The characters belong to Studios USA and Renaissance Pictures and were used without permission. No copyright infringement was intended and no money was made.
There are scenes of a sexually explicit nature between two consenting male and female adults in this fan fiction, so ya may not want your kids reading it. If you are at all against that sort of thing, you may not want to read on. You have been warned!
Characters: (the important ones anyway).
Xena the Warrior Princess
Gabrielle the Strawberry Blonde Bard
Joxer the Misunderstood Comic Relief
Ares, the God of War
Athena, the Goddess of Wisdom
Aphrodite, the Goddess of Love
Lethaia, the Mary-Sue.
Jett, the Assassin
Jace, the Lunatic Warrior (ess?).
Hera, the Largely Misunderstood Goddess of Marriage and all Female Life.
And Guest starring Anthony Quinn as Zeus, God of the Skies, father of the Gods and all Men.
 Mary-Sue - introduced character said to be based on the author. This was not my intention with Lethaia, but she turns out to be quite an interesting character if you look at her from a psychological perspective.
Chronology notes: For the purpose of this story, Joxer did not recover his scabbard in 'The Quill Is Mightier'. SE3. This story happens between 'The Bitter Suite' and 'Sacrifice 1&2' somewhere. But really it happens in a storyline all it's own, so that's why I called it a vignette.
The story is a sequel to What is a Hero?
Now that you have been adequately encouraged to read on...
Associated Music: Well, this is not consequential, but the songs I listened to whilst writing this piece are Jeff Buckley's 'Sketches of My Sweetheart the Drunk', disk 2, and 'I'll Stand By You', by those darlings the Pretenders. The theme track is 'I Know We Could Be So Happy Baby (If We Wanted To Be)', by Jeff Buckley. Knowing about these songs can let you know what mood I had associated with the following texts. But it's up to you how you interpret it.
Last annoying notice: Like my last fan fiction, this baby is subtext light. Very subtext light. The other one I tipped my toe in the subtext waters, but by this story I took it out real quick as it was really cold and smelt funny, kinda like fish. (Bad joke). Anyways, there is practically no subtext in this one. Now, enough of my BS let's get on with it, eh?
Send feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org
You can find more work by Nacey at The Gabrielle and Joxer Romantics' Society, at the GJerotica Archive, and at her sites Joxer the Mighty and Blunder On! The Daring Adventures of Joxer the Mighty!
Brother & Brother & Brother: Part One
By Napalm Nacey
Music exalts each joy, allays each grief,
Expels diseases, softens every pain;
And hence the wise of ancient days adored
One power of physic, melody, and song.
(not of Troy - of Perth).
Your courage and bravery during the making of Solomon inspires me always.
Joxer, once described as Mighty and Magnificent, primarily by himself, was feeling very little like either of his alter egos. It was bound to happen, he knew he couldn't keep on travelling with Xena and Gabrielle constantly, Xena needed her space. Oh, she had taught him many things recently, very important things not necessarily self defence. But she had to recharge, and he had to be about his business as a 'hero'.
He had nearly gotten himself killed in the last adventure he had, and the only reason he had done any good was because he had temporary Godhood.
Thanks to Ares.
At least one good thing came of his last adventures; he had grown closer to Gabrielle beyond his wildest dreams.
Oh! how he savoured the memory of her lithe body so little against him, cream-like skin and honey red hair. He had never imagined she could love him, but in some amazing fluke of fate she did. She honest to Aphrodite did! The past week had been utter bliss. Waking up next to her, eating breakfast with her, talking with her as Xena went to catch breakfast. Bathing with her... A long smirk crossed his lips. A single day in the Elysian Fields would not have equalled the time he had. And all too soon, he had to leave her again...
"It's okay, Gabby, we'll see each other again soon enough..."
She nodded with a sad smile.
"I - I know," she sighed, "It's just that I'm gonna - " She blushed, "Miss you."
"Yeah, I know," he said softly, "But Xena needs her time with ya and - besides, I have some business as a 'hero' you know -" He nodded with assurance, "I'm Joxer the Mighty, and I'm needed else- Aahow!"
Gabrielle pinched his chest as her hand dove into his tunic and she looked at him evenly.
"Okay, get the idea pookie," he rubbed his skin, "Anyways, I'll see you soon okay?"
Nodding, she lent to him, planting a soft kiss on his lips, and looking into his affectionate obsidian eyes she picked the conical helmet up off the log next to her in the clearing and pulled it down onto his head.
"Seeya," she smiled.
He squeezed her arm slightly with a pale strong hand, then with a smooth smile he turned and was on his way.
He approached the city of Merimas, his lute and bag strung over his shoulder laxly. His legs hurt terribly, he was used to walking but this was such a long way. But he would make it, he promised himself he would. He had to, he had serious 'hero' business.
The walls of the city were high and true, thick sandstone dark and foreboding. He walked through the gates solemnly, the people of the city eyeing him fiercely as he walked through. One guard took him by the throat and growled.
"Aaaargh who let you out scum?"
He only looked at the man calmly.
The man examined his features a moment then nodded slowly, letting him down.
"Im sorry." He blushed a moment then gestured, "On your way idiot."
Joxer let the insult roll off his back. As he approached the large complex that was his destination, he placed the dinar on the desk of the officer's outpost.
The officer at the outpost examined the dinar a moment, narrowing his eyes at Joxer.
"He doesn't know you're coming..."
Joxer nodded with a soft smile.
"GREEGOR!" the officer growled, "Show this dolt to the cell!"
The iron lined door swung open with a creak, and the tiny cell had another door on the other side. It was a similar door, lined with locks. The guard unlocked a tiny sliding door on the other door, darkness within. Joxer peered inside, and turned to the man.
"Doesn't he get any daylight?"
The guard chuckled.
"Murderers don't get daylight! Arghaghaghaghagh!" the ugly brute growled a long laugh.
Joxer sat at the stump of wood next to the door, and inside a clanking occurred.
Joxer turned to the guard, standing in the doorway stupidly. He glared at him.
"Can I at least have a little privacy here?"
The guard cackled.
He plodded off stupidly, leaving the would-be warrior alone in the cell.
"You came to see me?" an identical voice to Joxer's croaked.
"Course I did!" he smiled, pulling out a wrapped bundle. "Here, I got this for ya. Happy Birthday Jett."
He squeezed the gift through the gap of the sliding door, peering into the room further. His brother took the gift, his hair dishevelled and overgrown, a jet-black beard covering the lower half of his otherwise devilishly handsome face.
He smelled terrible, his flashy black leather jump-suit now gone, ripped and mouldy rags now covering him. From what Joxer could see. It was dark inside, very very dark, and it must have been permanently black in there when the door was closed. Not even the vents provided him light.
"Zeus Jett, why didn't you tell me the conditions were so bad?"
Jett's eyes grew guilty.
"They weren't - it wasn't till I tried to break out that they put me in here - maximum security."
Joxer pursed his lips, forcing back tears. It was inhuman the way he was being held! He heard a happy growl from inside the cell. He smiled at his ragged brother sadly.
"You - you like the present?" he asked.
"Sure I do!" he said in a low tone, "Where did you find it?"
"I visited Mom after you were put away... You know I got a little homesick. The visit soon fixed that."
His brother gave a hearty laugh.
"She gave it to me cause she was throwing it away - she was throwing a lot of stuff away. Mom's in a bad way," he said sadly, tapping the side of his head.
Jett nodded slowly, eyeing the rag, handling it as if it were gold. On it was embroidered three small figures, two in identical outfits, dark and sleek, one in a pink frilly dress. The embroidering wasn't particularly skilful, in fact it sucked by professional standards, but the knowledge their mother slaved over it as one of her rare attempts at being a better mother, made it worth more that all of Arachne and Athena's efforts put together.
"So," Jett said suddenly, in a happier tone, "How's the blonde?"
"Gabrielle," Joxer smiled softly.
Jett grinned a dirty toothed grin. It hurt Joxer to see Jett so scruffy. He knew how immaculate his brother liked to be. A clean and crisp assassin was a good assassin. They didn't smell and were nice to look at.
"She's great - she and I - uh. Well, you know," he felt himself blush.
"I knew it!" Jett cackled, hitting the door lightly, "I knew she had it for ya!"
Joxer looked at him doubtfully. "How?"
Jett gazed at his brother a moment, a soft smile on his face.
"She said to me, assuming I was you I think - you are worth a thousand Jett's."
"She said that?!?"
Jett nodded, "Yeah, but it wasn't just that. I could see it ya know? Besides - you're my brother! And any brother of Jett the Assassin can get any woman he wishes!"
Joxer smiled, this pride from his brother new-found and alien. This was the nicest his brother had ever been to him. Regarding his sibling he thought it was Jett sweetening him up for an escape attempt but - something in his double's eyes told him otherwise.
"So, you getting married?"
Joxer nearly jumped out of his skin.
"Ah, naah, not yet, no!" he cringed, "Somehow I don't think Gabrielle wants to get married. Besides, I think she needs a little time to think about things - she's had a big year."
Jett nodded, almost sadly.
"Oh, I was looking forward to seeing some nieces or nephews along the way - you know. Though -" he stopped, a little ashamed, "I don't know if you'd wanna bring 'em to see their bad Uncle Jett in jail!"
Joxer and Jett both jumped back as the large burly guard jumped in the doorway, trying to scare them.
"Time's up boys!"
Jett visibly sank.
"Come on ya little pissant!" the guard said, grabbing Joxer by the collar, "Go loiter someplace else!"
"Hey!" Jett shouted, "Leave my brother alone!!"
"Bye Jett!" gurgled Joxer as he was yanked away, "I'll visit you soon!"
The doorway slammed shut, darkness engulfing the imprisoned brother once more.
Clutching the embroidery in his hands, he clanked to the canvas bed, chains dragging along the cobblestone floor, scattered with sloppy dirty hay stinking of dead rats, human faeces and urine, the cry of the damned echoing in the vents. Collapsing onto the bed he fought back tears. He was a trained killer, the best assassin alive, he would not allow tears to disgrace him! He saw the realization, the disgust in his brother's eyes. Oh, not at him, but the squalid state he was in. But knowing Joxer, he would not let him stay in this dark hell. Jett felt anxiety ring deep within him.
By the Gods! he thought, I hope that idiot does what's best for him and forgets about me here!!
Joxer watched the ale in the wooden mug, it didn't do anything much it just sat there, but it was better than watching the whores and the drunken farmers and soldiers around him merry make. The wood of the table was warm, the fires in the inn burnt fiercely and he was warm, aside the slight chill of the night. Jett's haunted eyes bothered him, he couldn't remove them from his minds eye. Somehow, rage built up inside of him. Oh, Jett was a killer, an assassin, sure, but that was his upbringing. It was the way of things as the son of a warlord! Now, they keep him in that cesspool of a cell, letting his limbs and extremities slowly rot away... NO! He would not let his brother go through that, he COULD not, he was family...
"Joxer the tidy, always stays insidey..." a woman hummed to her son.
The small, jet black haired boy, eyes dark and full of innocence, gazed up at her. Another boy ran in, identical, a wooden sword at a rope belt, blood trickling down his face.
"Mother!! I beat the boy from the farm near the markets!! His father came and was going to kill me!"
The mother, a gentile figure of a woman, lines of little concern on her beautiful face, merely cocked an eyebrow.
"What did you do then Jett?"
Jett grinned, manic rage in his young large eyes.
"I killed him!"
The mother gazed at him only a moment, setting her attentions back to the long haired child in her lap.
"Are you gonna stare at that ale all day or are you gonna buy me one handsome?"
Joxer's eyes flicked up, in hope of seeing Gabrielle smiling back at him, but his heart sank quickly. A woman, indeed oddly dressed, propped a leg on a pew across from Joxer at the table in which he sat, rested a bent elbow on her knee, gazing at him with dark brown eyes. Long black hair sat up in a Grecian style hair roll, ringlets falling about her face and a dark green hair bind decorating her dark locks. She wore a light green shirt, long cuffs covering her palms, darker green knickerbockers meeting a pair of brown leather knee-high boots. Over her shoulder was a lute and a backpack, as well as arrows, and a marvellous bow. She was truly beautiful, her features brown and somewhat weathered, but her lips curled in a gentle smile. He uttered a nervous.
She smiled, reaching out a hand.
"I'm Lethaia, travelling minstrel and teller of stories. And you are?"
Shaking her slender hand, he smiled awkwardly.
"J-Joxer the Migh- Joxer."
Lethaia lifted an eyebrow.
"Joxer the Migh, huh?"
He blushed. She sat down gracefully at the table, yanking a wench by the sleeve.
"A jug of ale and a mug thanks love!"
Joxer watched her, her movements delicate and deliberate, yet somehow strong. Almost like Xena, yet more refined. As if she were taught to move such a way since birth. The dark woman turned her attentions back to Joxer, a smile still on her face.
"So, you play the lute friend?"
Looking at the seat next to him he saw his lute, a remnant of his last adventure, and nodded. Lethaia gazed at it eagerly, the musicians glint painted through her brown eyes.
"May I?" she asked.
Nodding, Joxer handed the instrument over to her.
Holding the instrument in her long fingers, she brought it to her, embracing it tenderly in the playing position, and taking a chord she plucked gently, its light yet full notes ringing out, reaching far. Her eyes widened, examining the instrument with awe.
"This is by far the most superior lute I have ever had the grace to witness!"
Joxer smiled, taking back the lute happily.
"Yeah, I know."
"Where did you get it? Who is the craftsman?"
Looking back up at her he shrugged.
"Apollo I assume, it was a gift from Ares, to a f-" he stopped, blushing, "A very good friend of mine."
Lethaia frowned slightly, curious.
"The God of War does not give out such gifts without reason. Your friend must have been an excellent warlord!"
Joxer shook his head, gazing at the lute.
"No, no she-" he cleared his throat, "She is the kindest, sweetest, bravest woman I know."
Lethaia smiled as a wench set down her mug and jug of ale. Pouring herself some of the hearty brew, she watched Joxer a moment, softly fondling the neck of the lute, a glint of faint faint tears trimming his large obsidian eyes.
"How is it that such a good woman was given a gift from Ares?"
Joxer pulled his hand from the lute suddenly, feeling a little exposed and not quite knowing why. He lifted his eyes to her, taking his mug in his hands.
"He did her wrong, and Xena and Artemis forced him to right her."
"Aah," she grinned, "Your friend knows Xena?"
"She is her best friend."
