyes with her own. She lifted up Xena's hand and held it. "I'm sorry."

"It's alright." Xena sighed as she reached up with her other hand and brushed back a tear from the bard's face.

"No it's not alright. I lied." Gabrielle sighed and opened up Xena's hand delicately, careful not to hurt it any further. She sat down beside Xena on the bed, and holding her hand gently, began to apply the salve to the fine cut.

"It won't need stitches." Xena tried to comfort her.

"I can't believe I lied to you, Xena." The bard shook her head as she continued to apply the cream carefully.

"I can't believe I cut my hand." Xena grinned, but the bard was beyond consoling.

"I mean, without trust... what's left?" Gabrielle whispered through tears as she worked.

"Well I'm not exactly honest all the time either." Xena sighed, letting the feel of Gabrielle's delicate hands on hers melt away the pain. Gabrielle looked up at her. "By not saying things," Xena explained. "That are on my mind, sometimes."

"That's not lying, Xena."

"Well, it's not telling the truth either. Like how much this Tartarus hand hurts at the moment."

Gabrielle smiled through her tears. "Any casualties go with this cut?"

"Almost lost a spectator." Xena grinned.

"Gods." Gabrielle finished applying the cream. She got up and found a cloth, then sat back down beside the warrior and began to bandage her hand.

"Um, is there any way you can make that discreet?"

Gabrielle looked up at her love's eyes and smiled. "Yeah, I think I can."


"What in Tartarus just went on in here!" Martina seethed as she paced back and forth, racquet in hand, swishing it around dangerously in the gaming arena in front of Tess, who appeared to be sweating, - profusely in fact.

"I believe…," Gulp. "There was a chakrum demonstration." Tess cringed in anticipation of Martina's wrath.

"Who authorized such a thing?!" Martina growled.

Yeesh. "An assistant of mine is a Xena fan and, well, it would appear that the guests started to beg, and the next thing she knew it was... turned..." Tess couldn't finish as she watched the colour of Martina's face go from pink to crimson rage red.

Martina stopped pacing and walked over to Tess. She stood inches from her face now, a terrible vein popping fury surging through her, the racquet in her hand quivering from the vibrations. "Go on."

Talking while not breathing always made communication more difficult, and Tess was not new to this phenomenon. She had seen Martina blow and had felt her wrath before, but there was something different about this one. It was as if she could sense a faint edge of fear in the boss's voice which not only unnerved her, but was sending her down her own snaking path of deep fear that was directly connected to the boss herself. She finally took a breath and braced herself. "It turned into an all out Xena rally. They were chanting her name like a champion."

"I see," Martina said evenly. "And the assistant?"

Gulp. "Will be properly reprimanded."

"Put her in Waste Disposal."

"But she's a warrior!" Tess gasped and cringed all in the same breath.

"Well she'll just have to survive then won't she." Martina grinned. "In fact, it’ll be a good test of her metal."

"Yes, well…" Tess started to slide away.

"And you..."


"…just got your first ticky boo."

Tess melted into her sweats.


"There. That looks good, and if you keep your hand closed no one will suspect a thing." Gabrielle smiled. She brought the warrior's hand to her lips and kissed it as she gazed into soft blue eyes that were watching her.

"Nice." Xena smiled back at her naked bard. She flexed the hand a few times to check the bandage's durability, now satisfied it would hold sight unseen. After all, she had a reputation to uphold. Not that she really gave a rat's ass what these people thought. Still, there was no way in Tartarus she would show any sign of weakness in front of the other warriors.

"You're cute when you swear." Gabrielle smiled.

"I didn't say anything," Xena replied in defense.

"I could tell." Gabrielle grinned. "And come to think of it, I've been swearing too much lately, as well." She frowned, then looked back at Xena. "Do you think it's the stress?"

"S'pose," Xena replied thoughtfully. "Of course, that's what a vacation is supposed to be for. Getting rid of the stress."

"Yeah," Gabrielle said, sighing deeply, her shoulders drooping. "Why then, don't I feel relaxed?"

Xena smiled down at her lover, then lifted her chin to gaze into her eyes. "Because I haven't made wild and passionate love to you yet. That's why."

"I knew there was something missing." Gabrielle grinned. "Now?"

"Right now." Xena leaned down and kissed the bard deeply as they both sank down on the bed. "Now where were we when we were so rudely interrupted?"

"I believe," Gabrielle gasped, as her love's lips covered her throat, sending a shiver down her back, "we were right…"


"There," Gabrielle groaned.

"What in Hades!" Xena cried, rising from the bed with intent to injure, no perhaps kill, no perhaps worse, perhaps... She opened the door and instantly flinched from the searing pain that shot out from her hand. Hades!

"Um, hi there." A woman peered in nervously, her eyes darting around. "Um, dinner, that would be the big meal, if of course you're counting size, of course you could say that actually sometimes the big meal is at lunch. But that depends on what we're serving, and since we can't serve meat anymore I guess there are no really big meals anymore after all. So, I guess that was moot point." She laughed awkwardly, brushing back her short blonde hair. "Anyway, you seem like, well, of course you're naked, but then I could tell right away... Yes sir, that you'd be a jock, of course, the rippling muscles…" She reached out to touch Xena's arm,but the warrior reared back. "Um, yes, right. Well, as I was saying, dinner, as in the big meal, today in particular, is served."

"I'll get some later," Xena replied evenly, as she checked out the odd blabbering woman before her, sporting, yet again, strange attire. She had on a buttoned shirt that hung loose over a blue pant material she'd never encountered before. And there again- those odd shoes the coordinator had worn, only smaller. Her eyes traveled back up to the woman's face, friendly enough, seeming harmless enough, but the mouth was beyond irritating, it was downright…

"Well, you see, that *is* a problem, ‘cause food is served in the main tent only, and well, if you miss it that would mean you would have to wait, oh, let me see, a pretty long darn tootin’ time, yes sir, I mean ma'am." She chuckled, then the grin wiped off her face as the warrior's own darkened.

"I'll catch my meal later then."

"Well, you see there," she danced nervously. "That wouldn't be... heh, heh, um, a very good…well, of course *I* wouldn't try and stop you. I'm not *that* crazy, but it is strictly forbidden on the island, course wasn't always that way, but, those ticky boos...whoo, you don't want-"

"Let ‘em come and get me."

The woman's eyes widened. "Sure, I mean, great, oh big, I mean impressive goddess, warrior. But you see there's this *tiny* little detail. Since I, not that I had any choice mind you, don't get me wrong, since I am responsible for the S&M section…"

"The what?!" Xena asked, leering down at the nervous chatterbox in the hopes she'd run screaming. No such luck.

"Um, that would be S&M, um, er, whips, sharp devices, tight little leather outfits, very similar to your outfit. In fact, not similar at all. I'd say right on the dinars - oh yeah, of course not that I'm judging. Really, I'm not." She fidgeted nervously. "But if you get a ticky boo, well those ticky boos are something else, and you see, I get one, too and I can't afford any of those as of course that would mean the waste disposal, and well, we don't-"

"Xena, who is it?" the bard cried in frustration from the bed.

"Don't know," Xena seethed, as she bore holes in the woman's head.

There was a pause, and then the woman jumped back, pointing at herself. "Oh, me, you mean me. Oh, I'm Ellen. Ellen of LA." She extended her shaking hand. The warrior didn't take it and she shoved it back in her pocket. "That's not L.A., that's LA, as in la, la-"

"Got it," Xena growled, her hand poised on the door as she was about to shut it.

"So then." The woman shoved both hands in her pockets, bouncing nervously, a hopeful smile plastered on her face. "Are you coming?"

Xena paused and then looked back at the bard for the answer. Gabrielle rolled her eyes and nodded an affirmative. Xena turned back to the irritating blonde. "We'll be there, and it better be good."

"Gotcha!" The woman gave her a salute. "Will do. Nice muscles by the way, yes, and of course the rest of you. Wow! There was a girl, Talpita, from my Hercules Beauty school, she worked out, well more like made out, come to think of it, all the time. She had biceps so strong she could -" The door slammed in her face. She stood there for a few more seconds, looking around at no one in particular, then headed off towards the main quarters.

