Joxer, Meg and Xena belong to Universal, yada-yada-yada. Oy-is this really necessary?? We all know this spiel by now. Sheesh!!
There be violence, sex, and adult situations in this story, ladies and germs. If you're under 16, GO AWAY. This is not meant for kids. My writing is a bit on the intense side.
THE GENESIS OF THIS PIECE
All right. As of this writing, I am taking a break from working on my novel. I'm at the 100-page mark. I wanted to take some time away from it so that I could go back, and make revisions before I start on the next section.
For the last few months, I've been criss-crossing the Net, checking out various fan-fiction. Pardon my bluntness, but in the past, I've found much fan fiction I've read to be absolute garbage. Even in the Xenaverse, I've read some really vile stuff from people that obviously need to take some lessons in storytelling and grammar. I'm not trying to elevate myself above other story-tellers. In fact, I'm my own worst critic, and I've written some real shit in the past. But some of the stuff that I've read from other people is...well...let's say I'd be embarrassed to have my name attached to the work.
However, much to my surprise and delight, I have also read LOTS of Xena fan fiction that is VERY well written. I have tremendous respect for people who actually take the time to hone their craft. I have always felt that a person's work is a reflection of them. I've always kept that in mind, when someone is about to view my work. I look at it like this: you're taking time out of someone else's life to look at your work. Don't waste it. You're trying to make an impression on them.
Lucy Lawless couldn't have said it better herself: "You always strive for excellence, because to aim for anything else is a waste of life."
I wrote this piece mainly for fun. I also wanted to test out some of my writing skills. The last time I wrote a piece of fan fiction was 8 years ago-and that piece was a monstrosity that was based on a Japanese cartoon I loved. It started out as a recreational piece. But while working on it, I became obsessed with the idea of writing the best damn piece I could. I was also seriously considering becoming a professional writer. So-this piece of fan fiction became a test to see if I could pull it off. In the end, it took 5 years, 5 drafts, and 1,600 pages combined to get it the way I wanted. The final piece ended up being 315 pages.I think I went a wee bit overboard. But I learned a LOT from this baptism by fire.
In the case of BRAVING THE INNER STORM, I was concentrating on mood, and keeping the writing as spontaneous as possible. Which meant that I had to write this thing FAST. And one draft only, with some VERY minor revisions.
Also-being a fan of Joxer and Meg, I was angry that I did not see stories involving them together-particularly in a serious light. The only exception was Jim Kuntz's FANTASTIC piece, entitled MEG'S. People, keep an eye on this guy. And Jim-if you haven't written a pro novel, WHY THE HELL NOT?! You're a DAMN good writer!! GO FOR IT!!!
So-this piece is meant to take a more serious look at Joxer and Meg. There are some lighthearted moments, but it's mostly a very serious piece. Xena has only a few cameo appearances. This story is primarily about Joxer and Meg. I see these two as soulmates. Two very lonely people who are two halves of one soul.
Enough ramblings from me. I hope you like the piece. I welcome ANY criticism, POSITIVE OR NEGATIVE. You can be as brutal in your criticisms as you like. An artist HAS to be able to handle criticism, NO MATTER HOW NEGATIVE IT IS.
One final thing-this is my first-AND LAST-piece of Xena fan fiction. I was in a rare mood to write this piece. I doubt I'll have the time or desire to do this again.
If you're interested in more of my stories, log onto TRABAL CREATIONS.
Send feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org
Braving the Inner Storm
by Saul Trabal
Joxer stumbled through the forest. The sides of his head pulsated in pain.
The vision replayed itself in his head. Again and again. The knife drawing out of Kryton's chest. Thick, red black blood, dripping from its tip. Kryton, falling like a sack of potatoes onto the dusty earth.
Those eyes of his...those dead eyes, boring into Joxer's soul...
And that goddamned voice...that leathery face. That putrid breath of Kryton's ripping through Joxer's nostrils like an axe. His stomach churned ominously, as if in the midst of a hurricane.
"You're just like me now, sonny-boy. Just like me. A goddamned killing machine. Yeah boy, YEAH. A bad-ass, slaughter-happy, warmongering-"
"AAAAAAAAARRRGGGGGHHH!!!!!!!! SHADDUP!!!! SHADDUP!!!! SHADDUP!!!! SHADDUP!!!! SHAAADDUUUUPPP!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"
He drew his sword, and swung it in a vicious arc. The blade embedded itself in a tree. Joxer yanked at it repeatedly. But his sweaty hands couldn't get a firm grip. He sprawled backwards, crashing hard into the leafy earth.
His dark eyes darted back and forth. His heart hammered in his chest, pounding through his ribcage as if were about to explode out. His throat began to constrict. His body began to shake.
Oh, gods, not another panic attack!! Ohgodsohgodsohgodsohgodsohgods...
He rolled into a ball. Tremors ripped though Joxer like tidal waves. Pain exploded through his brain in violent, pulsating bursts. Huge drops of sweat rolled off of his face. His throat constricted more. He began to gag.
His eyes rolled into the back of his head. And the whole world faded away into a white mist.
Joxer slowly opened his eyes. He looked around him. It was nearing night. Joxer carefully sat up. He felt very weak. His shattered nerves pulsed throughout his body, causing his muscles to twitch.
How does Xena do this?! How in Tartarus does she do this?!
Joxer lifted a trembling hand. He ran it through his hair. Joxer thought back to when he and Arman raced off on Argo. They managed to leave Kryton's foot solders behind. After arriving in another town, Joxer told Arman to take Argo and leave. He also told him that he didn't want Xena or Gabrielle to try and find him. He was going into hiding for a while.
Hiding...well, that was something he was good at. Joxer wouldn't have lasted this long if he wasn't good at running away and hiding.
Huh...some warrior...I suck at fighting and I'm a master at hiding...
Hiding from my godforsaken life.
He had been in hiding in the forests for over a month now. Joxer had managed to trap a rabbit or two, as well as an occasional fish. Yet, he had a hard time thinking about food. All he could think about was that knife, tearing into Kryton's chest. And Arman. Ready to rip Joxer's heart out.
How did a moron like you kill my father?!
Well, even morons get lucky sometimes.
Joxer shook his head, willing the vision away. An involuntary shudder rumbled through him. With a great effort, he slowly rose to his feet. Joxer erratically looked around.
"M-my helmet..." he muttered, his voice trembling. "M-My helmet..."
Joxer spotted it, a few feet away. He walked over to it. Joxer bent over to pick it up. Suddenly, a wave of dizziness swirled into his head. He fell face-first into the ground, clumps of dirt and grass forced into his mouth. He coughed violently, spitting out muddy brown and green chunks of earth. Joxer rolled onto his back. He slowly sat up, legs spread, on the ground. He looked up into the starry heavens. The sun had just gone below the horizon. Blades of grass hung from his mouth. His lower lip quivered.
"W-What's happening to me...?" he whispered.
Joxer reached over, picking up his helmet. He stared at it, studying every dent, every scratch. Then he remembered them again.
Xena and Gabrielle.
Joxer knew that Xena and Gabrielle were looking for him. But he didn't want to be around them. He felt so small, so insignificant. Joxer had run into an occasional friend or two, and they told him that Xena and Gabrielle were desperate to find him. But Joxer harshly demanded that they not say a word to them about his whereabouts. He wanted to be alone.
And the last time he spoke to a person he knew was 3 weeks ago.
Joxer looked at his hands, his clothes. He was filthy. He smelled terrible. He hadn't bathed in over a week. And Joxer didn't really seem to care. About anything and anyone. Least of all himself. He felt a depression he had never known creep into his soul.
The floodgates opened. And Joxer screamed into the night. He fell onto the ground, sobbing uncontrollably.
He didn't know how much time had passed. He didn't even know when he had started walking. But there he was. Joxer the Mighty. A mighty NOTHING, he thought heatedly. He felt very, very weak. He hadn't eaten in almost 3 days. And he didn't care to. He mumbled to himself incoherently.
"..some warrior...bullshit...fighting wrongs..singing stupid songs..."
He tripped over a root, ramming head first into a tree trunk. The resounding clang echoed throughout the forest. Joxer dropped back into the ground with a loud thud. Pain roiled through his head. He lifted it, and saw he was at the outer edges of a town. He could make out lights in some of the houses before him. But the pain was getting to be too much. He couldn't focus. His head fell back against the ground.
He stared into the star-filled sky. Slowly, he felt the familiar veil of unconsciousness begin to take over. Then he heard footsteps. And several voices. Female voices. One of them was very familiar.
"Dunno...hey-I think I know this guy!"
A shuffling of feet. Joxer felt someone kneel near him.
"By the gods..." the voice whispered. "It's Joxer!!"
Joxer instantly recognized that last voice. He tried to speak.
"M-Meg..." he croaked.
A tall form was instantly at his side. He felt his head being lifted, and placed in a soft lap. A hand was caressing the left side of his face. The last thing he saw were two pale blue eyes, staring at him in fright. The silhouette of her angular face shone in the harsh moonlight. Her dark hair caressed his other cheek.
"Joxie..." she whispered.
Joxer strained to keep his eyes open, but it was a losing battle.
"Meg..." he whispered.
Then everything went black.
Joxer slowly opened his eyes. He found himself in a bedroom, lit with several candles. And it looked familiar. He suddenly recognized it. It was Meg's bedroom.
Joxer slowly sat up. Suddenly, a vicious explosion of pain ripped through his head. He clutched the sides of it and let out a loud, strangled moan. Joxer gripped his hair, pulling at it with all his might.
The door to the room instantly burst open. Meg rushed inside. Her eyes were wide with fright.
She was at his side in a second, and took him into her arms.
"What is it honey?! What's wrong?!"
Joxer's face contorted in agony.
"M-My head...M-My head...it's...it feel's like it's gonna explode..."
Meg immediately looked out towards the entrance, her blue eyes ablaze.
"Matilda!! Get a basin of cold water in here!! Now!!"
"Okay Meg, okay!!" came a voice from beyond the door. " I'm on it!! Jazmine, where's that basin?!"
Meg turned her attention back to Joxer. Her heart broke at the sight of Joxer's agonized expression.
She held him close, kissing him on the top of his head and whispering soothing words into his ear. Meg rocked Joxer slowly, comforting him as if he were a child. She tenderly stroked his head. Within moments, three women rushed into the room. One of them carried a basin full of water. Meg abruptly looked up.
"Put it here Jaz, next to the bed."
Jazmine wasted no time in placing it on the table next to Joxer's bed. Another woman rushed up to Meg, offering her a cloth.
"Dip it in the basin, Matilda. Then give it to me."
Matilda did as she was told. Meg gently laid Joxer back on the bed. The woman handed Meg the cold, wet cloth. She folded it and placed it on his forehead.
"He looks terrible." remarked the third woman.
Meg shot her an icy stare. Fear shot up the woman's spine. That glare, so much like Xena's, she thought...
Jazmine elbowed her hard in the ribs. She gasped in pain, turning to face Jazmine.
"Shaddup, will ya Stella?!" Jazmine hissed through clenched teeth. "Does he hafta know?!"
Jazmine grabbed Stella roughly by the arm, yanking her outside.
"G'wan! Git outta here!!" she whispered harshly.
Stella eyed Jazmine, full of guilt.
"I'm sorry, Jaz, I'm-"
Jazmine closed the door in her face. She shook her head.
"It's...all right..." gasped Joxer slowly. "She's right...I feel...worse than I look."
"Just relax, sweetie." said Meg. "Don't talk. Just rest."
Joxer slowly turned to Meg. He smiled weakly.
Meg returned the smile.
He swallowed hard. Then he spoke
"I'm glad you're here."
Meg felt a tear trickle down her cheek. She tenderly stroked Joxer's face, and leaned close to him.
"I'm not planning on going anywhere." she whispered. "I'll take care of you."
"You need anything else, Meg?" asked Jazmine.
Meg turned towards her.
"Yeah. Some soap and a towel."
She turned back towards Joxer.
"Ya gotta clean up. When was the last time you...?"
Joxer lowered his head in shame.
"I-I don't remember..."
"S'okay. It doesn't matter. As long as you're safe."
Meg turned to the two women.
"Remember-not a word that Joxer's here. Got that?"
The two women nodded.
"You got it." said Matilda.
"That includes Xena and Gabrielle." Joxer said suddenly. "I don't want them to know, either."
Meg turned towards Joxer, surprised.
"What? B-But don't you-"
"I said no."
Joxer's voice was cold as steel. His dark eyes were hard. Meg and the other women felt a pang of fear at his tone of voice. Meg hesitated a moment before she spoke.
"Um...o-okay. If that's what you want."
"Uh-we'll be going now, Meg." said Jazmine. "C'mon Matilda, let's go."
The two women left, closing the door behind them. Meg stared at Joxer in bewilderment.
"Why don't you want Xena and Gabrielle to know where you are?"
Joxer sighed slowly.
"I...I just don't, Meg. Not now...I-I wasn't planning on seeing anybody but..."
He looked into Meg's deep-blue eyes, which were full of concern and love. Joxer let out a tired smile.
"...but I'm glad you found me. I thought I wanted to be alone, but...after seeing you, I don't want to be alone anymore."
Meg smiled warmly. She placed her forehead against Joxer's.
"Ya won't be." she said softly.
Joxer sat in the large tub. Meg sat behind him, soaping his back. Meg felt the extreme tension rippling through his back muscles. She peered around, looking at his profile. Joxer stared ahead, almost emotionless. Meg did not like this at all. Joxer was usually joking, being playful. Meg enjoyed the childlike aspect of his personality. This was something totally different. That Joxer was gone. This one...this one actually was scaring her.
"Tell me about it." Meg said quietly.
"About what?" Joxer replied almost absently.
Meg averted her eyes fo a moment, afraid to speak. But she did so, anyway.
"About...you know. Kryton."
Pain shot through Joxer's face. Meg felt as she had just stabbed herself.
"You know, huh?" Joxer asked in a small voice.
Meg hung her head.
Joxer sighed. He moved back against the edge of the tub. Meg moved around to his front. She gazed at him with sympathy.
"I heard you were trying to defend Gabrielle."
Joxer bit his lip. He looked at the ceiling.
"Um...y-yeah. I heard someone coming towards me. I turned around. It was Kryton. He-he was coming at me, and-"
Joxer stopped. He looked down at his hand. It was trembling.
He lowered his head, and began to cry. Meg instantly moved up to him, wrapping her arms around Joxer tight. She buried her face in his hair and kissed him on the top of his head.
"Let it out..." she whispered softly into his ear. "Let it all out. Just cry."
And Joxer did. He let down his defenses, and began to cry bitterly. Meg held him tight, rocking him gently in the tub, whispering soothing words into his ear. Tears came to Meg's eyes. She hated to see Joxer suffer. It tore her up. But Meg knew she had to be strong for him. He needed a friend. She kept rocking him gently, kissing him, whispering soothing words. Finally Joxer stopped crying. He looked at the water in shame.
"I'm...worthless." he mumbled.
Meg quickly placed a hand under Joxer's chin. She glared at him, her blue eyes ablaze.
"No you're not." she said harshly.
"Meg, my whole life is a lie. I'm not Joxer the Mighty!! I'm some stupid, worthless wanna-be-"
Meg clutched Joxer by the chin, her blue eyes boring into his. Joxer's eyes widened in fear.
"You...are....not... worthless." she hissed through clenched teeth. "I don't ever want to hear you say that about yourself again. You got that?"
Joxer sighed. He trembled with tension.
"Then what am I? Tell me Meg, because I don't know anymore!!"
Meg released Joxer's chin. Her face softened.
"Joxie...you're mighty because of what you got in here."
Meg placed a finger on his chest. She wiped away the hair from Joxer's eyes with her other hand.
"You got a a big heart, Jox. That's rare. That's what makes you mighty."
"I don't feel mighty."
"You are to me."
Meg placed her forehead on his and tenderly kissed his lips. Meg ran her tongue along Joxer's lips, gently requesting entrance. But Joxer wouldn't open his mouth. Meg took the hint. She pulled away slightly, searching his eyes.
"When's the last time you had food, Jox?"
"I-I don't remember...3 days ago...?"
Meg's eyes widened in shock.
Joxer nodded meekly. Meg shook her head. This wouldn't do at all.
"C'mon. I'm gonna get some food into you."
"Meg, I'm not hungry."
"That wasn't a request, Jox."
Joxer looked up. Meg looked at him with a disapproving stare, her blue eyes cold. She had her arms crossed.
"G'wan." she said flatly. "Let's go."
Joxer opened his mouth, but Meg narrowed her eyes, daring him to protest. He sighed, and smiled.
Meg slowly broke into a smile. She took Joxer by the hand, and lead him the edge of the tub.
Joxer bit into the chicken leg, ripping off a huge chunk of meat. He swallowed it, downing it with some port. Putting down the port, he attacked his meal again with a vengeance. Meg sat nearby, smiling.
"Ya not hungry, huh Jox?"
Joxer looked up from his meal. He smiled sheepishly, a piece of chicken hanging from his mouth.
"Well...maybe a little."
Meg raised her eyebrows, pointing to her bottom lip.
Joxer looked at her quizzically.
He wiped the chicken bit off his mouth with a napkin. Then he stabbed a juicy tomato with his fork, taking a large bite out of it. Meg lowered her head.
"I've been really worried about you." she said quietly.
Joxer chewed thoughtfully. He looked at Meg with sympathy. He swallowed and spoke.
"I'm sorry, Meg. I didn't mean to put you through this."
Meg looked up, eyeing Joxer sadly.
"Jox, it wasn't your fault."
Joxer laid down his fork. He suddenly found the patterns on the table cloth very fascinating.
"Then why do I feel so bad?"
