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 eleventh 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, Camping With Xena and (gasp!) The Aphrodite Factor - Part One.
You can also find Xebbie's stories at The GJerotica Archives and Xebbie's Adult Fics
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The Aphrodite Factor - Part Two
© 08/00 by Xebbie
Aphrodite moved first, slowly lowering her hand, and suddenly she broke into one of her brightest smiles. "Studmuffin! You got the girl!"
Joxer seemed to choke, and he tore apart from Gabrielle so quickly that both of the lovers winced in discomfort. Now separated, each one rolled off the table and scrambled for some kind of cover.
"Oh, no chance she'll come by here," the bard snarled, pulling her skirt up over her body like a blanket, as Joxer covered his unmentionables with both hands and looked helpless.
The blonde Goddess tsked. "Awww, she's still copping attitude with you, sugar? Hm. No accounting for taste." Shrugging, she spread her arms out wide. "Still, this is so way cool! You and Blondie are-"
Behind Gabrielle, Joxer shook his head vehemently, looking half-panicked. Aphrodite paused, frowning in confusion, and raised an eyebrow. Meanwhile, Gabrielle just snorted, trying to bend and pick up her top without the skirt's fabric falling away and exposing anything. "We are not anything. Don't even say that," she snapped, glaring at the buxom Love Goddess from her kneeling position.
"Oh, like it's anything I haven't seen before." Aphrodite sighed, and waved her hand. "Fine." A moment later, Gabrielle was clothed. Joxer, however, was still in the all-together. He whined, rather pathetically, and Gabrielle glared almost venomously at her. "Awww, but isn't he cute? I thought you'd like -"
"Knock it off," Gabrielle said in a growl.
Aphrodite rolled her eyes. "She has no sense of humour. You could do so much better, Studmuffin." This comment, of course, was calculated to make Gabrielle love her. Another hand wave, and Joxer was dressed - and never more relieved to be so. "Now, what's this you're trying to pull about not being anything? I know I'm the vision of beauty and youth, but do I really look like I was born yesterday? I come in here, and you guys are bonking like rabbits, so hard you don't even notice me..."
Joxer, looking extremely uncomfortable, crossed his legs in front of him and glanced at Gabrielle. Her face was bright red and she was scowling fiercely, her arms crossed tight against her chest. In a tense voice, she said, "Look - no offense Aphrodite, but maybe you could -"
"Shut up...?" Joxer mumbled out of the side of his mouth. The Goddess of Love had always made him downright nervous. Beautiful, immortal woman who wore as little as possible, flaunted her sex appeal, and had messed with his life more times than he cared to count. Oh, yeah, so much to like.
Aphrodite continued as if she hadn't heard either one of them. "...And you were even trying the 'Little Death'! You've gotta be seriously lust-driven to go with that one. Boy, most worshippers just come on in and straddle each other-"
"Little Death?" Gabrielle felt herself going pale.
"Yeah. It's not easy is it? Sometimes the girls just -" She snapped her fingers, " - pass right out. You seemed to have the hang of it though." Aphrodite blinked, then her face fell into a little pout. "Shoot - if I'd kept my mouth shut for, like, five minutes more you guys'd never have even noticed me, would you?" She blew a frustrated breath out of the side of her mouth, crossing her arms - as if she needed more cleavage. "That totally blows."
"For you maybe," Gabrielle said defiantly, stepping closer to the Goddess. Joxer winced and stepped away... The less contact he had with Aphrodite, the less chance she would mess some important part of his life up, right? His stomach lurched, however, when he realized that the most important part of his life was angrily trying to face the Goddess of Love down. Fortunately Aphrodite still seemed pretty clueless about Gabrielle's attitude, but who knew how long that would last - her moods seemed to change on a whim. He realized he'd better step in and play peacemaker, or - something.
"Hey, haha, look at the time. Those torches are burned down almost halfway. We'd better be going, huh Gabby?"
"Shut up," she shot over her shoulder, still glaring at Aphrodite.
Just as Joxer had feared, the blonde Goddess pulled a displeased face. "Okay, Sweetcheeks, lay off the attitude. This is my Temple, after all - I'm allowed to come and go as I please. Or are you guys gonna put up a curtain or something? With a sign - 'Joxer and Gabrielle only beyond this point'?"
"Do you watch a lot of couples, or are we just special?"
"Hey, ya know what, I'm getting hungry. Am I allowed to eat these grapes? ...Aphrodite?"
Both the women ignored his Stupid Question. Damn... now he wasn't even getting a requisite "shut up" from either of them. He started looking around for something small to break.
The air around Aphrodite seemed to be getting tenser. "I so can't see what he even sees in you."
Gabrielle laughed. "Ha! Like Joxer is such a great catch? I mean, look at him! He's about to break something over there!"
Off in the corner, Joxer straightened suddenly, frowning. "Hey!" The small clay bowl next to him teetered but didn't fall.
"Sorry," Gabrielle said, waving at him with an apologetic smile.
"Oh, I know what a dork he is," Aphrodite said airily, giving Joxer a cheery wave and a wink. He sulked. "But if there's one thing that makes him cool, it's how he feels about-"
"Hey! Gabrielle!" Joxer practically shouted across the room, finally getting the attention of both the blondes. "Did you know that, uh, um, I have a second brother? Other than Jett?" His beloved, obviously totally uncomprehending, looked at him as though he were crazy. To Aphrodite, he said carefully, "Yeah, that's the thing about Gabby, there's a whole lot of stuff about me that she doesn't know."
Aphrodite's expression was extremely similar to Gabrielle's for a few moments, but then he saw it click. 'Ohhh,' she mouthed, and gave him a sly wink. He relaxed, slightly.
"Look," said Aphrodite, softening a little, "you guys are like, my pet mortals. I just think it's cute, that's all!"
Gabrielle went stone-faced at the term "pet mortals". "How sweet," she grumbled. Joxer came up behind her and put his arms around her, partly to soothe her and partly to hold her in case she tried to attack the Olympian she was glaring at. She stiffened, but didn't break away from him.
Aphrodite giggled. "Geez, you look so sweet! And to think, I'd never have known if you hadn't done it in my temple..."
Joxer gulped, as Gabrielle stiffened even more. She put her hands over his arms, and wordlessly dug her nails slightly into his skin. He winced. "Okay, um, but maybe you shouldn't tell anyone, you know..."
