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Bouncing Back
by Filippa Morgan Flasheart
Copyright 1998

Comedic Personae
Joxer, the Mighty
Gabrielle, Bard of Poteidaia
Xena, Warrior Princess
Salmoneus, entrepeneur
Cithele, an acrobat
Ricola, an apothecary
Argo, Xena's horse
Assorted townspeople

Summary: After watching Cithele the Amazing perform her trampoline act, Joxer decides that a trampoline is just the thing for Gabrielle as she recovers from a bad cold. (This is a vignette and not a full story.) References: The Quill is Mightier, Been There, Done That, Ricola cough drop commercial, Mary Poppins.

Rating: PG. A few "wishful thoughts" on Joxer's part.

Disclaimer: No whippy branches were damaged during Gabrielle's bouncing; however, her BGSB was almost completely stretched out.

Xena, Gabrielle, Joxer, Argo and Salmoneus are the property of Renaissance Pictures. Ricola and Cithele are the author's creation.

Warning: This is a Joxerphile story! Be warned.

"Xena," protested Gabrielle as she sneezed for what seemed like the umpteenth time. It came out sounding like Xe-da. "Can't we just find a place to stay?" She pulled a small rag from her satchel and blew her nose loudly. The two women walked down a narrow alley with Argo in tow.

"Don't worry, Gabrielle. There's a festival here anyway, so I'm sure there's plenty of extra lodging. I can get some herbs for your congestion. See, look, there's an apothecary's stall right over there." She motioned with her hand and led Argo to the colorful cart.

Beside the colorful, well-stocked stall, a middle-aged woman with a cheerful, plump face blew powerfully on a long, bronze horn, which produced a sound similar to a grumpy cow at pasture. Seeing that she had customers, she put the instrument aside and smiled winsomely.

"Can I help you? My name is Ricola, and I'm the best apothecary in these parts. Could I interest you in some herbal drops? My own creation," she said as she held out a box of the peculiar, mint-scented pieces.

"I have a bad cold," Gabrielle told her, "and I need something to stop this sneezing. I can't write at all since my head's been so stuffy!"

"Well, of course. I have just the thing," Ricola offered, reaching into one of her racks. She found what she was looking for: a small purple vial with a cork. She handed it to the bard. "Take it twice per day, at sunrise and at dusk. It isn't the best tasting stuff you'll find, but go ahead and eat a damson or plum to help it go down. You'll be feeling better in no time," the kindly apothecary said.

"Here's ten dinars," Xena said, tossing her a coin. "Go ahead and keep the change."

"Demeter bless you. Enjoy the festival!" called Ricola as she went back to work blowing into her horn.

"I'm glad we took care of that," Gabrielle mused, careful to avoid the many children and dogs underfoot as they scurried in search of more merriment. Everywhere festive banners hung and bright music played in honor of Demeter, goddess of the harvest.

"Hey, guys! Wait up!" came a familiar, reedy voice as Gabrielle and Xena turned. Joxer trotted towards them, a huge grin on his face as he clutched an unidentifiable bundle. Unaware of the cobblestones, he tripped and sprawled into a pile of hay. Argo put her ears back and whinnied, as if she were laughing at him.

"Hello, Joxer," Xena said, smiling and patient as always with the young man. He pulled himself to a sitting position and continued to grin. He must be pretty happy not to let that faze him, the warrior thought.

"This festival stuff is great! Lots of good food, music, and merchants. Oh, here," he said, scrambling to his feet and unwrapping his cloth-covered parcel. He held it out to Gabrielle shyly. "I hope you like it."

Inside lay a beautiful, hand-woven leather hairband decorated with ribbon. Gabrielle's jaw hung agape and she tried not to blush.

"I won it playing get-the-ball-through-the-basket. I seem to be kinda good at that, and Zeus knows I needed it," he said sheepishly as she remained speechless.

"Thank you, Joxer. It's very nice," Gabrielle thanked him as she smiled. Even through her stuffiness, she sounded happy.