Meg got up. She took her chair, and put it alongside Joxer's. Meg sat down again. She placed a hand underneath his chin, and turned it to face her. Joxer looked into her large blue eyes, seeing the pain and pity in them.
"Jox, you were just defending yourself."
"I didn't want to kill him, Meg. I didn't!"
Meg smiled sadly.
"I know you didn't. I know."
Joxer sat back. His dark brown eyes scanned the ceiling.
"This...past month has been really rough, Meg. I've just been wandering and wandering. I-I've been thinking about my life. Thinking about how stupid and confused I was. Why in Tartarus did I convince myself I was this great warrior? I thought there was glory in this. There ain't! When I killed Kryton, it's like...it's like I really saw things for the first time. How they were. And I saw myself, how I really was. And I wanted to puke."
Joxer lowered his head.
"I'm a misfit."
Meg bit her tongue. Misfit. These words sounded all too familiar.
Just how I see myself...she thought.
Uncomfortable silence lingered in the air for a few moments. Meg sighed, and looked up.
"Jox, I want you to stay here a few days."
Joxer's eyes immediately shot up.
"No Meg. I can't do that."
Meg instantly grabbed Joxer's shoulders.
"Joxer, please. Please stay with me-"
"Meg, I can't! It's bad enough those bounty hunters are after me. If they hurt you..."
Joxer's face contorted in pain at the thought. He placed a hand on Meg's face.
"...if they hurt you, I'll never forgive myself."
Meg took Joxer's hand, and kissed it. She looked at Joxer with determination.
"Jox, you'll be all right here. Nobody's going to find you here. Besides, no bounty hunters have been through here in 3 weeks. Back then, yeah. They came here looking for ya. But it's been quiet since."
There was a knock at the door. Meg turned towards it.
"Hey! C'mon in!!"
The door opened. Joxer's eyes almost popped out of his head. His jaw dropped. A gigantic woman stepped into the room, ducking her head as she did so. The woman was over seven feet tall, and was massively built. Joxer gulped, seeing the awesome power that ran through her muscles. Joxer could swear that this woman was a gladiator. The woman smiled at Meg.
"Hey kid. This your friend Joxer?"
Meg blushed slightly.
"Yeah, he is."
The huge woman walked over to Joxer. He trembled, despite himself.
The woman chuckled heartily. She reached down, offering Joxer a massive hand.
"Hey Joxer!! Name's Maria. Don't worry. I won't bite."
Joxer hesitantly reached up. The woman grasped his hand gently, shaking it.
"Don't worry. Any friend of Meg's is a friend of mine. Meg's like my kid sister. I watch her back. And I'll watch yours. You ain't got a thing ta worry about."
Joxer sighed slightly. He felt relieved.
"Um...how do you know Meg?"
"Old friends, actually. We go back a few years. But we can talk about that another time."
Maria turned towards Meg. Her face turned serious.
"You don't hafta worry about a thing. I'll let ya know if anything weird comes up."
Meg smiled at her friend in gratitude.
Maria turned towards Joxer, her hazel eyes turning into ice.
"I ain't gonna let anyone hurt ya, Jox. That bastard Kryton had it coming."
Joxer nodded slowly.
"I, uh... I really don't wanna talk about Kryton, if ya don't mind."
Joxer lowered his head in shame. Maria looked at Meg, puzzled. Meg's face was somber.
"It was Joxer's first kill." she said quietly.
Maria's eyes widened in understanding. She pouted, turning her eyes on the dejected man sitting before her. She laid a massive hand on his shoulder.
"You poor guy...I know what you're going through."
Joxer raised his head, eyeing Maria quizzically.
Maria raised an eyebrow.
"I was a soldier once."
Joxer's brows knitted in pity.
"When you're rested, we'll talk. You're going through nightmares and stuff?"
Joxer lowered his head.
"Bad ones, huh?"
Joxer nodded slightly.
"Yeah. Pretty bad."
"You speak to anyone about it?"
"Not for a month. I really didn't want to be around anyone. I...I just felt, and still feel...so ashamed of myself..."
Maria squeezed his shoulder slightly. Joxer looked up at her.
"Then I'm glad we found you." said Maria. "You spent enough time alone. Maybe too much time alone. You need to be around friends now."
Meg turned towards Joxer.
"So that settles it Jox. You're staying."
"Meg, I don't want to be in the way-"
"You're not in the way." she said with finality. "You need help, and yer gonna get it."
Meg stood up, gazing down at Joxer. She crossed her arms, lifting an eyebrow.
"How about it?"
Joxer couldn't help but smile. He was really touched. He raised his hands.
"All right. You win."
Meg and Maria smiled.
"Good choice." said Maria.
She turned to Meg.
"It's late. I'm off ta bed."
Meg hugged Maria.
"Night, Maria. Thanks."
Maria ruffled Meg's hair playfully.
"Get some sleep, kid. Night Joxer."
Maria left the room. Meg turned to Joxer. She could see the bags under his eyes. She lifted a hand to him.
Joxer rose. He blew out the table candles, and walked over to Meg, grasping her hand. She led him to the bed. Joxer flopped down heavily onto it. Meg lay aside him, snuggling up to Joxer.
"Wow..." Joxer sighed. "A real bed. I can't remember the last time I was in one of these...."
"Get used to it." Meg purred softly. "Yer gonna be here for a while. Get some rest."
She moved over Joxer, and lowered her lips to his. Her tongue gently pushed against his lips, asking for entrance. Joxer relented this time. Their tongues slowly swirled around each other. Meg moaned softly. The kiss lasted for a few moments. Meg reluctantly pulled back, kissing him on the forehead. She then lay next to him, nuzzling his ear.
"Yer gonna be all right." she whispered. "I promise."
Joxer held her hand over his chest. He stared at the ceiling. He was afraid. Afraid of sleep. No, terrified. Terrified of the nightmares that would surely come.
Corpses. Mountains of corpses. Lakes of blood, as far as Joxer could see. Dismembered bodies. Arms and heads. Penises and legs. Hands and torsos. Intestines winding their way through the horrid red fluid like snakes. His throat went dry. His stomach heaved ominously. Then Joxer heard a sound.
The sound of metal tearing into flesh.
The sound of metal biting through bone.
Joxer turned around. He saw Xena in the midst of battle.
The dark warrior swung her blade in a vicious arc. It sliced through her opponent's head, cutting it in half. Blood and brains exploded forth. The corpse dropped with a sick, moist sound.
The dark warrior thrust out a foot.
Joxer saw the man's face implode. Blood and teeth flowed out in slow motion, creating a ghoulish river. His eyes popped out of his sockets, going in opposite directions. He flew off into the air, arms spread, as if he was a bird in flight.
Joxer saw her eyes.
Xena's eyes. Cold, blue rage. Teeth bared in a hideous grin. The veins in her neck pulsated like snakes. Xena's eyes locked with his. In a second, a shiny disk was in her hand. She opened her mouth and let out a hideous scream.
Her arm struck out, like a viper. The chakram tore through the air. Joxer was horrified. He couldn't move. He felt warm wetness ooze down his leg. He tried to scream, but no sound came out.
The chakram came right at him-
And it ripped past his ear. Joxer heard a sickening sound of metal ripping into bone. He spun around. The chakram was buried in a soldier's face.
His face. Split in half like a loaf of bread. He dropped into the pool of blood with a sickening splash. The blood splashed onto Joxer's face. He shrieked in horror.
He spun around, wiping his face with a savage desperation. He wanted to get the blood off. Oh, he wanted this godforsaken blood OFF!!!!
Two hands. Gripping his wrists. He looked up. It was Xena. She looked at him strangely, sadness and resignation in her clear blue eyes. Joxer stared at her in shock and fear.
"How do you live with it, Xena?! How do you live with it?!"
"I don't have a choice! And now, neither do you."
Joxer heard footsteps splashing towards him, from behind. He spun around, and thrust his arm forth. He heard an ugly, squishing sound. Joxer looked up.
Into Kryton's eyes. His face slowly began to decay, clumps of flesh falling off of it. Hundreds of worms burst forth from his mouth and eyes. Joxer tried pulling the knife out of Kryton's chest. He kept yanking and yanking. But he couldn't pull it out.
"No!!" he screamed. "No!!!!!"
Then Kryton opened his mouth. And he threw up. Vomit and worms engulfed Joxer's face. Joxer let out a blood-curdling scream.
"Joxer, wake up!! JOXER!!"
Joxer leaped out of bed into the darkness. He rushed forward, tripping over what felt like a chair. He crashed into the ground. He rolled and rolled until he hit a wall. Whimpering and crying, he scooted along the wall until he backed into a corner. He covered his head, and yelped like a dog being kicked. There were the sound of several footsteps running about. And then, Joxer saw light.
He saw Xena. Wearing a nightgown. Holding a candle and rushing towards him.
"No Xena, NO!! STAY AWAY!!" he shouted.
Xena stopped instantly. Her face was full of terror and shock.
"Joxer!!" she exclaimed. "It's me!! Meg!! Meg!!"
The door burst open. A huge, hulking form rushed in.
"What's going on?!"
"Joxer just had a nightmare!!"
The huge form turned towards Joxer. He cowered in fright.
"D-Don't hurt me. Please. I-I didn't do anything!!"
The form slowly got down on its knees.
"It's going to be all right, Joxer. It's going to be all right. Nobody's going to hurt you. I promise."
"Who-Who are you...?!"
"Maria. I'm Maria. Remember? I'm Meg's friend. And that's Meg. Not Xena. Okay. Just calm down..."
Joxer stared at the form quizzically.
The form lit a candle. Joxer looked closer at the face it lit. It was a woman's face. Round, friendly, and full of concern. Joxer slowly began to recognize her.
Maria smiled broadly. Joxer turned towards the other woman. Tears were rushing down her face.
The dark-haired woman nodded quickly. She didn't dare speak, trying to hold back sobs of her own.
Joxer drew a deep sigh, falling back against the wall.
"By the gods..."
Meg rushed forth, instantly sitting at Joxer's side. She put down the candle and wrapped her arms around Joxer, holding him tight. Meg buried her face in his hair. A strangled sob came from her chest. Joxer felt terrible. He clutched Meg's hand, squeezing it.
"I'm so sorry, Meg. I'm so sorry-I didn't mean to scare ya!! I didn't!! Oh by the gods, I'm so sorry-"
Meg only squeezed him tighter. She sobbed again. Joxer felt hot tears rush down into his left ear. Maria soon was at their side. She placed a hand on the side of Joxer's face.
"You okay?" she asked with great concern.
Joxer nodded feebly.
"Yeah." he said in a small voice. "Yeah, I-I'm okay."
Meg pulled back slightly. She looked at Joxer, her eyes bloodshot with tears.
"H-How often does this happen?!" she asked shakily.
Joxer lowered his head.
"Almost every night." he whispered.
Meg shook her head in disbelief.
Joxer suddenly noticed the smell of urine. He looked down and frowned instantly.
"Oh...shit ... not again. I wet my pants again...."
He suddenly realized what he had said. Joxer's face filled with embarrassment. But Maria quickly spoke up.
"Hey-I've done it myself. No biggie."
"C'mon now. Meg, help me get him up on his feet."
Meg and Maria helped Joxer to his feet. He stood shakily.
"Can you walk?" asked Maria.
"Yeah...I think so."
"C'mon then. Back to bed."
"Um-I really do think I should take off my underwear."
"Yeah, I think so."
Even Joxer managed a smile. He turned to Meg.
"I'm okay. Really."
Meg nodded slowly, sniffling and wiping away tears.
"All right. I-I'll wait for ya in bed."
"I won't be long, Meg."
Joxer left the room, walking into the nearby bathroom. Meg turned to Maria, her eyes full of fear.
"What are we gonna do?!" she whispered frantically.
Maria placed her hands on Meg's shoulders.
"Don't worry, Meg. We'll think of something. I know we will."
Meg turned towards the bathroom. It was going to be a very long night.
Joxer dug his head into his pillow. Somehow, he managed to fall into a deep, dreamless sleep during the night. He was awake now, but his eyelids were still closed. Joxer could see the light of another day through them. He still felt very tired, with not much of a desire to get up. The bed just felt too comfortable. The slight chill in the air made Joxer curl more under the covers.
Joxer felt a weight push into the bed behind him. He felt the weight move, slowly pressing into his back. Joxer then felt a gentle hand delicately touch his head, stroking it. Then Joxer felt a pair of lips close on his right earlobe, sucking it softly. A smile formed on Joxer's face. He opened his eyes, turning to his right. Meg lowered her lips to his. Her tongue probed Joxer's mouth for a few moments, and Joxer was more than happy to respond in kind. They kissed deeply and passionately. Meg wrapped her legs around Joxer's, and pressed herself into him. She moaned deeply, savoring the taste of Joxer's mouth. Then reluctantly, she broke the kiss, and pulled up slightly, laying her forehead on his.
"Hey you." she purred softly.
"Why didja stop? I was getting into it!"
Meg raised an eyebrow, and smiled devilishly.
"I know. Jox Junior's pressing against my leg."
Joxer laughed. Meg couldn't have felt better at hearing that laughter. It made her heart soar.
"Oy...Jox Junior...Sheesh...I tell ya though, I liked that wake-up call a lot."
"I knew you would."
Meg sat up, straddling Joxer's thighs.
"So! How about breakfast?"
Joxer raised an eyebrow.
"Hey! I thought you were breakfast!"
Meg laughed heartily. She looked at Joxer, waggling her eyebrows.
"If you're a good boy, I'll give you some later."
"Why not now??"
Joxer reached up, and gently cupped Meg's breasts. He felt her nipples harden. Meg let out a gasp. She hesitantly clutched Joxer's hands, pulling them away. She frowned deeply.
"Joxie, I would-but I have to go shopping for food with Jazmine."
Joxer sat up. He was still pouting.
He bent forward to kiss her. Instead, Joxer felt a piece of toast shoved gently into his mouth. His brow furrowed in disappointment.
Meg raised her eyebrows.
Joxer bit into the bread. His eyebrows shot up.
"Wow!! Garlic!! My favorite!!"
Meg smiled shyly.
"I knew ya'd like it."
Joxer munched away on the bread happily. After a few moments, Meg's face turned serious.
"Joxer, are you all right?"
Joxer looked up. His expression changed as well. He put down the bread on its plate, and gently grasped the sides of Meg's face. He shook his head in pity and guilt.
"Meg...I am so sorry for last night. I really, really didn't mean to put ya through that."
Meg lowered her eyes.
"It's all right."
Joxer shook his head.
"No it isn't. The last thing I wanna do is scare ya like that Meg."
Meg grasped his right hand.
"Joxer, it was a nightmare. It wasn't your fault!"
"I wish I could stop them. I really wish I could. But they are so...vivid. So...horrible..."
Joxer threw up his arms in exasperation. He looked into Meg's eyes.
"Ya know, Maria's right!! The guy was a bastard. And I should be feeling good about the fact that I rid the world of 'im!! But these...nightmares....I really don't get it!! The guy outright murdered people!! He left kids orphans!! So, I did the world a favor!! I mean, right Meg?"
Meg looked at Joxer, confused, not knowing what to say. Joxer frowned.
"I'm sorry Meg. I didn't mean ta put ya on the spot."
Meg grasped both of Joxer's hands, placing them on her lap.
"You should talk to Maria, Jox. She can answer questions like that better than I can."
Joxer's brows knitted with curiousity.
"Where'ja meet her?"
"About 5 years ago. Some guys were harassing me. One of them tried to rape me. Maria came along, and did a number on them. She took me in for a while. We became close friends. She's fought in a lot of wars. She's taken on Persians, Romans, all sorts of warlords...We parted company about a year later, and I lost touch with her."
"Ah, I see. She seems like a nice person."
"She is. She really is."
"So-why's she here?"
"She couldn't handle being a soldier any more. Money got tight, and she moved around for a while, taking odd jobs. Then she found me, and I returned the favor. She lives here, acts as a bouncer, and sometimes does construction around town for extra money."
Joxer nodded in approval.
"Yeah. A bouncer is just what this place needs."
"Ya know how some guys get. I can take care of myself, and so can most of the other girls, but there are those guys that...just...oh gods. Maria doesn't take shit from them, I'll tell you that."
Joxer raised an eyebrow.
"I can see that. She looks like she can break a guy in half."
"Anyway, I'm trying to get out of the brothel business. One of the newer girls, named Francisca, is one Tartarus of a cook!! So, we got to talking, and I'm seriously thinking about trying to change this into-I dunno-maybe some sort of a restaurant."
"Hey-you ain't no slouch as a cook either, Meg."
"Yeah, I know some stuff. I sorta liked cooking different things, and...well, maybe I'll try getting back into it. Weeeell..."
Meg slid off of Joxer, standing up on the floor. She smiled an apologetic smile.
"Sorry sweetie, but I gotta go."
Joxer instantly stood up. He frowned again.
"Aw Meg. You're mean."
Meg knitted her eyebrows.
"Whaddaya mean I'm mean?"
"After that wake-up call, ya just gonna leave me here like this?"
Meg lifted an eyebrow. She moved up to him, caressing his face.
"I guess that was kinda mean, huh?"
Joxer lowered his head, a hurt look on his face.
Meg slowly reached for Joxer's trousers. She began to pull them down, and smiled slightly.
"I think I've got a quick solution."
Meg slowly got down on her knees. Joxer's eyes widened in surprise.
"Hoo-boy..." he whispered.
Joxer looked out the window, taking in the early afternoon view. People milled about. Some were talking and laughing, others buying food and clothing. Joxer licked his dry lips. He turned to his right, and picked up a goblet full of apple juice. He downed some of it. Joxer smacked his lips.
He sat down in his chair, and looked outside again. But this time, he allowed his mind to wander. Wander back to last night. And all the other nights before it. Joxer shook his head. He couldn't understand why he was having such a difficult time with the death of Kryton. He had mulled over it, over and over again. But something inside him just could not stand the fact that he killed another man, no matter what the reason. And this something was screaming out its disapproval in ways that were making Joxer insane.