Chapter 4


First you get in line. And then you're in the line.

And then you wait in line. And then it's almost time.

Get in Line


"Hey! Watch it, Red! Go to the back of the line!" a gruff looking warrior woman warned Gabrielle, who had inadvertently butted in.

"Sorry, I didn't-" Gabrielle replied with exasperation as she wiped more sweat from her brow with her free hand, while the other balanced a tray.

The warrior woman glared at her. "Well maybe you need to learn some-"

"Is there a problem here?" Xena came up behind Gabrielle, nearly killing the smaller warrior woman instantly with her eyes.

After nearly fainted, the woman righted herself and finally found her voice. " problem," she gasped. "Here, take my spot, please!" She gestured with her hand.

"Why thank you." Xena smiled curtly as she moved in front and gestured to Gabrielle to follow.

This time Gabrielle didn't protest, and rather enjoyed having her warrior around to show these women a thing or two. She silently cursed herself for leaving her staff back in the hut. She had a mind to smack that insolent-

"Gabrielle," Xena leaned down and purred into her ear., "Calm."

Gabrielle seethed. "Don't tell me to calm down, Xena..."

Xena's eyes widened. "Gabrielle."

The bard turned and looked up at the surprised warrior. She pointed her finger at her lover's chest. "You!" Poke. "Had your big O." Poke. " I, on the other hand, have not," Poke. "And I am beginning to feel just about as tight as I can-"

"Gabrielle!" Xena cried under her breath. "You're making a scene, not to mention brusiing my birthmark!"

"I don't give a horse's butt if I am," she spat back. "I'm tired! I'm hungry! I'm frustrated, and they've got me down for two, count em, two-"

Xena covered the bard's ranting mouth with a kiss that immediately quelled the fire and ignited a different flame.

"Ticky boos…" the bard mumbled.

Xena pulled back and checked her lover. She appeared to have calmed and her eyes now held a new sparkle in them. "Hungry?"

The bard nodded.

Xena smiled. "Then let's get this Tartarus dinner over with so we can get back to that hut. Agreed?"

The bard nodded and leaned into the warrior's bosom for comfort, wrapping her tray around the warrior's back.

Xena sighed inwardly as she gave the bard a big comforting squeeze. This was not turning out to be the vacation she had dreamed of for her new love. This was far from it. And what in Hades had happened to the place? When she had last been here there had been no restrictions such as these. It was ridiculous, and frankly, she wasn't sure how much more she would put up with. And she'd barely been here one day. She had yet to survey the entire complex, but was growing concerned that it was not going to be good, not good at all. She turned back towards the line that seemed to extend forever. She knew she could probably throw her chakrum around and clear the room, but that wouldn't be the right thing to do. It was hardly a fine example for the warrior faction present that appeared to idolize her. It was very tempting at the moment though. Very tempting indeed.

"Xena! It's Xena! To the front of the line!" someone cried from far ahead in the distance.

Xena struggled internally for less than a split second and headed up there with the bard in tow. The line parted for her and she tried to suppress a grin. Perhaps it wasn't so bad after all. As they reached the front, she was careful to hide her bandaged hand under her tray. Wouldn't want to appear weak beside her girlfriend. Now since when did she care about what people thought? And since when did she accept such forms of inequality? Wasn't this exactly what she was fighting against? Hades! This relationship was indeed ruining her. And she was starting to lose her sense of ideals to boot! By the gods! Tartarus, she was swearing again.

"Dinar for your thoughts." Gabrielle smiled up at her.

"Not worth that much," Xena mumbled and turned to survey the food line, a frown immediately covering her features. She leaned in towards the serving bins and tried to decipher what in Hades was in them.

Gabrielle swallowed. Yeesh. She looked back and forth between the serving dishes but was at a loss already. What the…

"Hello, hello, this is Romeo…" the woman sang to them.

Xena slowly raised her head to gaze at the server across from them. She was a medium built woman with long, slightly scraggly, dirty blonde hair. She wore a smock, but appeared to have similar clothing to the dinner announcer underneath, except much sexier boots. She had a welcoming smile that carried into her eyes, and Xena immediately warmed to her. "The name's Xena."

"Shame, shame, but I love your name," she sang back, her head swaying slightly to an unheard beat.

"Thanks," Xena replied, and found herself bobbing in time to the woman's head. She caught herself. "So, Romeo, what's good to eat?"

"I've got some strawberry wine…"

"Well, actually I was referring to food, or whatever that is in those bins." Xena grimaced.

"I don't want to talk about it…" she sadly hummed back.

"That bad?" Gabrielle peered around tentatively at the singing server.

"Don't ask me what I'm thinking." She smiled back.

Gods, Gabrielle groaned inwardly, then thrust her tray out towards the woman. "Do with me what you will then."

The woman took the tray in surprise and began to pick from the bins as she hummed. "You brought me to trust you, brought me to tears…" as tears began to form at the corners of the woman's eyes.

Xena and Gabrielle looked at each other, then back at the server.

"Don't tell me," Gabrielle sighed. "You're a musician."

"I say I am, yes I am!" she sang back, as she placed various indescribable food items on the tray.

Xena looked over at Gabrielle and then back at the woman. "Why then, are you serving food? Last time I was here there was a whole music area filled with gifted musicians."

The woman paused, looking nervously around, and then leaned in whispering, "Meet me in the back."

"Ok," Gabrielle whispered, her eyes widening instinctively. "After dinner?"

"Don't make me wait too long. I could change my mind, and tell you that it's wrong…" she sang back in a hushed tone.

"Got it." Xena rolled her eyes and handed her own tray over to be filled.


Chapter 5


Don't drink the water, baby

Don’t Drink the Water, Tears for Fears

"I think I'm going to be sick," Gabrielle groaned.

"You are *not* going to be sick," Xena warned, though her own gut slid around precariously at the moment. "Stop thinking about it." The warrior paused at the edge of the outer building and peered around the corner.

"It's all I *can* think about at the moment. I've never eaten anything as unnatural as… What were they called again? Tofu burgers?" Gabrielle whined, as she leaned forward to peer around the corner.

"All clear. Actually, it was the vegetarian weenies that really got me," Xena whispered, and they walked towards the back of the complex.

"Ugh. Don't repeat that word ever again," Gabrielle groaned. "I mean, if you're gonna go to all that trouble to shape it into something that looks like meat, then just eat the meat!"

"Yeah," the warrior agreed. "Crazy, when you think about it."

"Why not at least shape it into a vegetable!" Gabrielle grunted.

"True." Xena nodded. "But then, burgers and weenies aren't really shaped-"

"Let's not got there, Xena. Not now," Gabrielle groaned.

Xena grimaced. "Yeah."

"They should have warning labels on the stuff," Gabrielle cried under her breath, as they neared a doorway with garbage piled high on either side.

"This has to be it," Xena said. Then she braced herself for the aroma that she knew would come from the door, and she was not disappointed. She swallowed her meal back down and entered.

They were greeted by a small collection of women who appeared to be anxiously awaiting their arrival. And none of them looked to be the warrior type. Some fidgeted nervously, others paced, and still others hummed quietly. Xena immediately recognized the dinner announcer and the singing food server. Gabrielle smiled at the towel woman who was the first to break the deadly tension as she walked over.

"Xena! So I finally get to meet the kick ass warrior herself!" Rosie smiled, extending her hand.

Xena frowned, but Gabrielle moved in. "She's not the social type, you understand."

"Oh," Rosie replied with slight disappointment.

Ellen of LA came over, nervously rocking on her feet. "Well, this is great. We really, that is the collective we, all artsies in general actually, even those I imagine not on the island, ‘cause boy oh boy, if they knew that the great Xena was willing to help out, I mean, hey, they'd be saying to themselves, right now, Wow! what a swell old girl she really-"

"What exactly is the problem here?" the warrior growled.