Suddenly from one of the tables there was a crash, a soldier blundering from his table and storming towards Lethaia. She stood as the man approached her, deftly pulling bow and arrow from her shoulder, setting arrow and taking aim. In a heartbeat the shaft embedded itself in the soldier's neck with a sickening splatch. Joxer felt his guts churn terribly as the soldier clutched his throat, pain searing in his eyes. The dying man looked at Lethaia, anger filling him, and he pointed at her with bloodied hand, words gurgling from his throat.
"Murderer..." he managed to croak before Lethaia, with a stiff growl, kicked him to the floor. Joxer, jumping to his feet, grabber her by the shoulders.
Before he could say anything, two more soldiers were at their feet, advancing an attack on her. Just as relaxedly she pushed Joxer aside, and drawing arrows - shooting fiercely, felled both the drunken louts. They both keeled to the ground, similar bleeding messes to their friend. Glancing around the inn she made a head count of soldiers. Nope, the ones she wanted were dead on the floor.
"Lethaia, what are you doing?!?" Joxer exclaimed.
Lethaia's lips were taught, her dark eyes flashing, the intelligent minstrel not there, only fierce angry animal. After a moment she blinked, looking up to Joxer with soft features.
"Killing," she said.
Lethaia looked down once more, a smile curling her lips once more.
"I was hired to."
Joxer's churning stomach now was ready to expel it's contents, which were all of two pomegranates, a mug of chicken broth and an old boiled lolly from Gabrielle. He gulped, trying to keep it all down.
"Y-you're an assassin?"
Lethaia nodded, "More of a hire by the day killer. Unlike some assassins, I'm good and I'm accessible to the general public. See those men on the floor?"
"They raped four daughters of a farmer in Methesdae. He wanted revenge, but not being a fighter, had no way of carrying it out himself. That's where my services come into the picture. Now those men will not wrong anymore!"
He could not believe her relaxed tone. Gazing down at the dead men on the ground, he estimated their ages to be barely over 20 years. So young, so much to learn!
"You could try to make them good again..."
"What's the point? They won't listen! They'd soon as laugh in your face! Besides, it's not my place. Pay the money, I kill the man. Or woman. No questions asked." she shrugged, "You gotta understand Joxer, it's just good business!"
Slowly he nodded, mostly letting it glaze over him. He had to find someone, the only person he knew that would help him help Jett. Looking up at Lethaia, he blinked.
"Say, now you killed those guys, what are ya doing?"
Lethaia raised a bemused eyebrow.
"Apart from finding a place to sleep for the night not a lot. The call for a hired killer is slow in the winter period - people like to stay home so not a lot is happening."
Joxer put a hand on her shoulder.
"How would you like to help me free the greatest assassin there ever was?"
She looked at him doubtedly.
"Hey Jox, I'm free-"
He shot her a dead-pan look and she smiled through an assuring nod.
"Okay okay, greatest assassin huh - why would you wanna free the greatest assassin?"
"Cause, he is not a bad person, just really confused, and they are treating him like an animal! Worse than an animal, they wouldn't even treat their pigs like the way they are treating him!"
Lethaia narrowed her eyes again, pushing off Joxer's hand with the back of her wrist.
"Tell me, who is this great assassin?"
Joxer almost seemed to swell with pride.
Lethaia glared at him.
"Jett - the Jett?" she almost gasped.
Joxer nodded, "You know him?"
She shook her head, "Never met the guy, but I've heard of him - hell every self-respecting assassin has!"
Clapping his shoulder she turned her dark eyes to him.
"The great Jett needs our help huh?" She blinked hard a moment, cocking a lip at Joxer. "So what do you care about this guy? You seem a rather harmless sort - what are your ties with this Jett fellow?"
Joxer's eyes grew soft with affection, a little smile playing on his lips.
"The really strong kind," he muttered, "He's my brother."
"Oh," Lethaia let a smile creep to her lips, "He as good looking as you?"
Joxer blushed suddenly, waving a hand at her with a goofy grin.
"Aaw stop it!" he gurgled a chuckle, then nodded, "Yeah he is."
Lethaia let herself grin, and with a bony brown thumb and knuckle squeezed the pale swell of Joxer's grinning cheek.
"Oh you're so cute!" she chuckled. "Well, tell me your story while we eat then Joxer the Migh," Swinging her leg over the pew she sat at their table, seizing her drink once more, "Ooh and you can tell me about your girlfriend while you're at it!"
Joxer blushed again. It was amazing how he seemed to hit it off so easily with such a dangerous woman. Walking over and taking his seat across from her, he smiled.
"Okay as long as you tell me yours."
She grinned suddenly.
"It's a deal!"
Gabrielle gazed at the woman across from her at the fire. Xena sat in silence, picking at the meat on her stick half heartedly, seemingly forcing it down with much disgust. She had been like this since Ares left, not saying anything much, being moody, sharing little with the bard. Not that Xena was the greatest conversationalist of all time, but she would usually chat with Gabrielle over the fire, or ask her to tell a story, or tell a joke or two. Xena had a wicked sense of humour, and Gabrielle loved to see it. Her friend had one of the loveliest smiles she had ever seen, and an infectious laugh. It was strange that such a stern warrior woman possessed them. Gabrielle had not seen any of these in the past two weeks. True, Gabrielle had spent a lot of her time with Joxer, but she knew this would not have bothered Xena at all. Joxer was her friend just as much as he was Gabrielle's. Gabby sighed.
"Are you sure you're all right?"
Xena looked up at her darkly.
"I told you I'm fine Gabrielle."
The bard pursed her lips knowingly.
"Why do I not believe you?"
Xena turned her eyes to the tree canopy and rolled her tongue about in her mouth a moment.
"Maybe cause you're a pain in the behind?" she joked finally.
Gabrielle smiled thinly, "Very funny, Xena..."
Xena rose an eyebrow with a self-confident smile and shoved a piece of meat into her mouth.
Narrowing her eyes the bard pointed her kebab at Xena.
"It's Ares isn't it?"
The warrior princess glared at Gabrielle.
"Don't be ridiculous!"
"Come on, Xena, you've been pouting ever since he left."
Xena only shook her head, ripping some more meat from her meal.
Gabrielle shrugged, turning her head to the few stars that poked through the tree canopy, a sigh rising from her chest.
"Ha, I can tell you, no one was more surprised than I was when he jumped outta the forest and saved you like that!" Shaking her head in wonder Gabby looked to the pensive Xena, then pursed her lips, "Except maybe you..."
"You could say that..." Xena said distantly, gazing into the fire.
"I mean, the guy is a coward, but he must really care for you to have nearly lost his life for you."
Xena rolled her eyes.
"He was in no danger of losing his life, he's a good combatant. He had the skills, just not the balls."
Gabrielle rose an eyebrow.
"True, but you know, he was pretty heroic! He could have been killed Xena, the threat was there, the possibility, no matter how slim!" She nodded, in wonderment yet again, "For someone who has always been immortal, that's pretty scary! And he was ready to sacrifice his Godhood to save Joxer-"
"He knew he'd get it back," muttered Xena doggedly.
"That might be, but he actually tried to save Joxer! The Ares I thought I knew would have let him bleed to death!"
Xena rose a brow.
"Don't be so sure of that Gabrielle, Ares was never one for a needless death." She stopped and thought, "Then again...."
Xena wondered if Gabrielle knew what she was putting her through, gabbering away about the object of her depression.
Gabrielle smiled airily, "All I can say is as much of a pain Ares has been, we owe him a lot after this little adventure!"
Xena decided to reply with silence. Regarding her companion for a moment, Gabrielle sighed, getting to her feet.
"I'm just gonna go get us some water...okay?"
She didn't feel it was wise to press her friend to talk anymore, so, grabbing the water gourd Gabby strolled off to find some water, leaving Xena alone with her thoughts.
Stupid thoughts! she growled to herself.
Xena threw the meat into the coals with an angry wince. What was she doing, feeling this way? Ares was not to be trusted, she knew that! He was a coward, her dark but slightly irritating nemesis - dark... She shook her head, clearing her mind of him. She could not let herself be weak in this way! She was the only mortal to truly understand Ares' weaknesses, and she herself was one of them, but she would not allow him to be one of hers. Not someone as dangerous as he! She gazed into the fire, the hot coals glowing hungrily. But oh! The feeling of his strong muscular back against hers, the warmth of his skin, the softness of his wayward mortal locks at his face...
With a fierce growl Xena jumped to her feet, bounding from the camp.
Returning, Gabrielle watched Xena run from the site.
"Xena, where are you going?"
"I'm going for a run!" she replied.
With a shrug Gabrielle settled into her pelt, pulling out her scrolls. With a sigh she hummed to herself, pulling out her quill and ink. Oh! how she missed Joxer. Not that he was the most refined guy in the world but he was great company, and he cared for her. With a little smile she remembered a night or two ago, resting with him by the fire as Xena sharpened her sword wistfully. He told Gabrielle softly of stories from his childhood, stroking her long reddish locks lovingly by the stirring fire, the strange little quirky tales he received from a certain old woman quite amusing. And she held onto him tightly, finally having something she had been so long without, something she never thought she could have again. Gabrielle smiled a brief little smile, and dipping her quill in her ink pot she began on the scroll.
Xena's heart pounded as she ran through the forest brush, the endorphins rushing through her muscles wonderfully calming. It's all she could do to keep her mind clear, to stop herself from thinking things she knew she didn't want to be thinking. What was it? She had never had this problem before, he had always seemed so repugnant to her before. When was it he caught her so? In her mind she recalled it as if it were now only shadowed, dim. Through the fierce battle she was buried with bodies, she lost sight of his mortal form. Never in her life had she been so afraid! Battle was battle, and any time in the past she would throw off the bodies, slice and hack the limbs and torsos away friend or no. But this time, her stormy blue eyes searched frantically from underneath the body that lay on top of her, the body she feared was his.
Just as rapidly as she was under there she was lifted with strong brown arms, modest musculature supporting her dazed form. Her eyes met his, the heat of battle terrifying them both, but his wide eyed gaze, his concern, and his confidence in her bolstered her soul, and as he shoved her sword into his hand, he swung around, planting his back against hers in the din.
Closing her eyes and shaking her head suddenly, she tried to clear her head of the image of him... With a swift rush of air she opened her eyes...
"No," she growled, "I will not give into this!"
Godhood is lonely isn't it Ares?
"Bad boys in leather!" she growled again, pumping her arms as she ran, huffing insanely, "Always comes back to bad boys in leather!"
Ahead fallen logs fell in her path. Leaping them one by one, she grew confident with a grin.
"Ha! Think you're gonna get the better of Xena huh Mr. God of OOMPH!"
The warrior princess felt herself careening headlong into the sharp stick and rock littered ground, her arms crashing into the dirt, her ankles hooked around the splayed log she so foolishly underestimated. Panting hard she rolled onto her back, regarding the log with furious eyes, but in too much shock to actually swear at it or do anything constructive.
She sat there in a daze for a long moment, sprawled out on the track like a queen or empress at her throne. Embarrassment seeped into her bones. What sort of warrioress was she? Letting her attention falter like that!
"I can't believe I fell over," she mumbled to herself tiredly, "Who am I, Joxer?"
Then it was there.
Warm, but cold all the same.
Passionate, but dangerous.
She felt ethereal hands on her shoulders, the heavy foreboding somehow lightly covered in a hint of affection.
"I certainly hope not," came a voice, "Or I would have to seriously question a number of my actions of the past few years..."
Xena shot the owner of the voice a look, attempting dry and belittling but only managing to pull of tense.
Behind her squatted the God of War, his long raven ringlets falling down around his sculptural jaw and neck, his tender touches running up to Xena's ears. Closing her eyes hard, clenching her teeth to control herself she managed to speak.
"What is it you want Ares?"
Gently fondling the nape of her neck and the folds of her ears he rose a dark eyebrow.
"Nothing." he said, "I'm flattered at your apparent high regard for my skills but as far as my joy department is concerned, it's all members present!"
Xena smirked at him. "The way you fill your pants I wouldn't be so sure of that..."
Ares chuckled, getting to his feet, offering strong hands and pulling Xena up after him.
"I love it when you start with the insults."
Xena rolled her eyes, releasing a sigh. She didn't want him to be here. Getting him out of her system was what she wanted to be doing. She though of all her past loves, but they all made her feel worse. Blowing our her cheeks she frowned at him.
"So you're telling me you appeared at me from nowhere for no reason at all?" With a shake of her head she pushed past him, bounding further down the track.
"Sure, why not?"
"Because you don't do anything without good reason!"
He nodded. "True," he said, catching up to her as she slowed down, turning to face him. As he approached her he reached for her shoulders, caressing them gently, "Isn't visiting an old friend good reason enough?"
"No, not for you Ares."
He shrugged with a mournful shake of the head.
"And to think I thought we shared something for a minute there!"
She huffed a moment in frustration.
"What we shared was friendship, it was a once off because you were human, which you are never going to be again - you said so yourself! And only for 24 hours, that was the deal. Now it's over and it's back to business as usual. Go back to Olympus Ares, plot some more schemes for my demise."
His smug leer seemed to wane as she turned again. With a sweeping step he caught her, gripping the uppers of her arms, and she only glared at him, her blue orbs fiery.
"Now Xena, I think you're exaggerating the situation a juuust little," he circled her a moment, taking her long hair in his hands, running his fingers through it gently, "I mean why be so militant about these things? I've always liked you Xena, you know that..."
She released a weary breath, shaking her head slowly. "Since when did persecuting me and sending me nuts constitute you liking me?"
"I stopped you from topping yourself didn't I?"
She glared, "You wanted me to join you again!"
"But I cared enough to stop you!"
She had had enough. With a fierce growl she began to stride forward again, away from him.
"Xena," he called suddenly, voice raised, "You've been missing me haven't you?"
She stopped. Clenching her eyelids closed she tensed her fists into balls, anger filling her to her very bones. How dare he bring that up! How dare he use that now! She let out a tense laugh, rage in her tones, and stood still.
"What in Tartarus makes you think that?"
He shrugged. "Aah, I dunno, call me foolish but I never thought sulking incessantly was your style! And your thoughts have been revolving around me quiiite a bit of late,"
"Stay out of my thoughts you son of a bitch!" she snapped, spinning around and grabbing him by the throat. He nodded, stepping back, hands in the air palms out in a calming gesture, but smugness still in his eyes.
"Not only that but you have developed a terrible moodiness lately..."
She sunk her shoulders slightly, sighing with a throw back of her head.
"I'm always moody..."
"Not like this you're not," he said, wagging a finger at her.
"Did it ever occur to you that it might be the uh-" she blushed a little, "cycle of the moon?"
Eyeing her he only shook his head slowly, dismissing her grab for straws. He didn't buy it, neither did she.