Joxer bit his tongue. He looked into the clear blue sky.
How in the world did Xena do it?! What was the secret?!
Joxer shook his head in disbelief. If he was feeling this way about killing one person, how must Xena feel? But no-no-no-no, Xena was this seemingly all-powerful woman-the perfect killing machine!! Dispatching her enemies like it was nothing!! Not that Joxer hadn't seen moments of sadness from Xena, but those were few and far between. Joxer was amazed beyond belief that Xena could have that kind of self-control. He envied that so badly.
How in Tartarus did she do it?? And why couldn't he have that kind of self control?!
Suddenly, Joxer felt a wave of tension shoot through him. It came out of the blue. He sat back, surprised.
He shook it off. Joxer had felt a little nervous over the last hour, but didn't think much of it. He basically read some scrolls that dealt with some of the local news, and chatted with some of the women in the brothel. He had kept a low profile, and no one had seen him.
Suddenly it hit him again. The tension. Only much stronger this time. Joxer got to his feet. Beads of sweat formed on his forehead. His eyes widened in fright.
The tension grew and grew, spiraling out of control. It roared through his body, setting every nerve on fire. He felt his body begin to tingle, the sensation swirling in huge waves through every fiber of his being. Suddenly, Joxer felt his throat begin to constrict. He stumbled across the room, grabbing onto a chair. Joxer fell to one knee.
His body began to quake violently. Joxer shook his head erratically.
"No..." he whimpered. "O-O-Oh godsno-"
The door to the room opened. It was Maria. Seeing Joxer, she rushed to his side, her eyes wide with alarm.
"Joxer!! Joxer, what is it?!"
Joxer gagged. He tried to speak.
Maria swept up Joxer in her huge arms and carried him into Meg's bedroom next door. She laid him on the bed, and grabbed his wrists, staring at him helplessly.
"Just hold on, Jox!! Hold on!!"
Joxer's body felt as if he was in the midst of a monstrous earthquake. He shook violently, his nerves absolutely screaming out in agony. His jaw was clamped shut. Sweat poured down his brow. He focused as hard as he could to stop this violent, raging hurricane that took his body over, but to no avail. Maria held onto him, helpless to do anything.
"Ride it out..." Maria said with a sense of urgency. "Just ride it out Joxer...."
This continued for several moments. Then, all the symptoms slowly began to subside. Joxer focused on Maria's face, breathing hard.
"Y-Yeah...Yeah, it is."
Joxer felt weak. He took several long, deep breaths. After a few moments, Joxer shook his head, growling in frustration.
"Gods...I'm tired of these damn things..."
Maria raised an eyebrow.
"This happened to you before?"
"Yeah...this...this nervousness came over me...this fear...and then I go into these goddamned convulsions-"
"You felt this huge fear, or something?"
"Yeah...yeah, that's it. This nervousness-it, like-took over my whole body!!"
"That sounds like a panic attack."
Maria straightened up, grabbed a chair, and sat down by Joxer. She held his hand.
"You sure you okay, kid?"
Joxer nodded. He wiped the sweat from his brow. Maria gently patted his hand.
"You'll be all right. I've had those myself."
Anger suddenly overcame Joxer. He tossed a pillow across the room. He looked up at the ceiling, eyes filling with rage.
"What are ya Furies trying ta do to me?!"
Maria quickly grabbed Joxer's arm.
"Hey-hey-hey!! Take it easy, Jox!! Easy!"
Joxer looked at Maria in anger and fear.
"That's it!! It's the Furies!!"
Maria's jaw dropped down in surprise.
"The Furies!! The Furies are trying ta punish me!!"
"Get a hold of yourself, Jox!!"
"The Furies are trying ta punish me!!"
Maria grabbed Joxer by the shoulders, shaking him roughly. She yanked him up to face him. Her eyes were full of anger.
"I said getta hold of yourself, dammit!! Act like a man!!"
Joxer immediately fell silent. He swallowed hard, eyeing Maria in fear. Her eyes narrowed.
"I don't want ya acting like this in front of Meg. She's worried enough as it is."
Joxer lowered his head.
"Look at me."
Joxer looked up at Maria. Her eyes were full of determination.
"Listen to me. I know how hard this is for you, but you gotta face this thing. You're gonna live with this for the rest of your life. And if you can't figure out a way to deal with it, it's gonna kill ya."
Joxer's shoulders sagged. He gazed at Maria, totally at a loss.
"How?! How can I beat this?!"
"Ya gotta stop running away. That's what you're doing. In your head. Running away from this. You can't run from yourself, no matter how hard ya try, Joxer. You gotta face yourself, no matter how much you hate it. You want control the pain? That's the key."
Joxer slowly shook his head.
"It's just that...it's...it's so hard..."
Maria's face softened.
"I know Jox. Believe me, I know."
Joxer gazed at Maria intently.
"How many people have you killed?"
Maria's face grew somber. She sat back, and sighed.
"Gods...I dunno. Over several dozen, maybe?"
Joxer gasped slightly.
Maria ran her tongue along her teeth. Pain briefly flashed through her eyes. She sighed again.
"Joxer, it's an every-day battle. I'm not going to lie. It's hard. I cry a lot. Meg sometimes has to comfort me. That's why I got out of soldiering, Jox. It was just too much."
"Maria...Xena tells me the first kill is always the worst. But what happens afterward?"
Maria bit her lip. Her brows knitted.
"Um...well, ya see-it's different for everybody Jox. Xena's right about a first kill being the worst. After that..."
"After that, I felt the same things I experienced with my first kill. But as a soldier, you've got to shut down part of yer brain. Ya got a job ta do. Ya got people to watch out for and land to protect. I dunno...you sorta have to close off your emotions. And with time, killing sort of becomes mechanical. Ya sort of...disconnect yourself, I guess."
Joxer shook his head.
"I guess that's how Xena handles it. I wish I had her self-control in that department."
Maria raised an eyebrow.
"Maria, I've never seen anyone as focused as Xena. She...she really is like the ultimate soldier. I mean, I'm not saying she doesn't have nightmares sometimes, but...ya know, she really seems to keep things in focus and she does what she has to do. I mean, Xena doesn't like to kill, but she's been a warrior so long, it's like breathing to her. She manages to push her pain down and move beyond it."
Maria's eyes narrowed.
"Dontcha think ya might be thinking a little too highly about Xena?"
Joxer looked at Maria, confused.
"What do ya mean?"
"I mean, how much do ya really know, in terms of how she deals with death? Remember her history. Xena was once the Destroyer of Nations. If there's a Tartarus on this earth, Xena's living it. Man, I don't even want to think about the nightmares she must endure. Just think about that for a minute, Joxer. Don't place her on a pedestal. Remember where she came from, and who she is now. Xena's no different from us. She's a human being."
Joxer lowered his head, considering Maria's statement. She nodded to herself, and went on.
"Yep. That girl's got baggage. Big time. Try and imagine having killed hundreds of Krytons."
At this, Joxer laughed harshly.
"Oh, please!! I've got trouble managing this kill!!"
"Soooooo...how do you think Xena feels?"
Joxer scratched his head. Moments passed as he thought. He took the pain he was feeling, and multiplied it in his head as best he could, taking into account how many people Xena had killed-during all her years as a warlord and warrior. He had never stopped to fully consider the hell Xena carried within her. But Joxer's murder of Kryton had given him a horrific new perspective. His eyes slowly widened at the realization. And then, Xena's predicament suddenly hit him.
"Oh man ..by...the... gods ..."
Joxer then lowered his head, his face dark, full of anger at himself. He felt more ashamed of himself than ever.
"I am such an ass."
Maria's eyes narrowed in surprise.
"Here I am, whining like a baby over a single stupid kill."
Maria clutched his arm.
"You're not being a baby. What you're feeling is perfectly normal."
"But compared to Xena-"
Maria immediately raised a hand, silencing him.
"Don't compare yourself to Xena. Not like that. You and her are two different people. A lot of what Xena feels has been of of her own making, Jox. A lot of this hell she's brought on herself. And she'll struggle with it, no matter how much good she does. This was self-defense. You weren't going out of your way to kill Kryton for pleasure. You were trying to protect your friend."
Maria stood up. She smiled sadly.
"You gotta go into yourself. Face whatever it is inside you, and understand it Jox. I mean, really understand it. And it's hard. But no one can do that for ya. I mean, it's good to have friends you can talk to, but that's only part of it. You gotta mind the store. And the store is what's in here."
She pointed to herself.
"Ya understand, Jox?"
Joxer bit his lip, and nodded.
"Yeah...yeah, I think so..."
A pause. Then he spoke again.
"But these panic attacks! I mean, they seem to come out of the blue! How do I stop them?!"
"From my experience, it's all part of the same problem Jox-facing yourself, understanding yourself. These are hard lessons to learn. Controlling those attacks won't be easy, but you'll manage if you focus."
Joxer stared at the ceiling for a moment.
"Focus..." he repeated. "That's something else Xena tries to drill into me."
Maria nodded in approval.
"The woman knows what she's talking about. Keep in mind-this is something you've got to work at every day. You can't get rid of it by praying to the gods or snapping your fingers. You gotta work at it."
Maria crossed her arms, and slowly smiled, as a thought occurred to her.
"Make that your mission, Joxer the Mighty. Think you're up to it?"
"Meg tells me you always talk about being up for anything! So-whaddaya say??"
Joxer smiled warmly.
"That Meg...yeah, she's right. I am Joxer the Mighty! I'm ready for anything!"
Maria laughed heartily.
"Now, there's the spirit!! I've got faith in ya, Joxer! I know you can beat this!!"
She bent down, and ruffled his hair. Joxer yelped in surprise.
"This means I like ya. Whenever ya wanna talk, let me know."
Joxer extended his arm.
Maria grasped it firmly in a warrior's handshake.
"No need. That's what friends are for."
Meg walked up to Joxer, a jug in her hand. She smiled warmly.
"Yeah. Fill 'er up."
Meg poured the contents into the mug. Joxer took a swallow. He smacked his lips.
"Wow...good stuff Meg! Where'ja get this?"
"New guy in town. He opened up a brewery, and it's got the best port around. He's a nice guy too, and gives us reasonable prices."
Joxer nodded in approval. He bit into a large piece of steak, chewing it hungrily. Meg sat down next to him.
"How's the steak?" she asked.
Joxer rolled his eyes in ecstasy.
He swallowed, and licked his lips.
"Oh... man!! Food...of...the... gods!! Better than ambrosia!!"
At hearing this, Meg blushed, smiling shyly.
"I made it."
Joxer's eyes grew huge.
"Y-you?!" he stammered. "Y-You made this?!?"
Meg nodded bashfully.
Joxer couldn't contain his excitement and pride in Meg.
"This is in-credible!! Genius!!"
Meg blushed an even deeper shade of rose. She covered her mouth, trying in vain to suppress a smile.
"Oh, stop." she said softly.
Joxer looked at Meg in open-mouthed amazement.
"Are ya kidding?! This is the best steak I've ever had in my life!! Meg, I ain't kidding!! This is great!! You're wonderful!!"
Meg instantly got up, wrapping her arms around Joxer. She planted a big, wet kiss on his right cheek. Her blue eyes were full of love and gratitude.
"You're so sweet." she purred tenderly.
Now, it was Joxer's turn to blush. He averted his eyes, smiling bashfully.
Meg turned Joxer's face towards hers. She leaned in, and gave Joxer a long, tender kiss on the lips. Then she pulled back slightly, her forehead on his.
"Your opinion means a lot to me, Jox." Meg said softly.
Joxer's eyebrows rose.
Meg gazed at Joxer, her eyes loving and serious all at once.
Joxer took a deep breath. He grasped Meg's hands, breaking into a warm smile.
"Meg, I believe in you. I really think you can pull this off. No-let me rephrase that. I know you can pull this restaurant thing off. I've had food cooked by lots of people, but Meg-you're up there, in terms of quality. And I'm not just saying that. I really mean it. Go for it."
Meg smiled shyly. She felt overwhelmed with joy and pride.
She sat down in front of him, still grasping his hands.
"What about you, Jox? How are you holding up?"
Joxer's smile slowly faded. He sighed.
"Maria and I had a chat."
Meg's brows knitted.
"How did it go?"
"Maria was talking about how I've got to confront what I've done, and that I've gotta realize that I had no choice in doing what I did. She talked about...facing myself."
Meg looked at Joxer, puzzled.
"Looking inside myself. Facing myself."
Joxer's face darkened.
"I know she's right, but..."
"But what, Jox?"
Meg tightened her grip on Joxer's hand.
"You don't have to face this alone, Joxer."
Joxer smiled sadly.
"I gotta, sooner or later. It's...it's just...the pain, ya know? I-I've never felt that kind of pain and disgust in my life. Sometimes it feels like it's beyond my control."
Meg placed a hand on Joxer's face.
"That's why you're here. So that you can start to face it. Day by day. With me to help you."
Meg smiled warmly. She got up, pulling Joxer up with her.
"Where are we going?"
Meg leaned into Joxer, her blue eyes level with his brown ones.
"To spend some time alone." she said softly. "I'm going to try and take your mind off your problems for a little while."
Joxer smiled in gratitude. He knew what this meant.
"I'd like that, Meg. I'd like that very much."
Both naked bodies pressed into each other. Meg and Joxer kissed deeply, their tongues battling it out in each other's mouths. Meg then broke the kiss, sitting back up on top of Joxer. Her eyes hooded, filled with animal lust, she slid herself back onto Joxer's member, impaling herself on it. Meg groaned loudly in ecstasy. Joxer sat up, grabbing Meg's arms. He tilted her back slowly, and closed his mouth on her ample left breast. Meg cried out in excitement. She clamped her hands around Joxer's head, pulling him forcefully into her. Joxer continued to feast on the soft, creamy-white flesh, sucking Meg's breast deep into his mouth. Meg cried out again. She began to rock her pelvis up and down. Grunts, whimpers and sighs came from the lovers. Meg grabbed Joxer's buttocks and thrust herself onto him, again and again. Joxer pulled back from the ample breast to catch his breath, only to have Meg grab his head, and kiss him. Hard. Meg thrust her tongue deep into Joxer's mouth, and Joxer was quick to respond. They refused to break this kiss, their moans and whimpers growing louder and louder as each one reached their climax. Joxer was first. He thrust up hard into Meg, exploding inside her. Meg pulled back and screamed in joy, climaxing at the same time. She bent forward and bit hard into Joxer's neck. Joxer cried out in pain and ecstasy. He thrust into Meg again, as a second wave shot through his member. They fell back onto the bed. Meg continued to suck on Joxer's neck. Both lovers were covered in sweat.
"M-Me-Meg??" gasped Joxer.
Meg wrapped her body tighter around Joxer's, licking the blue-black bite mark she left on his neck.
"Hmmmm??" she purred, busy with her task.
Meg cut him off, smothering his words in a deep, hungry kiss. She moaned deeply, almost like an animal. Joxer couldn't believe Meg's stamina. And he was enjoying it immensely.
They kissed for what seemed like an eternity. Finally, Meg broke the kiss. She snuggled into Joxer's right side, nuzzling his ear.
"How many times does that make it?" Meg whispered, nibbling at an earlobe.
"T-T-Thr-Three." stammered Joxer.
Meg smiled devilishly.
"We've made each other come three times." she purred dangerously into Joxer's ear. The way she said that made him shiver with excitement.
Meg noticed this. She tenderly licked his ear, reaching down and gently massaging his penis. Joxer gasped.
"Wanna try for four?" Meg growled playfully.
Joxer put his hand on hers, stopping the massage. He gazed at Meg, a pained look on his face.
"Oh gods, Meg. I'm drained! I'd love to...but I'm exhausted."
She drew close, and gave Joxer another long, slow kiss. Their tongues swirled around and around in each other's mouths. Then Meg drew back, and smiled.
"Get some sleep, sweetie."
Joxer smiled in return.
"Good idea. And Meg?"
"Thanks. Thanks for this."
Meg smiled warmly. She kissed Joxer on the nose, snuggling close.
"You're welcome. Get some sleep, Jox. Night."
Meg closed her eyes, and in a little while she was sound asleep. Joxer looked up at the ceiling, his eyelids beginning to droop. But he fought to keep his eyes open. He was terrified again. Beyond belief.
Terrified of going to sleep.
Every single night, without exception, a horrific nightmare would invade his dreams. Oh, how he dreaded sleep now. It used to be so different.
Then Joxer remembered what Maria said:
"Ya gotta face yourself, no matter how much you hate it. You wanna control the pain? That's the key."
Joxer sighed nervously.
"Oh man..." he whispered.
He lay quietly for a while, staring at the ceiling. Joxer then turned towards Meg, who was now in a deep sleep. She snored into Joxer's shoulder. Then suddenly, Meg turned away from him, moving off into the other corner of the bed. She continued to snore.
"I'm glad you can sleep." he whispered.
For the next half-hour, Joxer tried to fight his drowsiness. But his sexual encounters with Meg had left him too drained. Eventually, he lost the battle. Joxer drifted off into a deep slumber.
Joxer stood on a mountain. The skies were orange.
He looked to his right. A huge, purple thunderhead loomed in the distance. Giant bolts of lightning shot from its base. Joxer stepped forward.
Joxer looked down. His eyes grew huge with terror. He had stepped into a man's torso. His intestines wrapped around Joxer's foot.
He yanked his foot out of the torso. He stumbled forward, tripping over a rock. Joxer fell hard into the earth. Stunned for a moment, he slowly got to his feet, rubbing his nose. He looked around him. Dead men, in different stages of decay, littered the landscape. The ground was a rust orange. The smell of rotting flesh hung heavily in the air. Joxer gagged. But he managed to hold it in, and began to walk.
