Take me out to the ball game
Take me out with the crowd,
Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack
I don't care if I never never get back.
Let me root, root root for the home team,
If they don't win it's a shame;
For it's one, two, three strikes you're out
At the old ball game.
Take me out to the ball game
It was a hot and sweaty morning, and what little air there was on this record-breaking humid day was already threatening to be consumed by the capacity crowd that had filled the coliseum to the rafters. A crowd that was nearly bursting in anticipation of the match. There was a buzz of nervous energy permeating throughout the building that generated an electricity all it's own. Only one that has experienced a sporting event of such magnitude could truly understand it. Large inflatable xena and martina dolls were already being banged around from reveler to reveler, floating gently over a sea of energetic heads and arms.
"We want Xena! Xena! XENA!!" the crowd on the right side of the packed coliseum chanted.
"Martina! MARTINA! THE SHOES, THE SHOES, MARTINA! MARTINA…" the left side screamed back, in an attempt to drown out the opposing fans. This had been going on for nearly an hour now, and if the stars didn't make their way onto the court real soon, an all out riot might just erupt. An inflatable xena had inadvertently made its way over to the wrong side and it had been immediately torn to shreds. This crowd of women was not to be messed with. They knew who they liked, what they liked and when they liked it. It was a godsend on the organizers’ part to segregate the fans, because anything less would have long since gotten ugly.
The announcer made her way toward the loud talking thing table and seated herself, glancing nervously back at the crowd in the stands. She silently wished they hadn't cut back on security, as the protective net that was supposed to have covered her back had been dropped from the design. She swallowed, sweat already dripping from her face, large stains already forming under her arms. Her new suit was most likely ruined. This was her first big match, and she was as nervous as a wet hen, and as wet as a wet hen, to boot. Or was that madder than a wet hen, nervous as a... gods, she was losing it. She swallowed and looked around the court, nervously licking her lips, doing quiet nods to the line judges and umpire on the tower. She looked expectantly back at the ramp where Martina would be entering, and to the other corner where Xena would be coming out. Except neither had poked their head out as yet, and this delay was threatening to send the capacity crowd into pandemonium; the building anticipation was so great. They'd told her to stall, and by the gods, she was a mess. Then she focused, gathered her wits, cleared her throat, looked down at her notes, and began. "LADIES AND (pause) er, LADIES!" she croaked in a panic. That was the last time she'd follow some cheap ‘How To’ beginners’ guide from the mainland. Gods.
The crowd roared in excitement.
"ER, THIS IS THE MOMENT YOU HAVE BEEN WAITING FOR, WHEN TWO LEGENDARY WARRIORS OF SUCH SKILL COME TOGETHER IN BATTLE. THE BALL WILL BE THEIR GUIDE ON THIS DARK, (Hades!) er BRIGHT, er BIG, SWEATY DAY!" She stammered and threw her notes over her shoulder. The crowded roared back with a gigantic cheer. She glanced nervously back at the curtained opening where the Xena faction would be appearing. Nothing. Where in Hades...
"Pour more water on her," Ellen cried frantically, buzzing around the crowd that stood around the seated warrior.
"She's fine!" Gabrielle snapped back. "No more water. You'll drown her!" She turned back to look at her love expectantly, reaching down with a towel to wipe the excess water from her forehead. "Ready?"
"I'm not stepping out," Xena said slowly, "'’til she does." She folded her arms and looked away.
"Gods, Xena!" Gabrielle cried. "Don't be so stubborn! Someone has to go first!"
"Strategy, Gabrielle," Xena explained.
Sappho walked over and peered out of the curtain. Then she came back and stood in front of Xena. "The crowd will erupt into a riot if one of you doesn't budge soon."
"Alright. I'll go first." Xena sighed, feigning boredom. The real fact of the matter, though she was not going to say a *thing*, was that she was desperately trying to gather some semblance of strength. It would appear she'd been a tad overzealous in her endeavors last night and she was still silently scolding herself. She had yet to gain full feeling back in her legs. By the gods! This relationship business was costing her dearly, as she just could not for the life of her, resist the bard. It was crazy! Once Gabrielle had her in her grasp, she was done for. She could hardly believe it herself, and if anyone had ever suggested to her that she'd be *this* head over heels for anyone, she would have laughed them out of the room. And probably embedded her chakrum in their head on the way out. Yet here she was, and there *she* was. peering nervously down at her. And instead of thinking about the Tartarus match, she was already fighting an urge to dive into the bard's arms and sink into her soft... Gods! Xena sighed and rose to her feet, her knees giving slightly. She hid it well and stood proudly before her small artsie faction. "Everybody ready?"
They all nodded nervously, followed by a high pitched pluck from Melissa.
"Then let's PLAY BALL!" Xena raised her fist.
They all erupted in a rallying cheer.
"Um… Wrong game…", Ellen whispered nervously to Rosie.
"Shut up!" Rosie cried under her breath. "She's movin!"
"Where's the Tartarus weapon?"
"Over here!" Ellen ran over and handed her the racquet. "Oh great one! Um, you're gonna kick her butt, aren't you? I mean, she's not gonna win, is she, cause..." Ellen's voice died when the warrior leered down at her. "Great. We'll just be…so... Want more water?"
Gabrielle glanced nervously up at the warrior. She did not look well, and that was not a good sign. She had caught the tiny slip when she had risen from the chair. No one else had, but she was so tuned in to her lover now that even the tiniest gesture revealed everything to her. And, once again, this was all her fault. Gabrielle put her hand on the warrior's back and gave her a light squeeze.
Xena paused and looked down at her love. Tartarus, she was reading her too well. She gave her a reassuring smile, bent down and kissed her. There was a collective awe from the artsies. When they finally pulled away, Sappho went to the curtain, drew it back and waited. The warrior nodded and stepped out into the heated coliseum.
The crowd on the right side rose to their feet, instantly chanting her name and screaming various rallying words, along with the odd proposal for marriage. Xena heard none of this; she was far too focused on the task at hand. This court appeared much larger than the one she had practiced on. Or perhaps she was about to pass out. She wasn't sure. She strode valiantly to the middle of her side, glancing at the umpire, and took her place. Only then did she acknowledge the masses, raising her racquet in her fist. The crowd went wild.
"What's all that cheering!" Martina cried to Tess.
Tess ran over to the curtain, sweat flying off her, then looked back. "She's gone out first!"
Martina grinned. "Well, it looks like I waited her out." She fondled the handle of her new and improved, extra elongated and enlarged, high tech, high borrowed, practically fully-operational sans player, racquet. She twisted her right foot slightly to test the friction and smiled. Perfect. Then a small frown covered her face, as the cheering seemed to have gotten louder. "What's she doing?!" Martina growled.
Tess looked back and her eyes widened. "She's got them doing the wave!"
Martina's eyes narrowed. "Prepare for my entrance."
Tess bowed and opened the curtain. Martina strode past and made her grand entrance. The left side of the coliseum was too busy trying to outdo the right side with a wave of their own. Nobody noticed her enter through the curtain. Tess nearly fainted.