"Right, of course right, you need to-" Ellen of LA was shoved out of the way by Rosie.

"Ignore her, she's in therapy." She smiled. "Anyway, the problem is the evil Martina has taken ova the island."

"Taken ova?" The warrior puzzled.

"Ya, ova, and she's got us artsies relegated to slave duty, stifling all creative expression indefinitely."

"How did this happen?"

"Well, apparently Sappho, you know Sappho?"

"Quite intimately," the warrior replied before she caught herself.

Gabrielle's eyes narrowed. "Hey, wait just a-!"

"Not now Gabrielle!" the warrior cried. "Go on."

"Yeah well, she was so busy with her poetry one month, she missed a rent payment and militant Martina moved in and the land lease fell into her hands." Rosie sighed. "Artsies are *the* worse when it comes to legal documents. Anyway, we tried to fight it but she had these powerful legal types and we just plain couldn't follow. Now, by the end of this month, that being next week, the final deal goes down and the island will forever be owned by the jocks. And she's already started commercializing everything. She needs the dinars for the huge sporting complexes she's erecting."

"I see." Xena grimaced. "Joxs?"

"Warrior-type, athletic, muscular."


"That would be it, honey."

"Can they do this? Is it legal? Is there anyway to fight back?" Xena asked.

"Well, there is an ancient rule..., but it wouldn't matter as we could never pull it off anyway…"

"What rule?"

"Well there is the Match."

"Match? Like a warrior's challenge?"

"Sort of, only more sportier, actually."


"Well, you pit an artsie against the leader, that being Martina, and the winner of the match gains back control of the island."

"Is it to the death?"

"Gods no, but the land will become permanently the joxes, so the risk is great, and no artsie could ever beat her anyway." Rosie frowned.

"I'll challenge her!" Gabrielle cried. raising her fist towards the heavens.

"Not on your life, unless..." Xena paused, as if deep in thought. "As an arstie, can you name a champion?"

"Yes! And we were kinda hoping..."

"I'd do it," Xena sighed.


"I see."

"Ya see," Rosie said, turning back to the nervous women. "I told ya she was alright."

"HAIL XENA!" they all cried collectively.

Rosie smiled and turned back to the warrior. "We prepared something just in case you'd agree."

Xena's eyes widened. "No really, you shouldn't have."

"Don't be silly," she cried. "We wanted to. We're practically burstin'!" Rosie turned to the others. "Ready girls?" They all nodded.

Xena cringed and awaited her fate.

Rosie puffed her chest, swept back her hair, started snapping her fingers and began.

"Oh, Xena you're the greatest

even though you are a jock,

You've rescued oh so many,

arsties, jocks, and even cross,

We can't tell ya what this means to us

So we had to write this songgggg (pause for effect)

We really are excited you've agreed to join our throng"

"All together now!" Rosie cried.

Xenaaaaaaa, (insert walking base and piano)

you are the best! (pick it up girls)

A cut, no doubt,

Above the rest! (harmony kicks in, Yes, Yes, a cut above the rest!)


you know no fear, (No Fear! No fear!)

And neither do we

when you are here! (When she is here!!)


We are your slaves (Your slaves, your slaves!)

We sing, we dance, we write

At times we even rave! (Yes Rave! Rave, at times we even Rave!)


You are our goddess (God-dess! God-dess!)

Your smile, your eyes

your legs, your shapely bodice (That shapely bodice! Oh yeah!)

"Break to solo." Rosie steps to the front. "That would be me!"

The evil tyrant Martina, she travels with her Tess

The one you saw earlier, the one that wears the sweats

She's something we should warn ya bout

She's tougher than she loooookkksss

She's got the ticky power and she'll mark ya in her books

"Together girls!"

Ohhhh, Xenaaaa

You must be strong (Be strong, be strong, she must be strong)

As tennis, is odd, no doubt,

Things can go wrong (they can go wrong)


She does not lose (She never loses)

Because she's got the edge

In shoes (She's got that edge in shoes!)

But Xenaaaa

Our faith's in you (In you, our faiths in you)

We're counting on you now

Don't you dare lose (by the gods don't you dare lose)


Enough's been said (It's true, enough's been said)

You're everything to us

And good in bed! (So good in bed!)

Soooo, (Rosie gets down on one knee. arms out for maximum effect)

we end this sooooonnnnngggg (Huge pause!)

Our lives depend on you,

You can't go wroooonnnng (hold note and fade)

"Terrific." Xena sighed.

"Great!" Gabrielle clapped. "That was great! I mean…-" Her voice was interrupted by a panicked bird call near the door.

"Trackers!!!" the scout warned.

"The trackers!!!" Rosie cried. "Quick, everybody back into position!" she instructed, and all the women scurried back to their original places.

Xena and Gabrielle watched wide eyed, as the women raced around in a mad frenzy. Then the door to the front flew open and everyone froze.

Tess entered flanked by three trackers either side. She surveyed the crowded room with suspicious eyes, traveling round making note of each and every minute detail, her nose sniffing the air for any signs of covert artistic activity. Her eyes stopped at the warrior, an eyebrow raised. "What is going on here?"

"I was checking the kitchens," Xena explained, as she walked towards her, running a finger across the counter. "Seeing if they were, in fact, acceptable."

Tess's eyes narrowed. "Really."

"Really." The warrior glared down at her and then glanced at her fingertip in feigned disgust. "And, as a matter of fact, they are *barely* acceptable I will be filing a complaint in the morning."

Tess bristled. "You wouldn't."

"Oh, but I will." Xena smiled. "And book me an appointment with Martina, tomorrow morning, as I wish to discuss a matter of utmost urgency."

"And what would that be?" Tess growled.

"I will discuss it with her, as you are merely the hired help."

Tess’s cheeks began to burn. "Excuse me?"

"You heard me. Just mark it in your book. And she better not be late." With that, Xena turned, collected Gabrielle, and stepped out the back door, leaving Tess's mouth an open invitation to the night insects.


"They were doing something conniving, I just don't know what," Tess muttered, pacing back and forth in Martina's bedroom. It was a large room, rectangular in shape, lavish, yet sporty. There was a general tennis theme that carried throughout the furnishings and wall hangings. The mantel housed numerous trophies. The bed covering was a racquet design that was repeated on the walls. And the floor had a court design, the lines working their way down the length of the room. Oddly enough, there was indeed a net erected in the middle as a divider between the workout area and the sleeping quarters. All in all, it was pleasing to the eye, in an offbeat way.

Martina was seated on the stationary bike, pedaling madly, beads of sweat forming on her brow. "You don't think it has anything to do with the lease do you?"

"I don't know...I don't..." Tess stuttered nervously. "She's coming to see you in the morning."

Martina's eyes narrowed. "Then that's it. She's joined the arstie faction as a sympathizer."

"The Match Challenge?" Tess asked weakly.

Martina nodded. "I say bring her on. She'll eat my dust."

Tess's eyes widened. "And, um, if she wins?"

Martina leered over at Tess. "She won't. Because there are none as good as I." She paused while Tess held her breath. "But, just in case, you'd better be prepared."

"Prepare how?"

"That's not my problem, that's yours. That’s what I pay you for... you figure it out."


Chapter 6


you can eat crackers in my bed anytime

Barbara Mandrell

"Oh I don't know, Xena. I think you pissed her off. She's gonna come for me for sure now." Gabrielle paced the room.

Xena sat on the bed watching the bard fret. "Come to bed, Gabrielle. You're worrying needlessly."

"I can't sleep yet, I'm too tight. And I'm still hungry."

"Hungry?" Xena asked incredulously. "We just ate."

"I know, but it wasn't filling, you know, feels empty somehow, bunch of vegetables..."

"Gods, Gabrielle!" Xena cried in exasperation.

"Well it's true!" She complained and went over the saddle bags and began rummaging around in them. "I don't know how they survive. Ah ha!" she exclaimed, and pulled out something wrapped in cloth.

"What is it?"

"Leftover ritz crackers!" Gabrielle replied with growing excitement and headed over to the bed.