Joxer looked into the sky. The thunderstorm was coming his way. The lightning grew in intensity. Huge rumbles of thunder ripped through the heavens. Joxer knew he had to find shelter.
He stumbled along, Suddenly, he heard the sounds of a fight. Swords clanging. He ran down the trail, and around a immense boulder on his right.
His eyes widened in shock.
It was Xena and Kryton.
They were fighting, in the midst of a mountain of corpses. The corpses were of men, women, and children. An endless sea of crosses stood beyond them. There were more dead bodies hanging from them. Joxer's jaw dropped in absolute terror. He tried to move-
And couldn't. He was paralyzed, rooted to the spot.
No matter how hard Joxer tried, he could not will his body to move. He watched helplessly as Xena and Kryton fought savagely.
The warrior princess took a vicious swipe at Kryton's midsection. He jumped back and somersaulted over Xena. She turned around, just in time to block a vicious downswing. The harsh sound of metal striking metal echoed through the canyons of corpses surrounding them. Xena's blue eyes went wide with savage fury.
Xena whipped her leg out in a flash. Her booted foot struck Kryton in the jaw. Blood and teeth exploded from Kryton's mouth. His head snapped back, and Kryton staggered backwards, turning away from Xena. She raised her sword and rushed forward, preparing to deliver the killing blow.
Then, out of nowhere, Kryton's foot snapped out, hitting Xena's midsection. She grunted loudly in pain as a rib snapped. Kryton quickly followed with another vicious kick. This one struck the side of Xena's head, and her face whipped away. Blood and several teeth flowed out of Xena's mouth in a ghoulish fountain. Joxer stared on in terror and disbelief.
Xena staggered back, stunned by the ferocity of both blows. Her blue eyes were glazed and dilated. As Xena turned around, there was a flash of metal. A huge fountain of blood exploded from her torso as Kryton's sword cut down the length of it.
"NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!" Joxer screamed.
Xena dropped to her knees. Her sword fell out of her hands, onto the earth. Her eyes were wide in shock and agony. She gagged, blood erupting from her throat. Kryton smiled hideously at his victim. Then he thrust his sword at Xena with all his might. It ripped through her chest and out her back. Xena's eyes crossed, rolling into the back of her head.
"NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!" Joxer screamed. "STOP!!!! STOOOOOOOOPPPPP!!!"
Xena slowly looked back down at Kryton's sword. Red-black blood ran the length of it. She looked up at Kryton, her blue eyes unfocused, trying to speak. Harsh, wordless rasps were the only thing that came out of her mouth, other than an endless river of blood. Then Kryton yanked the sword out of Xena's body. There was a sickening sound of metal cutting through bone and flesh. Xena swayed on her knees, her eyes crossed, her bloody tongue hanging out of her mouth. Kryton raised his sword. He let out a blood-curdling roar.
Kryton swung the heavy blade. It ripped through Xena's neck, slicing her head off. It flew through the air, bouncing repeatedly, until it came to rest near a pile of skulls. Her body fell back onto the ground, twitching erratically. Rage exploded inside Joxer.
He drew his knife, and rushed at Kryton with a blinding speed. He collided with him so hard that both men sailed several feet through the air. They crashed into the earth. Joxer raised his arm, and buried the knife into Kryton's chest.
"DIE, YOU BASTARD!! DIE, DIE, DIE, DIIIIIIIIIIE!!!!"
Lighting crashed through the darkening skies. Thunder exploded through the air and earth, shaking everything around Joxer. It began to rain. The rain was blood-red. Joxer kept plunging the knife into Kryton's chest. Again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again-
"DIE, YOU BASTARD!! DIE, DIE, DIE, DIIIIIIIIIIE!!!! DIE, DIE, DIE, DIIIIIIIIIIE!!!! DIE, DIE, DIE, DIIIIIIIIIIE!!!! DIE, DIE, DIE, DIIIIIIIIIIE-"
There was a brilliant flash of white light-
And Joxer instantly sat up in his bed
The storm inside him was roaring full force again. His body shook so violently that he felt himself moving closer and closer to the edge of the bed. His throat began to tighten. With a tremendous effort, he swung his legs out, and sat at the edge of the bed. Joxer dug his fingers deep into the mattress. At that moment, Meg popped up from under the covers. Her eyes widened in shock.
She instantly scrambled to his side. Meg gasped in terror as she saw Joxer being wracked by savage convulsions. His face was twisted in agony; yet there was something inside his eyes. And that something was rage. Rage and heated determination. Joxer was fed up. He was going to fight this thing. He growled like an animal. Meg instantly reached for him.
"Gruah-n-nooo!!" he snapped in a gurgled hiss.
Meg yanked her hand back as if she had just burnt it. Joxer's eyes darted towards her. He spat out the next words as if they were poison.
Impossibly, Joxer managed to slowly get onto his feet. But the vicious hurricane inside him wasn't going to let Joxer have his way that easily. His nerves roared to new heights of agony. His head was pounding along with the violent beatings of his heart. Meg quickly moved up to him.
"J-Joxer-" she stammered.
Joxer lifted a shaking hand.
Meg instantly moved in front of Joxer, her face full of anger and determination.
"Joxer, ya gotta let me help you!! Please!!"
Joxer shook his head erratically, and lifted a finger.
Meg had enough. She put her arm around Joxer. He quickly turned to her, anger and fear in his eyes.
Meg's eyes grew cold. They narrowed. Joxer for a moment could swear he was staring into Xena's eyes.
"Ya wanna try and stop me?" Meg growled.
Joxer instantly knew he was walking on dangerous ground. He dared not challenge Meg.
"Then shut up and walk."
Meg helped Joxer over to the table. She helped him sit down. Meg then moved a chair towards his. Her expression softened, and she stood next to him. Joxer continued to tremble violently. Meg bent down, looking into Joxer's pained face.
"You just rest." Meg said in a hurried tone. "I've got something for that."
She rushed out of the room. Joxer sat in the dim candlelight, trying to will himself to sit still. But his body refused to obey him. It continued to tremble violently, as if Joxer were a human earthquake.
All in your mind, Jox...this is all in your mind...
He squinted his eyes shut, concentrating fiercely on trying to keep his body still. But his body absolutely refused to listen. Suddenly, he heard heavy footsteps. Joxer opened his eyes. It was Maria. She quickly sat down next to him, placing her hand on his shoulder.
"Another one, Jox?!"
"Y-Y-Yeah-w-w-what's wrong with m-m-me?"
Maria's eyes narrowed in sadness and pity.
"It's your nerves, Joxer. Your nerves are shot."
Joxer placed his head in his hands.
"O-Oh G-G-Gods...I-I feel...like...I'm in T-T-Tartarus..."
Maria nodded her head in understanding.
"I know, Jox. I know. I've been there."
"M-My head...is...pounding...feel...like I'm choking..."
"It's just your nerves, Joxer."
Joxer shot her a look of anguished surprise.
"Just my n-n-erves?! Oy..."
"Meg's gonna bring you something to calm your nerves."
"What...i-is she bringing?!"
"This." answered Meg.
Maria and Joxer looked up. Meg brought over to Joxer a cup of hot tea. Joxer stared at Meg in disbelief.
"A special tea." answered Meg. "Just drink it. Trust me."
Meg placed the tea in front of Joxer. He reached for it, but his hands were shaking too violently. Joxer pulled away, growling in frustration. Maria leaned towards him.
"Focus, Joxer." she said. "You can do it. I know you can. Focus. Take your time and focus."
Joxer rolled his eyes into the back of his head for a second. Then he glared at the cup of tea before him. His eyes narrowed. He reached out for it again. Joxer slowly clutched the cup's handle and the plate it sat on. He carefully lifted it to his lips, and took a sip. Joxer made a hideous face. He spat it out.
"Drink it!" Meg ordered sternly. "I know it tastes like centaur piss, but drink it!"
Joxer shook his head in disbelief.
"Of all the things..." he mumbled. "W-why me??"
Joxer lifted the cup to his lips. He slowly, very slowly, began to drink the greenish-brown liquid. Steam rose above his face. Joxer's eyes squinched shut. He was absolutely appalled at how this tea tasted. But if this was going to help him somehow, Joxer was certainly not going to ignore it. He couldn't stand another moment of this nightmare he was going through. Meg stood nearby, arms crossed, making sure that Joxer drank every drop. Maria kept watch as well. After what seemed like an eternity, Joxer finally downed most of the tea. He set the cup and plate back down on the table, smacking his lips and tongue with total revulsion. He glared at Meg, and made a slow, sweeping motion in front of him with his hand.
"Smoooooooth." he mumbled sarcastically.
Meg broke into a mischievous grin.
Joxer's eyes widened in definite agreement.
"Ooooooh yeah. Different. Veeeeery different. Um-what in Tartarus is in this, uh, tea??"
"It's a special herb, used to calm the nerves." said Maria. "I've had to drink this tea, when my attacks were too strong."
Joxer looked up at Meg, his right eyebrow raised as high as it could go.
"Meg.....I think I'd rather have centaur piss."
"I can arrange that."
She moved a chair next to Joxer, and sat down next to him. Her eyes became full of worry.
"You okay, Jox?"
Joxer noticed that the tremors had lessened somewhat. He still felt very uncomfortable.
"N-Not really. J-Just a little better, but not much."
"What are you feeling?" asked Meg.
Joxer rolled his eyes up towards the ceiling.
"Gods... the worst tension I've ever felt in my life. It's like-i-it's like I'm some sort of earthquake or something. I-I can't stop it!!"
"Well, you're doing something right." said Maria. "You seem to be able to talk a little better now."
"I-I just tried what you said...a-and focused. That choking thing was harder, but I-I managed to sorta calm that too. But Gods.... it's so damned hard..."
"I've had these attacks too." said Meg quietly.
Joxer turned abruptly towards Meg. His eyes were huge.
"Y-Y-You?!" he stammered. "But I never-I never saw you-"
"I was just good at hiding them." interrupted Meg. She lowered her head, and sighed silently.
Joxer placed his hand on Meg's shoulder.
"I-I'm so sorry." he said with the utmost sincerity.
Meg looked up at Joxer. She chewed on her tongue for a moment. Then she spoke.
"Maria and I have had very hard lives, Joxer. This kind of thing is pretty common."
Meg shook her head. She sat back, her brilliant blue eyes staring off into space.
"The last time I had them was after I left King Lias's castle...."
Joxer squinted in puzzlement.
"W-What happened there, Meg?"
Meg quickly looked at Joxer. Her face became full of shame. She lowered her head and bit her lower lip.
She looked up at the ceiling again. Joxer could clearly see pain shoot across Meg's face. He moved up to Meg, clutching her right arm.
"Meg, what happened?"
Meg looked away, her eyes focused on the cracks in the wooden floor. She fought hard to keep the rising agony down in herself. Joxer immediately felt Meg stiffen. Fear of a different kind began to fill Joxer.
"Hold on." interrupted Maria.
Maria got up, and knelt down beside Meg. She took her friend's hand.
"Take it easy now."
Meg tried hard to fight back her tears, but it was too late. They began to roll down her cheeks. Joxer had enough. He willed himself to stand. It was difficult, but right now Joxer was more concerned about his friend than his own pain. He knelt down next to Maria. When Joxer saw Meg's tears, his heart broke. He was determined to know what the reason was for this. Joxer placed his trembling right hand on Meg's cheek.
"Open up and tell me Meg." Joxer said softly, full of compassion. "Remember what you told me in the bath? Let it out. I want to help. I care about you Meg."
Meg looked at Joxer, her eyes full of pain and shame. She lowered her head, and swallowed hard.
"Take your time, sweetheart." said Maria gently.
Meg sighed heavily. She studied the cracks in the floor.
"Joxer...remember what I told you about my leaving King Lias's castle?"
Joxer nodded slowly.
"Um...yeah. You told me that you felt restless...that you didn't want to stay in one place..."
"I lied, Joxer."
Joxer wasn't surprised. Privately, he had wondered why Meg had left King Lias. She would never have had to worry about having a home or a job again. Joxer had tried to get more out of her about this, but Meg wouldn't tell him. So, he let the issue go. Whatever it was, it had to have been serious.
"W-What happened, Meg?"
Meg lowered her head even more.
"I...I-I...I was raped..."
Rage exploded inside Joxer. Maria and Meg looked at him. They were both startled by the darkness that overshadowed his face. Joxer's eyes narrowed into two feral slits. His lips curled into a snarl.
"Who did it?!" Joxer hissed icily. "I'll kill 'em!!"
Maria quickly placed a hand on Joxer's shoulder.
"Joxer, I took care of the rapist."
Joxer growled like a rabid dog. Maria couldn't believe the drastic change in his demeanor. She felt a twinge of fear shoot up her spine. Meg quickly grabbed Joxer's other arm, her eyes full of fright.
"Joxer, no!! Maria took care of it!!"
Joxer let out his breath slowly. He shook his head.
"If I had been there, I would've killed him."
Meg grabbed Joxer by the shoulders, her face full of anger and fear.
"Joxer, let it go!! Please!!"
Joxer lowered his head, his eyes moving rapidly over the floor. Meg quickly placed a hand under his chin, and lifted it to face her.
"Please Joxer." Meg begged. "Let it go. For me. Please."
An eternity seemed to pass. Finally, Joxer sighed. He sat on the floor, taking Meg's hand in his.
"Tell me." he said, simply.
Meg and Maria looked at each other for a moment. Meg sighed, and began to speak.
"I-It was...it was Agis's brother, Timerus. He wanted to get revenge for Agis's death. He said that it was my fault...H-He was planning to break Agis out when he heard about his murder in jail. So, he came after me..."
Meg wiped her tears from her face with her right hand. Joxer rubbed her left one.
"Go on Meg." he said softly.
"I, uh-I-I'd never seen Agis's brother, but I knew that he was an assassin. O-One day, farmers came in to deliver grain to King Lias. There was a lot to unload, and the farmers and soldiers worked into the night. I was in the kitchen, cooking the spicy soup King Lias liked..."
Meg shook at the memory. Tears came to her eyes.
"A-And-and he came into the kitchen. Disguised as a farmer...."
Maria sat next to Meg, putting a huge arm around her. She held Meg close. Joxer squeezed Meg's hand tighter.
"I-It's okay. Go on Meg."
Meg sighed. Her eyes darted around the room, gazing at anything but her two friends.
"He hit me. He beat me and beat me...And then he raped me. T-Timerus was going to kill me, but Philemon and Diana came to the door. Timerus escaped..."
Meg could not continue. She burst into tears. Maria held her close, kissing the top of Meg's head.
Joxer moved in front of Meg. Tears welled up in his eyes. He took her hand and kissed it tenderly.
"Meg...I-I'm so sorry. By the gods Meg, I am so sorry..."
Meg stopped crying. Joxer tenderly wiped Meg's tears from her face. She looked at Joxer solemnly, and spoke.
"Looks like we all are carrying some pain inside, huh?"
Joxer eyed her steadily, nodding.
"I guess we are."
Meg turned to Maria.
"I...I wanna go to bed." she said quietly.
Maria softly stroked Meg's head.
Meg suddenly turned to Joxer, concern on her face.
"Joxer, are you all right? What about you?"
Joxer shook his head.
"I-I'll be okay."
"The medicine should kick in in about fifteen minutes." said Maria. "It'll help you sleep, and keep your nerves calm. But ya gotta remember Joxer-this ain't a cure. The only way to manage the pain, if not stop it altogether, is to face it and adjust yourself to it. Don't use this tea as a crutch."
Joxer nodded in understanding.
The three got on their feet. Joxer was a little unsteady, and Meg took a hold of him. Maria sighed and spoke.
"Well, back to bed. Night, you two. Rest plenty."
"We will." answered Joxer. "Thanks. For everything."
Maria smiled. She left the room. Meg turned to Joxer.
"Let's go back to bed."
"I'm with ya."
Meg and Joxer climbed into bed. They got under the covers. Meg turned to Joxer, her blue eyes searching his brown ones.
"Hold me." she said softly. "Please."
Joxer took Meg into his arms. She snuggled into him, and closed her eyes. Meg felt content. And so did Joxer. Two lonely souls, turning to each other for companionship. It wasn't long before both of them fell into a deep, peaceful sleep in each other's arms.
It was morning, and Joxer had awoken first. He lay on his side, studying Meg. He loved to watch her sleep. Joxer couldn't get over how beautiful Meg was.
Then he remembered last night. Pain tore through his heart.
Joxer felt the rage rise in him again. He wished he had been there to stop Meg's rape. It didn't matter to him if he died doing it-Joxer would have avenged Meg.
He leaned forward, looking at Meg's beautiful, peaceful face. Joxer felt a tremendous sadness and pity rise from within. Tears came to his eyes.
"Poor Meg..." he whispered. "If I could take away the pain...all the pain, I'd do it in a heartbeat. Even if it meant my life."
Joxer couldn't stand the thought of Meg's rape. He hated what the Fates had put her through. He trembled slightly. Tears continued to roll down his cheeks. At that moment. Meg opened one pale blue eye. Her brows knitted.
Meg was soon fully awake, her face filling with worry. She quickly placed her hands on either side of Joxer's face.
"Sweetie, what's wrong?!"
Joxer took one of Meg's hands, and kissed it tenderly. He shook his head in great sadness.
"Oh Meg...You've been through so much. I-If I could just take away all your pain-"
Meg immediately reached around Joxer and hugged him tight. Joxer did the same to her. Tears came to Meg's eyes.
"Oh Joxer..." she whispered.
They held each other close. Not a word was exchanged between them for a few long moments. They took comfort in the warmth and softness of the other. Then Meg pulled back slightly. She placed her forehead on Joxer's.
