DISCLAIMER: All the usual stuff. Xena, the Gabster, Herc and Sexy...I mean Iolaus aren't mine - they belong to those lucky, lucky people at Renaissance.
The night out and hangover which inspired this little piece of fluff were mine and I will fight to the bitter end to protect them. Try and pinch them - go on, just try. Look, I'm begging you - take the pain away!!
This is for Andrew and Jamie who will get the joke in a few years time.
Special thanks to Neil for beta reading the whole thing and not making me stay after class to do it all again. Cheers, Bud.
Prelude to a Hangover
by Karen Dunn
The sun had gone down hours ago. The night sky was peppered with stars and the moon was smiling down and lighting the road ahead as two heroes strode with manly gait toward the distant lights of a town.
The smaller of the two punched playfully at the treetrunk arm of his companion: " and the centaur gasped and said 'but Hera told me it was a cure for herpes'!!" before grinning a broad, toothy grin.
The giant of a man at his side threw back his head and gave a hearty, heroic, ever-so-macho laugh: "Iolaus" he guffawed, "I swear your mouth would make Aphrodite blush."
They walked along in companionable silence for a while, pondering manly deeds and recalling heroic feats, as the moon climbed higher and higher in the sky. Iolaus began wishing for a hot tavern meal, a mug of warm ale and a comfortable bed for the night. They had been sleeping under the stars for too long and a giggle from up ahead brought the two men to a halt.
The big man shrugged, "I don't know. Let's take a look."
They sneaked forward and peered round a handily placed tree.
Now Hercules had seen the Warrior Princess in many and varied a situation. He had seen her happy, he had seen her sad, he had seen her in a killing frenzy ready to hack his heart out with her sword, he had seen her in the kind of situation a gentleman would never brag about unless they were asked really, really nicely four hundred times in a row by their far too nosy buddy.
But this was a new one on him.
He and Iolaus settled back against the ever so handy tree and watched as the up tight, always in control ex-Destroyer of Nations and her sweet as apple pie, wouldn't breathe in in the wrong kind of tavern sidekick lay on their backs, looking at the stars, surrounded by empty wineskins and drank themselves further and further into oblivion.
It had all started with a bet. One of those stupid bets that gets forgotten in the ensuing outcome. One of those "I bet you couldn't " "I bet I could " kind of bets that most people leave at that but really good friends follow through to the end.
The bet went as follows:
"What have we got to drink, Gabrielle?"
"Is that all?"
"There's a town just over that hill. I could go and buy us a wineskin."
"Do we have enough money?"
"Not really. But I could haggle."
"Hey! I can haggle!"
"It's just that I fancied a skin of really good port."
"I could get port."
"For " counting, " three dinars?"
Confident swagger, "Yeah, for three dinars."
Annoyed, "Xena, you know I can haggle. I'll bet you that I can get us as many skins as I can carry for three dinars."
"Bet you can't."
Xena watched as Gabrielle grabbed her staff and strode out of the campsite. She gave an evil grin and leaned back against a fallen log, "And no sleeping with Inn Keeper!"
"You're gonna pay for that."
Well, an hour later the bard returned, her arms loaded down with wineskins which she duly dropped at the feet of her somewhat surprised friend.
Xena uncorked the first one and took a tentative sniff, "Port! How in Hades name did you manage that?"
Gabrielle sat down looking smug, "You're not the only one with many skills, my friend."
Xena took a long drag and sighed in contentment, "Well, however you did it, it was worth it."
"Glad you think so."
"Good. 'Cos you're re-thatching the tavern roof tomorrow morning."
Sigh, "I'll get you for that, bard."
And things had gone on from there. They had to return the wineskins the next day and it would have been rude to take them back still full of port.
So the drinking began.
And carried on.
Until eventually: "Oy."
Gabrielle blinked over at her friend, "Wha'?"
"I've forgot who I am."
"Have you forgot who I am?"
The bard considered this, then shook her head, "Nope."
Silence, broken only by the sound of someone hiccuping gently, then: "Who am !?"
Gabrielle gazed up at the stars, which gazed right back at her, and held her arms aloft in the traditional heroic manner of the best Academy trained bards, "You're Xena: Warrior Princess, Bitch of Tartarus, Destroyer of Nations, Scourge of Ares and laxative to every constipated bad guy to cross your path."
Xena grinned, "I gotta lotta names, don't I?"
More silence, then, "Who are you?"
"I'm Grabi Gari Grabri...you know that's just typical of my mother!"
"She coulda called me anything in the Known World - anything - but she hasta call me Grabirelle. An' you try sayin' that when you're drunk."
Xena tried, then shook her head, "Can't be done."