Xena frowned. "You're not going to eat those on the bed are you?"

Gabrielle peeled back the cloth and grabbed one. "Why not." She chomped one, crunching it enthusiastically and then grabbed another. "Leetle sthale, but snot phtoo phtbad."

Xena cringed as she watched excess crumbs fall to the sheets. It was beyond horrifying but she held her tongue, as this was the first time today Gabrielle appeared happy. She wasn't going to ruin it with her petty idiosyncrasies. Gods, this relationship thing wasn't all it was cracked up to be at times. She sighed and turned away, no longer able to watch the crumbfest before her eyes. Then a hand came into her line of vision with a cracker in it.

"Want sthome?"

Xena shook her head and swallowed, as her dinner reignited in her belly.

"Sthomethinpg wronphg?"

"No, no." Xena swallowed. "Fine, great, fine."

"Smore for me thpen." Gabrielle replied, and shoved another in her mouth. Tiny crumbs permeated the damp night air as they fell like star dust towards their sheets.

Gods, gods, gods. Xena finally could stand it no longer and rose from the bed and walked towards the window, gazing out into the darkness. She sighed deeply, as she missed the quiet peacefulness of the forest. That, and a crumbfree bedroll.

"PHwat you phtinking ‘bout?" Crunch, crunch, crunch.

"Camping under the stars." Xena sighed.

Gabrielle stopped munching and swallowed. "Want to?"

"What do you mean?" Xena turned around to face the bard.

"Well, we could sneak out and build a fire and make wild and passionate love under the stars!"

Xena nodded, a slight grin forming. "I like it."

"Ya! Let's do it!" Gabrielle cried enthusiastically, jumping up from the bed.

"Alright. I'm game." Xena went over and scooped up the bard. Gabrielle immediately wrapped her arms around the warrior's neck and leaned in for a kiss, long and passionate.

Xena stiffened.



"Oh. Sorry." Gabrielle grinned. "Drink?"

Walking over to the saddlebags, Xena leaned the bard down so she could scoop up the wineskin and then took a long drink from it. "Me," Xena instructed. The bard held it to her lips and she took a drink of wine, savoring it's sweet taste and ability to wash away the crumbs. "Ok. Now the kiss."

Gabrielle leaned in for the kiss as the warrior carried her over to where their bedroll lay. Xena lowered her so she could scoop it up. Sometimes the warrior was so romantic, insisting on carrying her. It practically melted the bard's heart. Xena took her to the door and they paused for another kiss.

Xena opened the door to find Tess grinning madly at her, with two hench warriors on either side. Her mood went from passion to aggression in an instance.

"Evening ladies." Tess smiled.

They both stared at her.

"Seems we have a bit of a situation on our hands."

"Get to the point," Xena barked.

"Crumbs." Tess smiled curtly.

"Excuse me?" Xena asked.

Tess pulled out the huge document, trying to contain her excitement. "It clearly states no crackers in bed, and I believe your little girlfriend here has just received her third and final ticky boo!"

"What are you saying?" Xena growled.

"I'm saying Waste Disposal Duty." Tess grinned, leaning toward the bard, who had gone completely white in the last few seconds. "Report to the main area at the crack of dawn, late is not an option."

"She'll be going nowhere," Xena spat.

"Fine then. But failure to comply just means all artsies get punished, and seems to me righteous do-gooders such as yourself wouldn't allow an entire group of people to be punished for the sins of one. No?" Tess smiled a toothy retort.

"I'll be there," Gabrielle replied weakly, looking up at the warrior.

Xena was in a rage, her whole body quivering from the attempts to contain it. "Mark my words, Buttress. You'll regret the day you stepped foot across this threshold." And with that, she slammed the door in the woman's surprised face.

They both stared at the door for a few more moments until Gabrielle broke the deafening silence. "Um, better clean up those crumbs."

"Yeah," Xena said flatly as she continued to stare out into nothingness. "Crumbs."

Chapter 7


Rise and shine

And the morning’s fine

Mrs. Phopas’s Dad

"Gabrielle, wake up!" Xena growled, shaking her hard again.

"No," Gabrielle groaned. "I can't."

"You have to. The artsies, remember?"

"Why couldn't you wake me up the nice way this morning?" the bard whined, as she buried her head further into the pillow.

"Couldn't risk it." Xena frowned. "Might be late."

"Well, at least I'd be less tense!"

"Gabrielle," Xena sighed in exasperation. "Just get up."

The bard groaned again. "It's practically the middle of the night!"

"It's almost light. We can't chance it. Now move!" Xena barked, her hands on her hips. "You know, I have a mind to get me a Gabrielle doll. Apparently they're coming in for Solstice."

"You wouldn't dare," Gabrielle jumped into a seated position. "And besides, yours isn't an ordinary doll. It's special."

"Yeah, special all right," Xena replied flatly.

"Listen, I'm sorry about the doll. I promise not to play with it again, ok?"

"Agreed. Now let's go."

Gabrielle complied and got out of bed, stretching and yawning. "What do you suppose Waste Disposal entails exactly?"

"I have a vague idea," Xena mumbled under her breath, careful not to look into the bard's eyes.

"Hmm." Gabrielle peered into the bags. "What does one wear to these things?"

Yeesh. " Oh, nothing too fancy I imagine."

Gabrielle puzzled this over in her brain. "Ya."


Oo-oo that smell,

can't you smell that smell?

Lynard Skynard

"So good of you to join us, Red." Tess smiled at the sleepy bard who entered the main meeting area.

Gabrielle looked around. There were ten women total, including herself, all in a line.. All appeared slight except for one tougher looking woman whom, unbeknownst to Gabrielle, was the unfortunate assistant from the chakrum toss. Nobody looked very happy and Gabrielle began to get an uneasy feeling in the pit of her stomach. "Hi." She smiled at the others tentatively. They all grunted back, one petite woman at the end of the line giving her a reassuring smile.

Tess pulled out tall boots and long gloves and began handing them out, one by one, down the line, until she reached Gabrielle. Unfortunately, she had ran out of accessories after the ninth woman. "Well, Red, looks like you're going in raw." She chuckled. "Course, wouldn't want to miss out on anything, first time and all."

Gabrielle swallowed. "No, guess not."

Tess turned to the rest. "Well, girls! Let's get to it then! Time’s a ticking! Follow me," she instructed, clip board in hand, back straight as she marched out of the main complex. They all followed in a solemn line, drooped shoulders and heads hung in resignation as they moved forward to meet their fate.


Xena opened the door to the bedroom and immediately groaned inwardly. It was, she was pretty sure, yet another theme room. And although she'd never seen the sport, she had a pretty good idea it was a tennis one. She peered around, the hum of some sort of mechanical spinning device guiding her ear, and she caught her first glimpse of the tennis great herself.

"Xena. Finally up, I see."

Xena's eyebrow raised ever so slightly, and then she quickly recovered. "I was afraid I'd wake you, so I did my jog around the island first." She smiled as she headed over to the woman, pausing to leap across the net divider in the middle of the room, clearing it with poise and ease.

Martina's eyebrow raised, every so slightly in return. A tiny ripple of apprehension spread through her as the warrior had cleared the net like a natural. She frowned internally while drinking in the sight of the warrior's well rounded muscle bellies. Well, she thought, she was indeed a fine specimen. But then she looked at the warrior's shoes and chuckled, gaining back her confidence tenfold. I mean, really. It was amazing she could walk in them.

Xena returned the investigative glance with one of her own. Not bad looking, shoulder length, dirty blonde hair, chiseled, weather beaten features and nicely developed muscles. All in all, not unimpressive, but then her eyes traveled to the woman's... shoes? She caught herself before her eyes widened, and she nonchalantly let them travel to the odd device she was seated on. But the shoes! By the gods, they looked completely overdone, practically existing as an entity onto themselves. She allowed herself another quick pass at the shimmering white beacons on Martina's feet, pretending to investigate, further, the wheel contraption, and it was her undoing.

"Pretty impressive eh?" Martina grinned.

