Author: Xebbie
Story Title: The Aphrodite Factor - Part One
Characters: Gabrielle & Joxer
Rating: NC-17
Summary: Joxer and Gabrielle's budding relationship continues to dance around the topic of feelings, but it may be severely injured when a certain Olympian finds out about their arrangement.... Tenth in the Pillow Talk series.
This rating is for explicit m/f sexual situations.

The characters belong to Studios USA and Renaissance Pictures and were used without permission. No copyright infringement was intended and no money was made.

Explicit male/female sexual situations.

This is the tenth story in the Pillow Talk series, following Pillow Talk, The Look of Love, My Favourite Mistake, Accidents Will Happen, Heat of the Night, In The Clear Light of a New Day, Frustration Break, Bodyrock and Camping With Xena.

You can also find Xebbie's stories at The GJerotica Archives and Xebbie's Adult Fics

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The Aphrodite Factor - Part One
by Xebbie
© 07/00 by Xebbie

I got a girl i love to kiss
I got a girl i never wanna miss
I got a girl who's my best friend
I got a girl that won't even hold my hand
I got a girl that makes me laugh
I got a girl i'll make her laugh too
I got a girl she has girlfriends
I got a girl i like her girlfriends

Well i know, i need, i feel we're going higher and higher
Well i know, i need, i feel we're going higher and higher

--Tripping Daisy, "I Got A Girl"

Xena put her sword back in its scabbard for the night and settled down on her pelt, Gabrielle's own pelt a few feet away. The bard put her hands behind her head, sighing and making herself comfortable beneath her furs, and looked at her best friend in the dim light of the campfire.

"What a clear night," she said, a dreamy quality to her voice.

The Warrior Princess stretched like a cat, every muscle tensing before release, then relaxed. "It is that," she agreed. "Quiet, too - been especially quiet lately."

"Things always seem quieter when Joxer's not with us," Gabrielle said, smiling. "He makes it more complicated just by breathing."

Xena chuckled. "I gotta admit, we've been seeing an awful lot of him lately - this break is a relief." She rolled to face her blonde friend, smiling gently. "I do think he's getting better, really. He hasn't hurt himself in ... well, a couple of weeks, in any case. And I think the training is starting to take a little. And correct me if I'm wrong, but he's actually not quite as self-congratulatory as he used to be."

Grinning, Gabrielle said, "I'm sensing a 'but' coming."

"But," Xena smirked, "it's nice to have quiet."

"Agreed," Gabrielle said, sighing quietly, gazing up at the stars with a soft smile on her face. And it was, too; the time alone, just with Xena, was precious. She hadn't known how much she'd missed extended periods of just her and her best friend, until Joxer had taken off for the past week. It really was quiet... peaceful... almost - contemplative. There was something in her that had the urge to stare at the stars, at the sunrise, at the dewdrops caught in spiderwebs, more than she used to. Funny how you got used to having the dork around, and when he was gone, you realized just how different it was. That funny little twinge in her heart struck again, the one she'd felt a few times now when thinking about Joxer, and she frowned a little. She changed the subject. "You know who we haven't seen in a long time? Ares."

Xena snorted. "Don't tempt the Fates, Gabrielle. The longer he stays away, the better."

"Hey, I'm not arguing. Just, we were speaking of peace and quiet..."

"What did I just say about the Fates?" Xena chided her humourously. "It's funny, that the man who pursues me the most ardently throughout my life would be the representation of everything I stand against."

Sighing, Gabrielle rolled over onto her stomach. "You wouldn't give in, would you?"

"Of course not!" She put her hands behind her head, and frowned slightly. "This is Ares." She sighed almost inaudibly. "Although... And forget I said this... there is something about being chased by a bad boy in leather that is good for the ego."

"So you enjoy it."

Xena bit her lips together, trying not to grin. "Well c'mon Gabrielle. That God is a living fantasy. Leather... muscles..."

Giggling, Gabrielle added, "And those lips."

"Oh, the lips. Hmm." After a moment of silence, Xena said, "But it's only good when it's a fantasy. If he became a reality..." Her eyes looked dark in the waning light, and Gabrielle reached over and took her hand. "Well, forget I said all this."

"No problem." She smiled gently, blushing a little. "And I know what you mean, about the fantasy."

"It's the leather." Xena grinned. "I just have a thing for bad boys, anyway."

"I remember - that's what you said about Draco."

Xena grimaced. "Draco is like a pale shadow of Ares. That was the arrows talking."

"Hm. I remember the arrows a little too well, myself." She giggled. "I don't think Draco could ever be my type."

"Nah, you don't do bad boys, do you. Although," she added, pursing her lips, "I will admit that Draco's a pretty hot kisser."

"Too weird," Gabrielle pronounced. "Seeing you and him together, that was just... weird." Xena gave a little grunt of agreement. Enjoying herself, Gabrielle propped her head up on her arms and said thoughtfully, "You know who is a good kisser though? Autolycus."

"Ahhh," Xena said, chuckling, "now he's a nice case. Not quite a bad boy, but definitely not a gentle stroll in the park either."

"Is that what you think I do? Gentle strolls in the park?"

Xena punched her friend's shoulder, laughing. "No! That's not what I meant. But are you saying there's something wrong with gentle strolls in the park?" Gabrielle didn't answer, just stuck out her tongue, grinning. "Mmm, all I meant was, Autolycus isn't one of those types you can just stick into a role."

"Got a nice butt, too," Gabrielle offered. Xena raised an eyebrow. "Oh, so I'm not allowed to look, huh? Too much of a nice girl, only interested in strolls around the park?"

"I just didn't know you had looked."

Smirking, Gabrielle said, "Maybe there's more to me than everyone thinks they know. I like sex, you know... Just 'cause I haven't had many partners..."

"You don't have to have a lot of partners to enjoy it," Xena said. Her tone became wistful. "Just one, who lasts."

Gabrielle's expression softened at the pain in the dark-haired warrior's voice. Suddenly, she felt extremely lucky to have - whatever it was she had with Joxer. "What was Iolaus like?" she asked, in an attempt to lighten the mood.

Xena's features grew wicked. "The term 'hunter' described him well... he decides what he wants, and doesn't stop until he gets it. Very, very skillfully." She sighed again. "He was a beautiful soul, Gabrielle. I wish I hadn't used him that way."