"Yeah I know. It's typical. She called Lila Lila, you know "
"Well, I kinda guessed."
"It just rolls offa the tongue."
Another grin, "So I've heard."
Gabby took the wineskin from her friend and drained it, "She did it on purpose, ya know."
"Yeah." The skin was tossed aside as Xena uncorked another, "All the time we were growing up it was: 'be good, look afta the baby, take that outa your mouth, don't eat that or you'll die, get down offa the roof.' And then - and then - she goes and makes us move to Potti Potal "
The bard slapped her friend on the shoulder and tried to sit up, "Zactly! So now, thanks to my mother, I'm Grabirelle of Pottidooy." She gave up the effort and flopped back down against the log, accepting the wineskin from Xena and almost drowning herself while drinking.
Xena snatched it away from her choking friend, "No consideration, tha's her trouble."
"She's a bitch is what she is!"
"Cos she knew - she knew - I'd hafta spend the wholea my adult life sober an' never have a drink neither."
Xena prodded her, "Yeah. Cos no taxi-chariot is gonna pick you up just to have you dribble that at him."
"Zactly!" Gabby nodded her head sadly, "I don't think I like my mother any more."
With a shake of the head, Hercules glanced over at Iolaus. The smaller man was curled up in a tight ball, tears of silent laughter coursing down his cheeks, one fist stuffed into his mouth as he bit on his hand in an effort to stay quiet.
The demi-god frowned, "Iolaus," he whispered, "They're our friends. We shouldn't be laughing at them."
Gosh, he was heroic and chivalrous and ever-so-nice. He was just the kind of guy you could take to meet the family, knowing that he would love the food, laugh at the jokes, offer to do the dishes and never - never - chat up your sister the second your back was turned.
Iolaus was just as heroic and still ever-so-nice, but you and I know that the second your back was turned he would be rolling around the hayloft with your sister, you mother and your great Aunt Gertrudia simply because they were there.
He looked up at his buddy and tried to pull himself together, "Sorry, Herc," he whispered, "You're right. We should let them know we're here. After all, they're going to need your patented hangover cure in the morning."
Herc nodded and got to his feet.
Now, he was about to step into the campsite. Honest he was. But the next words out of Xena's mouth were, "D'you think Herc'lees is sexy?" and before he knew it he was still as a statue and had Iolaus' arm in a vice-like grip, preventing him from moving.
Anyway, Xena had said, "D'you think Herc'lees is sexy?"
Gabrielle gave one of those girlish giggles and elbowed her friend in the ribs.
Xena elbowed her right back, "No. No seriously, Gab. D'you think Herc is sexy?"
Gabrielle considered this for a moment then scrunched up her nose and shook her head, "Too many muscles."
Behind the ever so handy tree, Iolaus sniggered.
Hercules glared at him.
"Wha's wrong wi' muscles - I like muscles."
"Nah. I don' like a guy to have that many muscles jus' one big one "
Xena choked, spilling port all down her front, "Grabirelle!!"
"Y'see! Y'see! I tol' you it was m'possible to say when you're drunk!"
"Don' change the subject!"
"You get very shrill when you're shocked, y'know."
"I am not shrill!"
Gabrielle rescued the fallen wineskin and took a noisy slurp, "Oh, wha's the probl'm. I happen to think Herc'lees has too many muscles."
"Now Yolus, on the other hand Yolus is "
Behind the ever so handy tree, Iolaus' interest perked up noticeably.
"Yolus is jus' a a sexybot."
Hercules bit his lip and tried not to snigger.
Heroic demi-gods did not snigger. It was nowhere near manly enough.
"Yeah " All defensive now, Gabby sat up and glared at Xena who was laughing like a sewerage trench, " stop laughin'! will you stop laughin' at me!!"
Xena tried to stop laughing. She just didn't try very hard, "I'm sorry," snort, " sexybot " giggle.
"All right okay, funny lady what's so damn'd special about Herc'lees, eh?"
Xena sat up a little woozily and frowned, "Herc'lees is well, he's he's a demi-god y'know?"
"So I've heard "
"And he's got a lot of stamina "
Gabrielle raised an innocent eyebrow, "Stamina?"
"Yeah, you know when it comes to ex'r'cise he can keep it up for a long time "
Another, equally innocent eyebrow followed the first, "Exercise?"
Xena chucked the wineskin at her friend in frustration, "Oh come on Garibrelle you know wha' I mean."
The bard caught the skin, took a swig, smacked her lips noisily and shook her head, "Nope, you've los' me."
"Do I have to spell it out?"
Deciding things had gone on far too long for heroically, manly scruples to allow, Herc stepped out from behind the ever so handy tree.