Hades. "Excuse me?"

Martina stopped pedaling and stepped off the exercise bike, making sure the first step was a full side view of the shoe. A soft sound echoed through the room as her foot made contact with the floor, as if air had been released, and then a solid squeak as if to place an exclamation point on an unspoken statement. "The Shoes."

Xena looked around the room feigning disinterest. "They're alright."

The tennis queen smirked and walked over to a towel wrack, grabbed one and dried her sweat-soaked face. "You made the appointment. Get to it."

Xena eyed her briefly. "Why are you doing this?"

"Because I can." Martina smiled as she walked over to the decanter, pausing to pour herself a tall mug of water. "Want some?"

"No," Xena snapped. She was already well on her way to disliking this woman and supposed, in an odd way, this was good if she was to match off against her. It was always better if one could muster up a good hate.

"Fine," Martina snapped back. Bitch.

Xena tried to pull back her competitive side and focus on peacemaking, though she felt little of this at the moment. "I'm sure if you sat down with the artists you could come up with some form of mutual compromise."

"Why would I want to do that?"

"Balance, harmony, a better island," Xena offered through gritted teeth. Now, when exactly had her negotiation side left the room?

"Right." Martina snorted back a laugh. "I can *feel* the harmony from here."

Xena sighed and calmed herself. "Martina, I learned long ago that our world needs all kinds. Too much of one is not only unbalanced, it's narrow minded."

"Are you implying I'm narrow minded?" Martina bristled.

"I'm not implying at all, actually." Xena smiled.

"You're quick with the tongue. You'd better pray you're as quick with your reflexes," Martina challenged.

"There are none better."

"Perhaps," Martina mused. "But then you're in my court now."

"So then, you're determined not to settle this peacefully?"

"We'll settle this on the battle field," Martina stated stiffly. "As I always do."

"As you wish." Xena nodded. "You know there is much to be learned from others different from yourself. It's a shame you can't see past the boundaries of this room."

"Always were a sucker for artsies, weren't you Xena?" Martina taunted, and was rewarded as the warrior visibly stiffened before her. She poised for the delivery of the ace. "What did Sappho teach you, Xena? How to write a good haiku? Bet that's pretty handy in battle."

"Leave her out of this," Xena growled.

"Ooohh," Martina taunted. "A direct hit."

"I wouldn't waste too much effort on head games," Xena warned. "You'll need everything you've got if you plan on challenging me."

"I look forward to kicking your leather butt on the court, Xena." Martina smiled as she downed the last of her water, then paused. "But don't forget, you lose, and Gabrielle is mine."

Xena nearly recoiled from that last word slap. "What are you saying?"

Martina chuckled as she sauntered past the warrior, pausing to jump the net with ease. "Left that particular detail out did they?" She walked up to the mantle and ran her fingers across a particularly large Nike statue, winged in victory, her outstretched hand holding a racquet. "She'll look good beside Sappho... I'm building a collection."

Xena's eyes narrowed. "What exactly have you done with Sappho?"


"I'm going to be sick," Gabrielle gasped.

"Try not to breathe. If you get that down, the rest is a breeze," instructed a pretty, petite, dark haired woman standing beside her.

"Not breathe?" Gabrielle gasped. "And how *exactly* is that done?"

"Well." The woman faced Gabrielle to explain. "You flex the muscles behind the nose and cut off the flow of air through the nasal passage. Then, just breathe through your mouth and you won't get the aroma."

Gabrielle puzzled over this, then attempted the maneuver unsuccessfully.

The woman suppressed a chuckle as she watched the bard's face contort. "Concentrate, gain control, and try again."

The bard struggled for a few more seconds. Finally a grin spread across her face. "Hey! Thanks! I think it's working!"

"Good." She smiled.

"Wow!" Gabrielle exclaimed as she gathered a bin, dragging it over to the main container as she began to pour the indescribable contents into it. "You learn something new everyday."

"Keep the mind open." The woman smiled at her. "And you will be born anew into the world each waking moment."

Gabrielle paused. "How poetically insightful! Are you a bard?"

"Of sorts." She smiled as she dropped down her own container. "I'm a poet."

Gabrielle's jaw dropped in understanding. "Sappho?"

"Yes, actually." The woman laughed at Gabrielle's shock. "And you must be…"

Gabrielle nearly tripped over her container as she extended her hand, and then, in sudden realization, pulled it back. "I'm Gabrielle."

"Not *the* Gabrielle!" Sappho exclaimed. "You travel with Xena?"

"Yes, we're…" Gabrielle hesitated.


"Yes," Gabrielle replied quietly. Gods, this woman was beautiful and she was suddenly feeling very inadequate.

"Xena has chosen well." Sappho smiled as she admired the young, spirited woman before her.

"Thank you." Gabrielle blushed. "She never mentioned you before. That is, until last night so I…"

"That was a long time ago, Gabrielle."

"Yes, of course," The bard shifted awkwardly under the weight of the conversation.

Sappho tried to comfort her. "I hear you are a great bard."

"Well, stories of Xena would make anyone look good," Gabrielle replied shyly. "You are what legends are made of and I dreamed of one day meeting you, but this isn't quite the way I pictured it."

"Nor I." Sappho chuckled. "But alas, that which does not kill us will make us stronger."

"I guess." Gabrielle grimaced and they both burst into a fit of laughter. After a few moments they recovered and Gabrielle grabbed another barrel to begin the ritual of dragging it over once again. Sappho followed. Finally Gabrielle could hold back no longer. If she tried to extract this kind of information from Xena, it could take years. "So, how long ago did you meet Xena?"

Sappho got a far away look in her eyes. "It was over ten winters ago. We were very young. Her army had just taken a village along the coast and she crossed the waters to the island." She saw Gabrielle stiffen and quickened her words. "Not to pillage, but to rest. Her army stayed on the mainland while she rested here, as men are not allowed on the island and she respected that. She was recovering from a wound at the time and we, well actually I, tended to her." She paused as she saw the bard become uncomfortable.

Gabrielle looked down at her barrel. "So, then, you loved her?"

Sappho hesitated. Sometimes the truth was one’s worst enemy, but then, hiding from it always came back to haunt. "Yes." She nodded her head. "I loved her even then. When her heart was as hard as stone, I could see the beauty beneath it."

"Yes, her heart is so giving." Gabrielle sighed as both women gazed out into nothingness, each deep in their own vision of the warrior. "And the packaging."

Sappho turned to her, grinning. "Well, that doesn't hurt, true enough!"

"Yeah." Gabrielle smiled thinking of the way Xena's hair whips around her face when the wind is just right and her smile is at it's most joyous... It could brighten even the darkest heart, and ignite a flame in the coldest winter.

"I guess she's still working out then?" Sappho laughed.

"What?" Gabrielle started, and then realized she'd been caught. "Oh yeah." Gabrielle nodded and returned the laughter.

"Gods... I better not have a look at her then." Sappho smiled over at the bard.

"No, no looking," Gabrielle warned lightheartedly.

Sappho cocked her head, smiling, as she looked into the bard's eyes. "But I can see that her heart has finally found it's home."

"Thanks." Gabrielle returned Sappho's warm smile. "And I think she's finally loosening!"

"Get out!" Sappho smirked.

The bard nodded. "I know it's hard to believe."

"Yes," Sappho agreed. "When I first met her she was very angry and bitter, but I couldn't help her. I knew she had to find out for herself that the path she had chosen was not the right one for her. I'm glad she's finally found the right one, with you."

"Yes." She had spent only a scant few minutes with this woman and already she felt like she had known her for a lifetime and was as comfortable with her as an old familiar cloak. Suddenly waste disposal wasn't nearly as bad as she had feared, and in fact, she was rather beginning to enjoy herself. "Listen I-"

"Get moving!" someone snapped from behind them, "or I'll be reporting both of you!"

Gabrielle turned in irritation to see a burly woman she recognized as a waste participant. "Last time I checked, we were all in this together."

"Well, I won't be here for long, "the assistant snapped. "You, on the other hand, will be here ‘til you’re old and gray."