"He forgave you." Gabrielle squeezed Xena's hand again, moving closer to her in the dark. "What about... Hercules?"

In a more confident tone, Xena chuckled. "Gentle. You'd be amazed... He's so large, so strong, but at sex he's gentle and sweet. All the men I've been with, I've felt desired, needed, worshipped.... But no one made me feel more loved than Hercules. Sometimes that's what you want, and sometimes it isn't, but I think it's good to have that at least once in your life."

"Yeah," Gabrielle said, her mind wandering.

"It was like that with Perdicus, wasn't it?" Xena asked gently.

She jolted out of her reverie, Xena's words surprising her - because, she realized, Perdicus hadn't been who she'd been thinking of. "Um... Yeah. Yes, definitely." Was she actually putting her relationship with Joxer on a similar level to what she'd had with Perdicus? The idea left her slightly cold, as a panic settled into her stomach, and an emptiness in her heart. They were completely different. Yes, she felt loved when she was with Joxer, but that was different - it was a friendly love, a closeness borne out of their friendship and understanding of one another, not the love she'd felt for her late husband. The two were as different from one another as the love she felt for Xena was different from either one. She cleared her throat, turning from Xena and looking back up into the sky.

"Do you mind that I brought him up?"

The bard smiled. "No. I like to remember him." This was true, and at night sometimes, while she stared at the stars, she was accustomed to feeling an ache in her heart as she wished to have him to share the view with. The ache had been coming on more strongly lately, after months of being mostly dormant. "I guess... I'm the type of person who can't really be with someone who doesn't have that way of making me feel loved."

"There's nothing wrong with that," Xena smiled wistfully.

"I know." She was silent again for a moment. "You remember a couple of weeks ago - when we were at that inn? And I stayed late in the tavern?"

Xena gave a low chuckle. "Remember, definitely. I was worried sick about you."

"I was going to try to pick someone up." She blushed in the darkness. "I did, in fact. But I couldn't go through with it."

"I figured."

Gabrielle blinked. "Oh? Thanks a lot. Why'd you figure?"

The warrior shrugged. "'Cause you never told me that you did it. And I know you would have told me."


"Yeah. You tell me everything," she said simply, and patted Gabrielle's hand affectionately.

Again, Xena's words gave Gabrielle a jolt, this time of guilt. For the past two months nearly, she'd been engaging in a rather intense relationship with their mutual best friend, and utterly neglecting to tell the closest friend she'd ever had about what was certainly the biggest thing in her life right now. And Xena had faith that Gabrielle would tell her anything.

Maybe it was really time to clear the air. Xena would understand, right...? Oh, but how to do this? That was the question... She swallowed, and said lightly, "What do you think of Joxer?"

Xena laughed sharply. "There's a disturbing connection."

Gabrielle's heart sank. From the sound of it, Xena wouldn't understand, after all. She laughed nervously. "W-well, we were talking about guys..."

"We were talking about guys we run into from time to time, but don't practically live with. Joxer's different... Maybe it's just a personal thing, but I can't see him sexually. I just... can't. Not that he isn't kinda cute, but..." She shrugged. "It's like having a baby brother again, you know? And that kind of sex talk is a little too... eugh."

"Right," Gabrielle said weakly.

"Well, but that's just me. What do you think of him?" Xena asked, encouragingly.

She blew out a breath of air. "Like you said. Family." Chicken, an inner voice chided her.

"Mmm." After a pause, during which Gabrielle knew she was working up to something, Xena's mouth curved into a knowing smile and she said, "Damn good kisser, though."


The warrior grinned openly, now, obviously enjoying her friend's reaction. "What? I was pretending to be Meg, someone came in, he was right there and it was the quickest way to keep from arousing suspicions!"

"Oh..." Gabrielle relaxed, but frowned a little to herself. It was just like Meg to throw herself at Joxer, too. And Joxer certainly couldn't have minded, kissing Xena that way... or a woman who looked like Xena... or doing more than kissing a woman who looked like Xena... She grit her teeth. "He certainly does seem popular with Meg and her girls."

"If you're into guys like him, I'm sure he's a catch."

Gabrielle picked at a fraying bit on her fur, and said, "Do you ever consider what he's like-"

"This is going down that 'eugh' road again," Xena said firmly, raising an eyebrow, the amused half-smile on her face. The blonde sighed in slight frustration. Same reaction as before... no point in even trying. But Xena noticed the sigh, and said, "Hey. What is it?"

One more shot. She gathered her strength, and decided to broach the subject as directly as she could. Her heart began hammering so hard she could barely get a decent breath. "You... you probably want to know what it is that's been bothering me and Joxer."

"I wasn't gonna pry," Xena answered slowly, "but..."

"But you'll just go find out from Joxer when you get the chance."

Xena had the grace to look a little embarrassed. "It was bothering him, too. I went, I asked, he said the same thing you did. Neither of you wants to talk about it, I just gotta wait 'til you do." She waited. "Do you now?"

"Um..." Gabrielle took a deep breath. "Yeah. I do. This isn't easy."

"Take your time." Now Xena took Gabrielle's hand in her own, and held it firmly.

Willing herself to breathe regularly, Gabrielle began. "Well... You know it started when you went off on your own for a while, about two months back..." Xena nodded. "Yeah. Well, Joxer and I were alone, and... I dunno why, but he was really getting on my nerves, so I was - really snappish with him. And - I know when I do that, that I shouldn't. I always feel bad afterwards. But he never says anything. I mean, I know sometimes I just deserve to be yelled at for some of the things I say. And this time... Well, this time I deserved it. But, he just sat and took it, so... So I yelled at him again, trying to pick an argument, and instead... he got up and left." She sighed shakily, and realized she'd started trembling. Xena's hand tightened on hers. "I'm sorry. This isn't as bad as I'm... making it out -"

"You've kept it all bottled up for so long. It's bound to come out like this." Xena gave her a gentle smile, propping herself up on her elbows, and said, "Want to go on?"

