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DISCLAIMER: The characters of Xena, Gabrielle, Joxer and Argo belong to MCA/Universal Renaissance Pictures. Iím just borrowing them for a little fun. All other characters and this story are mine.
TIMELINE: The events in this story could happen almost any time because these are two friends that feel comfortable enough with each other to let the child inside of them free on occasion. For continuityís sake the story follows on the heels of my first story, "Unfinished Business", taking place shortly before our gals arrive for Cyreneís birthday.
VIOLENCE: Gabrielleís "cheeks" were slightly injured during the writing of this story.
DEDICATION: To all those friends who care enough to pick on each other. To my wonderful beta, Cat, for guiding me, encouraging me and picking on me too, thank you.
EXPLANATION: This game is essentially the opposite of "Hide and Seek" and is usually known as "Sardines". One person hides while the others seek him. When you find the person or "It", you join wherever they are hiding. The game is over when everyone has joined the hidden group. The game is best played in the dark and with little noise. The fewer noises, the more you can hear "It" breathing...or giggling.
Comments and suggestions are welcomed and greatly appreciated.
Peas In A Pod
"Xena, do you think we could rest here for a day before going on to Amphipolis?" the bard pleaded as she finished the remainder of the lamb stew they had ordered for their lunch. "I mean, itís not like weíre behind schedule or anything or that someoneís in trouble and we have to rescue them again, because if we do, or if you think we need to..."
"Whoa, I think we have time for you to take a breath between sentences," Xena teased as she patted Gabrielleís forearm.
"Fun-ny. You know how I get sometimes when I canít stop talking and the ideas keep popping one after another in my head. Do you know what itís like to have so many thoughts and ideas going on all at once and you try to keep them straight and then you find them melding together in your dreams and you tell yourself to remember everything but you wake up and you canít..."
"Gabri--elle." Xena raised her eyebrow and cocked her head. The warrior never ceased to be amazed at her companion. The need to speak often overwhelmed the girl much like a snowball rolling down a snow-covered mountain, beginning small and increasing in size and speed as it tumbled towards the base. The best advice was to stay out of the way and allow it to run its course. This, unfortunately, was not one of those times. Though she would never admit it to her youthful partner, Xena was mentally and physically exhausted. They had been engaged in problem after problem since they had separated from Hercules and the others. With no breaks for rest it had taken its toll on them both.
"Yeah?" the bard replied with a look of total innocence.
"Youíre doing it again."
"Oops, Iím sorry," Gabrielle shook her head in slight embarrassment. ĎI know youíre tired of hearing my ramblings. If I had some parchment I could write everything instead of saying it.í "Iím trying. Itís just difficult for me sometimes. I have so much to say but nothing to write it on." ĎIím surprised you havenít put a gag on my mouth. Thankful...but surprised.í The mist-green eyes twinkled at her thoughts.
Xena took the last sip of ale from her mug and wiped her lips with the back of her hand before returning the mug to the table. The warrior massaged the right side of her neck and shoulder as she contemplated her next decision. She had seen the signs of stress on her friend and felt that if they could just make it to Amphipolis, they would take a week to rest and visit with family. They were still on schedule for Cyreneís birthday even with the detours. "I promised weíd pick up some parchment in Amphipolis. You told me you could wait until we got there."
"Well, I thought I could," Gabrielle conceded as she rolled her eyes in disappointment with herself. "I guess I was wrong."
"Obviously," Xena agreed, trying but not really succeeding in covering her irritation. ĎWhy am I upset with her? I was the one making the decisions to help those people. Maybe we should take a day off. Thereís no reason why we canít start taking it easy today.í "And to answer your first question, yes, weíll stay the night. We could both use some rest."
Gabrielleís eyes grew wide in astonishment. "Did you just agree to take a rest? Gabrielle grabbed her scroll bag and pretended to frantically dig for something.
Xena looked to the bard as if she had just lost her mind. "What are you looking for?"
"Iíve got to write that down. The Warrior Princess said she was tired." Gabrielle saw "the look" and put her hands up in front of her. "It was joke."
Xenaís expression relaxed and Gabrielle exhaled. This was their game. They teased and poked at each other as a part of their camaraderie. Their love and devotion kept the friendship intact but it was their teasing and laughter that helped them through the day. Xena handed Gabrielle the small money pouch from her belt as she stood to leave. "You pay for our food and get us a room while I get Argo settled."
Gabrielleís eyes followed her tall, dark friend as the she made her way to the door. ĎMaybe I can use some of my bardic talents and tell some stories in exchange for a room and a bath. That will give us some extra money to spend.í The bardís eyebrows disappeared beneath her blonde bangs as she wet her lips in anticipation. ĎWe could actually buy something we wanted not just what we needed.í "Okay, Iíll meet you at the stables then we can go shopping," Gabrielle offered with a gleam in her eyes.
