The forest clearing rang with laughter, and the sound of clashing swords. Iolaus and Gabrielle stood under a large olive tree, watching their companions with very bemused expressions to their faces. Hercules and Xena stood in the middle of the clearing, each grasping a sword, and were having a mild discussion on fighting techniques. Or as Iolaus put it, How to Scare the Most People with the Minimal Number of Sword Swings.
"...And if you swing your sword that way, you.."
"But, if you raise the blow from the waist up, you get more leverage."
"Who needs leverage?"
"You know, us mere mortals, who weren't blessed with the tinny winnie advantage of having the strength of a thousand men."
"You've been talking to Iolaus too much, Xena." Hercules declared.
Iolaus, on his part, shot a deadly glance at his partner, "Oh, sure, Herc. Go ahead and blame it all on the sidekick."
Neither Hercules nor Xena seemed to hear him. The demigod and the warrior princess were already back engaged in their previous argument.
"Aw, come on, Hercules!" Xena exclaimed, "You can do better than that! *Gabrielle* can do better than *that*!"
It was Gabrielle's turn to shoot an offended look at her partner. Iolaus couldn't help the giggle which escaped his lips. Gabrielle's eyes were quickly averted from the warrior princess to him. "Excuse me?? Are you implying I *can't* do better than that??"
Iolaus took a moment to ponder it. "Well, he *is* a demigod..."
"And he *does* have the strength of a thousand men..."
"Isn't that 'the strength of ten men'??"
"Well, that depends on the person you're talking too. Why?"
"Just wondering. Don't change the subject, Iolaus!"
Iolaus looked offended. "*I'm* changing the subject?? Me?" He pouted.
Gabrielle didn't seem quite impressed. "Well?"
Iolaus was treading dangerous waters here, and he knew it. "Uh, I think that given the circumstances, the height-weight-age...."
"Iolaus, you're babbling. A simple yes or no would suffice, you know." Gabby was enjoying this. It wasn't everyone who could get Iolaus to squirm.
Iolaus was squirming, all right. ' Just how do I get myself into these situations' he wondered. "Uh..."
This was getting better and better, Gabrielle thought. "What was that, Iolaus?" she asked him, all wide eyes and innocence.
"Ummm..." Iolaus couldn't help noticing she was dangerously close to her walking staff. Walking staff?? Why would Gabrielle need a walking staff? She didn't seem hurt, or broken, or harmed in any way. Besides, they had a horse. If Gabrielle was hurt, surely Xena was not going to let her walk when she could ride. Right?
"Gabby, that staff. Uh, what are you using it for?" He asked.
Gabrielle smothered her wicked grin by a well feigned act of surprise. She grabbed the staff, and took a few steps away from the tree. "That old thing??" she called, in a well calculated silly voice. "Oh, I just carry this around as a piece of memorabilia, you know."
Iolaus visibly relaxed. "You didn't have it when I last saw you."
"Oh, no. I got it from this amazon we met along the way."
That was interesting. "I didn't know you ran into the amazons. So, that must mean it's a war staff, I guess." He said.
Gabrielle fought down a burst of laughter. "Really? Hmmm. That's weird. I didn't see the amazons do any real fighting with that thing. It's not all that useful, either."
Iolaus tilted his head, and smiled. "You know, I once saw an amazon do some really kewl stuff with one of those. I'm no expert but I could show you a few tricks."
She cheered like a little girl. "Ooooh, you know, Ephiny showed me a few things she did. Can I show you??"
Iolaus didn't really see any harm in that. Though he tried not to tell it to her face, Xena's traveling companion fought like a, well, like a girl.
Gabrielle fastened her grip on the war stuff; clumsily, Iolaus thought to himself. "Okay, so, I grab this stick, and then I swing it that way, and..."
Iolaus never got to hear the end of the sentence. To his vast surprise, Gabrielle swung the staff; right to his abdomen. He managed to yelp, before she changed her grip on her staff, and flung it at the back of his knees, sending him sprawling to the ground.
The thud caused both Xena and Hercules to turn Iolaus' way. "Iolaus, is there a particular reason you're lying on the ground, rubbing your head?" Hercules wasn't even trying to hide his grin.
"Nope, nope. Everything is just fine." Iolaus offered him a wide eyed look of innocence.
Hercules shrugged and turned away with Xena. Gabrielle looked down at Iolaus.
"Yes or no, Iolaus." She was now grinning from ear to ear.
"I'll have to think it over, Gabby. I think I've been offended." Iolaus said, and indeed thought it over, schooling his features to his best My-feelings-have-been-hurt expression.
Gabrielle frowned at him. Was he really hurt, she asked herself. Then she noticed the mischievous glimmer in his eyes. "Nice try, Iolaus." she told him dryly.
His serious expression was immediately replaced with one of his brilliant smiles. "Okay, okay, you win, Gabby. I bow my head to you, O'Gabrielle. You can indeed do better than Herc with a staff." He playfully bowed in front of the bard.
Iolaus heard Gabrielle giggle, and then felt a tap on his shoulder. And all too familiar tap on his shoulder. All of a sudden he wasn't touching the ground anymore. He raised his head to meet Hercules' blue eyes.
"Excuse me??" The demigod pronounced.
Oh, Boy, Iolaus congratulated himself, you sure know how to talk your way out of things. His feet were dangling in the air, and Xena and Gabrielle were trying to keep their giggling to themselves. Unsuccessfully, Iolaus thought, and made a face at them.
"You were saying, Iolaus..." Hercules shook Iolaus a bit.
Iolaus found himself speechless. He reached for the first coherent words he could pronounce. "Uh, hi, Herc."
Disclaimer: Gabby's war staff was not harmed in the making of this story. Iolaus was only mildly damaged, and Hercules had promised not to hurt him...too badly.
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