"'Kay." Another deep, shaky breath, and she said, "I couldn't... get him to come back. I felt awful - it was already dark, and he was out wandering by himself, and... you know how he is. And I - I went back to camp and got real upset..." She decided then and there not to tell Xena just how bad she'd been - throwing things, screaming, and finally dissolving into a torrent of tears. Gods, she still had no idea why she'd overreacted the way she had. "He came back, and I was glad to see him, so - so I hugged him, and I cried a little." A little. Liar. Well, lies of omission weren't so bad. The shakes got worse. She had to sit up, and pull her hand from Xena so that she could cover her face. This was silly - just stupid! Something so good had come of it, why was she so scared to tell Xena...?!

"Then what happened, Gabrielle?" Xena said softly, carefully, worry deep in her voice.

Then I kissed him, and we had sex. So simple to say. *I kissed him, and one thing led to another, and we woke up naked the next morning. Just do it. *I kissed him, and...

"He kissed me," she blurted out, in a hoarse whisper, her stomach clenching nervously.

"Oh," Xena said, quiet understanding in her voice, when Gabrielle could find the courage to look at her friend, she found the Warrior Princess with her hand over her eyes, shaking her head. "Idiot," she muttered darkly.

"I... It didn't go anywhere," Gabrielle said, almost frightened. Lie.

"But you were crying... vulnerable... and he kissed you."

"He stopped as soon as I told him to." I wouldn't let him stop.

Xena's protective instincts were on full-throttle. "Idiot," she said in an exasperated growl.

"Xena, no," Gabrielle said in a desperate rush, grabbing for any placating excuse she could find, "We've worked it out. We talked about it, and both agreed it was an accident - I was putting out signals, I was confused because I was so upset - it's not his fault. He was so apologetic, so embarrassed..." This, at least, was true. "We're just trying to get on with our friendship as if nothing else happened. It takes a while, that's all. Please - don't be mad at him."

Xena sat still for a moment, then smiled wearily. "I'm not. I'm not mad at him. This is Joxer we're talking about, after all... He wouldn't do a thing without encouragement." Gabrielle flushed, and picked at the strands on her fur again. Xena didn't notice. "So... what did you think of it?"

More picking at strands, as Gabrielle found that she couldn't look up. She spoke directly to the pelt as she answered. "Well... You're right, he is a damn good kisser." Xena chuckled. "But... could you really see us together?"

"Kinda makes you laugh just to think about it?" Xena said wryly.

"Yeah," the bard said, with a small laugh. I can't tell her. Gods, I can't tell her.

"Mmm," Xena said, something uncertain to her tone, but she didn't elaborate. "What did he think?"

"He was apologetic, like I said. We agreed to spend some time apart, and stay friends. That's... about all I can say."

"Hmmm." Xena seemed to be considering the whole thing. Finally, she said, "Have you really spoken with him about this? Said all of this outright, up front? Because, to be honest, you sound confused, Gabrielle. And if you're confused - he'll be confused."

"I told him I don't want a relationship," she said, back in familiar territory. "He knows that. And he doesn't want one either."

"Really," Xena said quietly, and she sounded a bit... surprised? Gabrielle shook her head. "But you have talked to him about this."

"Of course! I'm not gonna lead the guy on. We settled it... Now we're just... trying to live like everything's normal. Practically everything is normal."

"Good." Xena squeezed Gabrielle's hand affectionately, then lay back down, making herself comfortable. After a few moments, Gabrielle lay down as well. "You know, Joxer really looks up to you, Gabrielle."

The bard blinked. "He looks up to both of us, doesn't he?"

"Yeah. But he... he'd never do anything to hurt you, not on purpose. He really wants your respect."

"And yours too, right?"

Xena smiled, settling the furs just below her chin. "He's got mine. He knows that. Good night."

He has mine too, Gabrielle thought, after Xena's eyes had closed, and her breathing become regular. She fought back tears. So much for lies of omission; she'd sealed the tomb now. It would be that much harder to tell Xena the truth - if she could ever manage it at all. And she so wanted to tell her!

The pelt felt lonely all of a sudden, and she realized how much she missed her fool... Suddenly she wanted nothing so much as to have him there, so she could hold his hand and let him know that she respected him, that they both did. It was quiet... too quiet.


It was several days more before she saw him again, and it ended up being just outside a small town near Thrace. Xena had been asked to locate a priceless artifact, a gold carving of Poseidon, which had been stolen the night before; she had searched the site of the robbery, picked up the tracks of the thief immediately, and was leading Gabrielle and the Town Magistrate along the trail the tracks had created.

And then... came Joxer.

It was the usual thing, the cacophony of creaks and clanking that followed wherever he went with that awful armour, combined with the fact that while he had that stuff on he couldn't walk regularly to save his life so instead he basically lumbered, and besides which when he got close enough he usually called to them...

"Xena! Gabby!"

Gabrielle broke out into a huge grin, her heart going into a glad spin at the sound of his voice. Definitely had been too quiet. She spun and waved, beaming, and he fairly glowed as he waved back. Xena slowed down and turned, smiling and waiting for him to catch up despite the look of obvious irritation on the Magistrate's face.

"Tell me he's not one of your associates," the red-faced man said, and Xena smiled coolly.

"Don't worry, he's not the brains of the operation. He can be a help, if you find just the right job for him."

Joxer jogged a little to catch up with them, the clanking growing even louder, and finally slowed as he got there. "Hey, Xena," he said with a nod in her direction, but his eyes were only for Gabrielle, and his smile was brimming with happiness. She leaned on her staff, holding her own happiness in, and gave a little barely-tolerant roll of her eyes. "Nice to see you too," he snorted, as they all started walking again.

She pursed her lips into a cool smile. "You always pick the most interesting times to catch up with us. This time you get to pick up on the glory of catching a thief of an artifact of Poseidon."

"Sounds wet," he mused, as ahead of them Xena shook her head and began a conversation with the magistrate.

"It's a statue," Gabrielle told him calmly.

Nodding, he said, "Ohhhh." They walked quietly, lagging slightly behind, and then he moved closer to her and murmured, "Missed you," punctuating it with a kiss to her shoulder.

She grinned and pushed him away. "Stop that."

He was in a mood today - one of those really really great moods that she'd have to really try hard to break. He loved her; he loved her, and he was back with her, and all was right with the world. He could kiss her and tell her he missed her and all she'd do was sort of smirk and tell him to knock it off, but she didn't mean it, he could tell. It was like - it was like she was his girlfriend. Wow. Gods, was he in a great mood.

"Hey," she said quietly, motioning him closer, "um - I talked to Xena."