Xena closed her eyes and the muscles in her jaw tensed. "Great! Out of the frying pan and into the fire!" Xena muttered as she reached for the handle on the tavern door.
"I heard that!" came the reply from the bard as she turned back to find the tavern owner.
Gabrielle wanted to stop and browse through some of the new merchandise but fought the urge and quickly made her way past the shops. She found the stables without any problem and was about to open the stable door when she heard a roar of childrenís laughter. ĎThatís funny, Iíd swear it came from inside the stable.í She slowly opened the door and was amazed to find Xena surrounded by the raised and wiggling arms of a group of children. Though the warrior normally put up a good front, Gabrielle knew that she had a tender spot where children were concerned. She didnít know whether it was their innocent acceptance or the magical ability of children to see through the outward persona, but children loved Xena and the warrior loved them back.
"Pick me! Pick me!" they all screamed as they vied for the warriorís attention.
Gabrielle couldnít help but laugh at the picture set before her. Most people didnít get to see this side of her friend. Xena could be quite a prankster when she cut loose and let her defenses down. On more than one occasion Gabrielle had been on the receiving end of a tickle fight.
"Gabrielle, there you are," Xena said as she flashed a broad smile at her best friend. "Hey everyone, this is my friend, Gabrielle."
"Hi, Gabrielle," the children voiced in unison.
"What do you say about letting Gabrielle play this time? Tomas, why donít you take Gabrielle with you and hide?" Xena had already made up her mind as to who would be next to hide. She had tried to come to a fair decision but found her own subconscious betraying her. If forced to tell the truth, she would have to admit that it was the exuberance that burst from Tomasí eyes; eyes that matched the intense color of her best friendís.
"Oh boy, Iím ĎItí," Tomas yelled as he jumped with excitement.
Xena grabbed Gabrielle by the shoulders and pulled her in close. "Gabrielle, Iím going to ask you to do something that is extremely difficult." The warrior paused a moment until she knew she had the bardís undivided attention. "Think you can handle it?"
ĎJust tell me what to do.í "What is it?"
Xena placed both hands on the bardís shoulders and locked her eyes on those of her partner. "I need you to stay quiet."
"What?" Gabrielle asked, thinking she had not heard the warrior correctly.
"See, you canít even make it to my next sentence," Xena quipped, raising her arms in mock exasperation.
"Xena!" Gabrielle chided, hands on hips, her eyes narrowing in a futile attempt to stare the warrior down.
"Gabrielle!" Xena teased as she mirrored the bardís facial expressions and stance perfectly. The two women stood in silence, each trying to outlast the other on this field of wills. Xena saw the twitch in her partnerís lower eyelid just before the bard broke contact. ĎYeah, write that on your parchment!í she playfully gloated.
"All right, I get the picture." Gabrielle hated losing...even to Xena.
"Good. Tomas will explain everything while we count."
"Ninety-seven...ninety-eight...ninety-nine...one hundred. Ready or not here we come," Malaki said as they opened the storage door. The children made their way slowly through the dimly lit stable as they listened for any unusual noises that would reveal the hiding place of their friend and Gabrielle.
Gabrielle and Tomas could only hear the shuffle of feet as the children roamed; even their vision was hindered by the darkness. There were plenty of hiding areas, or "pods" as the children liked to call them, to choose from and the stable was large enough to allow all the children to play together in safety. Tomas had chosen the spot underneath the feeding troughs where the shadows were already dark enough to make finding anyone difficult. Gabrielle managed to bend and squeeze until she was in a very cramped, fetal position.
Malaki was the first to locate them and he maneuvered his small frame in the area above their heads. It was only a few moments later when they held their breaths as they heard Xena pass so close that she would have been able to feel the breath on her leg had Gabrielle exhaled. Arianne thought she heard a faint gasp and she ducked behind a bale of hay until she was certain the others were looking elsewhere. She slowly crept between the wooden slats and wiggled as close as she could to the "pod". "Whoís here?" she asked as her eyes strained in the dark. Each answered in a whisper as they listened for any of the others to return. "I think we need to find another spot."
"You want us to move?" Gabrielle asked as she prayed for circulation to come back to her limbs.
"Letís go to the wood box. It can hold all of us if the wood is low," Tomas suggested.
"Okay," Arianne agreed.
Tomas, Malaki and Arianne quickly slipped out through the slats and were helping Gabrielle when she suddenly jumped and let out a cry. "Ow! Ow! Cramp."