"Just admit it," he said, "You enjoyed my company, didn't you?"
"I tolerated it..."
"No!" he cut her off shortly with a grin, "Tch! You can't use that one Xena, you agreed to be with me a whole day, even asked me to the world of the Mortals!" he sighed, almost with amazement, "For such a moralistic woman you're fibbing like a maniacal liar!"
She tried hard not to smile but the corners of her mouth tweaked upwards despite herself.
"Can't ya handle getting it right back at ya?"
He sucked in a breath through his teeth.
"Oooh, you're good," Ares stepped forward, taking the uppers of her arms in his hands once more, kneading the flesh carefully and sensually, "Aaah Xena, haven't you heard banter is good for the soul?"
"Yeah but I never believed it..."
Xena shrugged away his touches, as masterful as they were. It was the biggest injustice she could possibly imagine. The one man she actually cared about didn't even exist. Well, he did, under peals of Godly power. Ares showed so much promise as a human being... He did not share her view on this matter. 24 hours was all she was allocated that time. She hated him. She hated him with every fibre of her being, yet, at the same time, she wanted him so badly on an animalistic level. But this last time, it had become more than that. As she had fought with him beside her, sharing the kill, as he defended her and she him - they survived with each other. For each other. He chose to be beside her, when he had the opportunity to hide in the underbrush of the nearby forest safely. Ares did not have to do anything of the sort, but something in him changed as steel swept down ready to cut the thread of the warrior princess' life string. Glancing up at the handsome God regarding her, she cocked a lip with distaste.
"You know, it's always been a nagging little thought for me, not that I'm ungrateful for your inadequacy in this area but-"
He rose a dark brow from the broken silence.
"Why won't you kill me?"
"It's not like you've never had the chance, but you did stop me from doing myself in atop a that cliff didn't you?"
She chuckled, pacing , "Ha, you even restrained yourself in that fight in the Temple of the Furies!" She shook her head, "Oh I know you could have defeated me in an Athenian minute!"
Ares clenched his teeth, arms crossed in a tense knot.
"So?" she turned to face him, "Why won't you kill me?"
He chuckled, the tension in the air so thick he felt even he could not get through it.
"Aah Xena, did you wake up feeling suicidal or did my presence push you to that end?"
"No, in fact I'd rather stay this side of Cerberus for some time yet," she muttered matter of factly, "Now stop avoiding my question. Why won't you kill me?"
Ares sighed, pursing his lips matter of factly.
"Because - Gods don't go around killing people, it's not good for PR..."
"Yeah they do, all the time!" Xena said, yanking her sword from her sheath and shoving it in Ares' hands, "Now go on, kill me!"
He blustered a half chuckle, holding the sword laxly.
"You're not serious are you?"
She eyed him and he cleared his throat.
"Okay," he said shrugging. He gripped the sword, placing the point at Xena's abdomen, and with a swift step moved to run her through.
He swore it must have been magic.
As a God he should have been able to do it easily, as he had done it to other men before.
But as he gazed into the quietly burning blue eyes of the fierce woman before, this fierce woman that had served him well for many years and now caused him the most amusement, something stopped him.
He could have ran her through right there and then.
He stepped forward again, attempting to impale her on the blade. He laughed through a blanched leer, something in him was stopping him. The blade hung at his hands harmless, Xena still waiting to be killed.
Xena's blood spilling onto the ground would not bother him at all.
Not at all.
Gazing into her eyes he wondered - what stopped him?
As the sword pressed to her leather clad stomach he released it, clashing to the ground.
And he just stood there, dumbfounded.
He could not kill her. Not her.
Xena then saw it, it was faint, but so noticeable, so gentle and new in an old body of hate and cruelty. Through war shone Ares.
"I," he shook his head, smile fading, "I can't..."
"Why not?" she asked, already knowing the answer.
Something human in Ares felt alive as he dropped the sword.
With a quiet smirk she met his horrified gaze at the sword on the ground.
"Who's missing who Ares?"
She swore it was a split second. It was all it took for the dam waters to burst, for the camel's back to break as the last straw fell.
He met her eyes, hunger in his expression, and his hands dove around her neck, pulling her to him roughly, lips interlocking, his touches vigourous through rhythmic squeezing. He grunted, unclipping her brass amour, tossing her dusty leathers to the wayside as he lay her down frantically in the wild underbrush.
"What in Tartarus do you think you're doing?" she gasped, his lips and tongue travelling in the nape of her neck.
"What do you think?" he grunted shortly.
Oooh, this was bad, she thought darkly, oh but it felt so good. Clenching her eyes shut she panted through divinely passionate kisses, "This, mm, doesn't mean I'mmmmm jo-mm-ining you!"
"Me neither," he growled lustily.
It was wrong. She knew.
But for the love of Zeus it was the first time in so damn long she felt such passion, her spirit wandered through the murky depths as her body rocked and writhed on the forest floor, she wanted to be flying but sadness held her still. He would go again, this caring part of Ares so well hidden. Damn, she hated him. She hated him more than anyone she could remember. But oh, he held her so strongly, he was one of the few to make her feel gentle or delicate, to make her feel soft and female in years, so long ago, a time she could barely remember. To so many she was a rough warrior woman with no feelings, a barbarian and a killer, even a slut and a tramp. Bitterness pained its way to her heart as she recalled untrusting glares and wary steps aside in marketplaces, but as Ares' soft grunting moans and sighs filled her ears she felt comforted somehow. She was a princess to him, the most perfect mortal to be. Indeed he wanted her to be a God with him. She knew better. She'd rather live a fast furious life of passion and emotion that an eternity with dull senses.
Somehow, this God had no dull senses.
His body roared with the hottest passion.
Straddling her thighs he felt her tongue run along his chest, hitting spots with delight he forgot he had. No one equalled her, curling his thick muscular arms around her buxom form he eased into her, caressing her madly, knowing her body in new ways much more enjoyable that the wages of war, of knowing an opponent. Driving her wildly he treasured her, oh how he treasured her, his little princess of War, this princess he knew meant his Godly demise. If this was demise he should gladly lay down his sword now and never pick it up... He was War. War did not give up easily.
But Ares held his princess, his strong virile creation in his arms, moaning and softly mumbling in the most delirious pleasure she had known. Picking up the pace he rocked heavy and hard, Xena encouraging him with lithe fingers gripping his back tightly. Tighter she squeezed as he pumped harder, their heartbeats furious, their moans and cries louder and with a final gasp and shriek of delight Xena pushed Ares off, rolling aside herself on the scratchy forest floor.
She only gazed at the naked God as she gasped desperately for air.
Grabbing her leathers shakily, she pulled them up over her healthy and glorious swells, her eyes a myriad of pain and afterglow. Ares saw the anger in her eyes, the despising glint. Part of him revelled in it, part of him wished to douse it carefully with a long, tender embrace. He only stared at her try to gather herself in a shaken mess, pulling on her disassembled outfit. With a purse of his lips he reached for her shoulder.
"Xena, get over here."
She shook her head, tears welling in her eyes.
Not taking her answer he dragged her over as she clawed to get away from him, her sobs of protest muffled by his gentle yet strong embrace.
"I hate you," she growled, "I hate you."
"I know," he said, a little awkwardly, "I think I hate you too."
They sat silently in the bitter afterglow, Xena laying in Ares' tight embrace. It felt so warm, so wonderful but she knew - this was not supposed to happen. What was she doing, holding death and destruction in her arms, like a lover. It was the creator of conflict, the inspiration of despair. She looked up to meet the deep brown eyes of the God of War expecting a smirk, but she only saw a calm gentle gaze in which sadness rang. He looked so lost, the usual braggadocio and nonchalance gone from them, all that was there was the human need, the want.
Taking her eyes away she grabbed his togs up off the floor and dropped them in Ares' lap.
"Get dressed," she muttered, pulling herself up.
He nodded, reaching for the rest of his gear.
"You know that I'm your enemy..." she said.
"Yes I do."
She pressed her lips together bitterly.
"We can't ever..." she paused, "We couldn't do this again, it's not right."
He glanced at her. Meeting his stare she screwed her face up in pain, grabbing a boot near her and thrusting her foot into it.
"What is so wrong with this?" he asked.
She looked up to him, cradling her other boot in her hands.
"You're War," she said evenly, "You're death, greed, the stench of rotting bodies. The bringer of pain."
He cocked an eyebrow and smiled.
"I'm also the uniter of clans, Xena. How many times have people united from the threat of war, or the destruction of war. How much peace has 'war' created? Without war, even you would not exist."
Xena shook her head.
"There would be peace without you, and I would be married, with a family! A husband, who loved me dearly. So would Gabrielle!"
Ares looked up from adjusting his boot, leaning an arm on his knees doggedly.
"Now, you know that's not the life you want. And as far as Gabrielle is concerned - she wouldn't have ever met her darling Joxer the Stupid if it wasn't for war. Everyone has their destinies Xena, woven long ago by the Kindly Ones. We Gods merely play out their tapestries, bicker and fight and tend to your people. We all also have consciousness, we're entities in ourselves. We love, we care, we need, we ache and we want, maybe not in the way humans do, but in our way nonetheless. Despite that, it does not mean our feelings are not valid."
Xena regarded him a moment, the words ripping at her. She knew perfectly well she was arguing a known. She needed War, humanity needed it, heck, Ares existed because it was a part of humanity and thus needed it's respective deity. Without conflict nothing changed. Man would become stagnant in a pool of everlasting peace. Inwardly she sighed. Didn't he realize how hard it was for her to hate him so much? She was a warrior, a fighter, a righter of wrongs. That was her place now. Never would she join him, never would she bring destruction again, but to love him was to love those things - wasn't it? Was it not possible to love that human aspect of the deity, to weed it out and nurture it? Maybe that was how she could help humanity the best, in taming the God of War...
She shook her head, feeling foolish.
Ares was Ares, he would never change.
"Don't get any funny ideas after this - I made a mistake."
Ares only smirked, standing up and adjusting his vest.
"You can lie to me Xena, but you can't deceive me." Helping her to her feet he took her breastplate off the ground, pressing it to her chest and hooking it to her. She only gazed at him with a steely glare, unrelentingly. "And despite what you think, I'm not evil as you would like to believe."
He rose an eyebrow as he finished the other hook.
"I can only behave in a manner as War would behave. It was only you that moved me to break that general rule Xena. I don't think I've ever questioned my actions until I encountered you."
Xena said nothing, sliding her arm bands into place, gazing past him.
"Take my words or not, it's up to you," he said, taking his hands and resting them in the nape of her neck. "I suppose in this case, the enemy of my enemy is my enemy. If only I were not a God, I could love you with no catches."
Her eyes flicked up to him as she gave a hard edged scowl.
"You don't love me," she muttered.
He rose his eyebrows with an affectionate pout.
"I love how you are so sure of your convictions," he said, the corner of his mouth tugging in a smile, "Indeed, there are many things I love about you."
She scowled again, his hands riding up to her jaw.
"Cut the crap Ares, you don't love me!! Lust after me, maybe, wishing for something you can never have, but love! Ha! You don't even know what love is!!"
He only looked to her gently, his dark eyes seeming to convey surprise at her statement, his brow rising slightly.
He could have said a thousand things to this. All he did was shake his head slightly.
And saying nothing, he brought her forward, covering her mouth with his, kissing her deeply. Xena felt her limbs grow limp as he held her jaw, the intensity of the caress stronger than anything she had ever felt before. Slowly, painfully, she pulled herself away, battling the warmth, the passionate caress with all her will.
"I have lived a thousand millennia and my people saw the dawn of time, from us you were created... And you think I know not of what you feel?" he whispered in her hear, circling her then embracing her from behind, his breath pressing against her ears, the moist of his lips warm against her lobes, "Especially given my recent experiences... All that I have observed, all pain, all hatred, all agony, all affection has had new meaning since I was last with you."
"No," she said, "I'm not letting this happen."
He stood still, letting his hands drop at his sides, looking to her mournfully. Something occurred to Xena with great horror. Spinning around she grabbed a dagger from the ground.
"Xena, what are you doing?"
Without a word she sank the dagger into his arm, as if he were an illusion the sword made no splatch, no blood issued forth and it was if she had stabbed a pillow. Stepping back the God of War raised a dark brow.
"Wanna tell me what that was about?"
Xena slipped the dagger into one of her boot-sheaths.
"I think you know what I was doing."
He sighed, resting his hands on his hips.
"I'm all God Xena, believe me. I wouldn't turn myself human again even for a second. I'd rather have dinner with my mother."
The sky rumbled.
Dismissing it, Xena picked up her weaponry, attaching it to her in the various clips and hooks.
"Ares, it's over. One mistake I won't be making again."
"That's all you bring that down to - a mistake?"
Xena shrugged, pain ringing in her stern features.
"I was hot for a bit of rough-and-tumble and you happened to be there, no big deal."
Ares' features grew hard with bitterness.
"It was more than that and you know it!"
"Maybe," she said, "But I don't trust myself with you. I don't trust you either. How do I know this isn't some plan to screw me into submission?"
"Such a heartfelt performance couldn't be derived from evil motives Xena," he said, finishing attaching the last of his weaponry. "You're afraid."
"Sure I am," Xena looked down at the ground ahead of her as she hooked her chakram, "If you even began to understand the kinda life I've lived you might understand my reasons for wanting to stay as far from you as possible."
With that she turned, ready to leave, but a strong hand held her back.
"You can't just forget this Xena..."
With a tear rimmed glare and a winsome smile she cocked her head a little.
"Just you watch me."
"Daddy was a farmer and Mummy was a weaver and it was all I could do to get away from that meagre bloody existence..." slurred Lethaia, the drink getting to her head. She sat next to a hay padded bed, leaning an arm on it, looking to Joxer with glazed orbs. He sat on a shaggy bearskin on the floor, the fire at the hearth growling contentedly. He took a swig of his ale, a leer sliding off his drunken face.
"Pahss me the wine will you Shoxsser?"
Lowering his eyes shakily to the shaggy floor, he spotted the skin of wine and handed it to her.
"Oh you wouldn't believe how dull it wasss on that fharm!!" She filled her cup as she talked, her hair slowly falling from its fastenings through the night and was now very dishevelled, "Mum jjusss sat there and weeeved all the time! weaaving!
WeaaaaaaaVING!" she glared with wild eyes, "WEAA-*&#@#$-ING!!! She dinn e'en no'ice I wazz zere!"
Joxer pouted at her, shaking his head.
Lethaia nodded, "You dun-noww the haff of it!" She lifted her clay kantharos to the ceiling, looking Joxer dead in the eye, "Do you know, what they wanned me to be?"