Martina stood there, stewing for what seemed like an eternity. Finally, the announcer noticed her and called out.
"THE GREAT MARTINA!"
The left side turned, and with renewed vigor they raised their fists and began to chant her name, trying to outdo the other side, their voices nearly cracking from the strain. It was bedlam at the coliseum, as the ground shook from the stomping of spectators’ feet.
Tess sighed in relief and clutched the curtain tighter. She nearly jumped out of her sweats when she felt a tap her on the back. She twirled around to face the assistant that she had relegated to waste disposal "What is it?" she growled.
"I want to talk to you about getting out of waste." The assistant spoke excitedly.
"I'm busy!" Tess barked.
"But, I think you'll be-"
"I said not NOW, I’M BUSY!!!" Tess screamed back at her, then stepped out into the coliseum to position herself in Martina's coaching corner.
The assistant sighed, her shoulders drooping as she turned and walked back down the ramp.
Xena and Martina eyed each other from across the net, slowly, threateningly, and with a deadly intent to psyche the other out. Xena was momentarily taken aback by the sheer size of Martina's weapon. And the shoes. Well, the glare had almost made Xena blink. Almost, that is. But she was focused on the stare and would rather slice her throat with her chakrum than blink from the sight of those Tartarus shoes. She readied herself, her hand squeezing the racquet hard in a threatening gesture.
Martina leered across the net at the warrior. But she couldn't quite stop herself from gazing at her wet hair and how incredibly sexy she looked standing there, all fierce and… What in Hades was she thinking!!??? She bit on her tongue and growled, clenching her own racquet in a threatening manner. For maximum effect, she rotated her shoe a quarter turn, testing the friction and ensuring that the warrior could see all of it's magnificence. The tiny muscles in her forearm were already twitching in anticipation of the dinar toss.
The bard was standing on the sidelines in the Xena designated area, trying desperately not to faint from nervous tension. She'd never been surrounded by such a crowd in her life, and the energy alone coming from it was sending her over the edge. And, by the gods, it was as hot as Hades in here! It was worse than the briefing, and she was already starting to sweat. She began to pace, her hands flexing and closing automatically, keeping time with her step. Calm, calm, calm. No worry, no worry, no Tartarus worry. Breathe and turn.
"LADIES!" The announcer spoke over the roar of the crowd. "THE WARRIORS WILL APPROACH THE CENTER COURT TO DO THE CUSTOMARY RACQUET SPIN!"
Martina and Xena walked toward the center net, eyeing each other with darkly. "I'll spin the racquet, seeing as it's *my* coliseum," Martina quipped.
Bitch. "As you wish." Xena smiled sweetly.
The crowd hushed in peaked anticipation.
Martina placed the round end of her racquet on the court surface and spun it with her wrist. "Rough or smooth?"
"I like it rough." Xena smiled from across the net. A raucous laugh and some clapping erupted from the crowd. Xena stifled a grin as she watched the racquet slow its spiral and finally fall to the court surface. She looked over at Martina, as she had no idea if she'd won. By the smile on Martina's face it, would appear as if she hadn't.
"Smooth," Martina purred at the warrior. "As always."
"Oh." Xena quipped lightly.
The announcer piped in before it got ugly. "LADIES, AND LADIES! THE MATCH IS ABOUT TO BEGIN. LET THE WARRIORS TAKE THEIR POSITIONS!!!" The crowd roared an approval and continued to raucously applaud, as Martina and Xena walked to their respective sides. The announcer glanced up nervously, silently wondering if serving alcoholic beverages at such an event was such a good idea after all. The dinar implications were great, but it made for a more boisterous, if not downright dangerous crowd. And there was nothing more dangerous than a bunch of pumped up women gathered together drinking. Things always had a way of getting interesting... and, once again, the announcer was wishing she had that protector net - that, or a stiff shot herself.
Xena swayed back and forth a few times on the balls of her feet to try and generate some blood flow. She twirled the racquet in her hands to get a feel for the weapon. She likened it to an amazon chobos that she'd fought with many times. If only this were such a challenge; she'd finish Martina in a heartbeat. Unfortunately, it wasn't, and she'd have to play along at this ridiculous game. She eyed her opponent across the net and awaited the first assault. Finally the crowd silenced, and the only sound that could be heard was the bouncing of the ball as Martina leaned over, testing it in anticipation of the serve. After what seemed an eternity, she stopped the bounce, stretched her racquet high over her head as she raised herself, and tossed the ball into the air. Her racquet swooshed hard and with lightening speed. The ball sang over the net like an arrow.
Xena hardly had time to blink before the ball was on her, but her arm was already moving as her racquet came round and made a solid whomp on contact. She was so aggressive, coiled like a finely tuned spring, that her return shot back hard and fast, heading straight for Martina's head. Martina ducked just in the nick of time or it would have been her last breath. The ball flew by, imbedding itself into the wooden barrier at the base of the stands.
A collective gasp came from the crowd.
"OUT!" cried the foul line judge, and a flunky came running over to the barrier. She began tugging at the ball, but it was imbedded far too deep.
Martina turned around to stare at the damaged barrier and tried hard not to panic. What in Hades kind of return had that been? She glanced nonchalantly over at Tess, who had turned white. Cool, cool, remain cool. We're cool. We're happening. By the gods.
"15 LOVE!" cried the announcer.
Xena silently scolded herself. Control, control, control. Sometimes her strength was too great. She would have to pull back a bit here. She was already down 15-love. Now what in Hades did that mean? It sounded like a lot for one miscalculation.
The flunky tossed Martina a fresh ball, as this one looked to be a permanent fixture for the stadium. Martina moved over to the other side and readied herself for her next serve. She would have to change it up, of this she was sure. She primed herself and calculated her next strike. This was going to be a softy, and she was sure the warrior would not be anticipating that. She raised the racquet high as if to send a screaming serve, but instead put a curving spin on it that made an immediate trickster drop as it crossed the net.
Xena had been ready for the screamer, but it never came. She watched in horror as the ball dropped like a dead weight just over the net. She lunged forward, covering the distance in a split second, and just got her racquet under it, sending it high up in the air. She hit the ground hard, cursing silently, and turned to see the evil Martina herself grinning down at her as she tapped it lightly out of Xena's reach. Xena cringed as the announcer cried out 30-Love. She slowly picked herself up off the court and dusted herself off, eyeing Martina across the net. The Martina contingency cheered loudly and the Xena contingency booed just as loud. Many turned to the refreshment vendors to drown their initial sorrows. This was not going well at all.
"She's losin! She's losin!" cried Rosie as she began to pace behind Gabrielle, both now forming a pacing train. Ellen nervously wrung her hands together and joined the line, followed by Melissa, who pulled up the rear.
"Have faith!' Sappho soothed towards the Panic Train that had been formed in the last few seconds.
"I do!" cried Gabrielle. "I just have to move or I'm gonna explode!"
"Is there a rhythm in your step now, that reminds you of a dance?" Melissa hummed, as she began to beat the side of the guitar in time with their step.