"Gabrielle, why don't you go on ahead. I'll see about getting us some food," Xena suggested, leaving the bard to wander up the cart-lined street. After she was out of earshot, Xena turned to Joxer and gave him an amused look. "All right, how much did you pay for that hairband? Fifty dinars? Sixty?" He studied the ground hopelessly, embarrassed. "Joxer, you don't have to buy her things all the time. She'll get the point eventually," said Xena as she put a hand on his armored shoulder. "Yeah?" he asked, unsure of her advice. "Remember what happened with the necklace, though? Maybe this is better. I didn't trade anything important to get it," Joxer said.

"Trust me, Joxer. I know Gabrielle," Xena answered him. "Come on, before she gets too far ahead of us." She led Argo down the street as Joxer clanked after her.

The two ran into a wall of people as the street joined with the agora. Gabrielle was near the back of the crowd and beckoned to her friends with her staff.

"What's going on up there?" asked Joxer curiously as he hopped and tried to see over the throng.

"Some sort of circus act. Everyone in town has been waiting for it," the bard answered as she tried to sneak a glimpse herself.

"I guess it's about to start," mused Xena as the crowd hushed slightly. A strange round apparatus, which looked to be a piece of canvas tied to a circle of stout poles, had been set up in the center of the marketplace, with a wooden platform slightly above it. Cheers arose from the villagers as a stocky, smiling, bearded man climbed the platform's staircase. He wore the colorful, ornate robes of a ringmaster. Gabrielle, Xena and Joxer gaped in recognition as the man as he played the crowd for applause.

"Salmoneus. I was wondering what that rogue has been up to," Xena whispered, obviously amused. "He's probably got some big-shot doing tricks for loads of dinars."

As if to answer her, Salmoneus spoke in his showman's voice. "Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, it is with great honor and pleasure that I welcome you to the festival of Demeter. For your most assured entertainment, I give to you, Cithele the Amazing, acrobat extraordinaire!" The crowd's eyes turned as a limber, elegant young woman cartwheeled out of nowhere and sprang onto the apparatus in a move that made even Xena gasp. Her ginger ponytail danced behind her as she bounced up and down on the canvas, and her sequined teal costume sparkled in the sunlight. Mad applause and raucous shouts of approval filled the air as Cithele performed daring leaps and kicks on the suspended canvas circle.

"Xena, that's amazing. She's almost as good as you," Gabrielle said, her eyes locked on the skilled Cithele.

"I don't need a piece of canvas to do that," responded Xena wryly. Even so, she was definitely impressed by this girl. Whoever taught her was a master.

Without missing a beat, the auburn-haired Cithele caught the iron hoop Salmoneus tossed her and leaped through it in midair. As the townspeople held their breath, she leaped higher and higher until she performed a triple flip through the hoop. Wild cheers greeted her as she landed perfectly and executed another flawless series of movements with the hoop.

"Wow," Joxer breathed, enthralled at the acrobat's finesse. Secretly, he envisioned Gabrielle performing the same feats in the same form-fitting teal outfit.

Cithele completed a final series of jumps and twists, then sprang overhead and landed on her bare feet to the ground. The resulting applause was deafening and Salmoneus rushed to hold his star's hand aloft. Dinars and trinkets rained down in appreciation, and Cithele caught a few of the flowers tossed at her.

"Bravo! Oh, that was wonderful," Gabrielle called as she clapped madly. "That girl has real talent. Not like yours, though, Xena," she assured her best friend. Argo, meanwhile, stamped nervously as the noise grew louder.

"I guess I need to have a few words with Salmoneus. He is a friend, after all," Xena said as she pushed her way through the sea of bodies. Gabrielle followed her, leaving Joxer to hold Argo. He fed her a few dates from his own satchel.

* * *

"Xena! Gabrielle! How nice it is to see you both. Please, may I offer you a drink?" Salmoneus offered as he ushered the bard and warrior into his tent.