"Maybe?" Gabrielle turned slightly in his embrace, her eyes glinting furiously.
"Okay, definitely, see, 'cause Gabby - and I," he added quickly, as her nails made little dents in his arms, "we really don't want anyone to know."
"We're just messing around," Gabrielle said, in a remarkably casual voice. Joxer nodded.
"Ahhh," Aphrodite said, raising an eyebrow at Joxer, who avoided her eyes. Dammit, he hated this! It was like she couldn't keep from meddling! "Okay, no prob, babes. I can keep a secret as good as anyone."
"Really?" Gabrielle sounded relieved.
She gave them a glowing smile. "Totally! I am all about the sneaky thing, sweetie. If you ever want any tips or anything, you come straight to Aunt 'Dite, okay? We'll do the slumber party bit."
Gabrielle nodded, the smile on her face obviously fake. "Right."
Leaning over to Joxer, Aphrodite ruffled his hair affectionately. "Knock her dead, Studmuffin," she said, and blew him a kiss, then disappeared. He blinked. That - had been almost painless. She'd actually seemed on his side, for once. Geez, maybe he could even get to like her if she were always like that.
"Let's get out of here," Gabrielle mumbled, a nervous edge to her voice, and she'd started shaking in his arms. He kept an arm around her shoulders and walked her out, as she let out the nervous tension she'd built up over the past few moments.
Aphrodite, invisible to the mortal eye, watched them go. About time, she thought; Blondie had needed a good roll in the hay since way back when she'd first met the both of 'em, and she'd been able to feel the sexual tension just rolling off of them both the last time she'd seen them. They were at each other's throats then... this was barely even a surprise.
Still, whooo, to tune in and find 'em slamming skin right there, and in that position, and with that kind of energy between 'em... Man, that was the kind of stuff her best worshippers had to give. It was hardly a wonder she'd thought the whole love thing was out in the open by now, she told herself... Everything about how they interacted with each other just screamed it.
She giggled to herself. A promise was a promise, sure, but this was so cool it'd be wasted if she didn't tell someone. And Cupie was sure to get a kick out of it. She set off for Olympus in a flash.
Outside, Gabrielle trudged back to the campsite while Joxer lagged behind. "...Oh, she must have a million temples! No one's gonna come in at this hour! Brilliant, Joxer."
"It's not like you argued," he said testily, the tension of the previous encounter finally catching up with him as well.
"I wasn't thinking straight! How could I think straight, with you - and your, your tongue - all over... here?" She gestured at her neck area, glaring at him, then rolled her eyes when she saw him pouting. "What."
"I'm not a catch, huh?"
Gabrielle growled in exasperation. "Joxer, I was just saying that because - agh ." She put her hand over her eyes. "Don't start, okay? I didn't exactly hear you jumping up to defend me."
He waved his hand. "Oh, no no no. I stay way out of that kinda stuff... I don't go picking fights with gods."
"Riiiight," she said, nodding, "you'll do every other stupid thing on the planet, but at least you have enough sense not to pick a fight with a god." She put her hand on her hip and looked at him, cocking her head.
He cocked his head in return. "You as turned on as I am?"
"More." She threw herself at him, plastering his face with kisses, and he pulled them to the ground, loosening her clothing, covering her bare skin with his hands, then following that with his tongue. She helped him with the clothes, stripping him completely, no longer satisfied with quick, partial nudity - she wanted to see him in the moonlight, feel his skin as he moved above her.
His lips caressed her breast, suckling and tugging at the nipple as she writhed underneath him, the arousal that had been switched off before now switching back on at almost exactly the same level it had left off at. She struggled to get her skirt and underwear off, wrapping her legs up around his hips, holding his length between her legs, and he thrust against her, eliciting helpless gasps as he spread kisses over her neck and jaw.
Through silent cooperation, her legs were lifted much more easily this time, and once again he sank into her as deeply as he could, and she cried out, gasping his name and clenching her inner walls around his organ. He exhaled sharply, squinching his eyes shut. "Hhhhhah - don't, don't do that yet, I can't - won't last."
"Mmph - you don't have to - to last too long, I'm..." Her breath was quickening rapidly, "I'm... not too far... off..."
"Oh - Oh, oh, Gab!" He grinned weakly as she clenched again, her moans so high and far back in her throat that they sounded like squeaks, "Ah - Gods - Gabby, oh I'm so glad this is with you-"
She squeaked again, shifting her legs against his neck, her mouth curling slightly into a wide grin, and she pulled him gently towards her, pressing her ankles against the back of his head. "You can ... go faster. And... oh - oh - lean... lean like tha- ungh, yes, like th- Joxer - " She dug her elbows into the dirt below her as he leaned, his manhood pressing against something within her that set off explosions inside her body.
His breath caught, as her orgasm took him totally by surprise. "G-Gab? Whoa..." She took a shuddering breath, then threw her head back and yelled, her eyes tightly shut, and Gods was it ever hot. She clenched around him again, drawing a loud moan and a shudder from him, and he felt that he could take that, for certain, one more time... just once more; but as he moved more quickly within her, as she came for what seemed to be the second time, and her body shuddered around him, he clamped his lips together and breathed deeply, grasping at the last strands of control.
"Gabrielle..." he muttered weakly, in between her gasps, and hung his head against her breasts. "Gods - I'm gonna - Gaaaaab..." He pushed back on his arms, shoving forward into her and throwing his head back - trying to stay gentle for her, but by the Gods, it wasn't easy... he was used to being able to thrust into her as quick and rough as either one of them needed. But he didn't really need it now, after all, he thought, and she obviously didn't - "ngh - geeze - oh Gab, Gabrielle!" He grunted, pressing his lips together as he emptied into her, shuddering violently.
They slowed to a halt, still united, but relaxing against one another, and he backed up enough so that she could gulp down the air she'd been needing. "Um... how many times...?" he asked hesitantly.
She seemed to blush, and gave him an absolutely radiant, blitzed grin. "Three."
"Wow." He blinked. "Damn. I'm jealous."
"Yeah," she sighed, looking a little goofy. "I don't think I'm gonna be walking straight tomorrow though."
"You sure know how to make a guy feel good about himself," he grinned, sliding out from under her legs, and let her lower them carefully before planting a kiss on her forehead and lying alongside her in the grass. "Mmmmmaybe we can do this again sometime."