"You told her?" he asked, shocked. That was one thing he'd gotten the impression Gabrielle was never going to do.

"No no no," she said, waving her hands in disagreement, "I just talked to her. I thought I'd better tell you what I did end up saying to her."

"Oh." He couldn't say exactly why he was disappointed now, but he was. Only slightly, however. "Okay - shoot."

She frowned, putting a hand on his arm as if to steady him, and it suddenly occurred to him that she knew he wasn't going to like this. "Well... I started telling her what happened that night, but I couldn't really tell her the whole thing, so... uh, I said that you kissed me, and that we're trying to work it out like nothing ever happened."

"Whoa," he said, and stopped short. Her hand stayed on his arm, even though her body took another two steps forward before she stopped. "You said what?"

"That... it was sort of confusing, because I was crying and hugging you, so you got the wrong idea and-"

"The wrong idea?!" She clamped a hand over his mouth, looking towards Xena anxiously. The lovely warrior only spared them a brief glance before turning back to the Magistrate and continuing her conversation with him.

Biting her lip, Gabrielle said, "Okay - don't be too loud." She removed her hand.

He was scowling. "Thanks. Thanks a lot, Gabrielle. You just managed to prove that there is no such thing as an unspoilable good mood."

She felt a pang of guilt, and frowned. "I had to tell her something -"

"So like always, let's make Joxer the bad guy. Isn't there some way you can cover without making me look like a jerk?" He started counting off on his fingers, as she sighed heavily and rolled her eyes. "First you say I told you to 'get some', then -" His face went red suddenly. "Aww man, how's she gonna think of that now that she's heard this??"

"Calm down, Joxer." Gabrielle held her hands out in front of her, the staff dangling from her right one, the palm of her left facing him. "It's not like that. I made sure she didn't think you took advantage of me - I said I was giving out signals, and that's kind of the truth, isn't it?" He rolled his eyes. "And she said she wasn't mad."

"Wow, that makes it better. Why don't you just go spreading stories about me all the time, then." He crossed his arms, walking ahead of her, and she sighed in frustration.

"Joxer, I did this for us!"

And that was all it took for his heart to melt.

She said us. Not just a random 'us' like him and her and Xena, hanging out, but us, like... US.

He turned back to her, his heart soaring, and met her cute little glare with a much softer gaze. She blinked in confusion as his mouth spread into a smile, and he reached for her cheek, murmuring, "Gab..."

Her eyes flicked behind him, a warning light in them, and he pulled his hand away just as Xena smacked a hand down on his shoulder. "If you're done here - the Magistrate thinks we're wasting time and wants to know if we can speed it up. I tried to tell him we work on our own time, but..." She grinned.

"No problem," Gabrielle muttered, and from her voice it was clear she was still a little angry over the argument.

Joxer nodded, looking around, and then said, "Um - I'll catch up with you." He darted off before they could ask.

Gabrielle looked questioningly at her friend, who shrugged and said, "Nature calls?"


He caught up with them a few minutes later, his helmet off, beaming. Xena stayed ahead, with the Magistrate practically leaning over her shoulder and whining questions constantly.

Gabrielle would have crossed her arms if she hadn't been holding her staff. Instead she just looked at him carefully. "I was going to say, I think we should act the way we used to around her, now. So I can't be really affectionate or anything. And if I seem cranky around you, that might be why." She paused. "Although it might be just because you're acting like a jerk."

"'Kay," he said, grinning still, and his hands stayed behind his back. He didn't say anything more, obviously waiting for her to ask.

Finally she sighed. "Okay." Putting a falsely cheery note into her voice, she asked, "Where did you go, Joxer, and what's behind your back?"

"Ta-da," he said, swooping his arms out from behind his back, and presented her with a helmetful of flowers. Mostly daisies, with a few others thrown in. "You like daisies, right?"

Hesitantly, she took his helmet with her free hand, staring at the flowers in surprise. "Um... yeah. They're my favourites. But - why...?"

"Oh, well, y'know." He ducked his head, grinning and actually blushing, looking for all the world like a boy of no more than ten. She smiled a little. "Just, uh, to say I'm - I'm sorry. I shouldn't'a gotten all, all upset like that, 'cause... you took care of it. So um - I saw 'em just off the path back there, and... I know they're not much but we're kinda not near any merchants, and besides which I didn't have to trade anything you might've hidden something important in-"

"They're beautiful," she said, smiling more and chuckling as she cut him off, and he swore he saw something in her eyes that he'd never seen before. No way. Don't even let yourself hope, Joxer, don't go there.

But boy, she really felt like his girlfriend.


Xena was grateful that Joxer was in one of his good moods, even though Magistrate Orrus didn't seem to enjoy the banter that was going on behind them. She'd learned to revel in it after the past few weeks of the on-again, off-again angry tension they'd been throwing at each other. Usually just Gabrielle, and Joxer's miserable guilt - which Xena finally understood, although she thought he was overreacting a good bit - but recently, he'd started to develop a backbone around the bard and when they fought now it was enough to make her skin crawl.

She was afraid to hope it was over - knowing them, there'd be another spell coming up later today. Well, she was through getting involved, and it was a relief to know just what the source of all this was... Joxer's overzealousness regarding his love for Gabrielle. Idiot, she thought. At least all he did was kiss her... If it's been this bad over that, I'd hate to think of what would have happened if he'd done anything more. Gabrielle certainly did have her boundaries, and even more so after everything she'd been through, particularly with Dahak. She'd shut herself off so much after that, and shut so many people out... Even, at times, Xena.

And though the Warrior Princess hadn't really noticed it at the time, she'd come to realize lately how desperately Joxer had been trying to break through to Gabrielle - to both of them, in fact, back during that time.

At least it seemed he was finally making some headway. Xena couldn't exactly read the fineries of relationships, but she could see Joxer's love for Gabrielle radiating out of ever inch of his body. Xena felt lucky; he worshipped the blonde bard, but would never even dream of taking her away from what she had now. He was content to follow, to be friends, and as long as Gabrielle eased up on him a little, the three of them were developing into a comfortable ... well, family.

Like a little brother. She looked back at them. Joxer was walking with Gabrielle's staff gripped in one hand, and his helmet in the other, and the object of his adoration was happily plucking daisies out of the upturned headgear, weaving them into a floral crown. Xena smiled; these scenes were much too few and far between lately.