"Melissa!" Rosie cried. "Enough!" She pulled Gabrielle back and stopped the procession. "This is no time to panic, grrls. It's early and we've a long way to go." She looked at everyone watching her in stunned silence. "Agreed?" They all nodded. "Now Sappho's right. We're here to show Xena support, so suck it up and get a grip!" They all nodded. "Everybody breathe." They all did. "Ok."
Xena glanced over at the sidelines. It would appear they were panicking. It was time to win back some confidence for her side. She turned and readied herself for Martina's next serve. This time she would not be surprised. It came in on a curve and she quickly returned it hard and close to the boundary. Martina just missed it and the Xena crowd went wild. She stifled a grin and maintained her composure as Martina picked herself up off the court and dusted off her shoes. Xena had just successfully scuffed them and was reveling in it, though none of this showed in her features. By the end of this Tartarus match those shoes would be covered in dirt, at Xena's hands, and she was very much looking forward to it.
The game continued on for some time as each opponent would gain an edge, only to lose it to the other. They were more evenly matched than either would have liked to believe. Martina downed the warrior in the first game, only to lose to her in the second. They had traded wins back and forth ever since, but Martina now held the advantage in the tie breaking game of the first set. They had just completed a rally that had lasted almost a minute, and each was breathing hard, sweat pouring down their faces, their entire bodies now drenched from the exertion.
It was Martina's serve again, and she stood ready to deliver the final blow. The Tartarus warrior had been more leather than she'd expected and she was laboring. She had to put her down on this serve, as she needed the break and she could ill afford to lose this set. She tossed the ball high into the air and it shot across the net at the warrior, who was ready. It came back at Martina hard and fast, but she was equal to the task, sending it back harder. The rally was on, yet again.
Another lunge and Xena made solid contact with the ball. Despite the gravity of the situation, she was actually beginning to enjoy herself, though she'd never admit it. The game wasn't half bad. She readied herself for Martina's return. It came fast, but out of her reach. She calculated the distance and knew immediately she'd never make it. Her instincts took over and she somersaulted into the air, smacking the ball back hard at a surprised Martina, who lunged in a last minute panic unsuccessfully. Xena landed back down on her feet and the Xena crowd roared.
Gabrielle and the artsie collective began to jump up and down, hugging each other in celebration.
Martina was up in a flash, heading toward the umpire. "That was an ILLEGAL MOVE!!!" she screamed.
Xena's eyes widened and she headed over to the umpire in her own defense. She couldn't make out the umpire's response over the roar of the crowd.
The umpire turned back to the warrior. "Somersaulting is an illegal move. House rules. Martina's set."
"What!!!" Xena screamed over the crowd, her arms raised in exasperation. "That's ridiculous! How can I be penalized-"
"Martina's set," the umpire repeated, signaling to the announcer and looking away from the warrior to indicate this discussion, or lack thereof, was over.
Martina smiled over at the warrior and Xena shot a look back at her. Then she turned toward the sidelines before she tore the head off the umpire in a rage. Tartarus rules.
The announcer spoke. "MARTINA'S SET!" The crowd looked around at each other in confusion. "XENA WAS DISQUALIFIED FOR AN UNPRECEDENTED, er, ILLEGAL SOMERSAULT." There were gasps of outrage and horror that were quickly drowned out by the Martina crowd, who began a wave of their own. "THERE WILL BE A FIVE MINUTE BREAK."
Gabrielle and the others stopped celebrating and went still, then stiller still as the warrior stomped towards them, visibly shaken. They collectively parted and gestured towards the chair. Xena strode over and slumped down in it. No one breathed for what seemed an eternity until Gabrielle finally broke the deathly silence. She knelt down in front of Xena. "Stupid rule."
Xena closed her eyes and breathed deeply, fearing she'd explode. There was too much at stake here, and she had been desperate for that win. She finally opened her eyes and looked down at Gabrielle, who knelt delicately in front of her. She lifted her hand and tussled her blonde hair.
Gabrielle smiled up at her and signaled for a towel. Sappho handed her one and she stood up and began to wipe the sweat off the warrior's face.
"Your leathers are soaked through, Xena," Gabrielle fretted as she inspected her.
"I'll live." Xena sighed and closed her eyes again.
"Somebody bring me some water!" Melissa cried as she paced back and forth. "Can't you see she's burning alive!"
Rosie tossed a pitcher of water to Melissa, who passed it to a worried bard, who immediately held it to Xena's lips. "Drink," she instructed, and the warrior took it gratefully. Gabrielle's eyes widened as the warrior continued to gulp down the water until the pitcher was completely empty. She lifted it away and looked at her with quiet concern. Finally, Xena opened her liquid blue eyes and stared back at her. "You ok?" Gabrielle whispered. The warrior gave her a reassuring glance.
Xena shifted uncomfortably in her chair. Tartarus leathers. She pondered for only a brief second then looked back up at her. "Take em off."
A puzzled expression crossed Gabrielle's face momentarily, and then understanding. "Off!" she cried, "You're practically naked without-"
Gabrielle swallowed and quieted. Off! Off! By the gods, if this crowd wasn't pumped enough already. She leaned down and began tugging at the outfit. It felt like it was attached to the warrior's skin. It must have shrunk. Gabrielle frowned, then braced her boot against the warrior's leg and tugged harder. Xena joined in to try and loosen that damned thing before Gabrielle took her skin off with it. Ellen and Rosie hesitated only briefly, then joined in as the three women now tried to pry the leather off Xena. Everyone was grunting and puffing, and getting nowhere.
"Wait." A voice came from behind and everyone stopped their efforts, turning to look at a grinning Sappho. "I think I can help." Everyone's mouth hung open, including Xena's.
Sappho strode forward and the tiny crowd parted. She walked up to the warrior, who sat there with more than slight trepidation. "It's all in the timing," she said matter of factly, then reached down and before anyone could think, blink or breathe, the outfit was off. There was a collective gasp from the artsies, Gabrielle's being the loudest. She winked down at the warrior who, despite herself, was forming a minute trace of blush. "Better?" She smiled down at her, stifling a laugh. They both exchanged a brief look of remembrance. Sappho thought back to that time when Xena had chased her right into the ocean, leathers and all, and they had wrestled in there until Xena had decided clothes were getting in the way. There had been a brief struggle until Sappho had discovered a method for quick removal, quelling the warrior's rising frustration at the time. Prose may have been her best talent, but she was skilled in many ways. She smiled at the memory, and reached over to ruffle Xena's hair. The artsies gasped yet again. No one ruffled the warrior's hair and lived to see another day.
"Thanks." Xena looked back up at her, a tiny grin barely masked at the corner of her mouth. She was going to give Gabrielle a reassuring glance, but was afraid to look over.
"You'll have to show me that one, Sappho." Gabrielle turned towards the warrior, who appeared to have found something very interesting on the floor of the coliseum. She leaned down and kissed the top of the warrior's head. Xena looked up at Gabrielle almost shyly. Well wonders never cease. Gabrielle shook her head and knelt down in front of the warrior, putting her hands on her knees. "Now you get back out there and beat the Tartarus skirt off Martina."
