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"Gabrielle, could you hand me that towel?" Xena glanced over at the bard when she didn't respond. Eyes distant, Gabrielle's lips moved silently. "Gabrielle. . . . . Gabrielle!"
"What? I'm sorry, did you say something to me, Xena?" Gabrielle blushed lightly when Xena raised an arch eyebrow.
"Could you hand me the towel that's sitting next to you? I'm wet, and the breeze is beginning to pick up. Now that I'm clean, I'd really rather not get muddy again..." Xena eyed the stretch of churned dirt between them pointedly. Gabrielle had been practicing her staff while Xena swam in the lake, and had managed to tear up a rather large swath of the soft ground.
"Oh, right. The dirt." Picking up the towel, Gabrielle was about to toss it to Xena when a mischievous smile flickered across her face. "You know, I'm actually kind of comfortable where I am. And if I try to cross the dirt there, then *my* feet will get dirty..."
Narrowing her eyes slightly, Xena cocked her head to one side, her face completely unrevealing. "I see. You're comfortable, hmm?"
"Why yes. Quite." Kicking her legs out, Gabrielle reclined on the grass, crossing her arms behind her head and using the towel as a pillow.
"Then what would you suggest?"
"Well, if you stand there long enough, you'll eventually dry off *without* the towel, won't you?" Gabrielle asked innocently. Her eyes sparkled as another brisk breeze curled around them, bringing goose bumps up over Xena's entire body.
Nodding, Xena appeared to ponder that possibility for a moment. "True enough. On the other hand, there *is* another way." Taking two steps back to the edge of the water, Xena gathered herself and sprinted to the edge of the firm dirt. The bard's eyes grew wide, and suddenly she scrambled to her feet, narrowly avoiding Xena as she arced high in the air and came down on the other side of the loose earth. Grinning like a madwoman, Xena lunged towards Gabrielle, reaching for the towel; but the bard was already moving, dancing away around the campfire, keeping something between herself and the warrior at all times.
Over boulders, through bushes, behind Argo and finally up a tree, Gabrielle managed to keep just a step ahead of Xena. Laughing, the now completely dry warrior stood looking up at the tree'd bard. "What will you do now? You've backed yourself into a corner..."
"Have I? I think not... I've been practicing Amazon technique, you know!" With that Gabrielle sprang from her branch to the next, and on into the other tree. "Besides," she called over her shoulder, "You're dry now, aren't you? Give it up, I've accomplished my task!"
Taking a moment to throw a cotton shift on, Xena set a hand to the tree branch. "You may have accomplished yours, but I haven't finished *mine* yet..." And up into the tree she sprang, closing the distance like a tree cat. Eyes wide, Gabrielle scrambled away, mistakenly taking a lower branch when she should have gone higher. Brittle and dead, the branch supported her for a moment before snapping. With a squeal, the bard sped towards the ground. Catching herself, breathless, on a bit of vine, Gabrielle alighted on the forest floor with a dramatic flourish. "I meant to do that!"
"Oh, *sure* you did." Dropping to earth behind her, Xena sprang towards the still disoriented bard. Instinctively Gabrielle reacted, dodging and grabbing Xena's wrist, sending her sailing head over heals into the shallow water at the edge of the lake. Xena landed with a splash, and then lay completely still, face down in the water.
"Xena? Xena, are you all right?" Cautiously Gabrielle approached, suddenly concerned about her friend. "Xena, you're scaring me. Cut it out." Gabrielle reached out, ready to turn her friend over. Everything was perfectly still until her hand grazed the warrior's shoulder, then suddenly she found herself flying through the air, further out into the lake, flailing the towel which she still held wildly in the air. "Ah HA! Got you!" Laughing wickedly, Xena watched as Gabrielle spluttered her way towards shore. "NOW my mission is accomplished."
"Why you..." Scowling ferociously Gabrielle snapped the towel in Xena's direction, almost catching her with the lashing tip. "Oh, you'll have to do better than that, little bard. Towel is one of my favorite weapons!" Rushing forward and tackling Xena, Gabrielle grunted. "Is there anything that ISN'T a favorite weapon of yours?" Rolling over and over in the dirt, each tried to get the upper hand without damaging the other too much. Finally, muddy, lying in the middle of the expanse of churned dirt, but triumphant, Xena pinned Gabrielle's arms above her head. "Come to think of it, NO. Anything can be a weapon." She grinned. "And I'd say I've won this battle rather handily. Admit it, I beat you again."
"Never!" Squirming, Gabrielle tried to throw Xena off, arching her hips up and shifting her weight, but to no avail. The warrior remained in place, above her, dripping muddy water but practically purring with her victory. Suddenly Gabrielle noticed how transparent the thin cotton shift was, clinging to Xena's body damply. Arching an eyebrow, she changed her tactics. "So anything can be a weapon, hmm?" Narrowing her eyes, Xena nodded suspiciously. "Anything. What are you up to, Gabrielle?" Smiling innocently, Gabrielle arched her hips again, more slowly. "Oh, nothing. Just noticing that as long as you have me trapped, you can't get away. So in a sense, I have you, too..." Xena's eyes widened as Gabrielle rocked again, twining sensuously underneath her captor.
For a moment Xena's grip loosened, as her mind wandered elsewhere, and Gabrielle bucked again, trying to dislodge her. It almost worked, too, but Xena pinned her tightly again. Gabrielle pouted for a moment, then smiled. "I'll get away, Xena. You know I will. You haven't won yet..." Her voice was low and inviting.
"You're an annoying little blonde, do you know that? And sneaky, conniving, squirmy, underhanded, chattery..." Xena had to pause to catch her breath as the bard performed another sinuous movement, "devious... beautiful..."
Grinning her victory, Gabrielle twisted her hands free of Xena's much
"I'm more of a red head, really. And as for the rest, well... it's a dirty job, but somebody has to do it!"
FADE TO BLACK
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