"No, thanks. Just stopped in to say hello, and ask how things have been going," Xena said, taking her seat on one of the plush cushions scattered about.

"Wonderful, wonderful. Couldn't be better, actually. Cithele and I have been doing all the big festivals: Athens, Thebes, Corinth, Sparta, Parnassus, everywhere. We're even going to Amphipolis, if you're ever there anymore, Xena," the kindly entrepeneur said.

"She's not. We're always traveling, and even I haven't been to Poteidaia in a long time," Gabrielle answered for her.

Salmoneus frowned, hearing her normally beautiful voice muddled so. "Nasty cold you've got, Gabrielle," he remarked.

"Don't remind me," she scowled. "I did get some medicine for it, though."

Xena was about to speak when Cithele, now clad in a plain leather smock with her hair braided, came in. "Salmoneus, have you seen my...oh, hello," she said, offering her hand to Xena and Gabrielle. "Pleased to meet you. I hope you enjoyed the show," said the acrobat in her pleasant, soft voice.

"I'm Xena, and this is Gabrielle. We very much enjoyed your show," Xena answered as she shook Cithele's hand. Gabrielle did the same.

"The Xena? And Gabrielle? You have no idea how much I admire you both, even though we've never met."

Xena smiled slightly, even as she disliked flattery. "Is that so?" she asked with a chuckle.

"Yes. I know that my agility probably pales in comparison to yours. And Gabrielle, I could probably never write. I can barely write my own first name." At least the praise seemed genuine.

"Thanks. It was nice meeting you, and nice seeing you again, Salmoneus. Good luck on tour," Xena said softly as she and Gabrielle turned to leave.

"I'd better go too. My next show isn't far off," Cithele remarked as she trotted off to her own tent.

"And Xena, if I might interest you in getting a few dinars for yourself..."

"No thanks, Salmoneus. I can manage," Xena winked at her old friend. She lifted the tent flap and went back out into the agora.

* * *

Joxer sat down on a bale of hay. Argo put her head in his lap, and he scratched her chin gently. He hated it when Gabby and Xena just ran off and forgot all about him. Still, he had bought a sugared apple and munched it contentedly. He gave the core to the mare, which she devoured gratefully.

"There you are! Sorry we took so long," Xena shouted to him as she and Gabrielle walked towards him. "You know how Salmoneus is."

"Yeah, I know," Joxer yawned, standing up and stretching. "You guys go ahead and enjoy the festival. I'll be around," he said, handing Argo's reins to Xena.

"See you later, then," Xena said simply as she left once more. Gabrielle, before she turned around, smiled ever so coyly at him.

That smile made his heart glow. Now, if only he could find a present that would really be worthy of such a beauty.

Poetry. No, that's out. I remember what happened the last time.

Flowers. Not good enough, plus they wouldn't last.

Candy. Not good for her figure.

A golden quill. No, too expensive, and not practical.

Of course, he could try to get, impossible! Joxer thought to himself. Of course, if he did get it, it was something they both could enjoy. All he needed to do was ask, and maybe offer a small favor in return.

Without another word, Joxer trotted towards Salmoneus' tent, clanking with every footfall.

* * *

"Ugh," Gabrielle moaned as Ricola's medicine slid down her throat. Even with the sweetness of plums to mask it, the elixir tasted terrible. "A spoonful of sugar does not help this medicine go down."

"It's going to make you feel better. Trust me," Xena assured her. The sun was already down, and they huddled in their blankets inside the barn they had found for lodging. Argo snorted in the stall nearby.

"We've got to get up early tomorrow, since the play they put on honoring Demeter takes place at the crack of dawn," the warrior said gently as she rolled over in the pelts.

"Xena, you know I'm not a morning person," came Gabrielle's protest. But Xena had already fallen asleep.

* * *

As the eastern sky glowed with the light of dawn, Xena gingerly opened her eyes and yawned. As usual, Gabrielle still snoozed under her pile of blankets. With a gentle hand, the warrior nudged her friend's shoulder.