Xena's heart lifted at her love's understanding nature. She pulled her in, kissing her softly on the lips in answer. Then she steeled herself in mental preparation for round two of the match. Martina was going to eat Xena's boot dust. Of this she was sure.
"NO MORE!" Martina growled at Tess, who flinched backwards, nearly toppling over from the wrath of her voice.
"Sure, sure boss ... Got it. No more water," Tess replied nervously as she put her hand out precariously with a towel. Martina swiped it from her hand.
"What's she doing now?" she growled.
Tess glanced over nervously. "She's kissing Red."
"Gods, she's disgusting."
"And it appears she's taken off her leathers."
"What!?" Martina's eyes widened.
"Yeah," Tess nodded. "Some kinda sleep wear, I think. God awful ugly, if you ask me." However, those legs! But Tess would never dare admit that to Martina or she'd be ticky booing all the way home.
Martina snorted. "I'm not surprised."
"Barbarians..." Tess muttered, then turned back to Martina. "So, you ready?"
Martina's eyes narrowed. "I'm going to bury her early this time. Prepare my shoes."
Tess nodded, got down on her knees and pressed on the sides of Martina's shoes, pumping the round bulbous protrusions that refilled air into the soles. "Ready," she called out.
"Good." Martina smiled. "Now, let's see if we can sweat her naked this time."
Tess's chuckle was interrupted by a gentle tapping on her shoulder. She turned to see the nervous assistant behind her. "What now!"
"I just need a minute-"
"Can't you see I'm busy!!" Tess cried.
Tess stood up, towering over the smaller woman, her sweats billowing out menacingly. "Out."
"Out!" she growled and the assistant sighed, yet again She turned back towards the runway.
"Remind me when all this is over to get the name of your clothing designer. We really must send out a war party to put him out of his misery." Martina smiled at Xena as she walked past the net and toward her end of the court.
The muscle fibers on Xena's forearms rippled in subsurface rage, but she held her tongue. She'd settle this one with action, as it was always the best way to quiet a smart ass, high-toned, white-shoed, bitch of a ... Xena!, she scolded herself. Calm, breathe deep the air. She cricked her neck to squelch any further distracting thoughts. Then she readied herself, stretching out her arms to dissipate the stiffness that was already forming. Nothing like trying out a new sport to find muscles you never knew you had. She imagined she'd be toast tomorrow, but that mattered little now. She needed to focus on the immediate task, win this game and advance to the tie breaker. She bounced the ball a few times, then raised her arm, and served hard and true. The battle was on once again.
Sweat was flying everywhere! Both Martina and Xena were laboring visibly now, as they fought rally after rally, neither giving much of anything back to the other in the way of an advantage. The crowd was on it's feet for most of the second set, partly from nervous tension, but also from raucous alcohol-induced excitement. Most were completely inebriated from the combination of drinks, heat and pure rip-snorting sporting tension. Some of the rallies had gone on for minutes at a time, and it was surprising neither of the warriors had collapsed from the heat and exertion. But these were not normal women, and these were not normal times. And there was far too much at stake.
Once again they were neck and neck, going into the tie-breaker game. But this time Xena had the advantage. She eyed Martina through sweat-soaked eyes. She wiped her brow to right her vision again and readied herself for yet another Tartarus blinding serve. Despite the pure hate she had going for that woman she had to admit she had an awesome serve. Her muscles tensed as she watched Martina raise the ball up, and before she could even register a thought it was over the net. Her body was already moving and the rally was on.
Gabrielle sighed and closed her eyes, burying her head in her hands. She simply could no longer watch. She listened to the sounds of the ball smacking off turf and racquet in quiet contemplation. When exactly had this vacation gone bad? No, make that: when exactly had it ever been a vacation, and why did it seem like ever since they had become lovers, the odds were stacking against them like some monstrous larger plan? It was as if some being was guiding them on some macabre and twisted journey into insanity! But who and why and for what possible gain? Her thoughts were interrupted by a scream from the lineswoman. "Out". She cracked open a finger and peered at the court. ACk! It was Martina's point. She quickly closed her finger and buried her head again. Come on, Xena... We really need this one! Gods! Every muscle fiber was singing with nervous tension and tired tightness. Sex, sex, sex, sex, sex. They really had to get control in that area. The lack of sleep was starting to wear her down, she could only imagine what kind of an effect it was having on Xena. More grunts and smacks echoed above the roar of the crowd. She peaked up at her lover, who was swinging hard back at her opponent. Her muscles were rippling, her shift soaked through, her hair now drenched from sweat. Each swing sent droplets spraying over the court. Wet hair. Gabrielle sighed. Xena aced a return and Martina went flying. The Xena crowd roared and Gabrielle's gut unknotted itself for a brief second. Gods, gods, gods. She got up and began to pace again.
Tess cringed and glanced nervously at the exit ramp. She brought the towel that hung around her neck up to her face and wiped off more sweat. She glanced down at her outfit, huge dark stains spreading everywhere. She had never truly understood the word "sweats" until this very moment. It was as if a tiny revelation in clothing apparel had suddenly come to her. It was a lot like life really; you never truly noticed the little things, the finer details, until your Tartarus neck was on the line. She swallowed nervously as her eyes moved in time with the ball. Back and forth, back and Tartarus forth. Then her gut dropped when Xena smacked the ball hard and out of Martina's reach. It was now advantage for Xena, and the entire set was on the line. Oh this was not a good sign. Not a good sign at all!
The artsies were in a tight circle. Sappho had grabbed Gabrielle and pulled her in to them. The pacing was making her ill. They all watched as Martina readied herself for the serve. Gabrielle had buried her head in Sappho's bosom as there was just no way she could watch this one. They were now one big ball of tension, arms wrapped around each other in a protective and collective huddle.
The ball came screaming down the side and Xena lunged for it, sending it high up in the air and back toward Martina. Her body hit the ground hard, but she rolled and was up on her feet in an instant. She knew she'd sent it too high and was already preparing herself for the suicide return. She watched Martina's eyes, in the hopes of determining which direction she would smash it.
Martina smiled inwardly. This one would be easy. Eat dust, you Tartarus warrior. She raised her racquet high and readied her slam as the ball came back down towards her.
A faint trace of left was revealed, and her body moved in that direction before the ball even made contact with Martina's gigantic weapon. The direction held true and Xena lunged hard, sending the ball directly back at Martina at blinding speed. It was so unexpected that Martina didn't even have time to wipe the grin off her face before the ball smacked her square on the forehead. She went down in a heap.
The crowd paused. Xena flinched. The artsies tensed.
Martina lifted herself off the ground and stormed over to the umpire. "That was intent to injure!! That bitch was trying to kill me!!"
Xena raced over in her own defense. "I was returning the ball!"
Martina turned, seething, as a big red welt deepened on her forehead. "You're dead."
The umpire gulped, hesitated, then called it fair. Martina went ballistic. Tess and the others had to restrain her as she attempted to climb the tower and tear out the eyes of the umpire.