"Every time you hold me Joxer, every time you make love to me, you take away my pain." Meg said, her voice quivering slightly.
Joxer swallowed hard, full of emotion.
"Yes." she responded softly. "You do."
Meg leaned in and brushed her lips against Joxer's. Her tongue gently requested entrance. Joxer quickly complied. They kissed each other slowly, pressing their bodies into each other. After a moment, Meg pulled back a bit, rubbing her nose against his.
"Thank you for caring." she whispered.
Joxer smiled slightly.
Meg kissed Joxer on the nose. She pulled back again, her pale blue eyes searching his brown ones.
"Make love to me." she whispered.
Joxer's brow furrowed in confusion.
"A-Are you sure?"
Meg leaned in and kissed Joxer, more firmly this time. She ran her tongue along his lips. Joxer instantly felt the ancient urges well up inside him. Meg pulled back slightly, and uttered one word.
It was all Joxer needed to hear.
It had been a long week and a half.
Joxer couldn't believe he had been able to get through all this time. But Meg and Maria, as well as the other girls in the brothel, made it possible. Joxer was deeply touched by their help. He felt particularly grateful to Maria and Meg. Despite her fearsome appearance, Maria turned out to be a very warm, down-to-earth human being. They talked for many hours. Maria told Joxer about her fights with the Persians and Romans, as well as countless other warlords she had faced. The more Maria told of her story, the more Joxer realized how similar she was to Xena. They shared a lot of pain. Maria had also told him about what she did to Timerus. Maria was in the area of King Lias's castle, and was visiting Meg at the time. When Meg told her of the rape, Maria set out to get Timerus. She knew of his whereabouts. Maria found him, castrated him and cut out his throat. Joxer couldn't help but feel a deep satisfaction at hearing this.
And Meg...Joxer's heart swelled in admiration and affection for her. The beautiful, blue-eyed brunette had gone out of her way to help Joxer get back in touch with himself. She, as always, accepted him for who he was. Outside of her beauty, it was the other thing that attracted Joxer to Meg. She never judged him. She accepted him, with his faults. Meg was one of the very, very few people he could truly be himself around. Joxer found that people like that were very precious indeed.
Meg had bought him an outfit so that he could go into town and be inconspicuous. Joxer went out on rare occasions, and it was mostly with Meg. He used the brimmed hat that Meg gave him to his advantage. To his great relief, no one paid him much attention.
As for the nightmares and panic attacks....they continued, but as Joxer forced himself to face his demons, he very slowly began to take control of things again. But it was extremely difficult, and not without setbacks. During the last few days, he actually was able to get a full night's sleep. Of course the special tea that Meg had given him that day helped. And, despite the tea's horrific taste, Joxer had been tempted quite a few times to use it to dull the pain. He gave in occasionally. But Meg and Maria were quick to point out that this was not the way to go about getting better-and that like it or not, he had to learn to face the pain without the help of things like the tea. Joxer thought about how Meg and Maria faced their private hells. He was no different. So, he made an effort to try harder.
Today, Joxer was in a good mood-better than he had been in a long, long time. He sat in the kitchen with Francisca, a pretty young redhead. Joxer was blown away at what an incredible cook she was. Joxer also found Francisca to be one of the friendliest people he had ever met. She was very affectionate, and ready to help out anyone. Joxer could see why Meg was optimistic about creating a restaurant. Francisca's enthusiasm was infectious. And she immediately loved the idea of a restaurant, when Meg suggested it to her. They had spent many hours formulating plans. Francisca was a runaway Roman slave. Her family had been killed by Roman soldiers, and she was taken prisoner. One night, a few slaves managed to escape, one of them being Francisca. Her harrowing journey took her across vast expanses of wilderness. On her way back to Meg's brothel, Maria found Francisca being attacked by some men. After defeating them, Maria brought Francisca back to Meg's place. Meg was more than happy to take her in. Joxer was amazed at Francisca's incredible tale of survival.
Now, he was leaning over Francisca's shoulder, watching her sprinkle some herbs into some sauce she was heating. The delicious smell was making Joxer dizzy. His mouth was watering. He shook his head.
"Oh c'mon Francisca! Let me have a taste!! This is torture!!"
Francisca turned abruptly towards Joxer, mock anger on her face.
"Hey-ey- EY!! Patience!"
She slowly mixed the sauce. Joxer stared at the pot, hypnotized by the smell. Francisca glanced at Joxer, and laughed.
"Gods, you're a riot, Jox!! Okay-okay. Hold on a sec."
She got a small bowl and poured some of the pot's contents into it. Francisca then got a piece of bread, and handed both to Joxer. She smirked.
"Alright already. Here! Now sit down and behave yourself."
Joxer took the food, his face beaming like that of an eager child. He sat down, and dipped the bread into the bowl. Then he took a large bite out of the bread.
Joxer's eyes were wide as saucers. He was blown away by this incredible sauce.
Francisca waggled her eyebrows.
"Ahhhh!! I see Joxer the Mighty likes, eh??"
Joxer's eyebrows shot to their full height.
"Likes?! Likes?! Are ya kidding?! I love this!!"
Joxer stood up. He placed a hand on Francisca's shoulder.
"Please make extra for later on. Please."
Francisca smiled warmly, and pinched Joxer's cheek.
"Anything for you."
At that moment, Meg walked into the kitchen. At seeing Joxer eagerly sniffing the contents of the pot, her right eyebrow shot up. Meg placed her hands on her hips.
"Hey!!" she exclaimed.
Joxer quickly jumped up, banging his head into pots that hung overhead.
"Ow!!" he squealed.
He rubbed his head vigorously. Francisca broke into a furious giggle. Meg marched right up to Joxer, eyeing him face to face.
"Whatcha bothering Francisca for?!"
Joxer stared at Meg, a hurt look on his face.
"Aw Meg, I-I was just trying some of her sauce!! It's great!!"
Meg rolled her eyes, and glared at Joxer.
"Jox, you forget we're going out on a picnic??"
"Pic-Jeez!! Yeah-the picnic!"
"Yeah, and I brought plenty of food. Let's go."
Meg then slapped Joxer in the butt with the palm of her hand. Joxer yelped in shock.
Meg raised her eyebrows.
"Git!! Git outta here!!"
Meg smacked him again. Joxer yelped again, jumping and hitting still more pots and pans. He simultaneously rubbed his head and buttocks, staring at Meg in surprise and fear.
Joxer rushed out of the kitchen. Francisca now broke into hysterical laughter. Meg turned to her, and winked. She smiled mischievously.
"Ya gotta keep yer men in line, ya know."
Meg left the kitchen, leaving Francisca sprawled on the table behind her, convulsing in laughter.
Joxer and Meg sat, overlooking a beautiful lake. The sun shone in all its glory through a brilliant blue sky. Joxer wanted to talk to Meg, about what he knew would be a particularly sensitive subject. On one hand, it really bothered Joxer to have Meg dig up such painful memories. On the other hand, he wanted to understand what was happening with Meg. And if possible, help her in some way. He turned to her.
Meg had just taken a bite out of a sandwich. She downed it with some port, and turned to Joxer.
Joxer looked at the ground, feeling very uncomfortable. But he pushed on.
"Um...I-I was wondering if we could have a talk about something."
Meg noticed the timid tone in Joxer's voice. Her brows knitted.
"What's up Jox?"
"I....uh, I-I was wondering if...if you don't mind...if you could tell me what happened after you left King Lias's castle."
Meg's expression darkened. She looked down at the ground, her blue eyes wandering over it nervously. Joxer moved closer to her.
"Meg, I won't judge you. You know me. I'm your friend."
Meg closed her eyes, and let out a deep sigh. Joxer placed a hand on her shoulder.
"You can trust me Meg. I won't tell anyone."
Meg turned towards Joxer, regarding him for a few moments. She placed a hand on his knee, and smiled sadly.
"I know you won't."
She looked out over the lake, her brilliant blue eyes flashing briefly in pain. Meg bit her lip, sighed, and began.
"After...what happened...I-I just couldn't stay there anymore. The memories were just too much. King Lias, Philemon, and Diana begged me to stay. But it hurt too much. I had to leave that place. It was the hardest thing I've ever done. They were so good to me...."
A tear rolled down Meg's cheek. She wiped it away. Joxer put his arm around her.
"Take your time Meg." Joxer said softly.
Meg licked her lips, looking at the ground nervously. She took a deep breath, and continued.
"K-King Lias was especially heartbroken. H-He ended up giving me some spending money, to help me get started on the outside. He told me that...that I was welcome back at the castle if I ever changed my mind, and that if I needed anything, to let him know."
More tears ran down her cheek. She wiped them away. She stared hard out into space. Joxer held her hand, gently squeezing it. She continued.
"I...uh...I left, a-and Maria wanted to come with me. I didn't want to be around anyone. She insisted. We had a big fight, and I walked out on her. I spent some time, traveling around, t-trying to find work. I looked into cooking jobs, but there weren't any. Finally, I did find one place that had an opening, but it paid very little. I worked there for a short time. I also started drinking. Little by little, I began to run out of money. And my boss was really abusive. He used to beat me. Then one day, he fired me. So..."
Meg lowered her head, her face full of shame.
"So I went back to what I was doing. Being a prostitute. There was no other work, and I-I really wasn't good at anything else...This went on for a couple of weeks. I-I was really depressed. I didn't know what to do. Then I ran into some of my old friends I used to work with, doing tricks. They told me some godawful stories about abuse they took from their pimps. That's when the idea hit me about opening my own brothel. I talked to the other girls, and they liked the idea. I had kept in touch with Maria. I arranged to meet with her. I told her my idea. She wasn't too thrilled about what I was doing, but I told her this was only temporary, until something else came along. I also wanted to help out my friends."
She sighed, and looked at Joxer.
"So, I used the money I had left over from King Lias to build this place. And here I am."
Joxer gazed at her with warmth and pity. Meg turned away from him, full of shame. A few moments passed.
"Why do you even bother with me...." she finally said in a small voice. "I'm just a stupid, worthless, good-for-nothing tramp."
Joxer's brows knitted. Anger filled his face. He grabbed Meg's chin, turning her face towards his.
"Hey!!" Joxer snapped. "I don't ever wanna hear ya call yourself that!! Got me?!"
Meg jumped, startled by Joxer's harshness. His brown eyes bored into her blue ones. Meg recoiled slightly in fear. Joxer was not going to have any of this. He grabbed her shoulders and pulled Meg close to him.
"Now you shut up and listen to me Meg. You mean something. You have a purpose. You're not trash. You're a human being. A wonderful human being with a big heart. Someone I'm proud to call my friend and someone I really care deeply about. I don't care about what you've done. You're a good person. No-a great person And I think it's high time you realized that."
Meg stared at Joxer, stunned, not knowing what to say. Joxer released her and sat back, raising his eyebrows to their full height.
"Whatsa matter Meg?? Can dish it out, but can't take it?? Hmmm??"
Meg raised her right eyebrow as high as it could go.
"Weren't you giving me the same treatment when I said I was a worthless, warrior-wanna-be??"
Meg's brows knitted. She looked down at the ground for a few moments, silent. Then her blue eyes searched Joxer's face, full of anxiety and vulnerability.
"You really care about me that much, Joxer?"
Joxer placed a hand on her face, smiling warmly.
"More than you'll ever know."
Meg slowly broke into a huge grin. She shook her head is amazement and gratitude.
"Thank the gods I met you."
Joxer and Meg then embraced each other, losing themselves in a deep kiss.
Night time, once again.
Meg tucked herself under the covers, snoring softly. Joxer looked up at the ceiling. His now-familiar fear was still there. But over the course of the past week and a half, Joxer had slowly built up the courage to face sleep. The nightmares were still there, but he was able to control himself better. It was time to face yet another battle with Morpheus.
"Give it yer best shot, Morpheus." whispered Joxer in determination. "I'm ready for ya."
In a short time, Joxer soon fell asleep...
A familiar terrain soon appeared...
Corpses scattered about. On the ground and on endless crosses. Pools and lakes of blood dotting the area around him. The sickening smell of rotting flesh assaulting his nostrils.
Joxer turned around. It was Kryton. He stood there, knife in his chest, smirking. The warlord shook his head.
"You really think you can get over me, huh?"
Joxer walked up to him, eyeing him steadily.
"I can keep you under control. I can keep myself under control."
Kryton's eyes widened slightly.
He drew the knife out of his chest, and suddenly flung it to his right. It flew through the air-
And into Meg's chest.
She cried out in agony and dropped to her knees. Her blue eyes were dilated. Blood exploded from the wound. Meg fell first-face into the ground. Joxer's eyes bulged in terror.
Joxer turned towards Kryton. Rage erupted inside him. With a deafening cry, Joxer threw a vicious right at him. His fist connected hard with the warlord's jaw. Kryton's head snapped back, blood and teeth exploding from his mouth. Joxer then threw a left. More blood and teeth flowed forth. Joxer began throwing a dizzying combination of lefts and rights into Kryton's face. Rivers of blood flowed. Fleshy, rotted teeth flew through the air. He kept pounding relentlessly into Kryton's face-
And then Joxer suddenly stopped. He moved back, shaking. Kryton staggered back a few steps, and slowly straightened up. His battered, bloody, nearly toothless face stared at Joxer in surprise.
"That's it? You're just gonna stop?! I just killed your girlfriend!!"
Joxer closed his eyes, and clenched his teeth.
"This..." he hissed, "...is a dream..."
Kryton's face became full of rage. He rushed up to Joxer, and sent a ferocious right into his jaw. Joxer flew through the air, crashing into the ground. Kryton's eyes were wide with fury.
"Was that a dream, dumbass?!"
Joxer slowly sat up. He spat out blood, and several teeth. Joxer shook his head, and began to chuckle. Kryton rushed up to him, towering over Joxer like a gargantuan, armored mountain.
"What's so goddamn funny?!" Kryton snarled.
Joxer looked up at him, sneering.
With lightning speed, Kryton grabbed Joxer by his neck and lifted him into the air. Joxer's feet dangled over the ground. Kryton snarled savagely.
"Still laughing, dumbass?!"
Joxer eyed Kryton calmly.
"You're not real. You don't exist."
Kryton released Joxer. He dropped onto his feet. Kryton eyed Joxer heatedly.
"I do exist!! In... HERE!!"
He tapped his fingers hard into Joxer's skull for emphasis. Kryton then walked around Joxer, glaring at him in disgust.
"Ya think that stupid tea you drink's gonna help?!" Kryton chided venomously. "Ya think knocking up that bitch Meg's gonna take your mind off what you did?! You think talking to your stupid friends is gonna help?! Well, it AIN'T!!"
Kryton rushed up to Joxer, nose to nose with him.
"I...am... in you. I...am... part of you. All this Joxer the Mighty bullshit don't mean a goddamned thing. You killed me. And now, ya gonna hafta deal with me for the rest...of...your... life."
Joxer eyed Kryton steadily.
"Then I will."
He turned around and began to walk away from the warlord. Kryton's jaw dropped down in shock.
He ran out in front of Joxer, and approached him with fury. Kryton poked him hard in the chest with his finger. Joxer staggered back. Kryton moved forward, finger raised.
Kryton drew his right fist back, and it snapped forward like a cobra. But Joxer caught it in his hand. He eyed Kryton calmly.
"I know I can't." he replied. "And I don't plan to. Not anymore."
Joxer pushed Kryton's fist away. He walked past him. Kryton stared at Joxer, dumbfounded. Joxer stopped for a moment, and turned towards the warlord. He smiled slightly.
"See you tomorrow night." he said simply.
And with that, Joxer walked into a white fog, and disappeared.
Joxer dug his face into the pillow. He saw the sun shine through his eyelids, but he didn't want to get up. It felt chilly, and the bed was too comfortable.
Then all of a sudden, he smelled bacon. The strong, delicious smell of bacon. Then he noticed the sun was blocked out by a dark form that appeared in front of it. Joxer opened one eye...
And saw a very attractive pair of legs, their skin creamy-white. He followed the legs up, to a thin pair of black panties. Joxer began to get aroused.
His eyes continued the journey, past the hard, flat stomach to the gentle swell of two sizable breasts. They jutted out invitingly, partially hidden by the purple nightgown that wrapped around part of the supple, sensuous body. Finally, he saw the woman's head, covered with long, jet-black hair. Two sapphire eyes gazed curiously at him, the beautiful, delicate mouth turned up in a crooked grin. Her right eyebrow was raised to its full height. The beautiful woman spoke.
A devilish smile appeared on Joxer's face. He reached out, cupped Meg's buttocks, and drew her close. Joxer began kissing and licking Meg's stomach. Meg gasped in surprise and excitement.
Joxer nuzzled Meg's stomach.
"You offered breakfast." he mumbled against her soft skin.
Joxer kneaded Meg's buttocks, kissing and licking her stomach. Meg's breath started to become short and rapid. As much as she was enjoying this, Meg, much to her disappointment, had to make Joxer stop. She had to go out. Meg gently, but firmly began to push Joxer away.
Joxer finally let go. He looked at Meg, hurt. Meg pouted.
"I'm sorry sweetie."
Joxer crossed his arms, and looked away from Meg.
"No. You're being mean. You just like to tease me."
Meg's lips curled up into a sly grin. She picked up a piece of bacon from the nearby table and climbed into bed, straddling Joxer's hips. Joxer stared at Meg, rolling his eyes.
"Aw Meg!! Why do ya torture me like this?!"
"Because you love it."
Joxer smirked, shaking his head. Meg raised her eyebrows.
Joxer pouted. He reluctantly opened his mouth, and Meg fed Joxer the bacon. Joxer then slowly sucked on Meg's fingers. Meg gasped slightly at this, and let her fingers linger a little longer in his mouth. Then she pulled them out. Meg smiled mischievously.