Gabrielle saw him straight away and did what any good friend would do in such a situation. She milked it for all it was worth.
She grinned and looked the Big Guy straight in the eye, "If y'wouldn't mind" she said.
Xena was unaware, oblivious and blushing like Hades. Not that anything made Hades blush. As a rule he'd seen it all and, once he got round to taking off his gloves, he had done it all too.
Anyway, she was blushing and embarrassed and wanting this conversation to end. "He's a damn'd good lay, all right!?" she shouted.
Gabrielle's grin widened as Herc shuffled uncomfortably and wished he was somewhere else. "Oh" giggle, "I see " snort.
Xena glared at the bard and noticed that she wasn't actually looking her in the eye. That she was grinning at something behind her.
A thought occurred to her and she swallowed, "He's standin' behind me, isn't he?"
Giggle "Oh yeah."
"I hate you, Gab. Jus' thought you should know."
"That's okay, Sshena, I hate you too."
With as much dignity as she could muster, Xena turned slowly and flashed Hercules a beaming, all teeth and eyes, smile, "Hi Herc "
To his credit, the demi-god had his blush firmly under control, "Hello, Xena Gabrielle "
Iolaus stepped up behind his friend and Gabrielle looked him up and down, loitering a little too long on down, then gave an enthusiastic wave, "Hi Sexybot!"
" um "
Gabrielle tried to raise the wineskin to her lips once more only to find it snatched away by a Herculean sized hand, "I think I should take care of that."
She tugged it back, "But I wanna nother drink."
He tugged harder and she fell backwards in an undignified and completely unregal heap, "No you don't."
"I'm a Namazon Queen an' if I say I wanna nother drink then I wanna nother drink. Now gimme that back or I'll set Sshena on you - an' she's she's "
"She's passed out, Gabrielle."
She looked. She had, "Oh."
Hercules emptied the skin into a nearby bush, "I think you've both had more than enough."
"Yeah? Well I think that it's time for another round o'the wineskin."
"I agree!" cried a voice from ground level.
Gabrielle grinned down at her sprawled friend, "Hey, you're awake!"
"Takes more'n a few drinks to take down Xena "
The bard nodded knowingly, "She's right you know."
"Destroyer of Princesses "
Hercules raised an eyebrow with a sigh, "Really"
"Bitch of Laxatives "
"Oh yeah," said Gab with a serious frown, "Use-ly it takes arrows lots n lots of arrows all fired at the same time n'all aimed really really acra acur all aimed really really well."
Xena tugged on Herc's arm, "I've been sick on your boot."
And the night rolled on.
Iolaus squirmed as Gabby, leaning back against the fallen log with a silly grin plastered across her face, tugged on his sleeve, "I learned a song. D'ya wanna hear it?"
She tried to focus on him, but her concentration kept wandering and her eyesight insisted on following it, "Issa really good song. It's got Amazons n'centaurs n'stuff."
He sighed, "Well, if you must."
"Great! It's called An Amazon Staff Has A Knob On The End."
Deep breath, "Oh, an Amazon's staff has a knob on the end
A knob, a knob, a knob on the end
A little white tuft to tickle your friend
Oh an Amazon staff has a knob on the end."
Xena nudged the wide eyed Iolaus with a badly aimed elbow, "There's twenny five verses of this y'know."
"And some o'them are really, really rude."
"Oh yeah. Hey Gab. Sing the verse with the centaur and the wood nymph."
"Okay" Another deep breath "Oh, an Amazon staff has a knob on the end
But centaurs have knobs of all "
Iolaus clamped his hand over the slightly out of tune bard's mouth, "That's all right, Gabrielle. I think we can guess the rest."
lick "Your hand tastes nice."
The two men left at verse 17 - the one with the sword, the codpiece and the chastity belt, which Xena was singing along to with great enthusiasm and much waving of arms. Hercules suggested that he and Iolaus make camp a little way away. No one would be able to sneak up on them and they would be close enough incase of alcohol induced emergencies.
The night rolled on with much singing and giggling and general hazy jollity.
Then morning arrived.
The sun rose in beautific splendour, casting its golden rays across the land. Sunbeams danced across the fields and played among the branches of the trees bringing new light to the fresh dawn.
Birds chirped and cheeped, hopping from branch to branch as the joys of spring soared through them, releasing itself in a gorgeous chorus of song which echoed across the land inviting one and all to rise and greet a fine new day.
A chakram buzzed its slightly unsteady way through the branches bringing startled squawks then instant silence amidst a flurry of feathers and leaves, "Shut the Tartarus up!"