"Dawn already?" asked the bard, sitting upright and rubbing her eyes.

As if to answer her, the barn door swung open and Joxer sauntered in, cheerful as always. With sardonic humor, Gabrielle noticed he did not have a helmet full of goose eggs this time.

"Hey guys, have I got a surprise for you," he said, barely able to contain his enthusiasm.

"The play? Joxer, we knew about that already," Xena said, hardly interested.

"No, this is much better. But you've got to promise not to look until we get there. It's a surprise," he told them with glee.

"This had better be good," Gabrielle muttered as she grabbed her staff.

"Don't forget your medicine," Xena advised.

"Oh, yeah." Gritting her teeth, she gulped another dose. At least she was feeling better.

* * *

"Are we there yet?" Xena asked, curiously like a child. Joxer led his friends through the woods at the outskirts of town, careful to ensure their eyes were closed.

"Almost. Just quit asking," he said.

As the three reached their destination, Joxer grinned madly and turned around. "So what do you think?" he asked, positively ecstatic.

Gabrielle opened her eyes first and her jaw fell wide open. Xena was barely able to stop from gawking herself.

In the clearing, Cithele's vaulting canvas had been set up around a circle of trees. Joxer walked over to it and tested its bounce. "Isn't this great? Salmoneus agreed to let us use it for one day, since there's no show today."

Gabrielle was still shocked. "And we want to do this because?" she queried.

Joxer merely smiled some more. "'Cause it's fun! Don't you want to try it?" He unstrapped his armor and placed it on the ground. Awkwardly he climbed astride and began to bounce in an irregular beat.

Xena and Gabrielle exchanged dubious glances. "Well, do you want to? You probably should, since he paid a lot for this," Xena told Gabrielle, careful to ensure the young man didn't hear them.

"All right. Just let me try it," she reluctantly agreed, climbing astride. Annoyed, she struggled to maintain balance as Joxer hopped merrily. "Joxer, do you mind stopping for just a minute? I need to stand up."

"Sorry," he said sincerely, and offered her his hand. She was surprised at the strength of it. Then, in tandem, they began to jump up and down. Joxer could not help but notice how her green top bounced alluringly with her.

Grinning from ear to ear, he took his beloved's hand. "Here, Gabby, let's do a flip or something," he offered. She climbed into the stirrup Joxer made with his hand and gingerly somersaulted in the air, just like Xena had taught her. However, as she fell back to the canvas, the back of her top caught on one of the surrounding branches. She hung above the ground, helplessly thrashing as Joxer stopped bouncing.

"Help!" she shrieked as Joxer reached to get her down.

"Hang on, Gabrielle. Just stay calm," called Xena from below. "I'll be right up."

"It's OK, Xena. I can get her....whoooooah!" She fell on top of him as he unhooked her top from the jutting branch.

For a moment her green eyes peered into his brown ones as she lay on top of him. Then, as he had expected, she gave him a nose pull.

"Owwww! I was just trying to help!" Joxer whined as she pulled harder.

"Can't you be any more careful?" Gabrielle growled. "I could have gotten hurt."

"It's all right, Gabrielle. Just be more careful the next time," Xena advised.

Mercifully she let go, leaving Joxer to rub his sore nose. "I guess I'll jump some more. Just one at a time from now on, okay?" He nodded in agreement.

Xena helped him down as Gabrielle began to tentatively bounce again. "You know, this isn't so bad once you get the hang of it," she said to herself as she bounced higher and higher.

As Xena sat Joxer down on the ground, she whispered into his ear once more. "How did you convince Salmoneus to let you use this thing?"

"Well, I told him that if Cithele ever needed a partner, I'm her man," he said amiably as he replaced the helmet on his head. "I think Gabrielle would be a better bet, though."

The bard from Poteidaia jumped merrily as Joxer watched her with love.

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