He shook his head.
"They wanned me to be a pig minner on my neighbouzz fhaarm!"
Joxer's jaw dropped.
"A beaudiful flower like you minding PHIGS??" he exclaimed.
Lethaia blushed a little, looking at him coyly.
"You thinn I'm a beauful flower Shoxer?"
"Oh yeaah!" he nodded, "You're like," he cocked a lip, "Athena, or Ardidemis! Aremis - ar -ar"
Lethaia chuckled, leaning at him with giggling eyes.
"Arrrdemis ar ar aaaar!"
Joxer chuckled too, still lying back on the rug. He looked at her a moment, eyes solemn.
"What made you leafe your family?"
She looked down into her cup a moment, sadness in her eyes.
"Betrothal drove me away, mushh like your dear Gabrielle."
"Ssept - did you like the guy?"
A spirited laugh burst from Lethaia's glowing features.
"He was an old fat-asse!!" she chuckled, "By the Godss I was lucky to ge-away!"
Joxer took another sip of his wine, gazing at the ceiling. Lethaia crawled down next to him, examining his long features with curious eyes. A small smile crept to her lips.
"Tell me about Shhjett some more," she mumbled.
Joxer smiled at her, the petit almost Godling of a woman before him swaying slightly from the fruit of the vine. He sighed.
"He would grab me by the seat of my panns and yank me in the air... Then, he'd hook me onto the nearest petite or gargoyle and laugh with Jjace till my Mother eventually came in to take me down, after the noise of the fighting began to bother her."
"He sounns awful..."
Joxer shook his head slowly.
"No, ya see, when the boys in the square would try to steal my toy sword from me, the one my Dad gave me, he'd kill them for me." He shrugged a little, "Not that I asked for death but - it was how he showed he cared. No one crossed me but Jett ... and Jett wasn't afraid to be the town murderous loony."
The woman chuckled.
"Hahaha sounns like someone I know!"
Her laughter died down, and she just gazed at the ceiling. Her face was fine boned, her skin immaculate, she really was one of the prettiest creatures Joxer had ever seen. But, no matter how attractive she was, she wasn't beautiful to him, not truly beautiful, not that kind of beautiful that grabbed a man by his neat and tenders and made his whole purpose of being that one beautiful person. He let out a long sigh.
The early start the next day did nothing for the pair's terrible thumping head-aches, indeed the fact they neglected to drink any water with their cheap muddy wine contributed to their terrible condition as they started on the road. Joxer sat atop his new brown stubby stallion, conical helm in saddlebag, head in terribly pale hand. The rider and steed looked a sight indeed, the stallion obviously a cheap old creature, not blanketed through these colder days it had sported a healthy fluffy coat, it's knee joints more knobbly that any horse's knees had a right to be, it's fetlocks long and shaggy as was it's crown and it's forelocks dripping down the white teardrop patch that sat between it's graceful brown eyes. It's back was strong though, and be it not fast, it was indeed a sturdy ride. It's wide back and huge stumpy shape would have been ideal for drawing carts, which it was probably bred for, but the horse being later in years, not a young nippy thing, he got it at a reasonable price from an old farmer who had no need for it - his ancient grey mule seemed to be enough for him.
Lethaia's gaze was fixed ahead of her, stony and unmoving much like Xena. She was obviously a superb rider, the relationship between her and her steed one of complete understanding, poetry in motion. Not even Xena and Argo's movements were as aesthetically pleasing to witness as these two. The long legged mare curled her neck with a quick shot of air from her shuddering nostrils, the grey tipping the muzzle accentuating her chewing of the bit. Deep brown eyes stared back from shoal lashes, slate blue tipped the ears hoofs and the tail was a rain of black white and smooth grey. It was the daintiest thing Joxer was sure he had ever seen, much like Lethaia. With a sigh the woman brought a high booted calf in front of the saddle horn, resting her leg on the mound, and she sat back a moment, blowing through her lips, pushing locks from her face with her breath.
"Joxer, how much did we drink last night?"
"Too much," he groaned into his hands, "Joxer the Mighty is feeling very sickly..."
Lethaia swung her leg back over and sank into the saddle, resting against her elegant mare's neck, closing her eyes in half sleep. He thought of leaning back the way she had just done, indeed his steed's back was wide enough for it, but his heart sank somewhat at the thought. If he were travelling with Gabrielle, she would have been behind him. He cringed at the thought, and a sad pout slunk over his features. She opened an eye, sensing a change in his sombre mood.
"You're thinking about her aren't you?"
Starting somewhat, Joxer blinked, pouting at her, nodding slowly.
"Whoever said lovers were never lonely?"
"Aphrodite, I think," Joxer replied, "And I'm certain she has a warped sense of what 'love' actually is!"
Lethaia smiled with closed eyes.
"God's have a weak hold at best on the human condition. They are blind rulers, knowing only superiority and the cosmos."
Joxer nodded. Looking forward his heart felt strained, as if he ate a bowl of pomegranates that had too many seeds.
"This town where we are headed," Lethaia began, "It is your home town?"
"Yeah, yeh it is," he said, "There is someone there who will know the location of the person we're after."
Sitting up in the saddle suddenly, her eye glinted, as if the curiosity energized her once more.
"You speak not his name..."
"I'm not permitted to."
"Aah," she cocked her head, "Any reason ya wanna tell me?"
Joxer eyed her a moment, a small smile creeping to his lips.
"He's insane, even more so that Jett."
Joxer thought back. His mother loved Jace. More than Jett and Joxer? oh, no. Jett was the talented one, Joxer was the black sheep who was her favourite minstrel, and Jace was - the leftover. The one to play with. Jace was the daughter his mother hadn't had yet. So he told Lethaia, he told her of all the things that made Jace what he was, made Jace the Unmentionable, Jace the Unmentionable. That amount of torture in a childhood did not happen with no result. Lethaia listened with a look of disgust and horror, not quite believing what she heard.
"And you are going to ask this lunatic for help?" she said, "That's insane!"
"We have to. He's the only guy I know that will be crazy enough to attempt it. Besides, the last thing you and I need is a wanted status. He's not wanted because the jails don't wanna have to deal with him."
Lethaia nodded absently. She was wanted already, as was the way with assassins, or a hired killer in her case. But obviously Joxer enjoyed the life of a freeman, and she didn't want a tarnished reputation for Joxer, not a man with a beautiful woman and a promising future as a hero, friend of the great Xena.
"So, where is he at?" asked Lethaia.
"Corinth, my home town," Joxer replied. "That's where we're headed."
"Oh Zeus," Gabrielle muttered, rummaging through her pack, "Xena, we have to get more ink."
Xena said nothing, just stared ahead as Argo ploughed her way through the masses of people at the market square.
Gabrielle was worried. Sure, Xena was the quiet type but this was ridiculous! Her friend hardly ever said a word, her appetite was definitely suffering as she watched the leftovers on her plate grow larger and larger every night. She spent more time with Argo than she did Gabrielle, all in the two days since Xena went for that really long run. She sighed doggedly.
"Fine, I'll get the ink, you get us a room at the inn!" Gabrielle pulled out the bag of dinars, pulling out a small number and forcing the rest into Xena's hand. Xena nodded darkly, making her way through the thick smelly crowd without a word. Pursing her lips, Gabrielle strolled towards a general supplies stall, eyeing the merchandise with eager eyes.
"Young lady!" a grubby well rounded man cried, thrusting paddy fingers at the piled up pots of ink, "You seek to buy ink for your husband yes?"
Gabrielle narrowed her eyes at the man with an amiable smile.
"For me actually."
"Oh!" the man chortled, "You are learning to write then dear girl?"
She rose an eyebrow, increasingly amused by the jovial fellow, "Yeah, whatever - how much?"
To the sell! the merchant's eyes gleamed.
"For you, young lady, three dinars!"
Gabrielle's eyes bugged in her head.
"Three dinars for that substandard ink?!?"
It was now the merchant's turn to bug his eyes.
"This is the finest ink this side of Corinth!" he cried, "Why, it is imported from India! It has a very high permanence you know!"
Gabrielle didn't let his fast talking phase her in the slightest.
"All good writer's ink comes from India, where have you been the past few solstices?" she shook her head with a confident chuckle, " I could get it at the next town for 1 dinar, and get more for my money too!"
The merchant's face screwed up angrily.
"Fine then, go to the next town, but this is most certainly the finest ink you will get!"
Gabrielle merely shrugged, not at all bothered by his red-faced blathering.
"Okay, I will."
And she turned to walk away.
"Wait!" the man called. She stopped.
"Two pots for three dinars?" he offered.
The bard smiled, turning back to the stall.
"It's been a pleasure doing business with you sir," she smiled.
Moving away from the stall she slipped the ink-pots into her bag with a satisfied grin. What a bargain! she thought, two pots when she thought she were only to haggle one out of the man. The town was thick with townspeople, the hot overhead sun not contributing to her overall comfort. It was times like this she thanked the Gods for her midriff top and hipster skirt providing adequate ventilation. She spotted the inn she was headed for- The Old Megara Inn - and set out for it in a direct beeline, no side-tracks to any stalls to be sure she did not spend the rest that she had. The name Corinth rang in her head, and as others thought of Hercules at the name, all she could think of was her Joxer. Her Joxer. She smiled. The very notion was atrocious in itself, the Great Amazon Queen, partner of Xena Warrior Princess, working partner that is, in love with the infamous laughable dolt from a family of crazed killers. Joxer had grown so much lately, not in strength, nor even character, but maybe understanding. However, she still treasured his gu-hurgled laughs and black-pool eyed love-glazed gazes. Although weak in muscle, and young in love, he was older in pain, it was something he obviously knew well. Whenever she grew the courage to tell him of her feelings of the recent pains she felt, he sat quiet, arms strong and comforting, and he listened. He suggested ways to deal with it, ways she would have laughed off as ridiculous but now, feeling nothing but anguish, even cutting off her feelings to counteract it, little things like giving ones' self a hug when one thought badly of themselves somehow worked. She would battle her self loathing, the guilt and anger she directed at herself creating feelings and notions she knew she shouldn't be feeling. Suicide was something she should have been feeling, but that hopelessness, that deep bottomless well of ache, indefatigable, unfillable, somehow yawning for her life, seemed to shy back when simple love - her love, enveloped her. In Joxer's shy shuffle of his feet, in the very warmth of his embrace, the tenderness in his kisses, that chasm of pain seemed to - shrink, slowly but surely. She knew, the answer to her pains had to be found inside of her, but she was not averted to a helping hand, one Joxer was not afraid nor unhappy to give.
The inn entrance passed over her head as she pushed her way through the bodies in the door. Old men, young men, wide men grunted in her wake, the odd hand wandering to her ample buttocks. A swift knock of her staff either broke fingers or caused severe bruising. The stuffy dark room was a hindrance, especially considering the beautiful day around the inn, the day outside that tried to peek into the smoky dank area. In the corner, chakram for some reason embedded in the table, Xena sat, camped with a large mug of ale. Gabrielle groaned. Whatever this was, it was getting serious. She had to find out what was going on. Now.
Easing through the pressed bodies of men and scantily hung women, the young bard collapsed at the table, dropping her pack on it doggedly.
"You can certainly pick 'em Xena-"
Xena glared at her, eyes stony.
"What do you mean by that?" she demanded, with a lot more emotion than Gabrielle would have liked.
Gabrielle turned her eyes about her, and motioned at the room with her hand.
"The inn, Xena, the inn."
"Oh," Xena nodded shakily, attacking her mug of ale again with one hand, grabbing her chakram with the other.
"Xena, what's wrong?" her friend asked, settling next to her, keeping her hands well off the table as the dark warrioress hacked at the wood-top with the edge of the flying weapon like an axe to kindle. Instead Gabrielle wove her arms around her friend tightly.
"You think, after all these years, I'd know how to deal with a guy..." she slurred, pointing to nothing with the round of her chakram.
Gabrielle sighed inwardly. Love. Always a bastard.
"But he's no guy Gabrielle," she turned her head to her, looking her dead in the eyes, "He's a God!!"
Xena growled suddenly at the mention of the name.
Xena felt the squeeze of her best friend as a wash of ache blanched over her, too much, too much for even a warrior princess to handle. With a deep wince, the pain made itself known, the usually steely features twisted.
"That bastard... He knew..." she rasped, husky swollen voice-box tone, curling into the embrace of Gabrielle, "He knew exactly what I was feeling that whole time he screwed me in the woods..."
Gabrielle's eyes nearly popped out of her head. Xena hated the man - er - God! Her friend was always livid with contempt the moment the guy was around, but recently - those boundaries had been stretched somewhat. Still, she would have never have-
"Xena, did he - take advantage of you?"
Shooting a look to the bard Xena seemed wince again as if stabbed with a blunt instrument. Oh Gods, Gabrielle thought, he did...
"No!" she said, "He kissed me and - oh we couldn't stop from there," A brief leer painted her face, "He knew - Gabrielle, he knew exactly what he was doing where to go, how to touch..." Pain seemed to seize her again, and she let go of a hollow sob, "Why'd I let it happen, I knew what I'd say!"
"What did you say Xena?"
Looking up to her best friend, Xena held her own head in her hands, abandoning her weapon and ale.
"I told him to forget it. I said I would. I'm sure he's off starting a few wars over it. Baaah!" she grabbed the ale, "Stubborn son of a bitch! He knows how I feel!"
Gabrielle said nothing, just held her friend as she ranted in a drunken mess. Gabby had only been gone barely an hour, wandering to the inn. It was a worrying sight, seeing her friend so tortured as this.
"Do you love him Xena?"
She half expected Xena to sob, or sniffle, even wail, but no.
Xena looked up at her with her steely glare, and with a half smile said:
"I'm not allowed to love him Gabrielle."
But he knew it would work - becoming human, bedding that seed whilst risking his life. Oh what a noble creature! HA!
Xena felt a terrible growl inside her as the beer and yesterdays kebab argued with each other. She felt ill, really ill. Gabrielle sighed, taking Xena by the shoulders.
"Come on Xena, I'll take you to our room..."
Xena looked up at her with a nod.
"I'm getting the floor."
Gabrielle rolled her eyes.
"I'm not sleeping yet it's the middle of the day - you get the hay silly!"
Xena went to sleep almost instantly. Gabrielle frowned, tapping her lip in deep thought. She must have been under terrible emotional stress to be so tired. Though, what she was going through was certainly tough. As much as she herself tried to dislike the War God, he was terribly charismatic, charming, handsome. There were plenty of other words that could be added to that string. Not only that, he had an undying obsession with Xena, one that manifested itself in many different ways. Less than a month ago, it had manifested itself as the God choosing to be human for a day just to interact with Xena on the same level. That meant a lot. She could see how Xena had knowledge of this and she knew her friend found it increasingly hard to hate him.