"Oh we're doing this again," she said decisively. "We're giving me about a month or so to recover, and then we're damn well doing it again."
Xena shook her head, wondering if it was something in the water. Both of her friends seemed to have taken to sleeping in later and later in recent weeks. Of course, Gabrielle had always been a late riser, but Joxer had been moderately reliable as a morning person, until recently.
Look at 'em both, she thought, snorting. Pathetic. Maybe they're not getting the right amount of nutrition. Another hour or so, she reasoned, and then she'd empty one of the skins of water on them. In the meantime, she decided to take advantage of the free time to bathe.
Joxer really, really didn't want to wake up. Not only was he exhausted, but he was having one of those just-below-the-surface aches that obviously meant it would be that much worse once he had to get up and actually deal with it. I'm asleep, he told himself, trying to make it true before he finished off the rest of the half-consciousness.
He woke up. And the first thing he was aware of was that, as he'd expected, his lower back hurt as if someone had hit him there. With a tree, or something. Gods, what did I DO to it? ...Oh yeah. He grinned, despite the pain, and looked over at the still-slumbering Gabrielle. Heh heh. Three. Damn, I'm good.
Something seemed to sparkle just outside his line of vision, and he felt a little shiver. He ignored it for a moment or two more, before realizing what the sparkle had symbolized. Uh-oh.
"Mmmmph. Go away," Gabrielle mumbled as a hand shook her shoulder gently. It didn't go away; in fact it lingered long enough to wake her up to the point where she could recognize the owner of the hand just through his touch. "Joxer, if you don't move it I'll cut it off," she growled, curling up into a little ball underneath her pelts.
"Gabby, you really really should get up," he said, and she heard the note of tension in his voice but wasn't quite awake enough yet to really have it dawn on her that the note of tension meant problems.
The more awake she got, the less comfortable she felt while lying prone. She curled up even tighter, trying to shift her legs into a pose that didn't provoke anymore aches.
The blonde stiffened, irritation flooding her, but she relented and raised herself to a sitting position. That just made her discomfort worse, and she groaned a little, shifting her hips. "Owww."
"I'm sore," she glared at him through bleary eyes. "It's a woman thing you couldn't possibly know anything about."
"Yeah, the Little Death'll do that to ya," a female voice said. Gabrielle was suddenly wide awake. She pulled the pelt closer to herself, as if for protection.
"Toldja you needed to wake up," Joxer muttered. She elbowed him reflexively, looking around nervously.
"Relax, sweetie, the Warrior Babe is outta here. I waited 'til she was gone to come by, 'cause I know you guys are big on that secrecy thing." The blonde Goddess smiled good-naturedly. Gabrielle immediately didn't trust her. Aphrodite grinned. "But I bet you really had some fun, huh? The next day is a bitch for mortals, I hear, but at the time... whooo! How you doin', Studmuffin?"
"She had three," he said proudly. Gabrielle gave a tight scream, and hit him in the face, knocking him over.
Aphrodite gave a little sigh. "Again with the attitude," she muttered, then shrugged. "Oh well. That's not really why I'm here..." Her countenance changed, and she suddenly seemed to find her feet very interesting in a distracted sort of way.
"Then why... are you here... if not to torture us?" Gabrielle said through a clenched jaw, her voice very tightly controlled. Joxer groaned next to her, but didn't try to sit up.
"Hm? I can't come to see my pet mortals every now and then?" Aphrodite blinked innocently, saw Gabrielle wasn't buying it, and gave a very modest smile. "Welllllll, okay, there maybe is one thing. You guys know that, um, little teeny thing that I wasn't supposed to tell anyone about?"
Joxer sat up quickly, his eyes wide, a fading red mark on his cheek. He looked at Gabrielle, whose face had darkened like the sky before a violent storm. He looked back at Aphrodite, who was peering at her fingernails as though she'd been unaware she had them before now. And suddenly he wanted to be far, far away.
"Go on," Gabrielle growled. Joxer did the only thing he could think of, which was to put his arms around her again to hold her back. She seemed for a moment to be about to try and knock him out again, then sighed and relaxed slightly. He slumped in relief.
Aphrodite coughed delicately. "Ah, okay. Well, I was just wondering, all totally hypothetically of course, what you guys would do if I happened to, um... tell someone."
Gabrielle had gone silent, and much more tense. Speaking for her - he hoped - Joxer asked meekly, "Someone who?"
"Cupid...?" The Goddess fluttered her eyelashes, an uncertain expression on her face.
The semi-couple shared a look, during which the only discernable movements were a sort of shrug from Joxer and a reluctant nod from Gabrielle. Then they turned back to their uninvited guest. "Can he, um, keep a secret?" Gabrielle asked, her voice remarkably calm.
"...Better than you?" Joxer muttered. Gabrielle dug her nails into his wrist, as Aphrodite glared at him.
"Listen, kids, Cupie is totally, one-hundred percent trustworthy. His word is, like, gold - if he says he'll do something, he'll do it. You're way cool with him."
Another shrug, another nod, this one less reluctant. "Cupid's not so bad," said Joxer, and Gabrielle nodded more firmly.
Instead of looking relieved, Aphrodite bit her lip cutely and looked even more worried. "'Kay. Um... what about the entire rest of my family?"
Joxer had expected a violent reaction of some kind to news like this. Maybe just anger, or maybe she'd take it out on him, or maybe she'd actually do something really dumb and try to take it out on Aphrodite. This was why he'd had the forethought - for once - to hold onto her in advance.
However, she didn't do any of these things. Instead she just sort of froze, and went pale, looking a little sick. He had to admit, as he thought of the whole of Olympus knowing too much about his personal life, he didn't feel entirely well himself.
Aphrodite waved her hand in the bard's face. "Hello? You in there?" She got no response. "Does she do this often?"
He looked at his love, helplessly. "Um..." Great. Stuck with the airheaded and moody Goddess of Love, who had once again proven the delight she took in trying to ruin his life, and the one of them who usually did the talking was out for the count. "Maybe... I think... you should go," he tried. A bit more hesitant than what Gabrielle would've said, but still, the sentiment was about the same. Probably.
"You sure? I can recommend other positions..."