Xena smiled and turned toward the artsies, who were now jumping up and down and hugging each other.
"THERE WILL BE A HALF HOUR RECESS, AT WHICH TIME THE TIE BREAKING SET WILL BEGIN!" the announcer roared, then cringed as the crowd bellowed an excited response.
Gabrielle came charging out of the circle and leapt into the warrior's arms, nearly taking her down. The warrior recovered and lifted her up, swinging her around in raucous glee. She squeezed the bard so hard the air left nearly left her lungs. They held onto each other tightly for a few more seconds, until Xena finally pulled back and gazed into her lover's smiling eyes. "Told you not to worry."
Gabrielle frowned and smacked the warrior over the head. "You didn't have to make it so close!"
"Wouldn't want to disappoint the crowd now, would we?" Xena grinned back at her. Inside, her stomach was still a tight knot. But she wasn't going to let the bard know just how close that had been.
Gabrielle squeezed her harder and buried her head into the warrior's shoulder as she was carried towards the sideline. Sweat and all, there was no place she'd rather be. The artsies were jumping up and down when the pair hit the sidelines. Xena kept walking past them, toward the runway.
"Hey!" Rosie cried. "Where ya going!"
"Private moment," Xena stated and walked through the curtain.
Rosie peered after her, frowning.
Ellen came up behind her. "You don't think they're gonna..?"
"They'd better not!" Rosie cried as she whirled around. "By the gods! What is it with those two! ACk! I'm gonna lose it here."
"Relax guys. " Sappho came over and put her arm around both of them. "Xena's got it all under control."
"Gods, Gabrielle. more!" Xena groaned.
"More??!" Gabrielle grunted back. "I just don't have the strength for this!"
"There. Right there. Good. Now, hard!"
"Like that?" Gabrielle asked.
"Gods, yes! Harder," Xena cried. She braced herself against the wall of the coliseum supply room as her love pressed against her.
"Xena!" the bard cried, as sweat began to form on her brow. "This is hard!"
Xena smiled through gritted teeth, as she watched her struggle with the cramping thigh. "Ok, ok. It's giving. You can stop pushing."
Gabrielle pulled back and looked into her love's eyes. "Better?" The warrior nodded and slid to the floor, taking the bard with her. A concerned frown covered the bard's face. She grabbed the warrior's wrist and lifted her skin slightly. She gasped and looked back at the warrior, who was trying to give her a reassuring glance. "I'll be back with some water." The warrior nodded in agreement and watched the bard race out. Once she was out of sight she allowed herself to close her eyes, her head resting on the wall. She licked her lips, which were dry, shy the salty sweat that dripped down over them. Never, ever drink the night before a match. As if it was dehydrating enough in itself. What had she been thinking? Or rather, why did love sometimes remove rational thought? Stupid, stupid, stupid. Her self flagellation was interrupted by Gabrielle. She stiffened and tried to look alive.
"Don't," Gabrielle said, kneeling down in front of her and gazing into her love's eyes. "Not on my account." The warrior smiled and nodded, allowing her eyes to close once again. Gabrielle held the pitcher to her lips, helping her drink the contents. "Besides, I see right through you." The warrior raised an eyebrow, but kept her eyes closed and her mouth drinking. Finally, the warrior finished and Gabrielle began toweling her face dry. "Well, I asked for wet hair, but this is ridiculous!"
Xena cracked her eyes open and grinned. "Is there a dry shift around this Tartarus place?"
"Yeah, I got Ellen on that. She's getting one from the room." Gabrielle sighed. "Tired?" The warrior nodded. "Alright then." Gabrielle shifted so that she was sitting beside her. She placed a towel in her lap. "Come on," she instructed.
"What?" Xena asked.
"Don't be so stoic," Gabrielle cried. "Put your head in my lap and sleep." Xena hesitated briefly, a tiny pride war waging in her head. "Down, now," Gabrielle commanded, and finally she gave in and sank into the comforting lap of her lover. She closed her eyes, sighing deeply, as she allowed herself to relax for the first time in what seemed like an eternity. Gabrielle smiled down at her, stroking her hair comfortingly, enjoying the private gentleness of the moment. The warrior was asleep almost instantly, her chest rising and falling evenly, one arm wrapped tightly around the bard's legs. Gabrielle sighed and continued to play with the warrior's hair. Her heart was aching from the weight of the emotion that coursed through her. She just loved this woman so deeply now, that everything around her dropped away when she held her. She knew Xena trusted only her enough to fall asleep like this. She lifted up the warrior's hand and kissed it. The warrior stirred, but didn't waken. She carefully placed her hand back down and continued to gaze at her love for a long moment.
"So, what's the plan?" Martina growled. She was laying on the massage table in the private plush dressing room which had been erected just for her.
"I've got it all under control," Tess whispered back nervously, as she worked the thigh muscles of the tennis great.
"You do?" Martina looked up and watched the dilation of Tess's pupils.
Tess began to sweat.
"She does," the assistant piped in as she came through the door.
Tess began to protest, but the assistant signaled with her eyes to stop.
"There's this doll, isn't there, Tess?" The assistant nodded towards her. A pissy puzzled expression covered her face, but she went along with it. What had she got to lose? "Yeah, the doll..."
"What bloody doll are you two on about!??" Martina barked.
The assistant smiled a Cheshire grin. "It's a special one. You mess with it, and Xena reacts physically. Apparently some bitch sorceress made it especially for her torturous enjoyment back in Arcadia."
"That's the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard!" Martina snorted.
"Well," the assistant said, stiffening. "It works." She glanced over at Tess, who's eyes had narrowed in suspicion.
Martina looked back up at Tess., "And you've seen it in action?"
"No…," Tess stumbled. "Er, we haven't, but it's true She shot a warning glance at the assistant.
"Where's the Tartarus doll then? Let me see it!" Martina growled.
"It's in her room," the assistant explained.
"What is it doing there?" Martina cried. "Go get the damn thing! We start in 10 minutes! What kind of idiot planning is this!!??"
"Yeah!" Tess nodded nervously. "Didn't I tell you to bring it here?"
"Well, I was busy with waste disposal...," the assistant shot back.
"Well, consider yourself cleared!" Tess cried back. "Now get the damn doll! Hurry!"
The assistant bowed and shot out of the room in excitement.
"My crazy warrior," Gabrielle whispered, as she cuddled her love's head in her lap. All the tension of the past few days was dissipating with each gentle stroke of her hand on the warrior's sleeping form. Just touching Xena like this melted Gabrielle in more ways than one. She hadn't truly understood what real love was until she had fallen under the warrior's spell. Month after month of traveling together, their love for each other intensified and grew, and now flourished with the new intimacy they shared. Gods, they needed a vacation. Wait, this was a vacation. Gabrielle sighed and decided to just enjoy the moment. That's all anybody really had when you got right down to it. A shiver of passion swept up through her as the warrior shifted and nuzzled further into her. "Bad Gabrielle. Don't even think about it. Bad, bad, bad."