Rising to her feet she took one last look at her friend, curled up on the hay mattress, before leaving the room.
The day was still bright outside, it strangely contrasted Xena's dark mood. The town bustled quietly, the food stalls crowded with hungry patrons. Looking up to the banners that hung in the square, she mused on their meanings. One wide wooden sign that gave the town name boasted "Megara! The last town before Corinth - home of Hercules!". Another: "Next stop, Corinth - home of Hercules! 100 miles!"
Gabrielle smiled at the towns pride for being so distanced and yet so close to a city like Corinth. It was the last notable town before it because of the peninsula's terrain that Corinth was located on. Corinth itself was a beautiful city, one thriving with merchants and rich goods.
The bard let herself get lost in thought as her eyes glazed over the array of fine goods around her. Numerous necklaces hung from one particularly pretty stall, and Gabrielle felt her heart yank.
Waking slowly, the scenery around her coming into view, she felt a cold heaviness on her chest. Letting it fall into her hand, she looked down to find what had caused the strange sensation. The prettiest necklace she sure she had ever seen sat cold and new in her fingers, leather falling between her digits. Turquoise and purples shone back at her inset into the bronze chunks, the latest fashions dictate it was to be worn tight around her neck. The length of the leather however made for one's own taste as to how loose it could be hung. Who got-
Looking up, a timid Joxer gazed back at her with frightened eyes, minus helmet, his dark black tufts awry.
Gabrielle took a quick breath in, shaking her head and moving on.
Next up was an armament stall, mostly leather goods with a few old daggers and chainmails. On one rack hung old scabbards, one, ridiculously priced, sat on a special alabaster, it looked - by the Gods! Gabrielle nearly grabbed it as her eyes grew wide, copper and bronze ornamentations stamped into the leather, curly round elegant grooves, it was so familiar, so old! And - her heart sank. So so expensive! Sceptre came down onto fingers as the stall manager rapped her soft knuckles angrily.
"No touch de merchandise scum!" he growled. Jumping back, nursing bruised bones, she turned and moved away.
That scabbard was very familiar, she knew it just had to be his, even if it wasn't it looked just like his old one! Joxer would love to receive it! Digging into her bag hung at her side, she found the leather pouch she used to store her dinars. Four shiny discs glowed back from the bottom of the pouch and she growled. Xena had all the money, stashed away somewhere. Being a good guy wasn't too profitable in the financial sense by any means, and only technically being a 'sidekick' she rarely got rewards for anything much. Most of the money the two got went to maintaining Argo, and Xena only ever spent the money out of necessity. She was a wise woman, as in Gabrielle's hands it would have been fritted away easily. On old scabbards no doubt! she muttered to herself.
Dragging herself onwards, she moaned. There was so way she could afford that scabbard, but she wanted it more than anything! With a heavy sigh she resigned herself to letting it go.
It was a while before the noise gained clarity in Gabrielle's ears. It had to fight it's way past meaningless mutterings of passers-by and the other shouts of merchants before it really registered.
"Here! Today! Limited stock! The Original Xena Scrolls! Read the stories as they really happened! A whole new concept in story telling!"
Glancing up she saw a man, perched up high on a barrel, his round face set off with a grey peppered beard and soft grey receding hair. Salmoneus!! Now, Gabrielle's heart raced. She bolted to the man, pushing people aside, and with a mighty kick she cleared the barrel from underneath him.
He dropped to the floor, falling on his rear, shock painted all over his pale chubby face.
She grabbed the flesh of his ear, the cartilage bending and twisting in her vice-like grip.
"Okay, where did you get those scrolls?"
Salmoneus whined, grabbing one and giving it to her.
"Gabrielle!! HI!," he grinned through strained laughs, "Listen babe, they're not even yours! I made 'em up I made 'em up!!"
Letting him go, she opened one, eyes falling over the words. It was nothing like her writing, the sloppily constructed stories were easily laughable.
"And you're selling these? Sheesh!"
Salmoneus cradled his ear, looking up at her defensively.
Helping him to his feet, she smiled.
"Well, if you're gonna be selling these stories, you better be selling the right ones!"
Sal looked like he had just won the Athenian sweepstakes.
"You're not serious Gabrielle, are you really - "
Gabrielle eyed him a moment, lifting a palm.
"Now wait, this is a business arrangement."
Rubbing his hands together, Salmoneus bobbed up and down excitedly. Gabrielle only smiled thinly.
Xena curled up on the hay filled bed, piled up with furs that tickled her skin occasionally, the woollen blanket covering her delightfully warm. Next to the bed was a wide window, looking out over the main thoroughfare of the town. The room being on the second story she could see out over the happenings, giving her a calming almost omnipotent feeling. It was better than feeling sick by any lengths. She had been feeling ill most of the morning, nearly moved to nausea more than once, not having any convenient place to fulfil this need apart from the wide bowl under the bed usually used for relieving one's self. Right now she was just hungry, really hungry. Her stomach grumbled as it began to digest itself.
"Olives...." she muttered to herself, gazing out the window, "Olives and - toffee!"
It sounded like a meal from heaven, combined with cherries in auroch's dripping!
Her stomach growled loudly. Moving to get up, a wave of exhaustion swept over her and she sank back down onto the warm inviting bed. Damn...
"You know the really funny thing was she was fine yesterday and the day before, it's just today she's getting really ill," mumbled Gabrielle to Salmoneus, whom rested on the barrel he was previously standing on. Gabrielle continued to hand him selected scrolls, and as she chatted she absently checked each knob on the end of the scrolls.
"That's strange," he said, counting out dinars on a round patch of leather at his cart, "I always had this idea that she was impervious to disease... Maybe I've been hanging out with Herc a little too much..."
Gabrielle narrowed her eyes with a little smile.
"Maybe... But I don't think this is disease," she said, worry returning to her, "I better go back to the inn and check up on her soon."
Salmoneus nodded, grinning as he pulled the leather up around the dinars, tying it up at the top tightly.
"Here you go, fifty dinars for the right to use your words."
"Thanks," she grinned, "And I get ten dinars for every sale you make of them?"
"Yeah," he nodded painfully, "You're killing me Gabrielle!"
She eyed him.
"Where's the rest?"
Pulling out another bag, a heavier one, he gnashed his teeth with teary eyes.
"And 100 dinars until I bring your scrolls back."
"On pain of death Salmoneus! And don't you dare try to scam me, I know my own scrolls when I see them!" she said, filling her satchel with the little bags, "I'll sick Herc on you, at least till Xena is better! Then they can take turns!"
"Okay okay!" he moaned, "You're safe!"
Grabbing his hand roughly, Gabrielle shook it.
"It's been a pleasure doing business with you Sal!"
"Yeah, seeya Gabrielle."
Walking to the inn doggedly, music filtered from it's rowdy patrons. She had been a while, obtaining the scabbard was non-eventful after attaining the dinars. She clutched it to her chest tenderly, overjoyed at her luck. The day was still young but she felt endlessly weary. Her cycle of the moon was drawing near, she knew that soon she would have to stop the journey, for a day at least, till it was over. Though it's taking it's time happening!! she thought with some worry.
Pushing her way into the inn, men's odorous bodies pressed against her. Trying to ease her entrance to her room, she cut across the room along the bar. The usual mindless chatter ensued amongst the drunken rabble.
"And she felled three men with a bow and arrow! Right in this very room!" voice cried.
"Oh what a load of centaur's dung!" another replied.
A particularly heavy body was in her way and she squeezed by, her eyes wide as she felt her insides squash.
"I swear to the great God of the Heavens it's true! Zeus himself would swear it to be true!" the voice continued, "And she met up with this funny lookin' fella, he played the lute like Apollo himself! Strangest armour I'd ever seen!"
At that Gabrielle snapped to attention. In a frenzy she tried to squeeze her way in the opposite direction, back to the voice. Grabbing it's owner she grimaced.
"This man - did he have dark hair?"
"Why yes," he replied, "And a funny pointy hat when he had it on..."
"And did he have a big round plate-like disc of tin at his chest?"
The man stupidly nodded, "That he did miss."
One last question.
"Did you happen to catch his name?"
The man pouted dry fat cracked lips, his overly wiry and bushy brows pressing down to a thoughtful frown.
"I think it was Jaxis? Jexis... Je je - "
Pouting he nodded vaguely, "That sounds a bit closer yeah..."
Her grip of his collar tightened; she had little patience.
"Okay, what happened after they met up?"
He frowned thoughtfully again.
"Well I don't know they ate didn't they? Then they got lodgings here... Annalyte here would know the details of that..."
Her patience snapped, and leaping over the bar she grabbed the maid serving drinks by her shoulders. She was older, plump, and started at the sudden grab of attention.
"Now dear, you'll have to go on the other side of the bar if you want a drink!"
Gabrielle merely gripped tighter.
"Oh now there's no need for that," she said calmly, "What's bothering you love?"
"Did they have separate rooms?!?"
Gabrielle rolled her eyes.
"The man with the pointy hat and the woman that killed all the men!"
Annalyte squinted her eyes in thought and nodded.
"Oh yes dear, they did. The man was quite firm about that point. The girl didn't seem to mind either. They ordered some wine too, to drink in their rooms."
The bard felt a dark feeling fall over her. Now she felt ill. What on earth was going on? Joxer told her everything! He'd never lie to her, he'd never hurt her, not that she thought. She didn't know about this woman, and she didn't know about where he was going and what he was doing. 'Some warrior business' he had said. She frowned.
"You don't happen to know the way the man with the pointy hat arrived from do you?"
The woman seemed to nod with pride.
"Nothing stays much of a secret round here in Megara. He had just arrived from Merimas way when he and the lady friend left for Corinth yesterday..."
Gabrielle's eyes wavered back and forth in deep thought.
"Is everything all right missy?"
The bard said nothing.
Running up the stairs to Xena's room the scabbard dug into her. Warrior business, Warrior business, she growled, My asse! That son of a bacchae is really in for it! The door to the room came up on her and she thumped it open, it shuddered as the force of the impact made it swing open.
Xena snapped awake.
"Gabrielle," she said sleepily, "What's wrong?"
Gabrielle grabbed her things off the floor in the corner of the room, sorting her belongings, pulling up the saddle bags.
"Joxer was here."
Xena rose an eyebrow.
Gabrielle glared at her.
"He was with some woman, she killed three men in the tavern down below!" she said, worry deep in her voice, "He came in from Merimas, where his brother is in detention, and then rode off with this woman towards Corinth! He'd never mix with that sort of murderer! We have to find him Xena, we have to find him now!"
Gabby continued to stuff her saddlebag. "I don't know what he thinks he is doing..."
"He is reaaaally gonna get it from me when I see him, he is really gonna be sorry he lied to me..."
She stopped, looking to Xena. The warrior princess sat in the bed, her pallor a ghastly pale, her shoal eyes watery.
"You can see I'm in no condition to go anywhere."
It was true. Her friend looked so comfortable in that bed, but her eyes were welled with sickly tears, not from a fever, not from a pain, but from sheer fatigue. Every movement seemed to be endlessly strenuous for the woman, not only that - waves of nausea hit when she attempted it. Thusly, Xena sat pretty still.
Gabrielle couldn't. She fidgeted, kneeling at the ground with her belongings in her lap. She clawed at them nervously.
"Xena, I think Joxer's in danger."
Xena smiled weakly.
"So do I," she replied. "Go find him."
"Gabrielle," Xena smiled with pale lips, "I'm fine. You need your mind at ease."
The bard sighed through flushed cheeks.
"But you're not well..."
"People get sick Gabrielle, it's a fact of life. Joxer does not associate himself with murderers unless they are family, so, we can assume something is wrong. Besides, I have a feeling he needs you."
Gabrielle pursed her lips, nodding slowly.
"Me too Xena."
"There, now," Xena sat up slowly, shakily, Gabrielle springing to her side to support her, "You can take Argo, her feedbag needs refilling. Her shoes should hold out till you get back as long as you don't go making any round trips to
Macedonia got that?"
Gabrielle smiled through overwhelming waves of confusion. She wanted to stay, but she had to go.
"I love you Xena," she said, stroking her friend's hair lovingly, and leaning to her she kissed her forehead tenderly. "Get well..."
Xena smiled wryly.
"I will, now go! Before I force you out."
Grabbing her things, Gabrielle bolted from the room, taking one last glimpse of Xena's weary form before she leapt down the steps. Scanning the taverns interior, she spotted the woman Annalyte behind the bar. Barging her way through the crowd, loaded with her things, she pulled the woman aside.
"I have to go find that man, can you look after my friend? Send her a meal three times a day, make sure her bed-basin is changed regularly, and keep checking her! If her condition changes," Gabrielle was fumbling amongst her belongings, the woman glaring at her, "Send a message for me, I'm Gabrielle, Queen of the Amazons! I'll be heading on a golden mare to Corinth. Here," She piled a handful of dinars into the woman's hands, "That should cover everything?"
The woman's composure changed suddenly, and she nodded co-operatively, "Sure sure!"
Before the woman could say anything else Gabrielle had gone.
Lethaia brought up the rear as Joxer entered his home, this city of wealthy men, warlords, beautiful women in great fineries and the most greatest of pleasures. Lethaia had been here many times before, it never failed to impress her. No wonder Joxer was such a sensitive soul, coming from such a place! Truly a child of the city.
Joxer had been very quiet, and no matter how much coaxing Lethaia tried, he kept silent, looking ahead with a sad pout, looking terribly alone. He must miss this Gabrielle terribly, she thought, I've never seen a man so attached to someone like this before...
At that she sighed sadly. How lucky this Gabrielle was, to have someone like Joxer to worry for her, pine for her, need her. Lethaia knew she would never be so lucky.
"Corinth is beautiful, Joxer," she said softly, the both of them quiet in the dusky quiet of the town. The streets were mainly empty, bar a few merchants packing up for the night. Joxer looked to her sullenly and managed a smile.
"It is," he said, "It's nice to come back occasionally."
At that, no more was said. Joxer silently led her through the town, plaster encrusted house past plaster encrusted house, the city walls high and strong moving by slowly. After a time they arrived at the grandest temple Lethaia was sure she had ever seen. Tying the horses to the front columns, Joxer proceeded to enter the huge temple palisade, Lethaia wandering behind him in awe.
"This place is amazing - you say you used to frequent this place when you were young?"