This gave him pause. However, when Gabrielle - still staring straight ahead, without seeing - gave a little whimper in his arms, he hugged her reflexively and actually asserted himself. "Yeah. I don't think we want to see you anymore."
The blonde Goddess actually looked hurt. "Well... it was just a, like, slip of the tongue," she said defensively. "It's not like anyone on Olympus even really cares about what two mortals they don't even know do. So it won't mean anything." She stood, sniffed a couple of times, then crossed her arms in a huff. "Fine. I'm gone."
And then, she was.
Gabrielle made the little whimper again.
They hadn't been travelling far that day - they'd only been walking for about two hours - before the first of the Gods showed up.
The atmosphere was one of a sort of stony silence, which Xena seemed a good bit more comfortable with now that she thought she knew the reason for it. Although Joxer had thought he was making the decision Gabrielle would have made when he told Aphrodite to leave, after the blonde recovered she had angrily told him in no uncertain terms that he'd messed the heck up. Again.
"How are we supposed to get things set right if you told her we never want to see her again!?" she'd whispered fiercely, while Xena was loading the kitchenware into Argo's saddlebags.
"I didn't say never, I said anymore," he'd huffed, although honestly he couldn't see the difference in this context; but she could at least get the details right. "Look, it probably isn't as bad as you think. Why the heck should the Gods even care what we do? Aphrodite said so herself!"
Gabrielle had been less than placated by this, but she'd been silenced when Xena had ordered them to help dismantle the campsite, now.
At which point they'd started walking, on the road to nowhere pressing, and had to stop for another few minutes almost right off the bat after Xena noticed Gabrielle's stiff gait. They'd had a brief, low discussion during which Gabrielle kept looking at him embarrassedly and then speaking even lower, and finally Xena had patted her on the shoulder encouragingly and started them walking again.
"What was that?" he'd asked, rather nervously.
"Woman stuff," was all Xena would answer, mysteriously. He pouted a little when he realized she thought he knew nothing about 'woman stuff', but shrugged. After his last experience with hearing that talked about, he was rather glad he'd missed it.
His back was throbbing, now. From time to time he put a hand to it, but that really didn't help. "Does Xena know any pressure points for backs?" he asked Gabrielle, breaking the silence between them.
Icily, she said, "Don't even think it. If I have to suffer, you have to suffer." He sighed. That didn't seem fair, but it was easier than making Gabby even crankier. Hmph. He'd have figured anyone would be in a good mood after having three, but... Well, she was having a rough day.
This was the reason he was letting the silence go mostly unbroken. The less they spoke, the less they fought. At the moment, she hadn't said anything that he'd found really hurtful, so he was pretty content.
Gabrielle, on the other hand, was seething with undirected tension. If only Joxer would just say something stupid so she could let it out! Damn Aphrodite and her stupid big mouth! And damn the fact that she couldn't walk, too. Although, okay, that was actually worth it.
But in any case, she needed an outlet, Joxer wasn't provoking her, and it just all couldn't get worse.
"Say it ain't so, Gabrielle," a throaty male voice purred next to her ear. She gasped, jumping and whirling around, and found herself face-to-face with the leather-clad God of War. He stared at her coolly, his eyes glinting like steel, burning like metal in the forge. Gabrielle froze, and opened her mouth, but nothing came out. Ares kept staring at her, and she could only stare back and goggle a bit like a fish, before she managed to croak, "Xena..."
The raven-haired warrior seemed barely to have heard her friend. She shot a glance back over her shoulder, evidently took in nothing out of the ordinary, and blinked. "Hm? What is it?"
She didn't see him - couldn't see him. That meant that either he was a figment of her imagination and she was going mad, or ... "I - I need to sit down," she stuttered. Joxer was watching in concern, as Xena rushed back to her side and caught her arm. Gabrielle gratefully put her weight on her best friend, who walked her over to the side of the road to a rock, where she had a seat.
"What's wrong? Gabrielle? Tell me what the problem is." Xena was clearly antsy, which lent strength to the idea that Ares really was there, and Xena simply wasn't the one chosen this time to put up with seeing him. The dark god stood behind his former follower, smirking at her back, and winked at Gabrielle.
Her brow furrowed. "I think I - I need a drink," she said, glaring over Xena's shoulder at Ares. They had been mercifully free of his interference for more than a year now, and during that time, he'd changed some; his hair was longer, now falling across his shoulders in loose, dark ringlets, and his beard covered more of his face. And was it her imagination, or was that leather tighter than it had been before...? And those lips...
She dragged her eyes away from him, pressing her lips together angrily, and looked at Joxer instead. Her idiot lover looked back at her, worry painted over his face, and she could see that he was as clueless as ever. "Can someone get me some water...?" she mumbled, putting her head down into her hand.
Xena looked at Joxer over her shoulder. "Joxer, there's a river up ahead. Go get some water."
"Um..." If Ares was here for the reason Gabrielle was truly terrified that he was, she needed Xena gone. "Not him. He'll spill it all."
"I will not," he said indignantly, moving forward to take the water skins. He promptly tripped, falling hard onto his stomach. "Uggggh."
Xena stood up, sighing. "Point taken. I'll be right back."
Once she was out of earshot, Joxer sat up - with difficulty - and winced. "So why'd you want me to stay?"
She had to admit, he was smarter than she gave him credit for. That was the second time she'd seen him pull the "too dumb to do the job" routine now... to her knowledge. Gods knew how often he'd done it when she *didn't* realize it. Still, she shook her head. "I didn't. I just wanted her gone." She looked back up, and Ares was watching her with a cool smirk.
"What a waste," he clucked, shaking his head as he stepped towards her, past Joxer who was still partway prone on the ground. "This is just tragic."
"What do you want?" Gabrielle growled, glaring, and in the corner of her eye she could see Joxer giving her an alarmed look.
"Gabby, are you okay?"
She ignored him, and so did Ares, as he walked in a circle around her. "So much potential. You started out an irritating blonde, and look at what you've grown into. And look at - him." He shook his head.
Joxer sat up, in front of her. "Gabrielle? What's going on?"
"Go away," she said to Ares, her eyes narrowed.
"What!? Why?" Joxer yelped, his voice an octave higher than usual because of his surprise.
She gave a frustrated sigh, wishing she'd gotten rid of him along with Xena. "Not you," she said.