"Bad is good," Xena whispered, and Gabrielle jumped slightly.
"Hey!" Gabrielle frowned down at her. "I'm sorry., I didn't mean to wake you."
"It's okay. I have to start moving before every muscle turns to stone." Xena smiled back up at her and stretched. "How much time have we got?"
"About ten minutes," Gabrielle replied. "Why do-"
In a flash the bard was down with the warrior lying on top of her. "Because I want to make love to my sexy bard. That's why."
"Xena!" Gabrielle cried. "There's no time for that n-"
Xena covered her mouth with a deep kiss. "I need to get my adrenaline going," she whispered into the bard's mouth.
"You're joking…Right?" the bard asked between kisses.
"Gabrielle," Xena whispered, kissing her again. "I never joke."
The assistant opened the door to the hut. She was about to charge in when she caught sight of Ellen of LA. Her heart immediately leapt to her throat.
"Hey!" Ellen said as she turned around and saw the assistant.
"What are you doing in this room?!" the assistant barked as she charged over to Ellen. The best defense was always a good offense.
"I'm, um…" Ellen leaned back. "I was just getting a new shift for Xena. ’Cause, boy is she sweating, and well, you can see right through that old beige thing if you look hard." She stuttered, "Not that I was, ‘cause I wasn't, I mean, looking, purely hypothet-"
"Well hurry up and get it. I should mark you down for a tickyboo for rummaging through the guest s ' things!"
"Hey, wait just a minute!" Ellen cried.
"Move it or it's a ticky!"
Ellen's eyes widened. She scooped up the nearest thing in the bag and slid by the assistant, breaking into a run as she hit the door.
The assistant's watched Ellen disappear out of sight. She afforded herself a parting glimpse of Ellen’s butt. Nice indeed, but artsies shouldn’t have tight... She slapped herself to shake away such ridiculous thoughts and bent down to rummage through the saddlebags Ellen had just been in. Now, where would she hide such a thing?
"I'm dead. I'm toast. I can't move."
"Gabrielle," Xena mused, as she did leg stretches against the supply wall. "You really must learn to extract the energizing effects of love-making."
The bard was sprawled on the floor, gazing up at the ceiling. "I believe it's a one way exchange, and it would appear that you have done the extracting this time."
The warrior stopped and looked over. "Perhaps you're right."
"Ya." The bard nodded. She finally lifted herself up onto her elbows and looked around. "Now where is Ellen with that shift?" Then, as if on cue, Ellen came charging through the door.
"Got it!" Ellen cried breathlessly. "You're on in two!"
The warrior grunted and walked over to Ellen, who held out the garment. Then her eyes narrowed.
"What?" Ellen cried and looked down, her own eyes widening. Oops. She gulped. "I thought I grabbed..."
"Give me that!" The warrior swiped the garment from her and buried it in her hands.
"What?" Gabrielle cried getting to her feet. She looked at the garment the warrior appeared to be hiding. "What is it?" she asked, walking over.
The warrior backed up against the wall, putting the garment behind her. "It's nothing."
Gabrielle frowned and closed in. "It is something. Let me see." She tried to reach behind the warrior, but she kept moving away. Gabrielle stopped and turned to Ellen. "Tell them we'll be there shortly. Okay?'
Ellen nodded and fled the room. She wasn't sure what she'd done, but she knew enough to know it wasn’t good.
Gabrielle turned back to the warrior. "Let me see." Xena hesitated. "Please?" Finally, Xena relented and brought her hand around to reveal the red dress, tattered beyond believe, but nonetheless the red dress Gabrielle had bought for her in Arcadia when she was in a hypnotic trance. "Xena!" the bard cried excitedly. "You kept the dress!"
The warrior rolled her eyes. "Yeah."
Gabrielle grinned up at her and trapped her in a gigantic bear hug. "You kept it. Why?"
The warrior sighed and gave in. "Because you bought it for me."
"Oh Xena," Gabrielle smiled, squeezing her harder, "You're a hopeless romantic!"
"Yeah," the warrior said, nodding slowly. "It would appear I am."
Gabrielle laughed. "You'll live, Xena."
"I was afraid of that."
"You adorable, crazy..." Gabrielle shook her head. "You don't know how much this means to me."
The warrior peered back at her. "Really?"
"Really," Gabrielle told her quietly, and leaned up for a kiss to show her just that. They parted reluctantly. It was time.
"Gabrielle, you take all my pain away." Xena gave the bard a final squeeze and looked down at her. "Now let's go win back the island. I'm feeling invigorated! Martina is mine."
And fate is setting up the chessboard while death rolls out the dice.
Anyone for tennis, wouldn't that be nice?
Xena considered herself one lucky warrior. Her body's recuperative powers never ceased to amaze her, even after all these years. She smiled inwardly and did a systems check. Everything was operational, and her previous mental fatigue was gone That quick nap and romantic interlude had been all she'd needed. Crazy when you thought about it, really. Crazy. She eyed Martina across the net. She didn't look good, and this was a good sign indeed. Except for the fact that she was grinning as if she held some secret weapon. It was a look she'd seen before, from her warlord days when she'd walked into a trap one quiet afternoon. The warrior she'd approached had knelt in surrender as she neared. It had been all too easy. There was something about his tiny smile, the way it was half crooked to one side. She'd turned just in time to stop an arrow that was heading straight for her back. She'd never trusted such a smile since. Suddenly, she didn't feel so good and she instinctively began eyeing the crowd for an archer with a possible death wish. Xena, Xena, Xena. she silently scolded herself. We have no room for pre-game jitters.
"LADIES!" the announcer roared. "THE MOMENT YOU HAVE BEEN WAITING FOR. THE FINAL TIE-BREAKING, GUT-CHECKING, TIGHT-TESTING, METAL-TESTING SHOWDOWN FOR ALL THE ENCHILADAS!!!"
Xena stopped scanning the crowd and glanced over at Martina again. She was still smiling that tell-tale smile, but not at her. She followed her gaze until it fell on Tess at the sidelines, who was giving Martina a thumbs up. What in Hades?
"Your serve." The line runner interrupted the warrior's panicked thoughts.
"What?" Xena growled.
The runner handed her the ball nervously. "Um, your serve."
"Oh, yeah." The warrior grabbed the ball absentmindedly. She glanced back at her own sidelines to where the artsies gathered. Gabrielle was no longer pacing and was beaming back at her confidently. Her gut did another tiny flip on her and she quickly looked away.
"Serve it up, warrior., We haven't got all day!" Martina grinned from across the net.
Xena's eyes narrowed. "Coming right at you, Martina! How's the head?"
"Better." Martina smiled back.
The warrior tensed. Hades, she had a bad feeling about this. She lifted her arm and smacked the ball hard towards Martina.
Gabrielle frowned. There was something about the way the warrior had been searching the stands that had unnerved her. She'd been confident when they had returned, but something had changed. She watched the warrior serve up the ball. The rally was on. They exchanged a few returns and Gabrielle began to relax. Then the warrior reached for what should have been an easy backhand, and flat out missed! The crowd's gasp covered the bard's own. The warrior reared around wildly as if someone had pushed her.