Gabrielle was humming. She couldn't carry a tune in a bucket, and Joxer loved that. She was just humming, nothing in particular as far as he could tell, and weaving stems together, and finally when about half of the daisies were gone she placed the wreath on her head and grinned up at him. "What do you think?"

"Beautiful," he said lovingly, his eyes soft and warm as he smiled at her.

She beamed, then swooped the crown off her own head and plopped it down over his dark, short hair. "Ahhh - now *that* is a masterpiece!" she proclaimed, her eyes dancing as her lips pursed into a purely mischievous smile.

Blushing, Joxer pursed his own lips together and rolled his eyes. "Har-dee-har."

"Xena, what do you think?" The blonde stepped back from Joxer, holding her arm out towards him as if presenting him to an audience.

The Warrior Princess threw a glance over her shoulder, putting a finger to her lips. "Shhh! We're almost there-" She stopped, blinked, and snorted. "Take that off him."

"Thank you," Joxer said, shaking his head as Gabrielle grabbed the daisy wreath and put it back over her own golden locks, then scooped the rest of the flowers out of the helmet and tried to carry them all without dropping them. Joxer plopped the helmet awkwardly back onto his head, still carrying her staff as she tried to hold onto the various stems.

By the time she had collected them enough to take her staff back, they were at the steps of their destination.

"A temple to Aphrodite?" The Magistrate looked skeptically at Xena. "This is ridiculous. How do you know he's here?"

"I don't. But if he isn't, we ask around and find out where he went." She shrugged, pulling out her sword as she approached the entrance to the temple. Gabrielle followed closely, and Joxer practically walked into Magistrate Orrus before noticing that the little man wasn't moving.

"You're gonna miss the cool part," he said, smacking the Magistrate on the back in a friendly way, and entered the temple. The man's face grew even redder, and he huffed before following the other three inside.

Within, Xena was being followed by a priest of the Goddess of Love. "We really must insist - this is not the environment for such weapons."

"I'll only be a second," Xena said, barely looking at the priest for a full second as she scanned the temple quickly. Worshippers here and there whispered to one another, huddling together at the sight of the leather-clad warrior, but she didn't even seem to see them.

"He's not here," Orrus whined, "these are all typical followers of Aphrodite. And why would someone steal an artifact of Poseidon, then bring it to a temple of-"

"Because he's not too bright," Xena said, her gaze falling on a pair of thin, quivering shoulders. Her hand was roughly grabbing one of those shoulders a moment later, turning the youth around as she thrust her sword beneath his chin.

"I didn't do anything!" the boy cried, cringing and putting his hands up into the air. Gabrielle's eyes widened - he couldn't have been more than sixteen.

"Let's rethink that statement a little, then try again," Xena suggested, raising an eyebrow and giving the boy what was almost an exaggerated version of her intimidating look.

Gabrielle sighed - the warrior woman was having fun at the expense of a kid's nervousness again. She shot a look over her shoulder to Joxer, and saw that he was paying close attention to one of the sections of walls. If that's another Attis story... she thought, shaking her head. So easily distracted. As long as it has pretty colours...

The boy that Xena was giving the shakedown to was on the verge of cracking. "I-I just want to make a tribute to Aphrodite! Leave me alone!" His voice was breaking. Joxer turned around to watch now, wincing a little in sympathy.

"Uh-huh. I believe you, kid, I really do. Trouble is, that tribute isn't yours to begin with. Where'd ya hide it?" She grinned, her voice in a low growling whisper, and the boy gulped and hesitantly looked across the room at a lump covered by a cloth. The Magistrate dashed over, uncovering the golden statue, and let out a triumphant cry.

The boy sighed. "I just wanted the Goddess Aphrodite to find me worthy, so that she might help me win the heart of Ana, the most beautiful girl in Greece..."

This seemed oddly familiar, Joxer felt. He stared at the boy. I hear ya, buddy. His eyes flicked over to Gabrielle, who from the look of her face was thinking of a scroll - either one she had read, or one she was going to write. He sighed; she had no idea how close this was hitting to home for him. Probably best he keep it that way.

Xena sheathed her sword, keeping her hand clamped on the boy's shoulder. "Mmm. Well, Aphrodite might not care where you get your tributes, but she's a little picky about what they are. Somehow I get the feeling she wouldn't have been too pleased with a statue of another God, anyway." She gave him a half smile. "Didja try talking to Ana?"

"Gods, I could never-! She's too perfect!"

"You might be surprised. Oh, and save the gifts for her, too." She caught Joxer's eye as the Magistrate escorted the youth out of the temple, and called after him, "Just don't go so fast, don't skip so many steps, and you might get more than you expect."

Joxer gulped, looking awkward, and stepped away from the wall mural he'd been examining as Gabrielle and Xena went back outside. Xena stopped as she passed the priest who had approached her earlier, and added, "See? No time at all."


Gabrielle put the scroll away as discreetly as possible. Xena hadn't seemed to notice her odd tendency to take a scroll out practically every night Joxer was with them, hold it for a few moments, and then put it back untouched; best to keep it that way by not being too obvious about it.

Of course, it was barely necessary to even use the signal. It was his first night back with them, they hadn't fought that day - aside from the brief moment when he'd first joined back up with them - and oh, he'd been so sweet. Those flowers... She hadn't expected a gesture like that, and it had just about made her day. Silly, really, but it had been a long time since anyone had bothered to do something like that for her, and... she really hadn't wanted to fight with him. She'd been so glad to see him, and then he'd started arguing, and she'd gotten so frustrated. Then he'd done a total one-eighty, and come back with flowers, and... it was like a weight had lifted off her. Sometimes, all a girl wanted was to feel appreciated by her friends. Not, she felt, in a romantic way... just a general way. And it was nice to really have that with Joxer - to finally feel, after so long, that she had a bond with him.

She heard him get up and leave before she did, but waited a few moments more to ensure that Xena wasn't stirring before leaving the campsite herself. Joxer caught her around her waist as she counted out fifty paces, and although she jumped instinctively at first, she knew his embrace so well by now that it brought only happiness.

"Hey," he said softly from behind her, nuzzling her ear.

She leaned back against him, fitting her body to his and covering his hands with her own. "Hey yourself."