He sank back onto his heels, his expression slightly unnerved, and looked up and down the empty stretch of road. "Um..."
"Ares," she said, finally taking her angry eyes off of the War God and focussing on Joxer. "Ares is here. Now shut up." She snapped her head back up, focussing again on an unseen point, and hissed, "You don't know the first thing about him - or me."
Joxer let himself slip back off his ankles and onto his rear, sitting down heavily. He had absolutely no idea what was going on. Gabrielle continued to watch something he couldn't see move around the area, and she got angrier and angrier, and occasionally she said things in a tense kind of voice. Oh...kay. This was not the sort of thing he encountered every day. What disturbed him in particular was the fact that Gabrielle apparently was in the mindset to speak to Ares in exactly the same way she spoke to Aphrodite. Wasn't that even more dangerous? Then again, Aphrodite was the one who pulled strange little pranks when she got miffed; Ares, you at least knew how to fight.
Still, watching his beloved snap at what seemed to him to be empty air, he really wished she'd maybe take a few deep breaths and calm down a little...
"He has no idea what's going on," Ares snickered, looking down at the oblivious-looking warrior wannabe.
Gabrielle gripped her staff even more tightly. "So show yourself to him. If you're going to say all this stuff about him the least you can do is involve him in the conversation, give him a chance to talk back."
Ares laughed, giving her a wide, insincere smile. "You really think he'd do anything?! He'd stick his head in the sand until we went away, or until someone put him out of his misery!" He shook his head. "Honestly, Gabrielle, I am disappointed. I thought you were better than this."
"I don't know what you're talking about."
"Riiiiight. And that's why you're defending lover boy over there so vehemently."
"Lover boy!" She felt her face going pink. "Don't be ridiculous." Joxer fidgeted, evidently trying very hard not to pay attention to her half of the conversation. "Joxer is not my 'lover boy', as he'd be the first to tell you. Whatever you think is going on between us-"
Stroking his beard, he said, "Well, Aphrodite sure made it sound like you were going pretty hot and heavy..."
Gabrielle crossed her arms, eyeing him coolly. "Are you always in the habit of believing everything you hear from buxom airheads in tight clothing?"
He threw back his head, laughing again. "Man, I should get her down here to hear some of this. It's priceless." Cocking his head, he said, "So you're gonna tell me that there's nothing between you and the idiot, at all, and the Goddess of Love is wrong."
She gulped, not certain what to say. Could a person lie to a god? She didn't really think so, but selective truths were another matter - she was getting quite good with those. "No, there's something between us. We're friends. Not that you'd know what that means."
"You wound me," he said, holding a hand over his heart and pursing his lips, his eyes smouldering. "Here I am, all worried about you wasting your intelligence and courage on a nothing like this, and when I come to see you -"
"What do you really want, Ares?" she snapped finally, her eyes flashing. "I don't buy this 'concern' routine."
He stood stiffly for a few minutes, then shrugged. "What I said. Sis told me you'd hooked up with Useless over there, and I was so disappointed I had to come see for myself. I didn't expect to be, y'know. We used to call you guys the Perfect Couple of Wasted Skin..." She laughed humourlessly. He stepped closer to her, causing her to draw in on herself as he cupped her chin with one hand and looked into her eyes. "But you've grown up, Gabrielle. I've seen you do amazing things. You deserve better."
Joxer was worried. She was tilting her head up oddly, cringing a little, and she was totally silent. She didn't look scared, though - if he were doing something, surely she'd look scared, right?
She met his gaze firmly for a few moments, before faltering and turning away as if disgusted. "Go away," she muttered hoarsely, staring at the ground on her left. He didn't move. Joxer suddenly stood up and moved closer to her, and she shook her head at him until he stepped back.
A rustling betrayed Xena's presence, as she hurried back from the forest and drew her sword. Gabrielle watched her, wide-eyed, and Ares crossed his arms and drew his lips into a smirk. The Warrior Princess narrowed her eyes, looking about as if in heavy concentration, and finally spat, "Ares! I know you're here. It may have been months but I recognize that stink!" She dropped the water skins she was holding, tossing them aside, then pulled her chakram out and held it at the ready. "Ares! Show yourself, dammit!"
Gabrielle looked at the God of War nervously, waiting to see if he'd do anything. He chuckled. "I love doing this to her," he said, almost boyishly, and grinned. He answered the questioning look in her eyes with a shake of his head. "Naaah. I was here to see you - she's gotta want it more before I show up for her again." He winked, and disappeared.
Xena relaxed almost instantly. "What the hell was that?" she muttered, shaking herself, as she sheathed her sword again. "Gabrielle - you alright? If Ares had anything to do with that -"
"I'm fine." She stood up, smiling hesitantly. "I don't even need the water anymore. I guess I just needed to sit down."
"Drink anyway," Xena said, giving her one of the full skins, and kept looking about nervously. "Joxer, did anything out of the ordinary happen while I was gone?"
"Uh..." he looked at Gabrielle, who shook her head violently, splashing water down her chin. "No. Not that I noticed anyway." She glared at him. "And - I'd have noticed anything out of the ordinary, so you can definitely be sure that nothing happened."
Xena twisted her lips, glaring into the distance, but seemed satisfied for the time being.
If Ares had been the only one to show, that would have been one thing. However, it appeared Aphrodite had been either lying or clueless when she'd told them that none of her family members cared about a couple of mortals they didn't know; it seemed just the opposite, in fact. Apparently, if Aphrodite had been worked up over it, it was enough to come and check out.
This led to what was probably, strictly speaking, the most uncomfortable day Joxer and Gabrielle had ever had. Some of them didn't bother to make themselves visible to both of the people they were coming to gawk at - for example, one Goddess in tight clothes and heavy eye makeup had stared at Joxer disdainfully for a second before shaking her head and frisking him in the middle of the road. "Ohhhhh - that explains it," she'd said a moment later, snickering, and Joxer had looked up to see Gabrielle looking back at him in shock.
"What?" he muttered, his face red and his arms held out to the sides as the diminutive Goddess groped him.
"Um..." Gabrielle flashed a glance to Xena, and mumbled in return, "what are you doing?"
He rolled his eyes. "What does it look like I'm doing?!"
Gabrielle had no answer for that, and it was only then that he realized the Goddess was as invisible to Gabrielle as Ares had been to him.