"Yeah," said Joxer, "It's the only place the kids didn't dare pick on me. Because I was learning the lute I was welcome here, and the oracle - well she just loved me. She'd tell me stories all the time, tell me how special I was, how Apollo had given me a special gift and that she knew I'd make him proud," he shrugged, "I never listened to her really, I never believed I could be important to anybody."
"Perhaps I still don't," he said sadly, "I dunno how I managed to win Gabrielle-"
"I do," Lethaia said suddenly, looking to him with a quiet frown, "Damn you Joxer, you're a great guy. You care about people, you're a gentleman, you do the right thing even when you know you might get hurt, or even killed! Gabrielle is so lucky to have you! I think she just wisened up and realised what a gem she had under her nose..."
She stopped, a little surprised at her own passionate words. Joxer shuffled his feet a little, a soft smile playing on his lips.
"Ya really think - I'm like that?"
She smiled, nodding.
"Course I do," she said, "Now, you're gonna get your brother out of jail as quickly as possible, and get back to your Gabrielle, and look after her."
Joxer grinned, "Oh she doesn't need me to look after her... but yeah - I miss her."
"I can tell."
Looking around, Joxer took in the familiar surroundings, huge columns of fine marble holding up the golden plated roof, trimmed by carvings of Olympus in mid-party, Apollo in the centre with lyre and grin.
Suddenly a shrill cry rocked the huge foyer of the temple.
The pair jumping a little, Lethaia glanced at him with a bewildered frown, Joxer only grinning.
"Hi Nestris," he said, stepping to an old crone covered in fine gold and silver silks, a tiara topping off her long well tended thick grey locks. Blue eyes sparkled from underneath trimmed and plucked eyebrows, wrinkles of age erased by her lively grin and chattering.
"YOO scamp!! Too long! It's been too long!" she cried, "Get over here!"
Reaching Joxer she grabbed him around the neck, planting huge kisses all over his face and brow. Glancing to Lethaia she chuckled.
"Dat's a pretty dinar - what's your chicky-babe's name?"
Joxer blushed, "She's not my chicky-babe. Her name is Lethaia."
The old woman frowned suddenly.
"Yoo do have a chicky-babe don't yoo?"
"He does, her name is Gabrielle, Qu-"
"Queen of di AMAZONS?" hooted Nestris, a definite ethnic accent ringing her r's, "Joxie honey, you've exceeded even my expectations! She's a nymph!"
Joxer found himself blushing again, "Yeah, she's kinda special..."
An attendant, lavish in similar silks to the woman, came skitting round the corner at the end of the foyer, his face pale in worry.
"Nestris! Nestris! You can't just up and leave a soothe saying like that!"
Nestris closed her eyes painfully, waving a bony hand at the man.
"Bugger off, I can!" she growled, "I can do what I please!"
The attendant moaned, taking the old lady by her shoulders.
"Come now, my lady, the holy congregation awaits your wisdom!"
Glaring at him she huffed.
"Awaiting to be told how to find dier sheep! Awaiting to find out how dey can make some dinars! Apollo wishes me here! I am here!" Taking Joxer by the shoulder, she wrapped an arm around him, "Dis is what I shall do! Di oracle has spoken! Now piss off!"
The attendant blanched, bowing slightly and muttering in a worried tone as he headed off for the south annex of the temple. Nestris chuckled.
"Stupid man!" Turning to Joxer she pulled him to her chambers, Lethaia trailing behind in quiet shock.
The old woman sat Joxer at a modest altar, candles everywhere, melted down, mostly burnt. The room was modest in general, rather messy, various musical instruments lay everywhere. A statue of the Great Apollo stood in the centre of the room, Lyre in one hand, spear in the other and a discus at his feet. Around him were a gaggle of nymphs, looking up adoringly at the God of Music and Spiritual Healing. He was also a great athlete. But the God was mostly known for his tremendous musical talents, by Nestris anyway. She adored music, Joxer always remembered her singing, long and beautiful notes floating from her old throat like a new dove.
"Babe, listen!" she growled, sitting down Lethaia away from the altar.
Removing Joxer's pointed helm, she rested her hands on his raven locks, taking a slow meditative breath in.
"Hmmmm much has passed Joxer, much has passed my boy. Apollo watches, and is pleased."
"Tssssshhht!" she hissed. "I'm getting something..."
She sang softly, brows dancing as her voice lilted.
"Come on 'Pollo! Gimme something to work with here! You brought me here, do-aaah!" she grinned, "Thank you!" she cleared her throat, "Er-hm! Joxer, one fair approaches! And a new hope is realised the womb of a loved one. Your other third is where you once were, and is seeking you now. Return to the cage, free your blood."
Lethaia watched the woman over Joxer and pursed her lips in a frown. She wasn't clear by any lengths, and what she said could mean anything. Maybe Joxer could figure it out.
"Oh, that's it babe," she said, taking her hands away from Joxer's crown, wiping her hands of the ethereal plasmic energy on her silken garb. "Now, you have dinner wit me!"
Joxer spun around and glared at her.
"Wai-wai-wait! You said 'A new hope is realised in the womb of a loved one'. Are you saying Gabby is pregnant?"
The old woman blinked, "I said that, what it means only the Fates know for sure."
Joxer frowned. Maybe, just maybe, it meant that his hope is in the womb of Gabrielle... That doesn't make sense! he grumbled, of all the stupid...
"Come! Eat!" the woman grinned, yanking Joxer by the armour, "The congregation should be up to the main meal just about now!"
Xena groaned to herself as her stomach punched itself into a tiny knot, it's contents bursting from her mouth and falling to the bed-basin. It was never-ending, and worsened when she expended a lot of energy. What the hell is going on? It was never this bad the last time!! With a rough cough, she wretched again, more bile spilling from her lips. Footsteps clunked down the hallway, and with as little as a bump a frumpy measure of a woman waddled into the room.
"How are ye miss?"
Xena lifted her eyes doggedly from the bed-basin next to her.
"Fine, I'm fine."
"Are ye sure? You are looking a little under the weather, like your sister said."
"Young blonde lass," the woman smiled with crooked teeth, "Told me to take care of ye and gave me a ma'y pretty dinar for the pleasure!"
Xena smiled as politely as she could through the general wooziness and intermittent bouts of nausea. The woman plodded over to the bed-basin, shock in her features.
"My my, you have been busy!" she ran a calloused work-worn hand over Xena's raven sweat wraggled tresses.
"What's your name?" she asked.
The woman smiled. "Annalyte, dear. And you be?"
Xena smirked slightly, "Xena."
"Ooh!" the woman chuckled, "Like the 'Warrior Princess' eh? What's it like having the same name as that beast?"
"Not bad," Xena said through a wince, "Clears a room when they say I'm coming though."
A crash thundered below the floor, and Annalyte fretted, her pale pudgy hands clambering for the door.
"Oh for the love of Zeus!" she cried, "What now! 'Scuse me dear!"
Another crash occurred, shouts from men and throws of punches punctuating the sounds of destruction. Xena pursed her lips, listening to the tussle down below, completely unable to do a thing about it. She growled.
"You can come out of hiding," she said, "I know you're there."
With a soft pulse, Ares slipped from nowhere, smirking down at the floor as he sat at the edge of the bed.
"How are you my dear?"
"Sick," she mumbled, "What did you just do?"
He rose a dark eyebrow, eyes fixed to the floor.
"Taught that pig of a woman a lesson. We'll see how her stinky hole of a tavern will look after those thugs are through with it!"
Xena rolled her eyes, glancing out the window.
"You can call off your dogs, I wasn't offended. It's the price I pay for my past."
Shrugging, Ares looked to the floor, as if looking past it. The fight continued. He sighed slowly.
"So, how are you feeling?"
She moved her soft blue eyes to him slowly, weariness in her movements.
"Like the back end of a bacchae," she said wearily, "And I'm not getting any better."
Ares shook his head.
"Nope, you're likely to feel worse."
Clearing the acid from her throat, Xena groaned.
"Great, just great," she said, swallowing. She shot a distasteful look in his direction, "What do you want?"
"Nice way to speak to the father of your new child," he muttered, "I was concerned over your health. The expectant mother must be looked after."
"What are you talking about?"
Ares chuckled, "Come on Xena, you know yourself. There's a bun in your oven, and that dough's mine!"
Trying desperately to sit up, Xena shuddered, disbelief in her features. It wasn't possible, it couldn't be possible!! She couldn't be, not to Ares!
"Are you saying I'm pregnant?!?" she croaked.
"I do believe I just said it," he replied.
Xena collapsed back onto the bed, looking suddenly very pale.
"Okay I've died and gone to Tartarus!" She thrust a quivering finger in his direction, a leer on her features, "Oh you bastard! You did this deliberately! Son of a bitch!"
He sighed, "I wouldn't talk about Hera like that, you know she doesn't take to insults. And no, this was not a - pardon the pun - preconceived plan," he stroked his chin stoically, then flashed her a grin, "Though I must say I wish it was!"
When Xena did not return his grin, he let it go, clearing his throat slightly with some discomfort.
As much as she hated the idea, she knew it was true. Yeah, she had been ripe when they went for it in the woods like a pair of crazed ferrets, and she hadn't had a sickness quite like this since Solan. But it was never this bad. She gave a short grunt as she adjusted the pillows underneath her.
"Okay, you told me the news, now go away."
Ares merely shook his head.
"No, I'm staying right here," he said. "Like it or not, Daddy's sleeping over tonight."
Xena leant back, gazing out the window, shock settling over her. She was pregnant to a God. It was, to say the least, a strange feeling.
"You're enjoying this aren't you?"
Ares raised his brow to her a moment, a long sigh being released.
"Xena, I'm not here to gloat. I'm here to look after you. All my past schemes aside, the fruit of my loins is at the moment cooking in your belly. Gods look after their offspring - well - Gods with any responsibility. Look at how Zeus pandered Hercules - see what he created as a result."
"You want a child like Hercules?" Xena said incredulously.
"No, but Hercules is loyal to Zeus - very loyal. I would want the same of any of my children."
"Not if I have anything to do with it," she rasped.
Ares merely shrugged, unperturbed by her adamance. He seemed in constant deep thought, his dark thick brows drawn together as he looked past all that was around him, his mind elsewhere, the row downstairs continuing regardless.
"So you're looking after me now?" she asked him.
Xena sighed, Ares' sudden quiet mood unsettling. He glanced to her with a sudden breath in.
"Yeah," he muttered, "I am. Welcome to the family, Xena."
The city gates of Corinth loomed in the distance, the soft morning haze setting a purple tinge to the high walls. Slowing Argo to a trot, she squinted, trying to see through the fog. With a squeeze of her heels Argo skipped to a swift canter, approaching the guard on watch. The birds of the morning had been softly twittering and burbling to themselves, but they chirped angrily as a shrill cry cut their calls.
"Helloooooo! Could you help me here?? I seem to be in a spot of trouble!!"
Swinging Argo around and coaxing her to a gallop Gabrielle could see not far off an old woman, heavy water buckets next to her, one tipped with most of the water gone, the other to a side, a log seemingly trapping the woman by the foot. The woman had the appearance of an old lonesome crone, off dirty coloured clothes, brown hessian covering her body. Dismounting Argo, Gabrielle ran up to the woman.
"Are you okay?" she said, kneeling next to her.
Glaring at Gabby, the old lady tutted.
"My foot is stuck in dis ting and you ask if I'm okay! Come on girly, help me up!"
Examining the tangle of dried old root and the lady's ankle, Gabrielle slowly managed to free her. The claws of the woman's hands, gnarled yet soft, gripped Gabrielle's as she pulled herself up off the ground.
The woman tutted again, gathering her water-pots.
"I slipped didn't I? The grass sent my foot under dat root!"
"Oh," Gabrielle looked down, seeing the muddy rut she had been stuck in. "Will you be okay?"
Narrowing her eyes at Gabrielle a moment, she nodded slowly, a smile spreading across her lips.
"Yes, Amazon Queen, I will be perfectly fine."
"How did you-"
Taking Gabrielle's hand suddenly, the old woman squeezed it.
"Some call me an Oracle. I call myself a daughter of Apollo, a mortal dat is merely a vessel for His will! And His will is that I help you, lover of his favoured. The one of which I speak is now on his way to Merimas - to save his brother. There is danger in his path, Amazon, and only the realisation of the promise of the womb can save him."
Gabrielle frowned - realisation of the promise of the what? What was this old bat blathering about?
"What do you mean - womb?"
A man, dark hair, late forties, came bounding from the city gates, silver and gold robes billowing behind him.
"My lady! You really must stop this behaviour!!" he growled, grabbing the lady by the shoulders, "We have attendants to fetch water! Honestly!"
Pulling her away, the old woman gazed back at the Amazon Queen, her hands slipping away from her grip.
"Promise of the womb..." she said with a smile, turning ahead, being taken to her home once more.
Gabrielle's soft brow drew together in a stern growl.
Joxer knew they had pushed their steeds as far as they would possibly want to, but he couldn't wait. He had to do this, be through with it, before his mind ate away at him completely. The sooner this is through with, the sooner I can be with Gabrielle! he thought, And then, then I can know for sure - A new Hope? Womb? She couldn't mean...
Joxer's head began to feel light again, worry filling him again. He slumped in his saddle, Lethaia glancing to him with a concerned pout.
"Don't worry, Joxer, we're nearly there."
He gazed over at her. She was so beautiful, so elegant. Jett was elegant that way, so delicately precise and deadly, just like her. He'd give everything he had just to be like that. Instead, he was an oaf. Tripping was his mode of travel, and foot in mouth was his process of communication. Luckily, his actions spoke with more eloquence than he ever could, and the people around him seemed to see some worth in him. It was really quite amazing that he managed to befriend a lovely woman as this. Before he was with Gabrielle, he would never have dreamt of such a thing. Gabrielle, he thought again, Gods, what have I done? I hope she is okay, oh dear Artemis, I hope she is all right!
Shaking his head he tried to clear his mind to the task at hand. Finding Jace would not be all that difficult, now they narrowed it down to what town he was in. Lethaia suggested the tavern closest to the jail, for easy access and a good view to plan out their actions, as well as the fact as it was a cheap stay somewhere. Joxer would have been as happy as stay in the woods, but it seemed this woman had plenty of dinars to pay for herself and liked to live well. Joxer however didn't have this luxury. Xena and Gabrielle had it rough as doers of good - he had it worse as a companion to those doers of good! Though it seemed Lethaia was quite willing to pay his way just for the great view the inn they were headed for supposedly had of the fort and valley.
Lethaia eased her steed into a swift canter as the city came into view, Joxer's horse, obviously trained to be a cart-horse, followed suit, regardless of Joxer's swift kick into it's side.