Immediately three small hands clamped over Gabrielleís face. It was a moment before Tomas realized that he was covering Gabrielleís nose and she couldnít breathe. Releasing his hold the bard gasped for a breath as she rubbed the cramp out of her calf muscle. With a little help from her young companions Gabrielle was able to hobble to the wood box and climb in.
Demetrix and his little sister Lorahl were just coming around the last stall when he saw the lid on the box closing. Waiting patiently for his chance he lifted the lid and both he and Lorahl joined the new "pod".
"Move over some Tomas," Demetrix whispered as he tried to find a spot.
"I canít. Iím over as far as I can go," Tomas whispered as he tried to calm his breathing.
"Here, let...Yeow!" Gabrielle cried out as something sharp penetrated the soft tissue of her buttocks. Four small hands rushed to cover her face again.
"Shh. Theyíll find us if you donít be quiet, okay?" Arianne pleaded.
"Iíve got splinters in my...uh...backside. I canít stay here any longer." Gabrielle attempted to move but the weight of four bodies against hers, even if they were kids, was enough to keep her in place.
"No, you canít quit now. Habrum hasnít found us," Lorahl begged as she held her brotherís hand. "Heís always the last but that doesnít bother him. He just likes to play. Please, just a little more time?"
"But you donít understand. Iíve got splinters in my...." Gabrielle couldnít stand the look of disappoint that she knew was imprinted on each of the faces of the children. "Okay. Nobody callís me a quitter," Gabrielle agreed reluctantly.
Shortly after the game had begun Xena had taken a position in the loft that allowed her a full view of the stable below. She enjoyed playing with the children but she got even more of a kick from watching her friendís dilemma. Gabrielle had been through many changes over their time together but her core still remained the same. It was the bardís innocence and unconditional acceptance of others that touched the warrior so deeply. How she wished she could recapture those feelings. It must be a gift that is lost with age for she knew of few adults who had it. Thank goodness Gabrielle still did. Yes, Xena had agreed to a day of rest but she didnít say what form that rest would take. Her traveling companion made for too easy a target sometimes and Xena simply couldnít resist.
From her perch she had been able to see each person as they entered the wood box and she could approximate the amount of space the bard would occupy. Stealthily she made her way down and in one smooth move she lifted the lid and plopped herself into the box, right into Gabrielleís lap.
"Humph. Xena...youíre...crushing...me," Gabrielle gasped as she tried to breathe and giggle at the same time.
"Shh, Gabrielle. The game is almost over," Xena whispered as she put her hands behind her head and tried to cover the bardís mouth.
Gabrielle swatted at the warriorís hands. "You mean my life is almost over."
"Gabrielle, Iím not that much heavier than you."
"Xena, Iíve been suffocated, punctured and squashed. What more could happen?"
Xena pressed her lips together and nodded her head slightly as her eyebrows rose. "I guess you donít want to know about the two rats I saw go into this box before everyone crawled inside?"
"RATS!" the children yelled in unison as the lid to the wood box flew open and arms and legs moved in a flurry to escape.
It took a little more time for Gabrielle to climb out of the box, even with Xena offering to help, but the bard seemed intent on doing everything for herself. But what her friend didnít know and what only Xena could see was a skunk entering the stable just a few feet behind the bard.
"Gabrielle, donít say anything. Just slowly walk towards me." Xena motioned for the bard to step in her direction.
The bard squared her shoulders and stood her ground. "You can scare the kids but you canít scare me. This is not Joxer youíre dealing with." ĎI fell for your joke once today and youíll have to find someone else this time. I can be just as stubborn as you, Warrior Princess. Go ahead, give me that Ďdead meatí look but Iím not budging.í
Xena could see the stubborn set to the trim form. Normally the bardís stubbornness was an asset and during their travels together Xena had come to rely on it. But not this time and certainly not when it was working against the bardís best interest. Granted, this was not a life and death situation, but sometimes people just donít realize they need help. ĎKeep this up and Iíll have you up and over my shoulder so quick you wonít know what hit you.í The muscles in Xenaís jaw tensed as she mulled over her next course of action. "Listen closely. There is a skunk about two feet behind you."
ĎYou canít fool me. Iíve lived with you too long not to know your cute little tricks. This bardís too smart for you.í "Xena, the joke is over. I told you, Iím too smart to fall for one of your pranks."
ĎYou know, if I didnít have to share the same room with you I just might...í "Gabrielle...RUN!"