"I'm being... checked out," he whispered, blushing even more heavily, and nervously eyeing the brown-haired Olympian who was currently running her hands down his legs. "Some Goddess."
Unfortunately, Gabrielle didn't look as if she entirely believed him. "Oh really. Which?"
"I don't know!"
The Goddess looked up, her mouth hanging open in disgust. "Discord, you twit! Geez, hung but stupid, I guess!"
"Discord," he tried to growl, but she grabbed his butt and the second syllable became a yelp. "Goddess of ...?"
"Of Discord," she prompted. "This is so sad. No wonder the bottled Blonde was so impressed that you were gettin' some."
"Okayyyy," he said, as Gabrielle was looking less tolerant by the minute. Don't say anything stupid. Don't tempt the Fates. She might be a complete bitch, but she could still fry you in a second. "Okay, she's the Goddess of Discord, not named Discord - so, what's your - ghk!" His entire body cringed as the Goddess squeezed someplace he really preferred not to be squeezed. "Leggo!" he squeaked.
"The name is Discord. The domain is Discord. Someone oughta put you to sleep."
"Okay," he managed painfully. Gabrielle looked distinctly worried, and set about to reassuring Xena that Joxer was fine when the Warrior Princess turned around... something about her having swung her staff in the wrong direction. I love you, he thought at her halfheartedly, almost forgetting Discord.
The bitch Goddess sighed dismissively. "Oh well. Brains aren't the important part. Then again, I like 'em a hell of a lot more buff than you... The waste of skin over there can have ya." She snorted, and disappeared, and Joxer vowed to make several tributes to other Gods in the hopes that they would do something to her.
Deimos, thankfully, didn't actually speak to either of them. He flashed in, stared for a moment, and started laughing. And laughing. It was a little creepy. They didn't stop walking, just left the immortal behind, and they could hear him laughing for a good five minutes. The down side was, he was visible to everyone - including Xena, who commented on how odd that was.
Most of the Gods, however, were of the flash-in, stare, flash-out variety. Athena looked a bit embarrassed to even be there, and shook her head as she flashed out again, muttering about Aphrodite under her breath. One Goddess, who Gabrielle had the strong feeling was Hestia, gaped at them in horror with her youthful hand over her mouth, a maidenly blush painting her features.
It was getting ridiculous, she thought as she washed the dishes that night. The sun was setting, and in the dim light left over she saw a pair of eyes watching her. She blinked. They blinked back.
After a tense moment she realized they were animal eyes, and she began to relax, and returned to her task of scrubbing the pot. There was a tingling at the back of her neck, and she looked up again to find that the eyes - which were attached to an owl - were, along with their body, much closer than they'd been before.
Suddenly nervous, she stared, afraid to look away again. The owl stared back. It's just an owl, she thought, berating herself, and mechanically scrubbed at the pot some more without tearing her eyes away. The owl edged forward another pace or so, and Gabrielle suspiciously leaned forward, trying to see it as closely as she could. It looked like maybe...
A sudden sparkling flash filled her vision, and when it cleared there was a stern, regal-looking woman standing there, glaring down at the owl. "Ohhhh no you don't," she snapped. "I turn away for five minutes and you're off chasing more tail! Well not this time, mister King-of-the-Gods! I heard that story everyone's passing around and knew just where you'd be!" She snapped her fingers, and the owl disappeared. Turning to Gabrielle, her eyes narrowed and she muttered, "Harlot," before sparkling away again.
Pale and shaky, Gabrielle stood and hurried back to the camp.
Joxer was whistling as he stitched up a hole in his pants leg, and he jumped when a hand came down forcefully on his shoulder. "We need to do something," a voice hissed in his ear, and he almost didn't recognize it as Gabrielle until she plopped down next to him, obviously distraught.
"What's up?" he asked, pulling the pants into his lap to keep his shorts covered.
His beloved sighed, putting her face into her hands nervously. "I almost got toasted, that's what. We can't let them keep coming in here like this."
"Um..." Joxer looked carefully to where Xena was brushing Argo, and sighed. She looked out of earshot. "Well, no, I guess not. Uh... I don't know what we should do, though..."
"Anything. As long as I don't get eyed by Zeus again."
"Zeus was eyeing you?" Joxer asked defensively, his ire rising.
"Yeah, and now Hera thinks I'm a total tramp..."
"Hmph." Joxer pouted, obviously fuming. "You're not a tramp."
She rolled her eyes. "I know that. That's not the point. We need to get them to forget this - convince them that it's not true and there's nothing to see."
Joxer swallowed, poking at his trousers with the needle. "Oh... so, I guess we, like, gotta stop meeting."
"No, I don't think we'll be doing that," Gabrielle said casually, cupping her chin in an obvious thinking gesture, and Joxer grinned happily. The best times were when she said things like that and she didn't even notice. I love you, he thought again, just... because.
"I guess goin' to Aphrodite and just asking her to tell everyone she was wrong is too easy?" he suggested, and waited to be shot down.
Instead, Gabrielle looked at him carefully for a moment, then reluctantly shook her head. "She wouldn't do that unless she wanted to."
"Well, she says she likes us... or something."
Gabrielle snorted. "'Pet mortals'. Yeah, she obviously really respects us for our minds."
"Okay, well, maybe we can convince her to-"
"Ooh." She held up a finger, an idea written all over her face. "I think you're on to something. Or at least, one of us is. If we can find a way to convince her..." She pressed her lips together, looking rather adorable in her determination, and said after a moment, "Okay. What we have to do is find some dirt on Aphrodite. There's gotta be something out there."
"You mean like when she was mortal and she smelled bad?"
"Good as a start, but let's see if we can find worse." She grinned wickedly, and Joxer could see that for Gabrielle this was as much vengeance on the meddling Goddess as it was a way out of their predicament.
"You're evil," he said adoringly, and she wrinkled her nose and squeezed his hand before getting up and joining Xena. Joxer completely forgot about sewing his pants for the rest of the night, and just watched her.
He awoke early, before anyone else. It had been a while since Joxer had been the first one awake, and for a little while he just lay on his pelt, listening to the birds of dawn singing their songs and watching the grey sky lighten to blue.