"Hardly," Gabrielle snorted. "Thank the gods this vacation is only for a week! Could you imagine if we’d bought into the timeshare-"

"That's what you think." The assistant interrupted. "But when Xena loses to Martina in the match challenge.."

Sappho's eyes widened and she turned to Gabrielle. "Is this true??!"

"Yes," Gabrielle replied. "Xena's going to save the artsies. But she won't lose and you won't have to be doing this any longer, thankfully."

"By the gods!" Sappho cried. "If she loses!!"

Gabrielle chuckled. "Don't worry. Xena never loses. And besides, what's the worst than can happen? You can always come with us to the mainland and forget this place."

Sappho grabbed Gabrielle by the arms. "That's just it. If Xena loses, you become Martina's to do with what she will!"

"What!??" Gabrielle gasped. "No one said anything about-"

"Oh yeah," The assistant chuckled as she slapped both women hard on the back, sending them nearly flying into the contents of the barrels. "Ya gotta read the fine print."

Chapter 8


Woh-oh oh-oh

Buy my snake oil

And remember

You got what you pay for

Buy my snake oil, Biafra Jello

Xena was seething as she walked along the roadway lined with booths, all containing useless trinkets and overpriced mementos. Breathing out slowly, she tried to calm herself before she tore everything around her into a thousand pieces. She was concentrating deeply when something caught the corner of her eye and she had to stop. She walked slowly over to a booth that appeared to be filled with Xena dolls. A woman was seated across the counter and she leaned in for the kill. "Where did you get these?"

"Arcadia." The woman leaned back. "Very popular. We sell quite a few of these to the jocks." She looked Xena up and down. "She a hero of yours or what?"

"No," Xena replied flatly. "I'm Xena."

"Sure, and I'm Callisto," she snorted. "Nice try though, but Xena is much taller, and you need some serious work in the muscle department... But you keep working at it, honey."

Xena's jaw locked as she snatched one of the dolls from the counter. "Thanks, I'll keep that in mind." She examined the doll and pinched one of the arms bracing herself. No pain was forthcoming, thank the gods! They were harmless irritating little replicas, and nothing more. She placed it back on the counter in disgust.

"Want to buy one?"

"I think I'll pass," Xena snapped and whirled away from the booth before she tore it apart. Xena continued on, careful not to look too closely again for fear of recognizing anything else she didn't want to find out about. She shook her head in disgust as she headed towards the ocean and away from the irritating dinar snatchers. It was nothing like the peaceful island she had rested on many winters ago, when Sappho had taken her in and tended willingly to her wounds. She sighed heavily as she reached the beach, heading towards a relatively unscathed piece of land that hadn't been taken over. She climbed the slope towards the top of a steep cliff that she'd visited in solitude many years ago. She reached the top and plopped herself down, gazing out at the ocean and letting the waves hypnotize her to another state of mind. It wasn't working, as her gut kept tightening with each lap onto the shore. Everything around her reminded her of Gabrielle and the fear of losing the ridiculous match. Her earlier bravado had trapped her and now she was regretting everything she'd said. Well, she would just have to win. But what if she failed? There was no way in Tartarus they'd be taking Gabrielle away; she'd just have to fight her way off the island. But that wouldn't solve the artsies’ problems.

Sometimes this redemption work could really get a warrior down. Some furkin vacation. Well, she'd just have to win, and that was all there was to it. Now if only she knew how to play the game. Thankfully, she was a quick study, but she had less than a day to prepare. It wasn't enough time but it would have to do. It was about time someone kicked that overgrown bully's butt, and she was very much looking forward to it. Xena stood resolutely and headed back down the slope towards the roadway, a new purpose in her stride, feeling a growing confidence with each step. As she strode past a colourful booth something caught her eye, yet again, and she was drawn to it. Xena peered in closer. Hey, she'd wanted one of these for some time now.



Gabrielle opened the door to their hut and peered around disappointedly. Xena was nowhere to be found. She walked over to the bed and collapsed onto it, a great long sigh coming from her weary body. She hadn't worked so hard, for so long, in ages and already she could feel her muscles stiffening. She turned over, and gazed up at the ceiling, taking her first really deep breath since this morning and it felt magnificent. Gods, she wasn't sure how much more of this 'vacation' she could take, but then she thought of poor Sappho, who had been doing this for months and she hadn't complained. Well, at least she was amongst incredible company. She had never met a more friendly, caring person, and the day had flown by as they chatted endlessly, exchanging stories, poems and Xena information. Sappho had been completely mesmerized by her account of the troubles in Karyaes and how they had ended up on Mount Lycaon with that evil witch Lynchia. The bard’s initial jealously had been quickly replaced by a deep admiration and respect as Sappho had taken her under her wing as a true friend. All in all, it had been an enlightening day despite the nature of the work, which she now had a deep understanding of; one far deeper than she would have ever cared to know.

She stretched and got up impatiently, heading over to the window. Now where was her love? She really, truly, desperately needed her *now*. They should have never started talking about Xena with wet hair, as that had set Gabrielle off. and she could think of little else for the remainder of the afternoon. Suddenly, her attention was diverted as she heard an odd sound coming from outside the window. A ripple of fear spread through her and she tried to peer around without being seen. It was far too dark. She flattened her back against the wall beside the window and peered around again. Nothing. Then she heard the rustling sound again and snapped back against the wall, reaching for her staff. Whatever was out there didn't sound natural and she was taking no chances. Who knew what kind of wildlife roamed around these parts, especially since none ever got eaten. Her imagination was already well on its way to full-blown paranoia as her heart began to quicken in her chest. The sound came again, closer this time, and she readied herself in a battle stance, her staff gripped tightly. Suddenly it came into view, feathers sticking out from its misshapen head. Gabrielle instinctively swung round hard, making direct contact with the monstrous head., A large cracking sound resonated through the night air and the head exploded, scattering debris everywhere. Gabrielle ducked for cover, raising her staff over her head to protect herself from the falling objects. An angry growl came from the beast, and for a split second Gabrielle almost swung round again, but then froze as she recognized the timbre of the voice. Her heart stopped and her eyes widened. She got up off her knees and peered out the window into the darkness. "Xena?"


"Xena!" Gabrielle cried. Gods. Gods. Gods. "What are you doing down there?"

"Checking for permanent damage to my head," the warrior growled.

"Gods Xena!" Gabrielle cringed. "You scared me half to death. What was on your head?"

"It was *supposed* to be a helmet," Xena growled, as she picked herself off the ground.

"Oh." Gabrielle paused. "Come around and let me look at you."

The warrior grunted something unrepeatable and headed round to open the door. Gabrielle hurried over to greet her, but slipped on some debris and went flying, landing hard on her rear, an angry yelp quickly following.

"Gabrielle?" Xena cried in concern. She opened the door and was greeted by a sprawled bard.

"Fine,." Gabrielle grunted as she looked around the floor. "Xena, what kind of armor is this?"

Xena surveyed the damage. There were hundreds of miniature sticky buns strewn across the floor "I got a deal on it. The woman at the booth called it a piñata helmet."

"Piñata?" Gabrielle repeated. "Well, it's pretty useless as a helmet, but…" She reached over to examine a sticky bun, popped one in her mouth, as a smile spreading across it. "Hey!" She grabbed a few more, popping then into her mouth, then got up off the floor and extended one to the warrior's mouth.

Xena frowned but relented and opened her mouth, allowing the bard to pop one in. "Not bad." The warrior nodded in surprise. "Another."

Gabrielle smiled and popped another one in Xena's mouth. "You should know not to sneak up on me like that."

"I wasn't." Xena sighed. "I was trying to be romantic."


Xena rolled her eyes. "I don't know why I bother. I should just give up-"

"No!" Gabrielle grinned. "Don't stop being romantic," she said, as she wrapped her arms around the warrior, squeezing her tight.

"Yeah." Xena sulked, her head pulsating madly.

Gabrielle felt around for damage. "Nothing permanent."