The inn they had chose - Old Fort Inn - was a mediocre affair, the stone and wood structure being sizeable and rather well maintained. It was right next to the jail, so close, one could hear the wails, and smell the boiling oil from the torture chambers. Thus the dramatically low prices of the rooms.
Dismounting her horse, Lethaia grabbed the reigns of Joxer's animal as he too dismounted.
Joxer watched her lead the horses as they approached the inn's stables.
"What's your horse called?" he asked.
"My horse?" Lethaia frowned.
Looking to her steed she smiled.
"My 'horse' is called 'Daphne'," she said, "Named for the nymph. My darling Daphne is a nymph, not a mere horse by any lengths!" Glancing to him she smiled, "What is your 'horse' called?"
Cocking his head at the barrel chested beast, he grinned.
"Well, he is all fluffy and brown like a bear, so I'll call him Nippy."
"Nippy?!" chuckled Lethaia, "What on earth inspires you to call the poor animal Nippy?!"
Joxer shrugged with a pout, stroking the horse's neck tenderly.
"I dunno - suits him I guess."
There was a sudden, almighty crash, and something burst through the front window of the tavern behind them. Diving for cover behind a large barrel, the two heard loud manic screams from the offender who provided the flight of what turned out to be the body of a human being.
"And SO," it said, a familiar, very very familiar voice prattled, "I think that MY dress is just FINE! And YOUR boots are AWFUL!"
Joxer looked down to the body of the man, covered in broken glass, a whole axe lodged in the unfortunate's chest. He ground his teeth in rage, knowing full well who would resort to such a dramatic performance. Standing, he stepped out into the fray, Lethaia glaring at him as he proceeded.
"Joxer!!" she hissed, "Come back! You'll get yourself killed!!"
Joxer did not hear her, he merely stood there, gazing into the tavern with a stern set face. He looked as though it took all his strength to keep it there. There was a lot of bumping, and as a funny yelping cry filled the air, a blur of colour sailed past Joxer and landed with absolutely no grace at all, yet it bounced right back to it's feet again. Dusting itself off, the blur, that turned out also to be a human being, grinned at Joxer and let out it's hand. It's hand that was beautifully manicured, covered in nail varnish, decorated with rings and a cheap colourful bracelet. It ran up to a short ruffled sleeved arm attached to a glittery sequined covered dress, the man done up worse than one of Widow Twanky's dancing girls. Lethaia didn't quite know what to believe. And then, he spoke.
"Darling - where in Tartarus have you been? Mommy and Daddy accosting you into avoiding me again?"
Joxer let go of an uncertain gasping chuckle, taking the guy's hand and kissing it with red red cheeks. It was quite a sight. The man was identical to Joxer in every way - bar the fact he was dolled up as a woman. The only thing that ruined the picture was the fact that the 'man' had a few rather large deadly weapons attached to him via heavy leather straps and dangerous looking belts.
"Hi jathe!" Jace imitated Joxer, "Hi JATHE! Is that aaall I get Joxer DARLING? I haven't seen you for ten years! Where did you go? You just left me with MOM and her Tartarus-bent fashion adviser!! You just left me there you bitch!"
Joxer toed the ground guiltily.
"I'm sorry Jace - you know Dad - he woulda killed me had he found out I was visiting you..."
Jace batted his heavily mascara'd eyelashes.
"Daddy woulda killed Mom had he known she was still dressing me up at sixteen sweety-lumps," he muttered, "No matter, babe, I'm doin' it on my own and I'm doin' it with style!"
Joxer nodded, "Yeah I must say - that dress looks better than anything Mom ever had on you - the sequins really go great on you."
Cocking his head with a self absorbed smile, Jace cooed.
"Aaaooh! You reaaally think so? I thought so! And these shoooees! See these shoes Joxer! I kill people who don't like my shoes!"
So, Joxer looked at his shoes. They were truly bizarre. Long, leather grecian-style sandals, ran up to the man's middle thigh, covered in sequins and a few rhinestones, the lace pitch black. Joxer winced slightly, trying to put on an enthused smile.
"Gee Jace, they're really somethin'!"
Jace again leered.
"I know honey! I know!" he pulled Joxer by the armour close to him, a serious scowl on the young man's face. "Okay sweet-cheeks, did you go and wish Jett a Happy Birthday?"
"Yeah," said Joxer, "And now I've come to give him his present..."
Wrapping an arm around Joxer he cooed.
"Mmmm, I think I like your style - it ain't always been your style - but now it's your style. Handsome brave and stupid suits you Joxer babe," he pouted with lipsticked lips, "Come with me - we'll plan an escape so big it'll make the Helen of Troy break-out look like a tea-party!"
"The Helen of Troy thing wasn't a breakout..."
Jace blinked hard with a dismissing sway of the head.
"But babe - it'll be - that - good!"
With a theatrical lift of his skirt, stepping over the body, he pranced inside, leaving Joxer to his own devices.
Staggering out from behind the barrels in shock, Lethaia rasped.
"And that's you're brother?"
"Oh brother!" Lethaia exclaimed.
Gabrielle came onto the town of Merimas just as the dark of night was settling in. Opening her mouth, a long yawn stretched it's way out. A tavern, an inn. She needed to find one, and hopefully she'd find the one with Joxer in it. Merimas was a pretty buzz at the twilight hours, the taverns full of song, the brothels full of men, the streets empty bar one or two drunken travellers. Springing off Argo, Gabrielle led her in carefully, gripping her staff in her other hand. Where would I stay if I were Joxer and I was planning to break into a jail?
She played with the possibilities in her mind, leading Argo through the dark town square, heading towards the jail-end of town. It was quiet out, deathly quiet, and she shuddered. Something didn't feel right - something was paying very close attention to her...
Joxer sat at the table wearily, Lethaia concentrating on her meal more than anything else at that moment in time. Jace had wandered off somewhere - Joxer's stomach growled not out of hunger rather deep deep concern.
He felt shame seep into his bones as he thought of his 'brother'. He was the most erratic, flamboyant, bizarre person he had ever the fortune - or even misfortune to know. Jace was also one of the most deadly. He had a terrible reputation - his father so ashamed that they swore to never mention his name again.
"Joxer - does this meat taste funny to you?" Lethaia looked up, then, glancing around she frowned. "Hey - where'd Twinkle-Toes go?"
Joxer shrugged darkly.
"I've got a really bad feeling..."
Lethaia cocked her head a little, "You don't completely trust your brother do you?"
"Are you kidding? When he was a teenager he was the cruellest most vicious killer in Corinth - even Jett looked like a wuss next to him! Apart from his secret penchant for cross-dressing he was set to be the next great Warlord. But..."
Lethaia rose a brow.
"He announced that he 'wasn't being himself' and decided to dress as a woman permanently..." Joxer said. "My father was so disgraced - we all were. Mom didn't care, she had her years of fun out of the guy."
Lethaia nodded. Sighing, Joxer pushed his dinner away, rising from the table.
"I'm gonna find the lug now," he said, scratching the side of his nose. "Seeya."
"Seeya soon," Lethaia replied.
"If anyone's arrived in Merimas, and they're not here, check the Old Fort Inn, they'll be there for sure!" the old man said in a creaky voice, nestled behind a table, walking staff in hand. Gabrielle smiled.
She weaved her way through smelly bodies and tables to the exit, the smell of oil lamps overpowering. Bursting out into the bracing night air, she approached Argo, patting the golden hide that seemed to glow in the dim lamp-light from the tavern. She hugged the horse a moment, the anxiousness of finding Joxer eating away at her. Untying the rope, she led Argo through the square, towards the Old Fort Inn. I hope he's there!!
The feeling she had before washed over her again. Xena had taught her to be more perceptive over the years, that the tiniest movement in a nearby bushel could be anything - that a clutter of rocks could be a mouse or a man. One had to use their instincts and ascertain which. Right now, Gabrielle instinctively thought that whatever was in the looming shadows was not animal. She gripped her staff, the pelt prickling under her hold. It was very dark out - the moon was new, and the stars gave little illumination. The lamplight from the inn did not reach far - pitch blackness was her company.
"We're nearly there Argo," she whispered, "We're nearly there..."
There was a sudden scuff in the sand, and Gabrielle whirled about, swinging her staff.
It hit something hard, an 'oomph' being the only indication that it caused any pain. Darkness blanketed her sight, night concealing her assailant well. She heard more footsteps on the trodden ground, and swinging again the staff made a 'whoosh' and hit thin air. A large hand gripped her arm, the rough skin scratching her, someone pulling her close to a soft foul-smelling body. The person said nothing, just grunted, holding Gabrielle down into the sand, working at her skirt.
"Watch out honey," a voice said suddenly.
There was a terrible crack, a shadow twisting the neck of the one on top of her. Before it could fall dead on top of her, it was yanked back, falling in a heap on the ground nearby. Gabrielle sobbed, pulling her skirt back on, the shadow's voice really familiar. She knew it. She knew it like she knew how to breath, and she wondered why it's owner hadn't her wrapped in his arms, and how the hell he managed to pull off the stunt he just pulled.
"There we go, no dramas," the voice continued, "You're out late sweety - you should be inside!"
Sweety? Honey? Since when did he start calling her those? And when did he start sounding so - camp?
"Joxer?" she finally whispered. She stepped closer, her eyes now adjusted to the light levels around her. In the darkness she thought she could see him wearing - LIPSTICK?!?
"JOXER!!" she yelped, "Why on earth are you wearing LIPSTICK?"
"My dear I think you're slightly mistaken..."
"Yeah - yeah I think I was!!" she stammered, shock and panic settling over her, "Why didn't you tell me yo-"
She stopped, and grabbing her staff she dug it into the movement behind her, another familiar voice yelping in agony.
Peering at the body on the floor, writhing in agony, it nodded pitifully.
"Joxer!!" she growled, diving to the ground, grabbing the stricken man by the ears, "Get up NOW!!"
"Gabby!" he barely spoke in a high pitched rasp, "What'r'you doing?" Looking up around him, he saw Jace watching over them, and pursing his lips he pulled himself up, Gabrielle pulling him by the top of the ear. He yelped, ouching and stamping the ground in pain.
"Where did I get you?" she whispered.
Joxer looked at her flatly as he cradled his groin and she grinned.
"Good!" Increasing her pressure on the ear she leered, "Now, you have SO much explaining to do." With a sigh she let go of his ear, stepping back to calm down. She sent him a sidewards scowl. "Number ONE!"
Joxer watched her, horrified.
"I heard, from PUB talk, no less, that you are travelling with a WOMAN! A VIOLENT woman! WHO is she and WHY is she with you?"
"Hey Jox hon - do you usually get beautiful women abusing you out of the blue or do you know this nymph?"
Glancing to the camp voice behind her, Gabrielle pointed to Jace with her thumb.
"Joxer - who is that?"
"Jace," he said, pulling down his helmet, "It's my brother - Jace."
"Brother?!" she almost cried, "Hang on! You're saying you're a triplet?!?"
She let out a quick sigh, "Well great! Why don't you tell me these things?" she growled, "I thought you came here to break Jett out of jail when all along you were really just visiting Jace!"
"No babe - we are gonna break him out - that's why I'm here!" mumbled Jace, preening himself.
"Oh -" Gabrielle went quiet. She looked to him, her words husky. "You're going to break the law?"
"I think I'll leave you two alone a moment..." muttered Jace, prancing off in the darkness.
Joxer looked to her in the dim light, nodding slowly.
"You're with this woman - breaking the law? What's happened to you? The Joxer I knew would never do this!"
"The Joxer you know wouldn't let his brother die in a rotting stinking hole!" he replied, gesturing towards the jail with a flustered jerk. Gabrielle stayed silent, reading his expressions. "Gabby - Jett has done so much for me, more than I ever realised. He's family - my only family. I can't let him go through that hell any longer."
Gabrielle pursed her lips. "How do you-"
"I went and visited him," he said, "It was his birthday last week."
The bards eyes bulged, her hands aching to hold the man in front of her.
"It was your - " she stopped. "How about this woman?"
"She's a friend, Gabrielle, please believe me. She is a hired killer, an assassin. She was willing to help - the only one that would."
As he spoke Gabrielle stomped the stony ground suddenly.
"I would have helped you, Joxer!"
"I didn't want to get you in trouble!" he said, "You're a hero, along with Xena. The last thing you need is to be in trouble with the law!" Taking Gabrielle's hand gently, Joxer continued, "I didn't want to place a burden like that on you. I hadn't even intended to break him out! I went to visit him and- Gabrielle, Jett's in trouble. They have him in a stinking rat-infested cell without sunlight, without decent meals, and he's gonna die in there if I don't help him."
"Joxer - if you had just told me about this..." she sighed, her voice catching, "I was so worried about you! And - I thought..." She paused, swallowing hard, "I thought you might have - with this woman and... mycycle'slate."
He blinked hard, seizing her by the shoulders suddenly.
"You - come again?"
"Uhm," she sniffled, "my cycle's late."
He suddenly felt his legs give way underneath him, his rear impacting on the hard cobblestone ground.
"Oh - oh Hera!" he cried. "Oh Gabby, I'm sorry..."
"Sorry? Why sorry?"
He looked up to her as she knelt down beside him.
"I've stolen you're freedom! Now you're going to be tied down with a child - an' after Hope and everything..."
"It's a blessing, Joxer," she said softly, "I - I was just worried, that you weren't going to be around..."
He gazed at her a long moment, then, without a word, Joxer pulled Gabrielle to him, holding her tightly.
"Gabby, I'm gonna be there for ya every day," he said softly. "I'm gonna be..."
Nodding, Gabrielle smiled, running a hand down his tear streaked face.
"I know," she whispered, leaning forward, letting her lips softly interlock with his in a tender kiss.
Pulling the shaken Joxer to his feet, Gabrielle saw sparkles move restlessly nearby, and she smiled.
Joxer spun around, turning to the frocked man behind him.
"Hey Jace - " he put out his hand, "Thanks for saving her - I owe you."
Approaching with a wave of a long nailed hand, Jace chuckled.
"Sweeeety! Forget it it's cool!"
Joxer scratched the side of his nose, pawing the ground with a toe.
"How did you know she was my-"
"I didn't," said Jace.
Joxer looked at him a long moment.
"Thanks," he said softly.
Waving a manicured hand, Jace picked up his sequined skirt, flouncing back to the inn.
Gabrielle gripped Joxer's shoulder, turning him to her with a sigh.
"You're gonna try and get Jett out whether anybody helps you or not aren't you?"
He shrugged, armour clanking.