Eventually he sat up, stretched - his back felt a hell of a lot better - and looked to his side, at Gabrielle. Gods... He'd never figured he could love her more than he already did, but he was falling harder and harder for her every time they were together. His almost-girlfriend... all that was missing were the words. And he was finding it harder to keep from saying the words, every day that went by.
I love you. Gabrielle, I love you.
He crawled over to her, making as little noise as possible, his heartbeat resonating twice as deeply as he watched her sleep. There was a peace in her face, as she slumbered, that had been missing most days while she was awake... An innocence, a youthfulness, that he knew might never come back. But it wasn't gone, if it showed now, while she slept... It was there, in her somewhere, underneath all the strain and hardships she now had to face. And he was relieved.
Temptation overcame his better judgement, and he forgot consequences and bent to her, brushing a light kiss over her perfect lips, his breath catching in his throat. She didn't wake, but stirred, mumbling, and smiled slightly. His mouth at her ear, he whispered, "I love you. I'm dying to tell you. Every day I love you more." This time, she made no response.
When he sat up and crawled back to his own pelt, his heart nearly gave out on him when he looked up.
A man was watching him - an older, graying man, with long hair and scraggly robes and a droopy, miserable face. The man sighed wearily, frowning and sagging slightly. "You remind me of someone," he said, and his voice fit his appearance perfectly - old, tired, and miserable.
"Um... do I?" Joxer said, too surprised to manage anything more clever.
The man - who, it dawned on him, was almost certainly a God - nodded morosely. "I don't know who, though. It doesn't matter." He sighed again, slowly sitting down on a nearby rock, and shook his head. "I so rarely see anyone anymore..."
"No foolin'. They're not exactly linin' up to see you, huh?"
The God put a hand under his chin, giving out an air of hopelessness. "Exactly. Everyone has better things to do than come see me. You know, I haven't laughed once in my whole life."
"Yeesh," Joxer muttered, wondering how this conversation had started. "That's, um... I'm really... I don't think we've been introduced."
"Lachrymose," the God said heavily. "God of Despair."
"Well, least you're not the God of Lachrymose." He grinned half-heartedly, and the grin quickly faded as the depressed Olympian looked at him like he was an idiot. Joxer cleared his throat. "Y'know, like, uh, like Discord... She's the Goddess of Discord, too..."
"I got it," Lachrymose said, a tinge of disgust in his voice, and rolled his eyes. Even this seemed so weighted down with misery that Joxer suddenly felt exhausted. Lachrymose looked at Gabrielle, still mercifully asleep. Joxer really envied her. "She's beautiful," he said almost reproachfully.
Well, this was a subject he could handle. "Yep," he said cheerfully. "She's real smart, too, and strong, and brave, and-"
"I knew a beautiful woman once..." The God looked off into the distance, and Joxer kicked himself for not switching to a "safe" subject. Then again, such a thing might well not exist. "She laughed at me. I didn't speak to anyone for three hundred years after that..."
"No kidding." He considered waking Gabby up and getting her to laugh at Lachrymose to see what would happen. "But you... I don't see what's so special about you," Lachrymose continued, whining a little.
Joxer humoured him. "Um, nothing?"
"That's what I thought." He drew his brows together, frowning again. "Yet you get to kiss her while she's asleep."
"Oh - she doesn't know about that, she'd never let me..."
"And you get to... know her... in a physical way. I've never gotten to do that..."
Joxer shut his eyes - that was an image he had not needed. "Okaaaay, I think there's a biiiig misunderstanding here..."
Lachrymose rose, grumbling a little. "Everyone said I just had to see this pairing, but now that I'm here, I just feel worse. Everything makes me feel worse. What a miserable existence."
"I'm real sorry." He started to wave his arms, then stopped and peered closely at Joxer. "Now I know who you remind me of."
"Do I want to know?" Joxer glared at him, silently begging him to leave.
With another sigh, this one a sort of falsely-casual one, the God said, "Me. You're just like I was in my early years..." With that, he dribbled away, back to his miserable solitude.
Joxer lay back down; suddenly he felt very depressed.
It was another three nights before they were close enough to one of Aphrodite's temples to try and visit her. They would have passed it by entirely, if Gabrielle hadn't concocted a reason why they had to stay within the area - she had promised herself she'd finish a scroll before they made it out of the village limits - they would never have had the privacy they needed to sneak away and confront the Goddess.
As it was, getting her attention proved to be a pretty difficult task. The initial calling for her accomplished nothing, even though they both spent a good quarter hour at it; cajoling, apologies, and eventual idle threats were no more effective. Joxer bumped into a bowl of fruit, knocking the entire thing over, and this led to a brief spree of destruction that in the end got them nowhere.
"Damn it," Gabrielle said finally, gritting her teeth and scowling.
Joxer pursed his lips. "Well, we could always try what we were doing last time," he said casually. She had him in a noselock a mere second later. "Ow! Ow! Or not, okay, okay!"
Disgruntled, the blonde let go, and let out a heavy breath. "This is just perfect. The one time we want to talk to her, she doesn't show up."
"Aphrodite," Joxer said with a snort, crossing his arms. "Now she is a waste of-"
"Joxer," Gabrielle said with a sort of resigned incredulity, "has it ever occurred to you that maybe your tendency to make little backhanded comments about the Gods to their faces is as dangerous as getting 'directly involved' with them?"
He blinked. "W-well... Well I don't..." After clearing his throat, he mumbled, "I never really thought they heard me."
Gabrielle just shook her head, as if too stunned to reply.
They called for Aphrodite again a few times, halfheartedly, and beside him Gabrielle sighed in frustration. Joxer set his resolve and decided that he wasn't going to let her down this time - he'd get Aphrodite there if it killed him. He took a deep breath. "APHRO -"
"Joxer," Gabrielle purred suddenly, and something went flying over his shoulder from behind. When it hit the ground he saw it was her green top. Eyes wide, he turned, and she grabbed his head and smashed it against her naked cleavage. "Take me! Take me now!"
Joxer couldn't breathe... but damn, what a way to go. Gabrielle was moaning, which was pretty odd because he wasn't actually doing anything but being smashed against her breasts and not breathing, but hey, he wasn't complaining about that... If she'd just let go of his head, he could -
"Oh, Joxer, yes! Yes, yes, YES!" She started yelling, for no apparent reason, and now in addition to being about to suffocate he was pretty damn confused. And with that, she let go of his head. "Finally," she said testily, and stooped to pick up her top.