"You're just as bad as I am!!"
He grabbed Meg's shoulders, and pulled her to him. Joxer kissed Meg hard, his tongue demanding entrance. Meg quickly gave in, and the two were kissing each other deeply. Meg moaned into Joxer's mouth, pressing into him. Then, she felt some fingers move aside her panties in front. Moments later, a wet hardness plunged into her. Meg broke the kiss and cried out in ecstasy. Joxer pulled back the nightgown and wrapped his mouth around a hardened brown nipple, sucking it in as deep as possible. He clutched Meg's buttocks and pressed her down onto him, impaling Meg even more. Meg rocked against him, moaning and whimpering. She held Joxer tight against her body. Soon, the lovers climaxed simultaneously. They cried out as wave after wave of pleasure ripped through their bodies. Joxer fell back against the bedpost, pulling Meg with him. He continued to suck on Meg's breast. Meg held his head in place, enjoying the attention Joxer was lavishing on her breast. But to her disappointment, Meg remembered she had to go. Meg kissed the top of his head.
"Joxie..." she whispered.
"Honey...I gotta go."
Joxer pulled back slightly. He frowned.
"Breakfast is over?!"
Meg nodded sadly.
"I'm afraid so."
She sat back, straddling Joxer's legs. Meg grasped Joxer's hands, holding them in her lap. She smiled warmly at Joxer. He returned the smile.
"Think I can have the same thing for lunch?" asked Joxer.
Meg stared at him, wide-eyed.
"And for dinner?! Please?!"
Meg tilted her head back and laughed heartily. She placed her hands on either side of Joxer's face.
"For you sweetie, anything."
Meg leaned towards Joxer. The two exchanged a slow, gentle kiss. Meg pulled back. Joxer's brows knitted in curiosity.
"Going food shopping?"
"Gotta get a lot of stuff?"
"Yeah. Fair amount."
"How long will ya be?"
"Dunno. An hour, maybe."
Joxer placed his hands on Meg's legs, rubbing them gently. He enjoyed the feel of her silky skin. Meg raised an eyebrow, and grinned slightly.
"Joooooxxxxxeeeeerrr..." she said in a sing-song voice.
Joxer's brows knitted.
"Now, you're teasing me. And I said, breakfast is over."
"What?! Y-You mean, no snack??"
Meg shook her head.
Joxer face grew more devastated.
"N-Not even a crumb?? N-N-Not even a sweet little crumb??? Please-can't I have at least that?????""
Joxer frowned deeply. He pouted, looking down at the bed.
"You're mean. I don't like you any more."
Now it was Meg's turn to pout.
Joxer shook his head.
"Uh-uh. Nope. And you can't change my mind either."
Meg raised an eyebrow. She smiled wickedly.
"Oh reeeally??" she purred saucily.
Joxer trembled at the sound of Meg's voice. He looked up, and Meg suddenly gave him a hard, demanding kiss. She grabbed Joxer's crotch and held it as Joxer instantly grew aroused again. His member pressed firmly into the palm of Meg's hand. Meg swirled her tongue around and around in Joxer's mouth and finally, she pulled away, leaving Joxer completely breathless and slightly dizzy. Joxer's head fell back against the board.
"Gods..." he gasped.
Meg leaned next to his ear, slowly massaging his crotch.
"Now..." she hissed seductively. "this is a taste of things to come, if you behave. I'll be gone for a while. Be ready at noon. Another picnic. And you'll get this, and a lot more. Got it?"
Joxer nodded his head erratically.
Meg smiled against his ear and licked it.
Meg quickly pulled away, rolled off the bed and walked to the door. She turned to Joxer, flashing a brilliant smile.
"Gotta get dressed. Bye sweetie. Enjoy your bacon."
Meg left the room. Joxer stared at the door in a daze.
"Man..." he gasped. "That woman's gonna kill me."
Then Joxer smiled. It wouldn't be such a bad way to die.
Joxer stood in front of the mirror, combing his hair. He made sure that every hair was in its proper place. After he was done, Joxer splashed some cologne on his face. Joxer fixed his white shirt, and adjusted his black pants. He looked himself over, nodding in satisfaction.
"Oooookay! That's done."
Joxer then walked over to the window, and looked outside. But at that moment, a brief, sharp wave of tension shot through him. He closed his eyes, and growled angrily.
"That's...enough!!" he hissed to himself.
Joxer shook his head in disgust, and looked outside at the crowd milling about. He had been feeling somewhat nervous this morning, although the tension Joxer was feeling was nothing compared to what he had felt when he first came to Meg's brothel. But even though the attacks were much less, and not as severe, they still felt rather uncomfortable. Joxer did not like even the mildest form of anxiety attack. It was such an unpleasant experience that he wanted to forget every cursed sensation.
There was a knock at the door. Joxer turned towards it.
The door opened. It was Maria. She entered the room, and took a look at Joxer. Maria smiled warmly.
"Joxer, you're dressed to kill."
Joxer smiled sheepishly.
Maria raised an eyebrow.
Joxer turned towards the window. Suddenly, he spotted Meg and Francisca walking towards the brothel, pulling along carts of food.
"Looks like Meg just got back."
Joxer turned to Maria. He walked up to her, and placed a hand on her arm.
"Maria...I-I just wanted to say, thank you."
Maria stared at him, bewildered.
Joxer lowered his head.
"For...for getting me through this dark time. You guys have been so nice to me. Especially you and Meg. I wish I could repay you somehow."
Maria smiled warmly. She placed her huge hands on Joxer's shoulders. He looked up into tender hazel eyes.
"You already repaid me, Joxer. By becoming my friend. And as for Meg...I don't think I've ever seen her happier. You bring out something special in her."
Joxer blushed a deep red, and smiled shyly.
Maria patted Joxer on the back.
"C'mon. Let's go downstairs and help Meg and Francisca."
The pair left the room, and went downstairs. Maria walked into the tavern portion of the brothel, and looked around.
"It's all clear. C'mon, Jox."
Joxer followed Maria into the kitchen. As they entered, two large doors at the kitchen's rear opened. Maria rushed over, and helped Meg pull the wooden cart into the kitchen. Joxer ran over to Francisca's side, and did the same for her.
Meg walked over to a table and leaned on it, wiping her brow.
"You said it! A bit warm out there today."
Joxer walked over to Meg. He placed a hand on her shoulder.
"You okay? You wanna rest, or something?"
Meg immediately waved her hand in front of her.
"No-no-no-no. I'm okay Joxer. Let's go. You ready?"
"Yeah, sure! I'm ready."
Meg walked over to another table, and picked up a large basket. She walked over to Joxer, grasping his hand.
"C'mon. Let's go."
"Have fun, you two." said Maria with a smile.
Meg raised an eyebrow, and grinned mischievously.
"Oh, we will."
Joxer and Meg then left, hand in hand. Francisca looked at them, and smiled.
"They seem perfect together."
Maria turned towards Francisca, eyebrow raised.
"You too, huh?"
Both women smiled. They knew a good thing when they saw it.
Joxer snuggled up to Meg. He held in front of her face a piece of cheese with some bread.
Meg turned towards him, her eyebrows knitted. The she smiled warmly and bit into the food. Meg took it all into her mouth, and Joxer delicately wiped her lips with his fingers. Joxer then reached over and picked up a wineskin and a goblet. He looked at Meg.
Joxer poured the red wine into the goblet. He handed it over to Meg. She took it, and drank some of the wine, washing down the bread and cheese. She turned to Joxer.
Meg looked up into the blue sky. Large puffy clouds floated through the air.
"Joxer, what does that cloud remind you of?"
She pointed, and Joxer followed her finger. His eyes squinted.
"That one? Oh! A duck."
Meg stared at him quizzically.
"A duck?! How in Tartarus did you get a duck?!"
Joxer wrapped his arm around Meg and pointed to the cloud in question.
"Look. There. You see Meg? That's the bill, and...and there's the neck. Follow that into the body."
Meg's pale blue eyes went from the cloud to Joxer. They narrowed.
"Joxer, I don't see a bill, or a head, even."
Joxer turned towards Meg, amazed she didn't see what he saw.
"Oh sure there is!! Look again, there's the..."
Joxer looked again, and frowned.
"Oh damn...stupid wind...the duck's gone now."
Meg raised an eyebrow, and smirked disapprovingly.
"Joxer, there was...no...duck."
Joxer rolled his eyes.
They glared at each other for a moment, then smiled. Meg shook her head.
"Boy...we're a pair, aren't we Jox?"
Joxer raised an eyebrow.
"Speak for yourself."
Meg's brows knitted. Her jaw dropped. She punched Joxer lightly in the arm.
Joxer laughed. Meg smiled again. She was happy to see Joxer in a good mood. Joxer looked at the grass in font of him.
"Um...Meg, there's been something I've wanted to tell you."
Joxer turned towards Meg, grasping her hand.
"I want to thank you for helping me out. You don't know how grateful I am to you, Meg."
Meg blushed, and smiled shyly.
"Joxer, you don't have to thank me."
Joxer turned fully towards Meg, his face serious.
"Yes, I do."
Meg smile slowly disappeared. She looked into Joxer's eyes, and saw the love and gratitude in them. Joxer continued on.
"Meg, I don't know how I could've gotten through this without your help. You've been so good to me. I-I almost feel I don't deserve the kind of kindness you've shown me."
Meg turned fully towards Joxer. She grasped both his hands, her pale blue eyes looking deep into his brown ones.
"Nonsense! Joxer, if there's anyone who deserves it, it's you. I-I mean, you're the only guy I've been involved with who's treated me with respect. You've always been there for me when I needed it. You've helped me get through some tough times of my own."
Joxer blushed. He looked down at the grass between his legs.
"Well...I-I just care for ya, that's all."
Meg lifted Joxer's chin. She moved in closer to him.
"I know." she said softly.
Meg then tenderly kissed Joxer on the lips. She pulled back, and Joxer was blushing an even deeper red. Meg smiled.
"You look so cute when you blush."
Joxer lowered his head, finding the grass extremely fascinating. But Meg would have none of it. She lifted his chin again, and moved up to Joxer until they were nose to nose.
"I'm not done yet, sweetie." she whispered softly.
Meg claimed his lips again. She pushed Joxer back into the grassy earth.
"What's the price on the drink?"
The burly man slapped down the money onto the counter. He lifted a finger.
The bartender nodded, and set to work. The man turned to his companion.
"Pickings are kinda slim, Jorgas."
The thin man shook his head, looking into his mug. He smirked.
"A blind hag can see that."
The burly man sighed. He stuck his finger in his nose, and began to pick it. His companion grimaced.
"Hestor, that's disgusting."
The man turned towards him, raising an eyebrow. He flung a piece of mucus at his companion. It bounced off his forehead. The thin man violently whacked away at his face, desperately trying to wipe off the offending snot. He glared at the massive bulk sitting next to him.
"Hey!! That ain't funny!!"
The big man shrugged.
"I'm laughing inside."
They sat for a moment in silence. The bartender brought Hestor his drink. He set it down in front of him. The big man nodded.
The bartender left. Hestor turned to Jorgas.
"We gotta start looking for bounties soon. Money's running out."
Jorgas shook his head. He looked around, leaning close to Hestor.
"Don't I know it. My cousin Stamrus is getting antsy. If we're gonna put together that raiding force, we gotta get some more money."
"Yeah. It's been a while since we got anybody worth anything."
The huge man got to his feet. He took a drink from his goblet, and looked around him.
"Jorgas. Go and see if the horses have been shoed. We gotta get going."
His companion nodded.
"Might as well."
Jorgas got up, and left the tavern. He walked down the road, weaving his way through the crowds of people. Jorgas then stopped in front of a fruit stand. He looked up at the vendor.
"How much for them apples?"
"Two dinars each."
Jorgas handed him the two dinars. He picked up an apple. Then he turned to the left...
And something caught his eye.
A man and a woman. Walking hand in hand. The woman was attractive enough, but the man...something was familiar about him. He had a white brimmed hat, and it was somewhat difficult to see his face. Yet, what he could see if it reminded him of someone. Something inside Jorgas told him to follow the man. And he did.
Jorgas kept his distance, being careful to stay unnoticed. The couple stopped at a stand that sold flowers. The man bought a rose. He handed it to the woman, who smiled warmly and kissed him.
Suddenly, there was a brief, strong gust of wind. The man's hat almost blew off his head. Jorgas took a good look at the face it uncovered. The man quickly pulled the hat down, obscuring part of his face. Jorgas's eyes widened in shock.
He reached into his pocket, and pulled out a piece of paper. Jorgas opened it. It was a bounty, and had Joxer's picture on it. Above the picture it read: FIVE THOUSAND DINAR REWARD. Jorgas's eyes widened in glee and maliciousness.
"Yesssss!!" he hissed.
The couple then left the stand. Jorgas followed them, and soon he spotted them entering a large wooden building. Above the doorway, there was a sign that said MEG'S. Jorgas smiled sinisterly.
He turned, running back towards the tavern, nearly knocking over people as he did so. Finally, the tavern was in sight. Hestor turned and saw Jorgas running top speed towards him. He raised a hairy eyebrow. Jorgas stopped in front of him, breathless. Hestor's eyes narrowed.
"What in Tartarus you running fer?!"
Jorgas instantly looked up, flashing a cold, brilliant smile.
He yanked out Joxer's bounty, showing it to Hestor.
"I saw 'im!!"
Hestor's eyes widened in shock. He grabbed Jorgas by the arm.
Hestor's eyes narrowed. He looked in the direction of Meg's brothel and licked his lips eagerly.
"Five thousand dinars....Ooooooohhhh yeeeeeaaaaahhh..."
Hestor's eyes shot down toward Jorgas.
"Let's get Stamrus. We're gonna make ourselves some money."
It was a quiet evening at the brothel. Meg sat at the bar, and poured herself some port. Francisca sat in front of her. She spoke.
"Business seems slow."
"A little. But it's still early. Things should pick up pretty soon."
Meg looked around her place. A few of her girls sat at different tables, putting on lipstick or checking their faces in their hand-held mirrors.
"Where's Joxer?" asked Francisca.
"Taking a bath."
"How's he feeling?"
Meg sighed happily.
"Lots better, thank the gods. He still gets a little of that tension, but it's not as bad as before, ya know? He's figuring out how to keep it under control."
"That's good to hear. He's a nice guy. He doesn't deserve to go through that."
Meg frowned slightly.
"No he doesn't."
"Out back. She's loading some wood into the shack. She'll be back soon."
Francisca twirled her finger around the edge of her goblet. She looked up at Meg.
"Ya know, once we get enough money together, we can start adding another extension here."
"Yeah. And add some more tables...Gods Francisca, I'm really psyched about this restaurant idea."
Her smile slowly disappeared. Darkness clouded her face.
"I really want to give the girls a choice to do something else with their lives. I really want to put our prostitution days behind us."
Francisca placed her hand on Meg's.
"And you will. We will. All of us."
Meg looked up. Suddenly, anxiety filled her face. Francisca's brows knitted.
Francisca turned around. Twelve men had entered the brothel. All were heavily armed. Among them were Hestor and Jorgas. Jorgas turned to a tall, muscular man at his left. The man looked at him. Jorgas pointed to Meg.
"That's her, Stamrus. That's the woman I saw with that idiot Joxer."
Meg's color drained from her face. She fought hard to keep her composure. The other six women quickly got to their feet. Stamrus's eyes narrowed. He began to walk to the bar. Meg quickly walked around the bar, onto the floor. She instantly raised her hand.
"Hold it!!" Meg snapped harshly.
Stamrus stopped. He sneered icily.
"Alright bitch. Where is he?!"
Meg fell silent. She hesitated a moment.
Stamrus snapped his fingers. One of his men rushed forward and grabbed one of the women. She cried out in fright. The man drew a large knife, and held it against her throat. Meg's eyes widened in horror.
Stamrus chuckled merrily. He turned to the woman's captor.
"Not yet, Bernas."
The man nodded. Stamrus turned back to Meg. She stared at him in anger and fear. He spoke again.
"Ya know, I'm not above cutting all of your throats and burning this place to the ground. Who in Tartarus is gonna miss a stupid whorehouse?! You bitches ain't worth shit."
He chuckled some more, gazing back at the hapless woman with glee. Her captor pressed the blade into her neck. The woman's eyes were wide with terror. Meg glared at Stamrus heatedly. Her fists were clenched tight, turning white around the knuckles. Stamrus turned back to Meg. He smiled sweetly, and continued.
"Hooooooowever, your boyfriend Joxer is worth about five..thousand...dinars. And I happen to need that money. I'm building a little army. And your boyfriend's head will get me that money."
Stamrus walked up to Meg, standing inches away from her face.
"So, sweetheart, what's it gonna be? Your boy-toy...?"
Stamrus turned towards his captive, his man Bernus gleefully giggling at his victim's predicament. He looked back at Meg.
"Or your hussy friend?"
Stamrus's eyes grew cold as ice.
"Two...seconds." he growled.
Meg trembled slightly. She opened her mouth-
And suddenly there was a piercing scream from behind Stamrus. He abruptly turned around-
To see a large knife sticking out of Bernus's forehead. His eyes crossed, and he fell back onto the floor, dead. Stamrus's eyes widened in shock.
Suddenly Stamrus's face exploded in pain as something hard collided with it. He flew through the air and crashed into several tables. Meg lowered her fist, glaring at Stamrus with hatred.
"Bastard..." she hissed.
All of the women immediately rushed in front of Meg. They went into fighting stances. All the men drew their weapons. Hestor glared the women with fury.
"We're gonna hack you whores into little pieces." he growled venomously.
Suddenly, a huge form burst through the side door. It rolled in front of the women, and stood erect. The men's eyes widened in fear. Hestor gasped in total shock.