Xena's heart skipped a beat. There was no one there, but she was sure she'd been pushed from behind. She glanced over at Martina, who's grin was now as wide as her Tartarus face. She checked her shoes. Perhaps a lace was undone.
"LOVE 15!" the announcer cried.
Xena calmed herself, then returned to the service position. She raised her arm and swung round at the ball. At the last moment her arm jerked sideways and the ball flew off into the stands making solid contact with a drunken patron knocking them out cold.
Oops. Xena's eyes widened and she checked her racquet. She shook her head and raised her arm again, swinging hard and off to the left!
"DOUBLE FAULT! LOVE 30!"
Xena whirled around wildly, her gaze stopping at Gabrielle, who was staring in panic right back at her. They both clicked in understanding at once, both women’s mouth's dropping simultaneously. Xena whirled around towards the umpire. "TIME OUT!"
"On what grounds?!" the umpire barked.
Xena hesitated. "Washroom break?"
"You had your break! Request denied!"
"My shoes!" the warrior shot back. "I need to remove them!"
"Broken lace!" Xena cried, running over and lifting her leg to show him, breaking the lace simultaneously on the upswing. She put on her best helpless face, though she was pretty sure she didn't own one.
The umpire frowned suspiciously, not quite believing her, and yet there was the broken lace. "Alright. But make it quick!"
"This is an outrage!" Martina came storming over to the tower. "I've never heard of such a poor excuse! It's her responsibility to check..."
But the warrior was already heading towards the sidelines in a flat out run before the umpire could be swayed by Martina. She practically flew into the bard, grabbing her arms. "The doll!" they both cried together. "Where is it?!!" Xena asked in panicked breath.
"I left it in the hut!" the bard cried back.
"Well someone has it now," Xena replied grimly. "Tartarus doll!" She bent down and began to remove her boots, signaling to the bard to come down with her. "Now, listen closely Gabrielle. I don't have much time. We need to get to the doll, or else I will be a goner."
"Xena!" the bard fretted, tears forming at the corners of her eyes. " I can't lose you again!"
The warrior removed the first boot and gazed at her love. "Gabrielle, I'll always be here."
"Xena!" the bard snapped. "This is no time to get philosophical!"
"You're right." Xena agreed. "Now, it can't be too far. It's got to be in the stands somewhere. Do you think you can find it?"
"I have to find it, Xena!" the bard whispered.
The warrior nodded solemnly as she removed her other boot. "You'd better start looking. I've got to get back. I'll stall as much as possible."
The bard nodded. The warrior gave her a quick, reassuring smile and headed back onto the court. Gabrielle signaled the others to come in for a huddle conference. "Here's the deal..."
"Get your Twisted Callistos here!" the server screamed over the roar of the crowd, as she made her way, tray in hand, through the stands. "Green Gabbies! Xenaritas! Going down quick!" The server turned just in time to get out of the way before a small blonde woman bowled her over. "Hey! Watch it, Red!" She righted her tray angrily.
"Sorry!" Gabrielle cried and flew by her. Gods, gods, gods! Where, where, where?? She scanned the crowd around her. There were literally hundreds of women there.
"Hey, baby!" A particularly drunken patron lurched forward, grabbing the bard's skirt and pulling her down into her seat. Gabrielle yelped in shock. "Buy ya a Xena with a Gabby on top?"
"No thanks!" the bard barked, and extracted herself from the woman. By the gods! She turned and let her eyes travel down the row. Then her eyes spotted it. She leapt across five women, landing hard on top of the surprised perpetrator. "Give me that!" she demanded, grabbing at the doll in the woman's hands.
"Hey, Red!" the woman cried, and pulled the doll in closer to herself. "Get your own damn doll!"
"GAME ONE - MARTINA!" The announcer interrupted the struggle for control of the doll.
"You hand that over right now!" Gabrielle gasped with exertion from the tug of war.
"Hey, Red!" another patron butted in. "Let go of the doll. If you want one that much, you can have mine. She sucks anyway, and I'm about to lose fifty dinars over this Tartarus match!"
Gabrielle's eyes widened as another woman held out yet another doll in front of her nose. Ack! There were two! Which one was the special doll? Her panicked thoughts were interrupted by a roar from the Martina side of the crowd. The Xena side erupted with their own rally and began to chant Xena's name. She turned to look as everyone around her stood up from their seats. Her heart froze. Almost every patron was holding a Xena doll in their hands. The bard nearly fainted.
Xena crinked her neck back into place and leered over at a smiling Martina. That last one had hurt, and she was trying to hide that from her . It was bad enough that she was tripping all over the court. She glanced up at the stands in the hopes of spotting Gabrielle. No luck. She barely had time to lunge forward as Martina shot her serve at the warrior's head.
Think, dammit, think! Don't panic. Breathe deep the air, Gabrielle. Breathe deep the air. Now, what is it about the doll that's different. Ahha! The cape is torn off! With renewed hop,e Gabrielle plunged back into the fray, scanning the dolls in the women's hands. She was halfway through one aisle when she spotted one. She lunged over and grabbed it from the woman's grasp. "Gotcha!"
"What the-" The woman reared back in surprise.
The bard pointed the doll menacingly at her. "Thought you were pretty smart, eh? Well, I figured it out. The torn cape! Yep!" she cried triumphantly.
"What are you talking about? One too many Xenaritas, kid?" The woman looked down in concern at the insane strawberry blonde in front of her.
"No, and don't play dumb. You'd better come with me."
"Really!" The woman let out a raucous belly laugh. "Well, look honey, you can have your dolly. Consider it a gift. The tartarus thing is badly designed anyway. Just bought it yesterday, and the cape came off right in my hands! Cheap souvenirs." The woman stopped her musing, as it appeared the red head was about to faint. "Hey, you ok?"
"Yeah." Gabrielle righted herself, handing back the doll. She looked around her at the sea of women and sea of dolls and noticed now, for the first time, that at least a third of the damn things had no cape. And, she noticed with mild annoyance, some were down to their shifts! "Perverts..." she mumbled under her breath. She headed down the aisle, toward the exit. Gods, it was hopeless.
"GAME TWO - MARTINA!"
The bard swallowed and leaned up against the wall of the exit ramp, as a wave of dizziness swept over her. "Oh Xena, what am I going to do...?"
Xena spit dust out of her mouth as she picked herself up off the ground, her eyes never leaving Martina. "It's a shame the great Martina has to cheat to win."
Martina's eyes narrowed. "I have no idea what you're blabbering on about."
"Really!" Xena called over to her as she headed back to her position. "I think you do."
"You're wasting time. Serve the damn ball!"
"Alright," Xena shot back. "I may go down, but at least I'll go down with my pride intact."
Martina's cheeks burned and she raced over towards the net. "What are you saying!"
"I'm calling you a cheat, a liar and a thief!" Xena growled, and stomped over to the net.
"Die, warrior!" Martina growled, and launched herself over the net, her hands wrapping themselves around the warrior's neck.