"Well, excuuuuuse me, chickie!" said another voice, and Joxer was so dazed that for a moment he wondered if he'd passed out and was dreaming all this. Hmmm... nah. If this were a dream, Gabrielle wouldn't be putting her top back on. He looked up, and with no surprise found that the owner of the voice was none other than Aphrodite, who looked more than a little peeved. "I love it. First you hate me, then you never wanna see me again, now you're begging me to show up."
"Interesting that all it took to get you here was the hint of sexual activity," Gabrielle said, tying the laces of her bodice.
Aphrodite sniffed. "I get power from that kinda thing, Blondie. I don't know why you wanna keep talking about it like it's something to be ashamed of."
"What's goin' on...?" Joxer asked, still dazed.
"Nothing, Studmuffin. Go back to sleep," the Goddess said dismissively. Turning back to Gabrielle, she said, "So, long as you got an audience, might as well give it a go. What's up."
Taking a deep breath, Gabrielle said, "Well, the past few days have been a little... hectic, and it's been hard on us. So... we would really like it if you would tell the rest of your family that you were wrong about us, or something like that."
The Goddess blinked. "What?"
"Say that you jumped to the wrong conclusion." Gabrielle held her hands out beseechingly. "It's wrecking our personal lives!"
"I don't think so," Aphrodite said, crossing her arms stubbornly. "I sure did not jump to the wrong conclusion - I saw you guys, and there was no room for misunderstanding!" She made a little hurt noise. "You just want to make me look stupid."
Gabrielle bit her lip and looked to Joxer. He shrugged. She sighed, and began, "Look, we didn't want to have to do this..." Joxer tried to hide the grin that slid onto his face at that. "...But, if you don't help us out..."
"We did a little, um... digging," Joxer put in, grinning broadly now.
Aphrodite looked uncomfortable. "There's something about the way you said that that I don't like."
"If you're worried about looking stupid now," Gabrielle put forth, "you probably don't want us helping people spread the story we heard in town a couple of days ago."
"Nice try Blondie, but there isn't any dirt on me."
"I heard it was mud, actually," Joxer snickered.
Aphrodite paled a little. "Excuse me?"
"We ran into a man," Gabrielle said casually, twirling her hair around a finger loosely, "who related the most interesting story of seeing you rolling around in the mud..."
"Naked," Joxer put in, unnecessarily in Gabrielle's opinion. She tried to ignore it.
"And making a fool of yourself in a restaurant with Hercules, and... just generally acting like a pig."
The Goddess's face was now pink. "That's because it was a pig!! That was not me! Herc had this piggy, see, and he wanted to date her -"
"Whoa," Joxer said, looking a little ill, "I never knew that about him."
"- And since I'm like, the coolest big sister ever, I gave him a hand by turning her into a drop-dead gorgeous blonde! Only she used my likeness to look like a total slob... and people wonder why I don't do many favours these days, when they backfire on me like that one did..." She grumbled, her eyes flashing angrily. "But the point is that wasn't me, so you can't tell anyone!"
"Gee, wouldn't it be a pity if that story you didn't want anyone to hear got out all over the place?" Gabrielle said innocently. "How awful for you."
"Well, I'm sure everyone we told would believe that it wasn't really her," said Joxer comfortingly. "I mean, the whole pig thing... that sounds really believable."
Aphrodite was seething. "Knock it off!" she said, sounding like nothing more than a spoiled child. "Okay, okay! You got it ... I'll go back and tell everyone that I got the facts wrong. Although I dunno if they'll believe me."
"They'd better believe you," Gabrielle said casually, smiling a little. "'Cause this is just such a fascinating story that I don't know if I can resist writing it down..."
"You are so in for it, Blondie. I have a long memory," Aphrodite grumbled, her eyes in slits. "I'll tell 'em. And they'll believe it." She sighed to herself, her lower lip trembling. "I can't believe I'm doing this. And after I've been so nice to you!"
Gabrielle softened just a little, and gave the Goddess a little smile. "Thanks," she said.
"Whatever," Aphrodite said, as she sparkled away.
She was beaming when she turned back to him. "We did it," she said, clasping her hands together. He couldn't resist - he threw his arms around her and spun her around happily. She squealed, hanging onto his shoulders, and smacked at him. "Joxer! Stop it!"
"Sorry," he said, putting her back down, blushing a little and sighing inside. But she was still beaming.
"Not in here," she said quietly, squeezing his nose gently. "I'm not going through all that again."
Gods, he loved this woman.
Outside, he put his arms around her and she let him kiss her and hold her, and they found their way to lying down since that was where it always led, and he was kissing his way up her arm and had reached her elbow when she suddenly stopped and sat up, pushing him aside.
She glared around suspiciously for a moment or two, then yelled, "Aphrodite, leave us alone!"
The Goddess materialized next to them. "Okay, fine. Geez, it's not like it's a pervert kinda thing." She sniffed angrily and disappeared again.
"I hate that," Gabrielle sighed. Joxer shrugged, and returned his attention to her arm.
They slept in extremely late that morning. Xena was cranky by the time they awoke, but her friends were both in such extremely good moods that she couldn't hold onto her own foul one.
Gabrielle got them started on the 'question' game, and they had several rather gripping rounds between the three of them. Joxer tended to think of the most obvious possible things, but he was also pretty good at guessing what the two women were thinking of. Xena again had a sense of family with the three of them, as she had a few days ago; this was as it should be. All was right with the world.
Then an odd thing happened. Gabrielle went silent in mid-guess, and Xena got a funny crawly feeling at the back of her neck, and she turned to see a striking, black-clad man watching them with a questioning look on his face. "Hades?" she asked suspiciously.
A sparkling appeared next to him, then, and Aphrodite materialized. "No, Unc, it was a mistake. They're not," she said, tugging at his arm. Hades sighed and allowed himself to be dragged away. Both Gods were gone as quickly as they'd appeared, and without any explanation.
Xena blinked. She faced Gabrielle and Joxer, and her two best friends gave her identical blank looks. "What the hell was that?"
"Not a clue."
"Ya got me."
She paused for another second, then shrugged. "Okay. So, Gabrielle, what were you about to guess?"
They went on their way, and all was right with the world.
TBC with In The Family Way