Running his tongue along the curve of her earlobe, he whispered, "I gotta show you something."

"Is it a good something?"

"Yep." He nipped very lightly at her ear, then pressed his lips against her neck. She could feel him smiling.

Her curiousity grew. "Is it something I've seen before?"

With a low chuckle, he said, "Doubt it. C'mon, it's back at Aphrodite's temple."

"All that way?"

"Whattaya mean, all that way?" He broke free of her, taking her hand and kissing it as he pulled her forward. "We're only a few minutes away from there. And," his voice became softer, gentler, "I really want you to see this. I really want us to see this together."

Us. There was something about how he said that word that was so... meaningful. Something at Aphrodite's temple? At a temple to the Goddess of Love? She thought of the flowers, and suddenly their presentation took on a whole new meaning. If you looked at it right, it was like - he was courting her. No. It's not like that, she told herself, but her stomach tightened and her breath came a little quicker, and she pulled against his hand, resisting his attempts at leading her. "Joxer - this is going a, a little fast," she blurted out before she thought of what she was saying.

He stopped. "What is?"

"Nothing." She shook her head, recovering herself. Don't be silly. This is Joxer, it's not like he's going to propose marriage or anything. She'd thought she was beyond this sort of panic, and felt embarrassed. "Sorry."

Joxer seemed about to put an arm around her, then stopped and patted her solidly on the shoulder. "Aw, we don't have to go." He shrugged. "I just thought it was kinda cool, but if you don't wanna..."

See, she thought, overreacting. If he'd had feelings for her, surely he wouldn't have hesitated then - he knew he was allowed to touch her if he wanted. As long as they were in private, anyway. She felt relieved, in that strange sort of crashing letdown of tensions that made you feel almost disappointed for a moment afterwards, since you were so wound up. Oh well. She leaned closer to him, snaking an arm around his waist. "What kind of ... 'cool' are we talking about here?"

Even in the moonlight she could see the grin that nearly split his face in two. "Cooooool," he said, rather wickedly, and rested his forehead against hers. "C'mon Gabby, I promise you'll love it. I don't wanna give anything else away. Just trust me?"

"I'm not-" He cut her off with a kiss, an annoying habit he'd picked up recently which usually emerged when she was either yelling at him or arguing with him. Part of the reason it was so annoying, she suspected, was because it generally worked. He slid his tongue along her upper lip until she opened her mouth slightly, and then it became one of those kisses, the kind where his mouth just fit hers perfectly and her lips were so sensitized they were damn near ticklish... and the habit was just as annoyingly effective as ever because when he stepped back, she totally forgot why she was so hesitant to begin with.

"Wanna go?" he grinned.

Nodding, she giggled, "'Kay." He took her hand again, and she let him lead her towards the temple for almost half the distance before she took the lead.

The temple was deserted at this hour, but the torches outside the stone walls were still lit, and they each took one on their way inside. Joxer looked around, appearing slightly disoriented in the dark, and squinted. "Ummm... over here, I think. I think it was this one I was looking at." Gabrielle lit two more torches with the one she was carrying, then stuck it in an empty holder and joined him in the corner of the now-brightened room.

Her eyes widened. "Oh my."

Grinning, he turned to her. "There's pictures like these up all over the place in here."

She stared, unable to tear her eyes from the picture of the couple on the wall. "Oh. My. I thought you were looking at another Attis picture or... My." She tilted her head. "Can people really bend like that?"

"Wanna find out? I bet you could, you're in great shape."

She felt herself blushing, and kept her eyes riveted on the picture. "Joxer, I don't know..."

"Oh." He sounded instantly deflated. "Sorry - I thought you'd... uh, sorry."

Out of the corner of her eye she saw his shoulders slump, and felt a little twinge in her heart. Oh, why not. Go on, live a little. With butterflies doing a mad jig in her stomach, she said, "I mean, I don't know if I can do this one. Did you have your heart set on it, or are there any others?"

He looked up at her, blinking in surprise, then recovered himself. "Pick one," he said with a grin, gesturing around the room. She gave him a tight smile, brushing past him, and he caught her arm just before she stepped away completely. "Wait," he said, pulling her into a kiss- this one nothing like the earlier one, but more of a personal expression. "Thanks," he said afterwards, murmuring against her lips, "you don't have to. I'm not forcing you into this, am I?"

She put her hands to his cheeks, kissing his chin lightly, and said, "No. You've never forced me into anything." Then she returned the kiss, and pulled away to peruse the walls. Behind her, Joxer paced restlessly.

She stopped at one picture, her interest piqued. The female figure had her legs resting on the shoulders of the male figure, and he was plunging into her so forcefully that her thighs were very nearly pressed flat against her chest. She could do that - it didn't look too hard. "This one," she said, and Joxer almost knocked over a vase in his scramble to see which one she'd picked.

"Oooh," he said, so softly it sounded almost like a purr. He nuzzled at her neck again and mumbled teasingly, "Gabrielle, I never knew you had this side to you."

"Oh, shut up." She leaned back against him, raising an arm and pressing it to the back of his neck as he started undoing the laces of her top, licking down her jawline as he did. Breathlessly, she said, "Um... should we... really do this in here?"

"Mmm. Relax. What's the likelihood of anyone..." He paused, suckling gently at the nape of her neck "...coming by at this hour?"

"Ah..." He made sense, but something still nagged at the back of her mind. After a moment, during which he got her top completely unlaced and was already running his thumbs over her nipples, she remembered what it was. "Wha... what about... Aphrodite...?"

He sighed raggedly, running increasingly hot kisses down her shoulder. "She's got, like, a million temples... There's barely any chance she's gonna come in to this one. Gabby..." His voice, just above a mumble as he said her name, became even softer when he whispered in her ear, "Thank you... for being with me."

Her eyes fluttered shut, and she sighed, turning in his arms. "Oh... Joxer." She kissed him, long and passionate and sensuous, and he swept her hair back from her neck and ran his fingers through it. Gods, he was so in love. Horny and in love and just... just joyous. This was Gabrielle. He was kissing Gabrielle. Kissing her and holding her and about to make love to her, and not for the first time... His best friend, the woman of his dreams, it was perfect. Perfect. Her fingers were so tender as they slid over his scalp, stroking through his hair, cradling his head lovingly-

Lovingly? Could she maybe, oh please Gods, maybe someday she might -

Don't hope, not now, just enjoy. Just love. And be loved.