"Pass me another sticky bun, would you?"

Gabrielle reached down to retrieve a few more buns. She popped one in her mouth and one in Xena's. "Well, all we need is wine, and the romantic setting will be complete."

Xena sighed and looked down at the enthusiastic bard. "No time. I have to practice for the match."

"What!" Gabrielle groaned. "Now?"

"Yeah. I've been working hard on my swing, but my backhand needs work."


"Backhand. You know… Tennis. I've got the aces down as well; just keep picturing Martina's shoes on the line and it works every time."


"Gabrielle," Xena said, sighing. "You must brush up on your tennis knowledge. Don't want to look out of place at the tennis match. Quite high brow stuff, apparently."

"You're joking."

"Wish I was." Xena squeezed the bard and smiled at her. "But if you want to run with the best, you'd best get running."

"That's awfully catchy, coming from your mouth."

"Read it on a wall in the practice arena," Xena snorted, and reached down to pop another bun into her mouth. "All this tennis has got me hungry."

"It's the protein deficiency," Gabrielle complained.

"Hmm, perhaps you're right," Xena replied, thoughtfully.

"Listen ,Xena." Gabrielle grabbed her by the arms. "I really need, uh, just a moment of your time I'm not asking for much… Perhaps something quick and dirty. I don't know, anything, if you could just dip your head in the water basin over here..."

Xena looked at the bard, shaking her head. "Not the wet hair thing again. Gabrielle, I swear…"

"Xena, that's all that kept me alive this afternoon…"

The warrior sighed and gazed down at her. "Gabrielle, you're crazy."

"Perhaps." The bard nodded. "So?"

Xena rolled her eyes, walked over to the basin and dunked her head in it, ensuring it all got completely soaked. Then she whipped her head up, making sure her eyes were closed seductively, as she shook her head back and forth in near slow motion, taking her hands and sweeping the loose strands from her face with long, purposeful strokes. She finally looked over at the bard, who was staring intently at her, and had to stifle a laugh. "Like that?"

The bard nodded slowly and swallowed.

She moved back towards Gabrielle slowly, swinging her head back and forth, shaking the excess water as she went, and bent down to plant a long, seductive kiss on her lover's lips. She felt the bard's knees give way and wrapped her strong arms around her waist, hoisting her up and closer to her body. Suddenly she was caught in her own trap as a warmth shot through her, shivers spreading down her spine from her lover's reaction to the touch. The bard groaned under her lips and the warrior echoed it with a quiet moan of her own. The warrior lifted her lover up and carried her to the bed, laying them both down, with Gabrielle still entwined around her.

Gabrielle smiled, her quarry having been successfully captured. And she went down quicker than even she had hoped. She wrapped her arms around Xena's neck and kissed her deeply, passionately, with a burning hunger. She ran her hands across the warrior's shoulders, pulling the shoulder straps of her leathers with her, and the warrior shivered.

"To Hades with the backhand," Xena mumbled as she allowed the bard to remove her leathers, stealing another deep kiss that sent ripples of heat from her center.

"Exactly., Gabrielle sighed in agreement, as she unlaced the last of the leather and tore it off. "Who needs it, what ever it is."

"Yeah." Xena nodded as the bard started to lift up her shift. "Stupid sport."

"Stupid." The bard nodded as she lifted Xena's shift over her head with a little help from the warrior. Damn, if she wasn't getting better at this clothing removal. Practice did indeed make perfect, but she was mindful not to voice that in fear the warrior might start getting ideas about smacking the ball around instead of taking care of the serious business right here in the hut.

Xena began to untie the bard's top, now desperate to feel her nakedness against her lover. It took less than a few seconds and the bard's breasts were released. Xena's mouth was already there to greet them. She was trying hard to maintain composure but was losing the battle, yet again. Each time they made love, Xena was sure she was actually feeling less in control, when it should have been exactly the opposite. It now took less than a few seconds of her lover's touch and she was completely hers. She was beginning to think the bard was slowly driving her crazy with need, each experience only deepening her desires. "Crazy," Xena finally spoke aloud.

"Crazy sport," the bard agreed and ran her hands down the warrior's back slowly, making tiny circles with her fingers as she worked them up and down her spine. She was rewarded with a quiet moan that came from deep within Xena. She returned this with small gasps of her own as the warrior gently pulled on her nipple and circled it lazily with her tongue. She lifted as the warrior worked her skirt down, her mouth never leaving her breasts. Finally there was nothing between them but a building passion.

"I'm supposed to be practicing…," the warrior whispered, as she ran her tongue up her lover's neck, pausing to suck gently in the nape, enjoying the sweet salty taste of her lover's skin.

"You are," Gabrielle gasped. "Harder," she instructed, and the warrior bit gently down on her sensitive skin. Gabrielle groaned, as she whipped her head sideways to allow for deeper access. "You're doing great," she gasped.

Xena smiled. "Thanks, coach."

"Don't mention it," the bard moaned. "The ear."

"I'm getting there." Xena grinned as she covered the bard with soft kisses. She finally came to rest on the soft flesh of her ear, taking it gently in her mouth as her tongue worked across the delicate grooves. Gabrielle immediately sighed deeply and wrapped her legs around the warrior's waist, her hands reaching up and burying themselves in the warrior's wet locks. She could feel her lover already starting to shake.

And then the knock came. You had to know it was coming.

The warrior reared her head like a mad beast, lifting herself from the bed in an instance and swooped down to retrieve her chakrum. She tore open the door. It nearly came off its hinges, but thankfully held. It was that irritating chatterbox, no doubt with the dinner call. "Don't open your mouth," the warrior growled. Ellen of LA's eyes widened. The warrior lifted the chakrum up in a threatening manner. "See this." Ellen tried to respond. "No, don't speak. Just nod." The woman obeyed. "Good." The warrior smiled. "Next time I hear a knock on this door, this chakrum is going right through the wood and will lodge itself deep in the forehead of the unfortunate knock. Is this clear?" The woman gulped. "So I suggest you guard this door 'til dawn because I wouldn't want to have to kill anyone before the match. Might put me off my game. You can understand that, no?" Ellen nodded. "Good girl. Now go back to that Tartarus tent and bring me a large keg of your best wine." The woman was about to protest, but the warrior raised the chakrum slightly higher. It was enough for Ellen. "And the finest food, and leave it at the door." Ellen nodded numbly. "And I wouldn't knock if I were you." Ellen shook her head in agreement. Xena gave Ellen a final curt smile and slammed the door in her face. She turned to the bard, who was stifling a laugh, as an evil grin spread across the warrior's face.

"You're bad Xena." Gabrielle smiled.

"I know," she replied and headed back towards the bed.


"You're not nervous are you?" Tess asked tentatively.

"What makes you think that!" Martina snapped from her position on the exercise machine.

"Well, it's just that you've been pedaling and staring into space for over an hour. I was beginning to worry." Tess cringed.

Martina stopped and turned to Tess. "I'm NOT NERVOUS!"

Tess wilted. "Of course not. Just checking, really."

Martina snorted and started pedaling again, staring at the racquet-design pattern on her wall. "How did she look?"

"Not bad," Tess replied with thinly masked apprehension.

"Good, you mean."

"I never said that,"

"You didn't have to. It's written all over your face."

"Oh." Tess started to sweat all over again.

"So what's the backup plan?" Martina growled. "Not that we'll need it of course."

"No, of course not." Tess spoke hurriedly. "I'm working on it." Yeesh. Big droplets of sweat were starting to make their way down her round face, landing softly on the shoulders of her gray sweats.

"Good," Martina said, nodding. "’Cause I'd hate to think you didn't have one." She continued to stare at the wall, as there was no need to look into Tess's eyes to render her to jelly. The non-glance was always the most powerful.

"Yeah," Tess laughed nervously. "The plan." The plan was indeed formulating in her mind, and it involved a small rowboat and some rations. She'd need them on the long trip back to the mainland.

"And don't think about taking off, Tess." Martina smiled. "We're putting a tracker on you."

"You wouldn't dare!" Tess cried.