It was Maria. She stood her full seven feet in height, and drew her massive sword. Maria glanced at the other women.
"Remember everything I taught ya, guys."
She took a step forward. The monstrous woman grinned maliciously. Her eyes boiled with a savageness that made all the men take a step back.
"I just took out your little friend." she hissed with glee. "And my friends and I are gonna wipe the floor with yer sorry little asses."
Hestor swallowed hard. Jorgas elbowed him.
"What?!" Hestor hissed, not taking his eyes off of Maria.
"What're we waiting for?!" Jorgas spat back.
Hestor stared at Maria in anger and fear. She slowly continued to approach them, her cold smile growing wider every moment. Jorgas had enough. He leaned towards Hestor's left ear.
"Or dontcha want dem five...thousand..dinars?!" he jeered venomously.
That was it. Hestor's eyes widened in rage.
"Kill them all!!" he yelled.
The men rushed forward. Three of them leapt at Maria, swords drawn. She jumped into the air, whipping her gigantic leg around. The booted foot smashed across the face of each man, smashing their skulls. Their bodies were hurled back into the wall with resounding thuds. Maria swung her sword at two more men that attempted to get past her. Her sword ripped through their torsos. Blood and intestines exploded from the gaping wounds. The men flew back into the wall, collapsing onto the ground, dead.
The men who were able to get past Maria attacked Meg's women. But they weren't prepared for what they would encounter. The women fought back with a savageness that surprised them.
One man swung his sword at a woman. She ducked and leapt into the air. The woman swung her foot into the side of the man's head. He went flying through the air, crashing into a table. His own sword burrowed into his gut, and he was dead in seconds.
Three more of Stamrus's men rushed towards three other women. The women quickly snatched up goblets of port that stood before them, taking long, quick sips from each. Then, grabbing lit candles in front of them, they blew the port into the flame. The resulting cloud of fire enveloped the three men, who screamed in agony. They dropped their weapons, engulfed in flame. The women grabbed chairs, and smashed them into the heads of the men. They collapsed, unconscious.
One man ran at Meg, knife drawn. She side-stepped him and rammed a knee into his stomach. He howled in pain, doubling over. Meg then threw a vicious right into the man's jaw. The man's head snapped back, and he fell bonelessly to the ground. Meg turned around-
And a fist smashed into her face. Meg's head whipped back, blood erupting from her mouth. She flew into the wall, and collapsed onto the floor. Meg shook her head, stunned, and looked up. It was Stamrus. He approached her. Meg's eyes widened in fury. Tears erupted from her eyes.
"SON-OF A BACCHAE!!!" she screamed.
Meg hurled herself at Stamrus. She threw a punch. Stamrus grabbed her arm and snapped it like a twig. Meg screamed in agony. Stamrus threw a savage right into Meg's face. Meg flew back into the wall, and fell bonelessly into the ground. Stamrus drew his knife. His green eyes widened in rage.
"Time to die, bitch."
He advanced towards Meg's fallen form. Then he heard a loud, angry cry from his right.
He turned. Joxer smashed into him like a battering ram. The two men flew through the air, crashing into a table, splintering it. The wind was knocked out of Stamrus's lungs. Joxer rammed his fist with all his might into Stamrus's face, again and again and again.
"AAAARRRRRGH!!!!!! I'M GONNA KILL YA!!!!" Joxer screamed at the top of his lungs.
Stamrus's face quickly grew bruised and bloody. Joxer drew his fist back again-
And a chair smashed into his head. Joxer fell onto Stamrus, unconscious. Stamrus pushed him off, and rolled away. He looked up through his one good eye, and saw Jorgas perched over Joxer. Jorgas fumbled frantically inside his jacket, and then drew a knife. Glee and anticipation was on Jorgas's face. He licked his lips.
"So-that's who I hit!! Bye-bye, Joxer the Mighty."
He raised the knife-
And a huge hand clutched his wrist. Jorgas felt it snap. He screamed in agony. Maria wrapped her huge left arm around Jorgas's head and savagely yanked it to the left. There was a loud crack. Jorgas dropped to the ground, dead.
Maria's eyes quickly went to where Stamrus was-
And he was gone. Maria hissed in anger.
She looked put the window, and saw Stamrus fleeing on horseback. It was too late to catch him now. Maria turned around, and she saw Hestor, bloody and bruised, on one knee. He aimed a crossbow at her. She raised an eyebrow. Hestor glared at her, seething with rage. Maria smiled coldly.
"Do it." she sneered.
Hestor's eyes widened in fury.
He fired the arrow. It screamed through the air. Maria's hand snapped forward, snatching the arrow out of the air. Hestor's jaw dropped down in total shock.
Maria's eyes widened in rage. She let out a piercing scream and threw the arrow at Hestor with all her might. It buried itself in Hestor's left eye. The impact sent him flying back into the wall. He slumped to the ground, dead.
Maria's eyes quickly scanned the room. Most of the men were either unconscious or dead. Two women lay injured and were being tended to by some of the other women. The few men that were conscious staggered out of the brothel. Maria quickly knelt down by Joxer's side, taking him into her arms.
"Joxer!!" she exclaimed. "Talk to me!!"
Joxer's eyes fluttered open. He groaned in pain.
"M-Meg..." he said weakly. "M-Meg's hurt..."
Maria instantly looked up. Three of the woman were kneeling by Meg. Francisca held Meg in her arms. Meg was crying hysterically. Francisca stared at Maria, her eyes full of alarm.
"Stamrus beat Meg and broke her arm!!"
Maria gritted her teeth in rage. Suddenly, she felt Joxer break free of her grasp. Joxer, in a daze, crawled rapidly to Meg's side. He was still stunned from the blow to his head. But Joxer was conscious enough to see what Stamrus did to Meg. His heart ripped open in searing pain at the sight. Tears erupted from his eyes.
Joxer lowered his face towards Meg's. Her face was filled with agony. Meg's blue eyes were glazed and bloodshot. The moment Joxer entered Meg's field of vision, her eyes grew as wide as saucers.
With her good arm, Meg pulled Joxer's face down against hers and cried hysterically. Joxer kissed every inch of Meg's face, whispering soothing words into her ears. Maria stood over them. Darkness covered her face.
"You're dead, Stamrus." she growled silently.
Joxer sat in bed next to Meg, his arm around her. He tenderly kissed the side of her head, and whispered soothing words into her ear. Meg sat, staring straight ahead, a blank look on her face. An angry bruise had formed under her left eye. Maria was finishing with the cast. The other women stood nearby, their faces full of grief. A couple of them wept silently. Maria winced as she remembered the blood-curdling scream Meg released when she reset the arm. Meg's cry of anguish ripped through her heart like a white-hot knife. She also remembered Joxer's reaction. He could not stop crying, and he desperately tried to calm Meg down, to no avail. A black fury churned inside Maria. She was determined to make Stamrus pay for what he did to Meg. And to Joxer.
Maria looked at Meg, her hazel eyes tender and overflowing with sympathy.
"Meg? Sweetheart? I'm gonna wrap part of the sling around your neck, okay?"
Meg didn't respond. She continued to stare straight ahead, her face impassive. Joxer, however, pulled back and nodded the go-ahead to Maria. Maria delicately placed part of the sling around Meg's neck, and lifted her hair so that it would cover it. Joxer continued to hold Meg's hand.
"Everything's gonna be okay Meg." he said softly. "Everything's gonna be okay."
Maria pulled back slightly. She tenderly stoked Meg's bruised cheek. Tears came to Maria's eyes.
"I'm done, baby." she said, her voice quivering slightly. "I'm done. Rest now."
Still no response from Meg. Joxer's insides were screaming in pain at what he had to do next. He took a deep, shaky breath, and spoke.
"Meg...I-I-I...I gotta go."
Meg's hand suddenly gripped Joxer's in an iron vise. Joxer gasped at the pain that shot through his hand. He stared at Meg in alarm. Meg continued to stare straight ahead. Her eyebrows went up slightly. Then she spoke.
"No." Meg said simply.
"I gotta go...I-I can't stay here."
Meg kept staring ahead.
"No. I won't let you go."
Maria knelt down by Meg. Tears ran down her face.
"Meg, honey, it's too dangerous for Joxer to stay here now!! Stamrus will be back with more men!!"
Meg slowly shook her head. She kept staring ahead, her face seemingly impassive. But tears began to flow down her cheeks.
"I don't want him to go. I don't."
Joxer leaned in towards Meg, his face full of love and sympathy.
"Meg, I'll be back." he said with utmost sincerity. "I promise I will."
The impassive mask fell away. Meg kept staring ahead, but great pain and grief rushed across her features. She shook her head erratically.
"No!! No you won't!! You'll never come back!! They'll kill you!!"
Meg turned abruptly towards Joxer, her blue eyes wide with soul-searing terror. She instantly wrapped her arm around Joxer and hugged him in a bone-crushing hug. Meg buried her face in Joxer's neck and wept hysterically. Joxer had never felt so helpless in his life. More than anything in the world, he wanted to stay by Meg's side. But current events had made this impossible. He knew it. And Meg knew it.
Joxer slowly began to pull away from Meg. Meg would have none of it. Her grip became tighter. Joxer grimaced in pain.
"Let go Meg." he muttered harshly.
"No!!" came the frantic answer.
Joxer had enough. He pulled away with all his might.
Joxer ripped himself out of Meg's grasp, almost yanking her off the bed. Meg grabbed at empty air, her blue eyes filled with anguish.
"No!! NOOOO!!" she screamed. "DON'T LEAVE ME!!! NOOOOO!!!!! OHHHHH GAAWDS NOOOOOO!!!!!! NOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!"
Maria forcibly took Meg into her arms and held her close. Meg screamed and screamed, punching and trying to push away Maria. But Maria wouldn't budge. Meg soon collapsed into her arms, and wailed hysterically. The agony roiling through Joxer's insides was too much. He couldn't handle it anymore. He rushed out of the bedroom, downstairs and into the tavern. And soon, the agony inside Joxer was replaced with a blinding, seething rage. He raised his head to the ceiling.
Joxer began to smash everything in sight. He picked up a chair, and swung it down with all his might into the top of the bar. It disintegrated into kindling. He picked up a table and tossed it into a large mirror, shattering it. Joxer picked up yet another chair. He smashed this one into a table. It exploded into pieces, the table collapsing under the impact. Joxer continued, until he had destroyed just about whatever chairs and tables were left. He spun to his right-
And saw his reflection. In a mirror.
Joxer stared at it. His brown eyes widened in fury.
He darted towards the mirror, and threw a vicious right at it. The mirror disintegrated into a shower of flying glass. Joxer continued ramming his fist into the spot, screaming at the top of his lungs. Blood soon flowed from his fist. But Joxer didn't care. Soon, the powerful blows were ripping open a hole in the wall. More splinters dug into his flesh, along with the shards of glass already present. Joxer just did not care. His agony and rage were too much. Finally, exhaustion took over, and Joxer fell against the wall he was hitting. He turned towards the stairwell. Several of Meg's women stood there, staring at Joxer in fear. Suddenly, Maria pushed past them. At seeing Joxer and his raised, mangled fist, her eyes widened in shock.
"No...!!" she gasped.
Joxer fell bonelessly to the ground and wept bitterly. Maria rushed over to him and instantly sat at his side. She held him close, kissing the top of his head and rocking him gently. Maria looked up and saw the bloody spot where Joxer had repeatedly thrown his fist. She grimaced.
"...Gods..." she muttered in disgust.
Maria's attention went back to Joxer.
"Joxer! Joxer, listen to me."
Joxer shook his head in grief. Tears rushed down his cheeks.
"This is all my fault!!" he sobbed. "All my fault!!"
Maria grabbed Joxer by the collar and yanked him to face her. Maria's eyes roiled with anger.
"This was NOT your fault!! This wasn't your fault!!"
"IT WAS!!" cried Joxer. "If I hadn't come here, Meg would be all right!!"
Maria had enough. She got up, and yanked Joxer to his feet. Maria then slammed him against the wall. The room shook with the impact. The other women gasped in shock. Joxer's eyes bulged out of his head. Terror flooded his features. Maria's hazel eyes were ablaze with rage.
"Listen to me, you son-of-a-bacchae!!" she hissed. "I'm gonna say this again one more time. This was NOT YOUR FAULT!! NONE OF THIS WAS YOUR FAULT, DAMMIT!! Get that through your thick skull and stop punishing yourself!!"
Maria released Joxer, who sagged slightly. He stared at Maria in shock and grief, his bottom lip quivering. Maria's face changed from seething anger to extreme exhaustion. She let her head drop, her dark hair flowing over her front. She let out a heavy sigh.
"Great mother of Zeus..." she groaned.
Maria lifted her head, whipping her hair back. She gazed at Joxer with sadness and resignation. A few tense moments passed. She spoke again.
"All right Joxer. I've been keeping tabs on Xena like you asked. She's in the area, staying in Kratos. I think she knows you're somewhere around here."
Joxer sighed. He shook his head.
"I'm not surprised."
Maria turned to the doorway.
Francisca ran out from behind the other women. She was at Maria's side in an instant.
"Xena's staying in Kratos. Take Joxer to her. Tell her what happened here. Stamrus will be back with more men. I'm sure of it. Tell Xena to get here as soon as possible."
"I'm on it."
She turned to Joxer, and saw his bloody hand. Francisca gasped.
"Never mind that!!" snapped Joxer irritably. "Let's find Xena!! We don't have time to waste!!"
Francisca was taken aback by Joxer's harshness. But she quickly let it pass. Her face was set in determination.
"Okay. Let's go."
Francisca turned and ran towards the kitchen. Joxer grabbed Maria's arm.
"What?" she asked.
"After this is over, I wanna arrange a meeting between me and Meg. Set it up with Xena."
"No problem Joxer."
Joxer's eyes grew dark with anger and anxiety.
"Don't let anything happen to Meg. Anything."
Maria's eyes narrowed in agreement.
"I won't. Be careful Joxer."
Joxer turned and ran off after Francisca. Maria gazed at him, sighing heavily.
"May the gods watch over you..." she whispered silently.
Maria stood outside Meg's brothel, armed with her sword. She turned her head to the right for a moment, gazing briefly at the horizon. The sun had just submerged below it. Several of the women stood at the doorway, staring out into the deepening night blanketing the forest. Maria turned her attention back there as well. Her hazel eyes narrowed, waiting. Waiting for Stamrus and his men to come. She knew of Stamrus's ego, and he was not going to allow a bunch of women to embarrass him. Maria then glanced up at the upper floor of the brothel. Meg was looking outside, a crossbow in her left hand. Her gaze was cold, impassive. Maria turned her own gaze back into the night.
Then she heard it. The sounds of hooves. Thundering along the ground.
Maria tensed up, going into a battle stance. And within moments, a dozen horses appeared. Heavily armed soldiers rode them And at the head of this group was Stamrus. They came to a stop. Stamrus glared at Maria in contempt and malice. He spoke.
"I'm going to burn this brothel to the ground, and all of you whores with it."
He pointed his sword at Maria. His green eyes were ablaze.
"And I'm gonna have your head."
Maria laughed harshly.
"Not before I take yours." she snarled back.
Stamrus lifted his hand.
Five of his men lifted their bows. Their arrows were lit.
They aimed for their target-
And suddenly, Stamrus heard a shrill, screeching sound. It grew louder and harsher. He looked around erratically.
Suddenly a silver disk shot out of the darkness. It screamed towards the archers. With deadly precision, it tore through the throats of each archer. Blood exploded from their throats. They fell off their horses, onto the ground, dead. Stamrus's jaw dropped in horror and disbelief.
The disk flew around the front of Stamrus and back into the darkness from which it came. And then Stamrus heard another sound. A high-pitched battle cry.
Stamrus's blood ran cold. He knew that cry. And who it belonged to.
"Oh Hades..." he whispered.
A dark form on horseback burst from the darkness. Stamrus's eyes widened in terror.
It was Xena.
She flipped from her horse, flying into a tight somersault. Xena landed alongside Maria, and quickly drew her sword. Her blue eyes were filled with a cold rage, one that shook Stamrus to the very center of his soul. Xena stepped forward. She eyed Stamrus with malice.
"You owe my friend Meg an arm." she hissed icily. "And I plan to collect."
Stamrus fought down his rising fear. He wasn't about to let women push him around.
"Off yer horses!!" he shouted to his men.
They dismounted. The seven men stood on either side of Stamrus. His eyes widened in fury.
The men attacked. Xena and Maria rushed forward. The battle begun.
One man leapt at Xena, sword drawn back. Xena did a vicious whirling kick, sending her heel hard into the man's head. There was a loud crack as the side of his skull caved in. His left eyeball burst out of his head, blood and bone exploding from the socket. He flew through the air, smashing face-first into the ground, dead.
The second man swung his sword at Xena, who ducked with lightning speed. Letting out a piercing cry, Xena buried her sword into the man's chest. Blood and flesh exploded from his back as her sword tore through it. She viciously yanked the sword back out. The lifeless body fell to the ground. Xena spun around-
And a booted foot hit her across the face. Her head snapped to the left, blood shooting in a crimson stream from her mouth. She staggered back. Out of the corner of her right eye, Xena saw a sword coming down at her. She raised hers, and the two blades collided with a ferocious clang. Xena's sapphire eyes widened in fury. Letting out an angry cry, she thrust her right foot out, slamming it into the man's chest. There was a loud crack as several ribs snapped. He flew through the air, crashing heavily into the ground. Xena whirled to face him.
The man, incredibly, staggered to his feet. Xena raised an eyebrow. He drew a knife, and growled at her savagely. Xena flashed a brilliant, feral smile. She dropped her sword, and motioned him towards her with her hands.
"C'mon, ya son-of-a bacchae!!" she hissed eagerly. "Come and get me!!"