"He's my brother, Gabby."
She narrowed her eyes a little, a smile tempting its way to her lips.
He smiled down at her, soft features in the dark night. His heart grew fluttery and his limbs limp as her hands roamed under his cloak, finding their way under his shirt and sliding over his smooth skin. Her colder fingers made him yelp a little, and she grinned, leaning in close.
"I missed you Joxer," she said holding him to her tightly. It felt so good to be with him again, entwining him in her arms. Joxer held her tender, being sure not to hurt her on his armour.
Gabrielle looked up at him. "So, is the inn far?"
Frantically, Joxer shook his head, her lips close, her eyes suddenly full of mischief.
Xena groaned, rolling over on the hay and wool-filled mattress, gazing out the open window in front of her doggedly.
Ares would not leave her side.
He was vigilant, pacing, pulling out his sword and idly swishing it about. Whenever Annalyte came to check up on Xena he would send her away with a nonchalant air, telling her in simple Greek that her presence was not wanted. Funnily enough, to Xena, neither was his. His firm belief Xena that was holding his child made Xena cringe, or have another dizzy spell. All this because of my raging hormones! she thought with aggravation. Over and over again in her mind she tried to figure out exactly why she had done what she had with him - she intensely disliked the man - she would never usually have willingly had sex with him. God, she corrected herself, He is a God. If he were a man, maybe, maybe...
She shook the feeling that made her skin crawl, the warm rush of affection that had plagued her before. How dare he... How dare he endear himself to her! He was her enemy, the nemesis she had to destroy...
The door was swung open suddenly, a red-faced Annalyte hauling the weight of a fresh bed-basin.
"Mi-dear, your new-"
"Get out!" growled Ares.
The woman jumped, stuttering with fear-riddled eyes.
"I only wanted to change her bed-basin sir," she said, gesturing the heavy earthen-wear in her arms.
"Very well," Ares muttered, "Be about your business then get out."
Xena rolled her eyes, resting on a lax hand, "Gee Ares, you're getting to be a softy over time."
"And you're complaining?" he retorted.
Taking the old basin from the bed, Annalyte glanced up, Xena's face a little way from hers. She scrunched her nose, muttering.
"If I were you, dear, I'd find myself a new husband. He's a pretty one, but he's a brute!"
"He's not my husband!" she said evenly, "He's the God of War."
Annalyte rolled her eyes knowingly.
"Aye - my husband says the same thing! Men!"
Lifting herself to her feet, she tutted, heading for the door, but stopped next to Ares.
"If you were a clever lad you'd treat her kindly - she's a lovely woman, likely too good for the likes of you!"
Ares didn't respond, he merely rolled his eyes at the woman as she waddled from the room.
She was really hungry.
Rolling back, she took a glance at Ares strutting about like a cock, his long curled locks bobbing slightly as he manoeuvred the sword.
He said nothing.
"I'm starving," she continued.
Pulling the sword down from the air he sheathed it, turning to her slowly.
"What would you like to eat?"
Raising reluctant eyes to him she pouted slightly.
"Cherries," she said.
He rose his brows quickly in a nod, until-
"In auroch's dripping."
"What?!?" Ares' nose wrinkled up, "I'm sorry Xena but that's revolting..."
She growled, savage and beastly.
"It's what I WANT!"
Xena's outcry silenced him. With a long sigh, he outstretched a muscular arm, his hand awaiting something, and with a shower of glittering orbs a bowl of cherries appeared in it. Cherries, in auroch's dripping. It smelt terrible to Ares' nose, and he handed it with much disgust to the ravenous looking Warrior Princess, who began to wolf them down as soon as the bowl was within her reach. Cringing, he watched her stuff slimy greasy cherries into her mouth, the red of the pulp mixing with the oily dripping from the fat of a beast. Satisfied grunts and moans issued from her as she filled her face with the fruit, she sparing a satisfied and gratuitous glance as she continued to dine.
"Don't forget to chew, Xena," he muttered, and she only winked at him, revelling in the taste of the clashing food.
With that he disappeared suddenly with a pulse of glitter, a grin sliding on Xena's face.
With a strange pulse and a heavy warmth next to her in the bed, she groaned, the grin sliding off once more. Nestled next to her on the bed, leather-clad legs crossed at the ankles nonchalantly, Ares gazed out the window, his sculptural brow drawn in thought. She watched him a moment as she wolfed the cherries down, the slippery ooze in the bowl pleasantly warm. He didn't look happy - in fact Ares was not at all his chirpy evil-natured self. He was dark, brooding, sure that was normal, but he wasn't completely sure of things. Of himself he would always be sure, but of his future - this she knew he was worried for, his face had it written like a scroll. This was not a God worried about where his next campaign would occur - no no no no. This was a God worrying about where his next sacrifice would come from. Fear was in his features, uncertainty in his tone. Yes, this child in her womb was certainly important to him.
"You're half right Xena, and yes this child is important, but not for the reasons you ascertain," he said suddenly, almost making her jump. She hated when he read her mind like a child went through an old chest. She was ready to complain, but seeing his sad features, she let out a sigh. He looked to her suddenly, thoughtfulness in his brow.
"Did it really mean nothing to you?"
Rolling her eyes Xena nodded, stuffing a pair of cherries into her mouth. Cocking his head suddenly, Ares smiled.
"If that is so, why is it you think about it, and me, so often?"
She let a sidewards glance pierce his confident gaze.
"I have your bun in my oven - who else am I supposed to think about?"
Ares let the corner of his mouth twitch into a handsome smile.
"Oh your thoughts have centred on me before there was ever a child in the picture. You know - and of course you know this cause these after all are your thoughts - it truly did surprise me how erotic some of the amblings of your mind would get, it was almost satisfying just watching you secretly explore me."
Xena wiped auroch's dripping from her mouth, and looking down at her tired body, pale from sickness, her hair in greasy wraggled locks, she sighed. She felt Ares' intense heat next to her, his weight against her as the bed sagged in the middle. She felt endlessly unattractive right at that moment, her usual cool facade gone, not because she did not look her best, but that she felt her control slowly slipping away. Xena pursed her cherry stained lips, cradling the bowl in her lap.
Gently, Ares took the bowl from her hands, placing it at the bedside table.
Xena watched the arm reach over her, the muscular arm so close to her lips, the skin she could smell so clearly - such a fierce scent it caught her lungs and held her tight, like the God it belonged to. She lifted her eyes to Ares as he reclined once more next to her, curling over her, his hand suddenly at her cheekbone, stroking tenderly.
"Now it's those thoughts I don't like Xena..."
His hand ran down to hers, and lifting it he pressed his round tender lips against her knuckles, letting careful kisses meander slowly up the length of her arm. Oh that dirty bastard, how dare he do this to me!
"What thoughts," she had to stop and catch her breath as Ares found her collarbone, his tip of his tongue travelling the length of it, "Wwould those be?"
He lifted his head from her chest, and though she had the smell of three days odour on her, it lived in his lungs and sent him almost into a frenzy, something animalistic about the very notion of her hormones entering him through scent. As impassioned as his actions were, unlike all the times he was merely trying to tempt her into his dark ways, his touches were somehow more intimate. A hand cupped her cheek and jaw, his dark eyes holding hers.
"You know what I'm talking about," he said huskily, in a tone that sent a shiver down Xena's spine. "Even unwell, your beauty outshines that of Aphrodite..."
Xena shook her head, a winsome smile ripping at her mouth.
"You don't mean that..." she breathed. She felt his expert fingers at her cheekbone again, running softly, his breath at her earlobe.
His hand slid down her side, pulling her to him firmly, holding her close and protectively whilst letting his lips play around her ears and neck. Xena tried to take control of her senses as his other arm wrapped around her, his head burrowing into the nape of her neck.
She ground her teeth, her hand clasping to the side of his head, pulling him away from her like a calf from the teat. His eyes were wide, full of need and passion.
Slowly she shook her head, running her fingers behind his ear as she placed a stray lock.
"I can't do this again Ares - If you care - just stop."
And he did something she truly wasn't expecting.
Withdrawing his arms from around her, he pulled up the bed quilt, coddling her into a bundle, working at her comfort as his face was so close to hers. His eyes met hers, and Xena let a frown occur.
"You'd do anything to have me join you..."
Ares cocked his head.
"I would do anything to have you accept me for what I am," he said, "And that you need me."
Xena gave a sigh, snuggling under the cover, rolling over and bedding down.
"Yeah whatever, Ares," she muttered sleepily.
Ares watched her as she put herself in a comfortable position for sleep, and tentatively, he curled round her from behind, an arm wrapping around her.
She pretended to be asleep. She pretended not to notice it. She even pretended she didn't enjoy it's warmth.
Xena, however, knew it was there.
She pretended, just for a moment, that it didn't matter, that it was Marcus around her not Ares, but that picture only brought her pain. Before she could blunder in thought to another pain, her weariness overtook her, as did the God's warmth and tender embrace, and she drifted down into a restless sleep.
Bursting into the room Gabrielle squealed, Joxer's clanking steps close behind her. The door slammed quickly and loud, and she dove behind the bed, throwing her staff to the wayside.
Joxer looked around the room, Gabrielle's staff laying abandoned on the floor, barely any places in the room she could hide. Yeah, she had to be behind the bed.
"Come on out Gabrielle," he grinned, "I'm just gonna -RMmph!"
He pulled the piece of fabric that had just smothered his face at high speed. Holding it up he recognized it as...
Gabrielle's little green top.
He found himself blushing profusely, even though he had had a number of experiences with the bard her forward behaviour and commanding attitude always took him by surprise. Generally her enthusiasm with him would bolster his confidence, and he would perform for her more than adequately.
But right now, he just let a gulp bob in his throat. Her leg lifted in the air, her nimble fingers flinging loose the laces and deftly pulling off the boot. With a klunk it flew through the air, landing at Joxer's feet quite deliberately. She let an eye peer over the bed as she shuffled, doing something. A boot slid out from under the bed and then - oh boy.
Her skirt now shot out from under the bed.
He, with a shy but boyish smile, began to loosen his armour, and he heard her fumble once more.
Suddenly, Joxer felt weak in his knees as his eyes travelled over the sight before him.
With a coy smile, Gabrielle stood, weathered but smooth skin running over feminine musculature, the warm shoots of blonde hair falling around her shoulders, glowing in the lamplight, a thin leather strap tied around her neck. A thin leather strap lined with the most beautiful turquoise beads he had ever seen - he knew that necklace. Her delicate hand sat at it with young trembles, the air cold. He looked down at himself, apart from his armour on the floor he was fully clothed. He bent down to rid himself of his boots, keeping his eyes on the buckles and laces.
A warmth met his back, lithe fingers running over the material of his shirt, pushing the flesh of his neck to his scalp in vigourous massage. He could almost hear himself purring as he hurriedly tried to pull off his gear. Her hands slipped down his side, finding his abdomen and his belt-line, her hand diving into the leather trimmed trousers. He couldn't help but jolt back against her, the shock of delight wracking his body suddenly, sending chills though every follicle.
One hand helped him pull his shirt over his head as the other was at work, he frantically trying to remove his pants all the while. Oh she smelt heavenly, her body so close, warm increasingly sticky skin clinging against his. She moaned slightly, repeating soft burblings of 'I love you's' and 'I miss you so'.
She was so incredibly relieved to have him back. So incredibly relieved to have him leaning into her embrace with need, twisting around suddenly to fall totally into her rapturous hold. Chest against chest she heaved slowly, he cupping and kneading a breast gently in one hand, playing her carefully with another. She tilted her hips as he continued, awaiting him to increase the furiousness of the lovemaking. Something was different this time.
Something was - not right.
She gripped him tightly, easing his narrow hips to rock, to tease her and finally fulfil her but...
Joxer kept with his hands, truly bringing lights before her eyes with his masterful strokes, but never would he enter her - only please her in ways that did not involve the traditional methods of lovemaking.
Okay what's up with this? she thought, tearing herself away from the pleasure he was bringing her by finger alone, sitting up suddenly, laying an arm over Joxer's shoulders for support.
"What is it?" she said in a rough gasp, "What's wrong?"
He shook his head.
"Nothing - nothing is," he swallowed, "Yeah."
"Joxer!" she frowned, "You're a lousy liar! I know something is worrying you - you're being so careful with me!"
Oh geez, he thought, clearing his throat.
"It's just that - I went to see the Oracle at Corinth..."
"The - oracle of Apollo?"
She knew!! How?
"You mean - you've seen her?"
Gabrielle nodded. "On my way here. She was fetching water when her foot was stuck in a pothole by the road. She certainly wasn't dressed like any oracle I had ever seen before!! She told me where to find you..."
"Did she say any more?"
"Yeah, yeh she said you're in danger," Gabrielle looked thoughtful a moment then lifted a hand, "Wait - she said something else... something I can barely remember. It's like some dream..."
Joxer gulped, "Did it have anything to do with wombs?" he asked her. The bard blinked at him, her face a little pale.
"Uh - you don't mean a promise of one do you?"
Joxer nodded frantically, "She told me a new hope lay in the womb of a loved one! A new Hope!! You know what that means?"
Gabrielle shook her head, a disbelieving frown on her face, "She knew..."
Joxer nodded. "Yeah..."
Joxer's breath grew rapid, his head becoming light. Gabrielle smiled, sliding an arm under his and letting a kiss touch the nape of his neck. His body stiffened at the touch and he took her face in his hands.
"If you are - you know," he blushed, "Isn't it bad if we..."
Gabrielle looked thoughtful for a moment, then shook her head.
"Joxer, Xena's sick."
He glared, "Is she okay, why didn't you tell me?"
Gabby smiled, "It's not that kind of sick Joxer - it's the kinda sick I should be feeling but I don't."
Joxer pouted, saying nothing.
"She's sick Joxer!! She might be the pregnant one!"
Joxer cocked his head, "You can't go past that 'New Hope' thing Gabby."
"I know - I just should be sick by now - I was before..."
She looked so worried, he didn't know what to say. He held her gently, trying to console, he was afraid bumbling words would upset her. He ran supportive hands to her sides, massaging the small of her back.
"Maybe it's just different this time. Mom was never sick with me. Maybe because it's a mortal child you know - you're not sick."
Gabrielle smiled, taking in his tender tone. Oh, Gods! she thought, I'd be lost without him.
"Thanks, Joxer," she said softly. He nodded, a little smile curling the corners of his mouth. She lifted herself to her knees, a knowing grin gracing her face.
"Well, Mr. Mighty," she sighed, pushing him back onto the shaggy fur-covered floor, "Tonight - you're mine!"
Continue on to Part Two