"WE HAVE A MINOR DISCUSSION GOING ON DOWN ON THE COURT, SPORTS FANS!" he announcer cried.
Xena got three solid punches in before she went down in a heap at the invisible hands of the doll holder. She grabbed her side where a sharp pain had suddenly erupted. Then the lineswomen were on them, tearing the warrior off the dazed Martina.
"PLAY THE GAME OR YOU WILL BE DISQUALIFIED!" the umpire bellowed, her hand pointing towards Xena.
"ME!??" Xena tore herself away from the lineswomen and marched over to the tower. "I wasn't the one that launched myself over the net-"
"HOUSE RULES!" the umpire snapped back. "SERVE, OR CONCEDE!" Then she turned to Martina, who was picking herself off the court. "Are you well enough to continue?"
Martina nodded in affirmation, and grinned at a gaping-jawed Xena on her way back round to her side.
Come on Gabrielle, Xena chanted inwardly, as she bounced the ball on the court. As she was about to raise her arm, her eye caught a flash of the bard running through the exit ramp and back towards the sidelines. She looked over hopefully, but then her heart sank as Gabrielle's eyes met hers with a desperate shake of her head. Hades! It was time to change strategies.
"Melissa!" Gabrielle grabbed the musician by the arms. "Where is everybody?"
"Tell me, where can a woman find any kind of peace?" she sang back to the panicked bard.
"Melissa!" Gabrielle cried in exasperation. "Stop singing your prose! We don't have time for this!!!"
"When does the fury and the agony cease?" Melissa sulked back in response.
Gabrielle breathed deep the air and readied herself. Then in a lyrical voice, she began. "How long have I got to say please?"
Melissa's mouth dropped, and her guitar missed a beat. "I need some kind of promise."
Gabrielle breathed out, choosing her words carefully. "Well, I've been looking. Looking for an answer…"
Melissa looked thoughtfully at Gabrielle, as if she were finally about to reveal her inner-most secrets. Then Ellen came flying up behind them.
"Gabrielle!" Ellen cried, as she grabbed her by the shoulders. "Did you get it? Did you get it??"
"No!" Gabrielle replied in growing frustration. "There are dolls everywhere! I have no idea which one is *the* one!"
"Yeesh, well," Ellen stuttered "If only we could figure out who would have taken it... Hmmm." Her musing was interrupted by Rosie and Sappho, who came flying in through the exit ramp.
"Any luck?" Sappho cried breathlessly, She knew the answer at once from the distraught look on the bard's face.
"Whut are we gonna do??" Rosie fretted, wringing her hands nervously as she paced in front of the others.
"Think!" Sappho cried to the others. "Who would take it? Who would know about it in the first place?" She turned to Gabrielle. "How many people know about the doll?"
Gabrielle shook her head. "None Nobody. Just me and Xena. And Lynchia. But we can't count her..." The bard pondered. "And..."
"And me," Sappho finished for her.
"Yes." Gabrielle replied in frustration. "But we know you didn't take it."
"So, who then???" Rosie cried.
"GAME THREE - MARTINA!"
Everyone cringed and looked over at the court. Xena was once again picking herself up off the turf.
"Hurry!!" Rosie cried. "We're runnin outta time here!"
"Heavy, ain't it heavy." Melissa sang from behind.
"Yeah, heavy Melissa." Rosie snorted.
"Was it talk or the drink or the dance that led to this?" Melissa snapped back.
"Gods!" Rosie sighed. "Someone, kill her for me, would ya?"
"Wait!" Sappho started, turning to Gabrielle. "Was it talk?"
Gabrielle and the others looked puzzlingly over at Sappho.
"We were talking yesterday, in waste." She grabbed the bard's arm in understanding. "About the doll!!!"
"Yes!" Gabrielle cried. "We were! Who might have overheard?"
"The assistant!" they both cried in immediate understanding.
"Who?" Rosie asked.
Gabrielle began to bounce around in growing excitement. "A burly woman, about yea high... Tough. Kinda bitchy, actually... She was on about…"
"Yeah." Sappho nodded. "I've seen her around, but I don't-"
"Sounds like half the furkin island!" Rosie cried.
"Rosie!" Sappho turned to her. "How can you say such a thing?"
"Whut?" Rosie replied defensively. "She does look like half the island!"
"Yeah, like that woman in your room," Ellen added. "But, you know, she was kinda cute when you-"
"What!" Gabrielle interrupted her. "When was she in the room?"
Ellen visibly jumped back. "Um, when I got the dress, er I mean, shift, um, thingy from your room... She said I'd get a ticky if I-"
"Dress?" Rosie repeated.
"Well, that's her then!" Gabrielle cried. "She must have stolen the doll in between rounds!"
"Um… Sets." Ellen corrected her.
Gabrielle exploded. "Sets! Rounds! Periods! Cycles! Who gives a rat's ass about-"
"Everybody calm!" Sappho cried. "And you, watch your mouth. It's getting worse!" She pointed at a guilty bard, then turned to the others. "Now, this is not helping our situation. Teamwork, remember? Everybody breathe out!" They all nodded and did as instructed. "Ok. We know what she looks like. Now all we have to do is find her."
"Find her? How? In this crowd?" Rosie cried in frustration, as she pointed toward the stands.
All the artsies' shoulders slumped together collectively as they followed Rosie's arm. There were literally hundreds of women that, from afar, looked close enough to the assistant to be her sister.
"Gods!" Gabrielle groaned, looking up at the heavens in the hopes that the sky itself would reveal all. It didn't.
"GAME FOUR -MARTINA!"
What in Tartarus are they doing now?? Xena cried inwardly, as she brushed more dirt off her arms from that last trip. Another game bit the dust. They were all staring up at the tartarus sky. Well, she doubted if Zeus would be appearing any time in the near future. She breathed deep the air and looked down at her feet. Think, dammit.
"Serve it up, wench!" Martina cried from across the net.
Every muscle in Xena's body that wasn't already seized, tightened further as she slowly brought her gaze up from the court, until it rested dangerously on Martina's throat. Martina swallowed from the intensity of the gaze. Xena had to tear her eyes away from Martina's throat before she tore it out. Her eyes traveled down her arm to that disgustingly large racquet. Hmm. Huge, in fact. Then the warrior started, and raced over to the ump's position on the tower. "I'm calling for a measurement."
"What?" the ump called down.
"That racquet!" Xena pointed towards Martina. "Just what exactly are the specs for legal sizes on these things?"
Martina rolled her eyes and strode with purpose towards the tower. "What is she on about?"
"The racquet." The ump turned to her. "Let me see it." She extended her hand down.
Martina pulled her racquet back, holding it close to her breast. "Why?"
"Measurement," the umpire called down. "The racquet, please."
"You have no right!" Martina cried.
"Hand it up," the umpire warned. Martina relented, cursing all the way. "Bring the measuring stick!" the ump called to the lineswomen, and they scurried over. She was still twirling it around in her hands when the lineswoman handed up a stick for her to test it.