With a loud, angry cry, the man attacked. He lunged at her. Xena effortlessly sidestepped him. She rammed her left elbow into his face. There was a loud crack as his jaw was shattered. Xena grabbed the arm holding the knife and turned it back into its owner. The knife tore into the man's chest. His eyes dilated in incredible pain. He looked up at Xena-
And sent a vicious left into her face. The blow sent Xena flying through the air, and she crashed into the ground. The man staggered towards the fallen form. Xena shook her head, and turned towards him. Black fury overwhelmed her. With a piercing scream, she launched herself at the man, hitting him hard. They crashed into the earth. The man grabbed Xena's throat. She gritted her teeth, and drew her own knife. Xena buried the blade in the man's side. The man kept his gray eyes locked with her blue ones. He tightened his fingers around her throat. Xena withdrew her knife, and stabbed him again, twisting the blade inside his body. Xena growled heatedly, pushing the knife deep into him. She felt his blood flowing over her hand. Teeth bared, she glared at her combatant. He tried to keep up his front, but soon, agony washed across his face in huge waves. Still, he kept squeezing at Xena's throat. Xena's eyes narrowed.
"You....don't seem...to get..the point!!" she snarled.
Letting out a piercing scream, Xena withdrew the knife and stabbed him hard, twisting her knife inside him with all her might. The man's eyes dilated. He gagged, a red foam erupting from his mouth. His grip on Xena's throat lessened, and the hand fell to the ground. Xena glared at the dead man in contempt.
A man swung his sword at Maria. She viciously swung hers, and the two swords collided with a horrific clang. Maria snapped out a huge foot. It burrowed into his stomach. He went up in the air, and fell hard on his knees. Letting out a savage scream, Maria swung down her sword, slicing the man's head off. A fountain of blood erupted from the wound. The head bounced off into the darkness, and the body collapsed onto the earth.
Two more men ran towards her back. Maria thrust her sword into the ground, and effortlessly somersaulted over their heads. Landing behind them, Maria grabbed their heads, slamming them together with all her might. They exploded in a shower of brain, bone, and blood. Both bodies fell to the ground. She spun around. Two more men faced her. Maria smiled ravenously at them, cackling with demonic glee. They let out an outraged cry, lunging at her. She leapt into the air, swinging her massive foot at them. It smashed into their jaws, shattering them like glass. The force of the violent blow sent the men into a spin. Landing on her feet, Maria wrapped her massive arms around their heads and savagely yanked them in opposite directions. Two loud, sickening cracks. And two corpses dropped to the ground in a cloud of dust.
It was over.
Xena and Maria turned, acknowledging each other with a nod. Maria looked around. Stamrus was nowhere in sight.
"Stamrus!!" she shouted. "That son-of-a bacchae!!Where did he go?!?"
Xena quickly looked around. Suddenly, her sharp ears heard the sound of hoofs galloping upon the earth, receding hastily into the night. She looked into the direction of the sound. Her pale blue eyes narrowed.
Stamrus rode his horse as hard as he could. Sweat poured down his brow.
He had to get as far away as possible. Lucky for him, he had a fast horse.
But he was taking no chances. Especially not with Xena.
The wind whipped at his face. The forest flew by him in a greenish black-blur, the bright, harsh moonlight cutting through the trees. He looked back for a moment. The purple-orange sky was signaling the end of another day. One that Stamrus hoped he would live through.
Then he heard it. Like a cry from the innermost bowels of Tartarus.
Stamrus's eyes bulged in terror.
"Sweet Hera!!" he hissed.
He drove the horse harder and harder. His heart hammered with ever-increasing ferocity, until it felt as if it were going to explode from his chest. A terror he never knew snaked its way throughout his body. Sweat was pouring down his face in torrents. Stamrus snapped the reins with a frenzied hysteria. His throat went dry. He looked back again-
And what he saw made him stop breathing.
The dark rider, on a almond horse. The rider's jet-black hair whipped through the surrounding air, twisting through it, feeding on it. Her hard, alabaster features bristled with malicious energy. And finally, her eyes.
Brilliant blue balls of demonic fire. They clawed their way into Stamrus's soul. He knew from that look there was no hope for him. Stamrus turned around, digging his heels into the horse's sides. The horse responded, tearing through the forest floor at an unbelievable speed.
The wind was pushing past Stamrus at such a rate that it made him dizzy. But he had to focus. His life depended on it. He pressed on. Then his ears picked up the sound of galloping hooves growing closer and closer to him. His eyes widened in horror.
"Sweet Hera, no!!" his mind screamed.
Stamrus kicked and beat the reins into his horse with all his might. But the animal could not go any faster. He entered a clearing. A gentle, sloping hill was at his left. Stamrus heard a savage cry-
And then it hit him.
Something smashed into Stamrus. His horse disappeared from underneath him. He felt airborne. Stamrus smelled leather, sweat. Green grass flew past below him. A huge mane of dark hair entered his vision-
And then he crashed into the earth. His left shoulder snapped.
Stamrus felt searing, burning pain rip through his shoulder. He also felt the wind rush out of his lungs in a flash. Grass and dirt tore into his face and mouth. The weight that was on him vanished. Then Stamrus felt two hands hoist him to his feet. He saw a woman's face. Something that looked like a fist enveloped his vision-
And his face exploded in a flash of blood and excruciating pain. Stamrus felt airborne again, only to be stopped seconds later by something hard smashing into his back. He sagged, opening his right eye. He saw tree bark tearing into his right arm.
Stamrus had enough.
He drew a large knife, and shook his head clear, seeing a form rapidly advance towards him. With a loud, piercing cry, he charged at the form. Something grabbed his right arm-
And snapped it like a twig. Stamrus screamed in agony-
And something hit his face again. Stamrus crashed back into the tree. Something grabbed his left hand. Another something grabbed his throat. Stamrus's eyes dilated as iron fingers tore into the soft flesh of his neck-
Then Xena's face popped into his line of vision. Her face was twisted into a hideous snarl. Her blue eyes bored into his green ones. She lifted Stamrus's left hand into his line of vision.
"Time to collect." she purred with absolute venom.
Xena snapped back a finger on Stamrus's hand. There was a sharp, cracking sound. He screamed again in agony. Xena instantly increased the pressure on Stamrus's throat, silencing him. A loud gagging sound emanated from his throat. Xena's face was almost upon his.
"You broke my friend's arm." she growled. "And you tried to kill Joxer."
Xena broke another finger. Stamrus screamed. And Xena silenced him again, gripping his throat in an iron vise.
"I care about Meg and Joxer very much." Xena said in a cold, dark voice. "They're like family to me. And anyone who messes with my family messes with me."
Xena broke a third finger. Stamrus cried out in absolute agony. Xena silenced him again, squeezing his throat. Xena's eyes narrowed into feral slits.
"I want you to spread the word." she growled like a ravenous wolf. "Tell everyone this: if someone tries to collect that bounty on Joxer's head, their heads are mine."
And Xena broke a fourth finger. Stamrus screamed into the night. The blood-curdling cries echoed throughout the surrounding valley. Xena silenced him again.
"Oh, and Stamrus? You enjoy hurting women so much?? Here's a parting thought from me-"
Xena rammed a knee with all her might into Stamrus's groin. The resulting explosion of pain shot through his body and into Stamrus's head. Xena released Stamrus, and he dropped into the ground, eyes rolling into the back of his head. He rolled around in the dirt, gasping savagely, folded in a fetal position. Xena glared at Stamrus for a moment, then walked over to her horse. She rubbed the horse's face affectionately.
"C'mon Argo." said Xena. "Let's go check up on Meg."
She climbed onto the horse, and rode up the hill, into the depths of the forest.
Xena and Maria reached the top of the stairs. Francisca's head popped out of Meg's room.
"Can we come in?" asked Maria.
Maria and Xena entered Meg's bedroom. They saw Meg, seated at the window. She looked out into the night. Meg rocked slowly in her chair, her lower lip quivering. A solitary tear ran down her right cheek. She absently rubbed her injured arm. An overwhelming sense of sadness and pity filled Xena. She walked over to Meg, and knelt down beside her. She tenderly placed a hand on Meg's shoulder.
"Meg? It's me. Xena."
Meg didn't respond, at first. She kept staring out into the night. Then her eyes moved to the right. Meg glanced at her identical twin.
"Is he alright?" she said in a low, fearful voice. "Is Joxer alright?!"
Xena delicately wiped strands of hair from Meg's face.
"He's safe Meg. He's all right."
Agony shot through Meg's face for a few brief moments. She fought to keep her pain down, and looked outside again.
"It's so unfair, ya know?"
Xena's brows knitted slightly.
Meg turned her head to face Xena. Grief flowed over her features.
"It's so unfair. Why do things like this happen?"
Xena moved in closer. She gently wiped Meg's tears away with her hand.
"I don't know, Meg."
Meg lowered her head for a moment, her eyes wandering over the floor. She looked up again.
"Promise me you won't let anything happen to Joxer."
Xena grasped her left hand in hers.
"I promise. No one is going to hurt him."
Meg's face became overwhelmed with pain. She began to cry. Xena instantly embraced Meg, kissing her on top of her head and gently stroking it.
"Ssssssshhhh..." Xena said in a soothing voice. "Everything's going to be all right Meg. Sssssssshhhh..."
Maria walked over to the pair, placing a hand on Meg's shoulder. Xena looked up at Maria. Maria saw what appeared to be tears in Xena's eyes. But she did not shed one. Still, the pain in Xena's face was obvious.
Xena pulled back, placing her hands on either side of Meg's face. She lifted it up to hers.
"Do you want to see Joxer, Meg?"
Meg's eyes widened. Xena could see a flash of hope erupt within them.
Xena smiled warmly.
"You sure can. First thing tomorrow if you like."
Meg stifled a sob. She nodded vigorously. Xena nodded also, grinning.
Xena got to her feet. Maria looked at Xena with tremendous respect and gratitude. She placed a hand on Xena's shoulder.
"Xena, I can't thank you enough for this."
Xena grasped Maria's hand, squeezing it slightly.
"Think nothing of it."
"What now?" asked Maria.
"I'm heading back to Kratos." said Xena. "Joxer and I will meet you at the hill overlooking Kratos Square at sunrise."
"Good enough, Xena."
Xena knelt down in front of Meg. She leaned in, and tenderly kissed Meg on the cheek. Xena lifted Meg's chin. Blue eyes met each other.
"Be brave, Meg." said Xena.
Meg nodded slightly.
A crisp wind blew around Joxer. He shivered slightly. Joxer turned to his right, seeing the first few rays of the sun reaching into the heavens. He licked his lips, and looked at the ground, pawing the earth with his right foot.
Xena walked up to him, placing a hand on his shoulder.
"You okay, Joxer?"
Joxer sighed. He glanced at Xena, and then at the ground again.
"I-I don't know."
He turned to face her.
"This week...this week with Meg was...was the most enjoyable time I've had in...i-in I don't know how long. I-I just wanted to get away from people, after I killed Kryton. But when Meg found me, she made me feel whole again. Like I meant something. She held me up during my rough moments. I-I didn't want to leave that warmth..."
Joxer's face darkened.
"But I guess the Fates had other ideas, huh?" he said in a small voice.
Xena gazed at her friend in pity.
She sighed. And spoke again.
"Joxer, I'm sure you'll find a way to deal with this. Don't give up hope."
He looked at the rising sun. Joxer blew out a deep breath.
"That's the only thing that keeps me going Xena. Hope."
He turned to her.
"And friends like you."
Joxer suddenly heard the sound of approaching horses. He turned to his right. And out of the forest rode Meg and Maria, wearing hooded capes. Joxer ran out towards them. He stopped before Meg's horse, and helped her off of it. Meg faced Joxer. Tears filled her eyes.
She hugged him tight. Joxer returned the hug, being careful not to hurt Meg's right arm. He trembled with emotion. Tears ran down his face.
They held each other for a few moments. Joxer and Meg turned to Maria and Xena. Joxer spoke again.
"Um, Meg and I are going to take a walk by those trees there."
He pointed towards a large group of pines. Xena and Maria nodded.
"Take as much time as you need." said Maria.
The pair walked off. Soon, they were in the cover of the massive pines. Joxer turned to face Meg.
Meg grabbed his head and kissed him passionately. She pushed him up against a tree, pressing into him. Their tongues flailed wildly in each other's mouths. Meg moaned hungrily into Joxer's mouth. The searing kiss went on for what seemed like an eternity. Finally, Meg broke the kiss, leaning her forehead on Joxer's. Both gasped heavily.
"Y-Y-You...are not..making this easy for me, are ya Meg?" stammered Joxer.
Meg nuzzled his right cheek. Her blue eyes gazed deeply into his brown ones.
"Nope." she whispered softly.
Meg ran her left hand down alongside Joxer's arm. Suddenly she felt the bandage wrapped around his hand. Meg pulled back, eyes wide in shock.
Joxer stared at Meg.
Meg instantly lifted his right hand, inspecting it closely. Her brows knitted and her jaw dropped. Joxer sighed.
"Meg, it's nothing."
Meg glared at Joxer.
"How can you tell me all this dried blood is nothing?!"
"Meg, look-I was ticked off, and I rammed my fist into a mirror."
"Meg, listen-Xena got out all the shards and splinters."
Meg's eyes narrowed. She poked Joxer hard in the chest. Joxer gasped in pain.
"Hey!!" he exclaimed.
Meg poked him again. Her blue eyes were ablaze.
"What in Tartarus are you doing punching out mirrors?! Of all the stupid things-"
"Okay, okay, okay!! Alright already!! It was dumb!! I admit it!!"
Meg growled. She shook her head.
"Ya know...you...drive...me... crazy!!"
She grabbed Joxer's head and kissed him again. Meg moaned hungrily into Joxer's mouth. He whimpered in response. After a long moment, Meg broke the kiss again. She laid her forehead on his.
"Don't go." Meg said in a small voice.
Joxer grimaced. He shook his head slightly
"It's not safe now. Maybe when things cool down-"
"And when will that be?!"
Meg pulled back, searching his face with desperation. Joxer frowned deeply. He sighed.
Meg lowered her head. Tears came to her eyes. Joxer immediately lifted Meg's chin. His heart broke at seeing Meg's tears.
"Oh gods...Meg, don't cry. I hate to see you cry. Please-please don't..."
"And why shouldn't I?! I don't know when I'll see you again!!"
Joxer sighed. He looked into the heavens, and then at Meg. His face became set with determination.
"A month and a half, Meg. I'll be back by then. I swear."
Meg's eyes widened. Her jaw dropped.
"A month and a half?!"
"Meg, under the circumstances, it's the best I can do!! Please don't argue with me on this!!"
Meg lowered her head. She bit her lip, and was silent for a long moment. Then she looked up at Joxer.
"Okay. A month and a half."
Joxer sighed slightly. He smiled.
Meg's eyes narrowed. She poked Joxer in the chest. Joxer gasped in pain and shock. Meg spoke again.
She pulled away. Joxer stared at Meg, his face full of pain and shock. He rubbed his injured chest vigorously.
"Ouch!!" he exclaimed. "What in Tartarus have you been doing?! Taking lessons from Xena?!"
Meg quickly pressed herself against Joxer. She nuzzled his nose.
"I'm sorry." she said softly.
Meg claimed Joxer's lips. They kissed each other slowly, lovingly. Finally, Meg pulled away again. Joxer reached into his pocket.
"I have something for you, Meg."
He lifted his hand in front of Meg's face. Opening it, there was a tiny golden locket. Meg gasped.
He opened the locket with his thumb. Engraved inside was a beautiful, tiny rose. Meg gaped in shock.
"I-It's beautiful!!" she exclaimed.
"Let me put it on you. Turn around."
Meg turned, back facing Joxer. She lifted her hair. Even though his right hand was bandaged pretty heavily, Joxer was still able to fasten the locket around her neck. Meg turned around to face him. Joxer smiled warmly.
"Perfect!" he exclaimed happily.
Meg broke into a huge grin. She hugged Joxer tight, and then kissed him on the cheek.
"Thank you, Joxer." she said softly.
A moment of silence. He sighed.
"I've gotta go."
Meg's expression darkened. She bit her lip and looked down at the ground. Joxer placed an arm around her.
"I said I'll be back. I promised."
Meg looked back up at him.
"A month and a half, eh?"
"A month and a half. Joxer the Mighty keeps his promises."
Meg's eyes narrowed.
Joxer and Meg walked out into the clearing. Maria and Xena stood, waiting patiently. Joxer spoke.
"I'm ready to go, Xena."
"I'll get your horse." she replied.
Xena walked off towards a small group of trees. Maria walked up to Joxer and Meg. Joxer placed a hand on Maria's arm.
"Keep Meg safe, Maria. I'm counting on you."
Maria instantly took Joxer into her arms, giving him a strong hug. She pulled back, looking into his eyes with warmth and affection.
"You know I will."
Joxer looked past her. Xena appeared with two horses. He turned to Meg. Joxer sighed, and smiled sadly.
"Take care of yourself Meg."
Meg nodded slightly. A set of tears came to her eyes.
"You too, Joxer."
They leaned into each other, exchanging a long, gentle kiss. Joxer broke the kiss, stepping away from Meg. She wiped the tears from her eyes. He turned around, and walked over to Xena. They mounted their horses. Xena and Joxer waved farewell to their friends.
"See ya in a month, Meg!!" Joxer exclaimed.
"A month!!" Meg shouted back. "It's a date!!"
Xena and Joxer then rode off at a fast gallop. In moments, they disappeared into the forest. Maria walked over to Meg, placing an arm around her. She saw Meg fumble with the locket. Maria smiled.
"He gave that to you?"
Meg looked out into the forest. She smiled warmly.
"A month, Joxer...I'll be waiting for ya."
Continue on to the sequel A Taste of Deja Vu