"No need to worry now, is there?. If you've got a plan." Martina finally afforded a glance towards her and was rewarded with a subtle weakening of the knees.

"Nope." Tess sweated. "No worry."


"Gods, Gabrielle. I don't know how I managed to travel with you for two years and not ravage you," Xena gasped as she buried her head in the bard's shoulder, biting gently down as another shiver of desire spread across her.

"You think you're the only one that suffered?" The bard groaned, pulling the warrior closer to her inviting neck. "All those tartarus stories, just so I could keep my mind occupied and off your incredible breasts."

The warrior paused and lifted her head. "Really?"

"Your breasts or the stories?" Gabrielle smiled up at her lover.

Xena shook her head, smiling. "It doesn't matter now." And she bent down and kissed her love deeply. Since the evening practice was off, might as well take it nice and slow, just like vacation love making should be. Finally a break, and Xena was not going to deny herself a slow and savoring pleasure. She paused to gaze into Gabrielle's eyes; eyes that were dancing from her touch. "I love you."

Gabrielle's heart melted all over again as her love spoke those three words; words that now meant more to her than anything else in this world. She swallowed a lump that had formed in her throat from emotion. She leaned up and captured her love's lips in her own. "I love you," she whispered, and no further words were spoken.

Chapter 9


I hear you knocking

But you can't come in

I Hear You Knocking

"I said don't knock!" Ellen cried under her breath.

Rosie frowned. "But it's long past dawn, and if we don't get her up she'll be late for the match!"

Melissa paced in the background, clutching her guitar. "You never had to wait for nothing in your life..."

"Shut up!" Rosie growled. "I need to think."

Melissa sulked and clutched her guitar tighter, singing more softly now. "And when night after night the scent of passion would linger..."

Rosie turned to Melissa. "So you're saying they've had too much sex. That it?"

"Go on and close your eyes, it shouldn't bother you…" Melissa retorted.

"Melissa!" Rosie cried in exasperation. "Do you know how infuriating you are???"

"I got bad intentions on the soles of my shoes," Melissa snapped back.

"That's it!" Rosie cried heading, over to Melissa with purpose in her stride. "Give me that guitar!"

Melissa's eyes widened and she started backing up. "With your heart in your fist, you laugh at my situation!"

"ACk!" Rosie cried and lunged.

"Break it up!" Ellen jumped in frantically, coming between the advancing Rosie and Melissa just in time. Arms were flying, guitar strings echoing through the morning air. "We don't have time for this. Of course, then again, we do, seeing as we can't knock and all, so I guess, then you could say that in fact-"

"Shut up! Both of youz. I'm workin with morons here," Rosie cried, raising her eyes to the heavens. She turned towards the door. "I'm knockin and she's comin out!"

"Curiosity kills if you can't read the signs…", Melissa warned.

Rosie shook her head, muttering under her breath. "I swear I'm gonna shove that ever lovin mother of a guitar up…" She reached out her fisted hand toward the door and hesitated, a tiny bead of sweat forming on her brow.




"Hey, sweetie."


"I think it's late."

"Who cares?" the warrior groaned, and nuzzled further into her lover's bosom.

Hades. Gabrielle frowned and stroked her love's hair. "I think we have to get up."

"I can't move," Xena groaned. "They can wait."

A worry crease spread across Gabrielle's forehead. "I guess this one's my fault."

"Mm hmm." The warrior nodded against her chest.

Gabrielle lifted up the warrior's arm that was draped over her shoulder. It hung limply in her grasp and she let it drop with a dull thud. She smiled. "So this is you loose then?"

"Uh huh," Xena sighed.


"Yeah." Xena finally stirred and lifted her head up to look at her lover, smiling through half closed eyes, her head swaying slightly. Then she dropped her head back down. "Loose."

Yeesh. "Perhaps you had one too many-"

The warrior nodded into her chest.

"And that keg. You seemed to quite enj-"

Another affirmative nod.

"Shall I throw the basin of water on you?"



Rosie gulped, hand only inches from the wood now. She poised it with stoic resolution and plunged-


Melissa, Ellen and Rosie all jumped visibly and turned around. "Sappho!" they cried. Well actually, Melissa just strummed her guitar in exclamation.

"Hi guys!" She smiled and headed over to give them all a big hug.

"I thought you were supposed to be in waste disposal." Rosie cringed visibly.

"They let us all out for the big match." Sappho smiled. "Don't knock. I'll do it."

"No!" Ellen cried, running over and blockading the door with her body. "She'll kill us all!"

"No she won't." Sappho chuckled as she strode up towards the door, shooing Ellen aside. "She's a big softy, once you get to know her."



"I know." Gabrielle leaned down and kissed her lover softly on the lips. "Wet hair again."

"Don't start." Xena grinned and sat up finally, stretching long and hard.

"Geez, I'm kinda tired, too." Gabrielle frowned. "How many minutes did we sleep?"

"About ten." Xena smiled up at her.

"Hmm." The bard pondered this. "Seems like less, actually."

The knock.

They both looked at each other. "I'll get it," Xena said as she got up and strode over to the door. Fully naked, she opened it wide to reveal an appreciatively staring Sappho. Her eyes widened and she slammed the door in her expectant face. She turned in a panic towards Gabrielle, her back against the door. "Gods! Gabrielle! Throw me my shift!"

Gabrielle burst into laughter from the bed. "Suddenly shy?"

Xena's cheeks flushed ever slightly as she looked up at the ceiling, feigning boredom. " The shift, Gabrielle."

"Here." Gabrielle tossed it over. The warrior snatched it and slipped it on.

"Thanks," Xena mumbled, almost incoherently, and reopened the door.

"Xena!" Sappho smiled from ear to ear and leapt onto the warrior, wrapping her arms around her neck with great enthusiasm. "How rude of you to close the door in my face!"

Xena was as stiff as a board. Finally, after what seemed like hours, though only a few seconds had passed, she brought her own arms awkwardly around and hugged Sappho back. "Um, hi. Sorry."

Sappho let go and stood back, surveying the warrior with a devilish grin. "Relax Xena! Gabrielle and I are already good friends, and she'd been filling me in on your escapades."

Xena's eyes widened and then narrowed. "I see."

"Oh Xena!" Sappho cried in exasperation and reached up and to give her a big kiss on the lips before the warrior could protest. She stepped back smiling, reached up and tussled the warrior's hair. "You haven't changed a bit." She eyed her up and down. "In fact, I think you've gotten better."

Xena finally softened and smiled back at Sappho. "And so have you." Then she reached over, put her arm around Sappho and turned to Gabrielle. "So what lies have you been spreading?"

"Only the good ones." Gabrielle grinned.

"Terrific," Xena replied flatly, then turned to Sappho. "I'm sorry I didn't get a chance to come around sooner... I should have really…"

"Stop fretting ,Xena." Sappho chuckled. "It gave me an opportunity to meet your beautiful companion here." She smiled at Gabrielle, then turned to Xena. "You're a very lucky woman."

The warrior returned the smile with a warmhearted one of her own. "I know," she replied softly.

Sappho looked into the warrior's eyes and saw a softness she had only dreamed would some day be there. Sadly, it was not her own heart that had captured the warrior. She looked over at Gabrielle and knew at once that soulmates did exist, and she was gazing at the living proof before her eyes. She sighed and turned back to the warrior. "I can't let you do this."

Xena squeezed Sappho harder. "You know once my mind is set..."

"But Gabrielle…" Sappho spoke with a whisper.

"I won't lose," Xena assured her, and looked over at the bard. "Gabrielle won't let me."

"That's right," Gabrielle agreed. "We've been working on her backhand all night. I think she's ready."

"You guys are too kind." Sappho smiled gratefully.

"No we're not. We're drunk." Xena smiled and turned to Gabrielle with a wink. "That right?"

"Yep." Gabrielle grinned. "And completely spent."

Sappho looked worriedly between the two. "You 're joking, right?"

"Right," Xena replied, slowly.

Vacation in Tartarus - Part 3

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