She pulled at his shirt, and he knew the sign to slip it up over his shoulders and toss it aside. She ran her hands down his chest, her fingers splayed over his pecs, and gave a murmur of approval as she let them fall to his pants, then started working at the double knot there.

Whoa - she was working fast tonight. He grinned at her, and she grinned back, poking at the knot until she loosened a section enough to pull it loose. "Ha - there we go," she muttered, undoing the knot completely and sliding his pants down until they reached his ankles, then sliding her hands back up his legs the way she'd come. She lingered at his hips, staring at his semi-erect member, her eyes half-lidded and her expression unreadable.

"Um-" He was almost afraid to say anything, for fear of what her response might be. "...Do you... want me to, uh... touch it?" She didn't speak, but nodded silently, and rested her forehead against his shoulder as he wrapped his fingers around his shaft and stroked slowly.

"Gods, it gets bigger," she said in an awed whisper. He had to fight down the urge to grab her and kiss her when she said things like that - both arousing and so sweetly innocent it just made his heart throb with love.

She looked up at him, blushing. "I knew that it did, you know. I'd just never watched it before."

He nodded, grinning. "Yeah..." he panted. "I know." Gabrielle stared at him for a moment longer, smiling an odd smile, and looked back down at the rest of his body.

"Stop," she murmured finally, putting her hand over his to still its movements. "Joxer... have I told you lately how beautiful you are?"

It was the kind of statement that made him feel as if the wind had been knocked out of him. Every now and then she took him so completely by surprise... "Uh... Me? Really?"

She smiled gently. "Evidently I haven't." She put a hand to his face, cradling his cheek, and the other hand pressed against his chest softly. "Your body... You're ... you're lovely. I can't think of any other words. You're like a statue carved from white marble... you're..." He whimpered as her mouth drew close to his. "Beautiful," she whispered again, brushing a kiss across his parted lips, then bending and running kisses along his chest, over his collarbone and pectorals.

His breath was irregular, short gasps followed by long drawn out sighs as her lips and tongue caressed his skin, worshipping him in a way he'd never dreamed she'd even consent to, let alone reach without his asking. The action had been done before... but the soft reverence of her touch, the sincere affection in her words... that was new. That was... He sighed. "You really... think so?"

"Uhm-hmm," she mumbled distractedly, her mouth at first locked against his right nipple, then lifting in between quick, loving flicks of her tongue, "mmmyeah, you're... oh, mmm... you're perfect, Joxer."

His heart soared. If, several months ago, anyone had told him that in the near future he would be here... standing stark naked in a temple while his Gabrielle paid loving tribute to his body...

He'd have hoped, dreamt, prayed for it. But believed? Hell, no.

His head rolled back as she pulled him close, still not breaking that invisible barrier she'd set up between her hands and his member, but wrapping her arms around him and pressing her hip against his crotch, grinding slowly against him as she swirled her tongue all over his upper body... "I love you," he groaned, the words bursting from him without warning as he swept his fingers through her hair, and she froze.

"Wh-what...?" She looked up at him, her eyes wide and confused and scared, her hip still pressed firmly and almost uncomfortably against his erection.

"I said, I love that." His insides knotted into sudden heartache as she just stared, and he forced himself to give a clueless grin. "What?"

She shook her head, her brow furrowed. "Nothing - I thought..."

"C'mere." He gathered her into his arms and kissed her, his tongue quickly meeting hers as she gave herself, and she swept her top off her shoulders and let it fall to the ground, and all he could think of was the sting of a few moments ago... the look on her face, the fear in her eyes.


Off, skirt; off, boots; everything off, except Joxer, Joxer everywhere. She didn't know where she'd been taking the action of a few moments ago, exactly, but the decision seemed to have been taken out of her hands anyway because now he was kissing her again, those kisses, and those kisses meant generally that Joxer was going to do something to her, whatever he pleased, and she liked that. She liked that a lot.

His hands were all over her, warming her skin, claiming her, as he looked up and looked around and his gaze settled on a nearby table used for - who knew. Something. Maybe for 'tributes' to Aphrodite, even - somehow that seemed apropos... He lifted her, carried her a ways, and set her up on the table sideways. She spread her legs, and he pressed forward, his hardness rubbing at her centre and bringing her to gasps already. "Oh - that's good. That's damn good."

She always cursed more when they were having sex. Funny, that... She didn't know if it was a loss of inhibition, or because it made her feel wild, or if she just suddenly was at such a loss for words that the only ones she could think of were the crude ones. It was a mystery to her.

She would have sworn he said he loved her.

No, don't think about that. He'd repeated it, she'd misheard it, a silly mistake. He'd been mumbling anyway, hadn't he? "I love mumble-mumble", and her mind had filled in the blank, but she would have sworn... Oh, it didn't matter anyway. She wrapped her legs around him as he stood in front of her, against her, his arms clasping her hips against him, kneading her flesh gently.

Gods, it would be nice to hear it sometimes though. Especially without having to ask for it.

He reached down to her, pressing his thumb against her clitoris, and she gasped and lost interest in whatever it was she'd been thinking about, because there were more important matters now.

"Let's do it," she said, keeping herself just barely propped up on her elbows, her breasts shaking with every movement he made against her.

He nodded, pursing his lips, trying to figure out the best way to go about it. "You're ready?"

"Oh, I'm ready," she said eagerly, despite her nervousness.

"Mmm." He pulled back from her, stroking within her sex, spreading her juices across her flesh both to make sure she was slick enough and to watch her face as she reacted. There was no comparison - every other woman he'd been with was like a shadow. Gabrielle was the only real lover he'd ever had. He grinned suddenly, her reaction to his mistake of a few minutes ago no longer important. "'Kay - turn lengthwise." She obliged, and slid up to the head of the table to make room for him as he climbed on as well, then knelt in front of her with his butt resting on his heels. "Okay, now... uh, I've never done this before so - gimme a minute."

She bit her lip. Somehow, she couldn't say why, the fact that he had as little experience in this area as she did was a huge thing. Perhaps because she had nothing to measure up to, finally. "Should I lift my legs yet?"