Xena dropped the basket beside the bardís staff and took a seat on the soft, coastal grass while she waited for her friend to finish her bath. She had a difficult time bargaining with the vendor but once she explained her predicament the man had been more than willing to help. The tavern owner had been adamant about not letting them use the common bath for Gabrielle to wash after her unfortunate encounter. He almost cancelled her performance for the evening but Xena assured him that the bard would be back and in a presentable state by the time she was scheduled to perform. Xena watched as Gabrielle ducked her head under the water once more to rinse the soap. "You going to stay in there all day?" the warrior yelled from her comfortable position.
"I might," Gabrielle countered as she made her way to the riverbank. She wasnít surprised when a linen cloth hit her squarely in the face. "Thank you. Youíre so helpful," Gabrielle muttered through the cloth.
"I try." Xena responded with a cheeky grin. The warrior patted the blanket lying on the ground next to her and addressed the dripping bard. "Now dry off some and come take a seat beside me."
Gabrielle met the warriorís grin with a cutting glance of her own. Her eyes sparkled as she enjoyed the playful attitude in her partner. As she wrapped the linen around her trim form her eyes drifted and stopped on the basket beside her staff. "Tomatoes. Why are they smashed? I hope you didnít pay good money for those. I guess we could make a stew out of them."
"Theyíre not for eating, Gabrielle." The warrior kept her voice casual and her face unreadable.
Gabrielle tried to think of other reasons for having smashed tomatoes and her jaw dropped open as the most obvious came to mind. "My stories arenít THAT bad!"
Xena turned her head slightly feigning a cough as she stifled a chuckled with her hand. "Theyíre not for throwing either."
Now she was really baffled. "Well, if they arenít for eating and theyíre not for throwing, then what are they for?" Gabrielle asked in total confusion.
Xena reached out and took one of the bardís arms as she grabbed a handful of the smashed fruit; its juices dripping between her fingers.
The bard looked at her arm, then the tomato, then into the azure eyes. ĎYou canít be serious. Youíre not going to rub tomatoes all over me.í "Youíre joking, arenít you? You wouldnít dare!" Gabrielle gently pulled on her arm to test the warriorís grip, still unsure if Xena was serious, a look of realization slowly invading her features.
"No, Iím not and OH YES, I would," the warrior said with a wicked grin and a flicker of her eyebrows.
Gabrielle grabbed for the tomato but Xena had already anticipated the move. She released the bardís arm, flipped the tomato into the other hand and planted it on the bardís cheek. Curling herself into a tight ball Gabrielle squealed and tried to roll away from her friendís playful attack. "Xena, I just took a bath..."
The bard wiggled and squirmed as Xena managed another hit. She could feel the tomato juice dribble down around her collarbone as the fruit splashed against her right shoulder. The good-natured assaults continued as more and more of the bardís body was covered with the red juice. She realized again that her friend was a force to be reckoned with even in a lively game between friends.
There was a momentary pause in the battle as they both caught their breaths. "We can do this the easy way or the hard way; which will it be...STINKY?"
Gabrielle quickly snatched a tomato and started an attack of her own. "Iím not that easy." Her aim wasnít true but it was sufficient. The warrior now had tomato dripping down the front of her chest into her leathers.
Xenaís eyebrows were set low with mischief intent. "I was hoping you would say that."
Thank goodness the day was almost over. Gabrielle had been a good sport and completed her performance as scheduled. The "cleaning" had taken longer than expected so they had not been able to get to the...uh...bottom, so to speak, of her other problem.
"Hold still Gabrielle. Youíre only making it worse." Xena shifted and draped a muscular leg over the back of the bardís legs to control her friendís movements.
"Easy for you to say. Iím the pin-cushion here." Gabrielle managed through clinched teeth as she lay across the goose-down pillow on the large pallet.
"You donít want the splinters to stay in and cause an infection do you?" Xena didnít want her friend to get sick over such silly wounds but she had to fight the urge to laugh at the present situation. ĎI guess all those trees that Gabrielle beat up finally got their revenge.í
Gabrielle closed her eyes in hopes the situation would be over quickly. ĎIt was one thing for her friend to treat an arm, a leg or some other exposed part of her anatomy but this was different; this was personal.í "Of course not. Itís just that itís so..."
"Embarrassing...humiliating...mortifying..." Xena volunteered.
"I can see Iíll get no sympathy from you." Gabrielle shook her head and cut her mist-green eyes over her shoulder at her partner. "There wonít be any permanent scars will there?"
"Just to your dignity."
Gabrielle laughed under her breath. "Xena, Iíll remember that in my moment of pain you chose levity instead of comfort."
"My pleasure," Xena replied with a sly grin and a playful slap to the bardís "cheeks".
|For those who are wondering...yes, there is a birthday story in the works. It will probably be another short one. Thank you for your interest and support. Please feel free to send any comments or suggestions to: email@example.com.|