Gabrielle lifted her head from the bedroll, instantly regretted it and lowered it again with a heartfelt groan, "Xena do you have to be so loud?"
The Hungover Princess caught the returning chakram with one hand and pulled the blanket over her face with the other, " hate birds " she muttered.
For an hour there was silence, the only sound being Argo's gentle munching as she chomped her way through a clump of grass.
Memory, like the sneaky thing it is, slowly returned.
With a crashing of undergrowth and smiles which reflected the sun in a far too painful fashion, Hercules and Iolaus tramped out of the forest and stamped ever so loudly into the campsite singing the final verse of "And Zeus Has A Very Long Thunderbolt" at the top of their voices.
Xena peered at them over the edge of her blanket, "Go away."
Ignoring her, Hercules set down the bundle of firewood he was carrying and began to make a fire and prepare a meal while Iolaus took hold of Gabrielle's blanket and pulled it off with one swift tug, "Wakey wakey!"
The bard didn't miss a beat. As the blanket was pulled away she rolled to the left and disappeared under the edge of Xena's bedroll with a muttered curse.
Iolaus grinned, "I didn't know you knew words like that."
A head of ruffled blonde hair poked out of the blanket, "I'm a bard. I know many words."
The hunter chuckled and tugged the second blanket away leaving both women glaring at him from the ground, "Iolaus," whined Gabby, "go bite a Bacchae."
"Don't tempt me" he growled before stepping aside to let Hercules through. The demi-god handed a plate of something unrecognisable to Xena, "Breakfast! A trustworthy old remedy from my misspent youth. Works wonders for hangovers."
Xena tried to give him The Look, but her eyes weren't ready to co-operate just yet and she ended up squinting, "I'm going to have to hurt you."
He grinned, "Well get this down you and you might be in a condition to catch me."
He offered a second plate to the bard.
Gabrielle took one look at the greasy mess on the platter before her and groaned, closing her eyes. Then the smell hit and those eyes widened in shock as her face turned a charming shade of green before she leant over and threw up all over Hercules' boot.
The demi god raised one stoic eyebrow, "Oh good," he muttered, "Now it matches the other one."
Xena set her plate aside and patted Gabrielle on the back, "You okay?".
"Oh yeah", the bard took a quick look at Herc and Iolaus as they hovered beside her, a picture of concern, "but I don't think I could face a day on that roof.".
Xena frowned, "Roof? But you don't...".
Gabrielle elbowed her in the ribs, "No Xena, a deal's a deal. We said we'd re-thatch that roof and we will - no matter how ill we both feel." she raised an eyebrow, "And I'm sure you must feel as bad as I do.".
Xena looked at the two men then back at Gabrielle and grinned before raising a pained hand to her head, "I've learned to hide pain, my friend," she said with a theatrical groan, "The roof's not that high so we shouldn't be hurt if we fall.".
The bard and the warrior got to unsteady feet and began to gather their things..
Gabrielle hugged the surprised Iolaus, "thanks for looking out for us and for making such a lovely breakfast. We've got to go now.".
Xena whistled and Argo trotted into camp, standing patiently as her saddled was loaded up..
Iolaus looked at Hercules, "Herc, they're in no state to spend the day on a roof.".
"I agree", chivalry kicked in and the demi-god placed a hand on Argo's bridle as Xena climbed into the saddle, "You and Gabrielle take it easy for the day. Iolaus and I will thatch the roof.".
She almost managed a scowl, "Thank you but no. A deal's a deal and we have work to do." She reached down and tugged Gabby up onto Argo's back, "We'll be fine.".
Hercules refused to let go, "Xena, listyen to reason. you're not at your best and it's going to be a hot day. Let us do this for you. As friends.".
The bard and the warrior looked at each other and nodded in silent agreement. Gabrielle smiled down at the two men, "Well, if you insist.".
"We'll see you around then.".
With a gentle kick, Xena set Argo into a slow walk through the trees in deference to their delicate condition..
Once they left the campsite, though, the war horse began to pick up the pace and she looked back and grinned at the bard..
Iolaus watched as Argo broke into a trot and then an all out gallop, "Is it me, or have we just been conned?" he asked..
Xena's warcry echoed back through the trees accompanied by Gabrielle's laugh..
Hercules patted his friend on the shoulder, "Fished in," he smiled, "hook, line and sinker.".
They turned and walked towards the village where a threadbare tavern roof was waiting to be thatched..
Alkaseltzus, god of hopeless drunks, earned quite a few Brownie points during the writing of this fiction and is flaunting them around the halls of Mount Olympus even as we speak.
For those of you who don't know what Brownie points are I can only say "dib dib dib, ging gang gooly, Brown Owl" and leave you none the wiser.
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