"Um... hm. Okay, I think... I think so, yeah- lemme try here..." He leaned forward, and she spread her legs apart again, lifting them this time. He caught them, placing one over each corresponding shoulder, and looked down. "Ooooh... kay. Um - let me know if this doesn't feel right."

He'd barely started to push into her before she gasped, wincing. "Okay - okay, wait. You're not at the right angle-"

"Sorry!" He pulled back instantly, ducking out from under her legs, and put his hands against her face. "Are you okay?"

"Oh, I'm fine." She half-sat up again, nodding to reassure him. "That was just - it didn't want to go in right."


Licking her lips, she said, "Maybe... if you went really slow...?" It had worked on her wedding night, after all... worth a shot.

He looked thoughtful, which was almost absurd in contrast with the huge erection between his legs, and finally nodded. "Okay - I think I got it. Uh, lie back again. Don't lift until I tell you." She nodded, and he settled over her, kissing her gently before sliding into her. She bit her lip - Gods, there was nothing wrong with this position, either. "Mmmm... Okay?" he whispered, thrusting slowly inside her. When she nodded again, he pushed himself up on one arm, and with his other he tugged slightly at one of her legs.

"Lift now?"

"Ahh - yeah, now, lift." She did, and he shifted, looking uncertain, until he was able to slip his shoulder beneath her knee. "O-okay... other one..." Shivering, she repeated the action with the other, feeling him roll up farther over her body as her centre of gravity shifted; and Gods, was he getting bigger or was she -

Joxer was shaking. "Oh Gabby - um - okay, little more..."

"Ahh - are you sure this is right?" She felt like she was going to pull something, with one leg and her pelvis both locked into place by his body while her other leg tried heroically to twist around and over his shoulders, which were a damn sight broader than she'd ever thought.

"It's - oh. OH." He bent slightly, catching his shoulder just under the crook of her knee, and straightened back up. Breathing in pants, he grinned deliriously down at her, his jaw hanging slightly lax. "It's right. Oh Gods is it ever right." He swallowed, catching his breath, and said, "Can - can I lean down....?"

"Ahhhh... yes..." A grin nearly identical to his spread across her face, as her walls embraced him, and it was a sort of simultaneous discomfort and ecstasy... Breathing sure as hell was compromised, but ohhh... This was why a woman would enjoy this position - the tilt allowed much deeper penetration, and she felt sensations in places she'd never even known were in there before now. He lowered himself, bringing her legs down so far they were nearly brushing her breasts, and the lower he went the deeper he sank, and the tighter she was pulled... Sweet Aphrodite... Elevated like this she was about twice as tight as she'd ever been with him, and Gods... "You're so big," she gasped, her eyes falling shut, and he moaned and kissed one of her knees.

"Mmmnnn... Heh. S'not me." His arms were still shaking noticeably, especially the one he had his weight on. "Oh, Gab... I'm really -" He hissed softly, "This is so tight... Is this - okay for you?"

"Oh it's good, it's good, Joxer..." She reached out, putting her hands against his chest, sliding them down towards his hips. "Move," she sighed, "I want to feel you move inside me..." He obliged, his breath coming in shuddering pants, his lips pressed together in concentration or strict self-control.

"I'm gonna go slow... okay?" he said, his voice a throaty whisper, and she nodded encouragingly at him as he began a gentle rhythm inside her. "By... the... Gods ..."

Her body was folded over in such a way that before long she could only breath in shallow, rapid gasps - but oh - that somehow increased the pleasure, as she felt a little dizzy, a little light-headed, her hips being pulled along with his own as her tightened entrance didn't seem to want to relinquish his length when he pulled back... Rocking her hips had always helped her along, and this time was no exception. "Jox - er... oh, yes..."

So slow... Gods, so maddeningly slow, although he wasn't sure how much faster he could take it without losing it completely, and besides - if he lost control in this position she could end up really hurt. This was great - wonderful... It was like... The only comparison he could make was that, normally, being inside her was sort of like a hug - a warm, wonderful hug, the kind that fit perfectly as if the two people involved were made to fit together.

This was like - a squeeze. Like someone going up to you and wrapping their arms around you and squeezing so hard you're almost in pain, and the breath is sort of knocked out of you, but you like it because it's really satisfying and particularly because it's with Gabrielle and you love Gabrielle, you love her madly. Oh Gods. I love you madly, he thought, staring down at her, the thought just sounding wonderful in his fevered mind.

"Oh... Come down here," she said, in brief gasps, pulling his face down to hers. She kissed him, but it was a short kiss, because she had to pull back and take another gasp a moment later.

"Can you breathe??" he asked, suddenly alarmed. "Gabrielle-"

"I'm fine... It's okay," she assured him, nodding. "You're right... up against - ohhhh-hhhh... keep leaning... down like that..."

"Don't talk." He leaned more, his pelvis rubbing over her, and she squealed slightly and arched her shoulders up, her face ecstatic. "Gabby - ungh, Gods... I really hope this is as good for you as -"

"I love it... love it..." She reached up, curling her fingers through his hair at the base of his neck, "I'm the... first, right...?"

"The - first?"

She grinned. "To do this... with you... you've never..."

Oh, Zeus. He broke into an adoring smile as his heart took wings. "You're the first," he whispered, his eyes locked with hers. "My first." My only.

She took a huge breath, her eyes slipping closed, and let her head hang back almost off the edge of the table, and he sped up just slightly, cuddling her leg against him, shutting his eyes and reveling in this. Each time was Gods-given, a miracle... She was still grinning, whimpering a little in pleasure, her thighs pressed back so far now that they were essentially sandwiching her breasts.

Gabrielle opened her eyes halfway as the blood rushed to her head, and she felt extremely dizzy. Maybe this wasn't good, she considered, looking at the upside down world as she let her head dangle over the side of the table. She seemed to be hallucinating - it looked like there was a cloud of pink gauze topped with a blonde wig over there, staring at them.

"No... way," said a voice she recognized way too well.

"Oh... shit," said Gabrielle, pulling her head up in panic.

"Huh?" Joxer looked at her in hazy confusion, then across the room, and his eyes widened. "SHIT!"

They locked into a tableau for a moment, as neither could quite think of how to quickly dislodge from their position, and just stared at Aphrodite as the Goddess stared back, her hands over her mouth in total, speechless shock.

Continue on to the sequel The Aphrodite Factor - Part Two

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