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Cavern of Dreams
By Tommy Craig & Mistee Pontes
"Where are they?" The spaghetti strainer hat warrior thought. The cave was awfully silent. It had been for some time . . . . They'd told him not to go in . . . to stay out of their way . . . but they should have returned hours ago. . . . What could they be doing?
The cave gaped open pitch black and silent. Nothing went in, nothing came out. . He sat worried on the log lying adjacent to the cave and sat. Seconds passed, minutes passed, hours passed . . .the noonday sun arched in the sky downwards further and further until it touched the horizon....
Dark thoughts slowly crept in behind the worry in his mind . . . Maybe Something had delayed them... Maybe they had changed their original plan . . .but how hard could it be?
Dusk's red hue covered the horizon and the sky darkened. A solitary cricket began to chirp in the bushes. The minutes slowed to a snail's pace. . And the darker the skies, the darker his thoughts became . . . Worry and fear etched into his eyes, lines appearing on this forehead. . He paced at the cave's entrance. .
"Why hadn't they returned . . .what could have happened to them?"
The darkness of a cloudy night shrouded the skies. Soon pitch blackness covered the landscape . . . a darkness as worrisome as his thoughts . . .
The spaghetti strainer warrior told himself that his thoughts were running away with him again. . . That the two were more than a match for any man or beast.
Silence roared in his head. The silence was deafening.... Not a bird . . . not the wind . . nothing but the cricket . .
"Where are they?!" he exclaimed.
Silence followed . . . . What had happened? The firm voice echoed back into his mind . . "We need you to guard the entrance" But the meaning behind it was clear . . . that he wasn't' needed, that they didn't want, much less need him there at all . . . A stab of rejection and hurt tore through something deep inside. But the throb quickly transformed into a sadness and longing for their voices . .. as the deafening silence terrified him . . .
He lay on the ground. . .trying to sleep . .
But visions of their soft faces contorted in fear and pain kept his eyes wide with worry . .. . the lines etching deeper and deeper . . . All through the night the thought of their tender faces in fear, their gentle features darkened with fear disturbed something deep inside . . The night wore on and on . . .
Maybe his thoughts were running away with him again . . . . .
Trying to shut out the screams in his mind, . . . the spaghetti strainer warrior obeyed the fading voice of the warrioress. . . . .
Lying back down, he resolved to go in after them at first light.
He never slept a wink . .. and the darkness lasted for an eternity. But, at last it was barely dawn and the clouds parted. The sun shining on the cave entrance . . . Sword in hand, the spaghetti strainer warrior entered the cave determined to find his friends . . . He would rather endure Xena's harshness and Gabby's angry words than take the risk of losing them . . .
The light from the cave entrance faded and a strange longing tugged at his heart, when their soft features appeared in his thoughts . . . The tunnel was growing darker and more ominous . . . His steps began to resound in the darkness . . . terrified and feeling helpless he pressed on into the darkness, feeling the left side of the cave wall for guidance.
The tunnel twisted and turned.
Suddenly he hit his head on a stone protruding from the ceiling. Blood rushed to his head . . . and he felt his body collapsing . . . his mind blurring into darkness. The last thing he felt was his body hitting the hard floor . . . and with a sharp pain . . . his head . . . thoughts faded into darkness.
Throb, Throb, Throb . . . his mind reoriented into consciousness . . . the throbs in his head becoming clearer and more painful . . 'Ow!' he reeled, holding his moistened head . . . What was the wetness on his head? . . .
<<<<<<THROB>>>>>>><<<<<<THROB>>>>>>><<<<<<THROB>>>>>>> . . . .
The severity of each pain lessened . . . and he began to remember . ..
Slowly he got back up, a funny sensation running up and down his spine. The images of a smiling bard and a beautiful warrior faded in and then out of his mind . . .. . mixing up strange emotions that seemed to swell up and around their vision as they faded into the dark . . .
Worried for them again, and with hands wide and following the cave side, he set his fears aside and plunged further into the darkness, his hands leaving a bloody trail on the cave wall as he went . . . Finally! A dim light appeared . . . It grew brighter and brighter . . It was a torch, fastened into the side of the wall.
Torches filled the cave as it turned right, transforming into more of a stone hallway with torches lighting it . . . and shields decorating the sides . . .
He pressed on.
At last he hall came to an end, opening up into a room where he heard
voices . . . worried and fearful voices . . He instantly recognized the bard's gentle tone . . . and the reply came in the commanding voice of the warrior; his heart looked toward with vulnerable eyes . .
He arrived at a carved out cavern . . . at the end of which sat, neatly perched, the item of their quest, a small stone relic. Nearby it two bodies were trapped in a sprung trap of metal . . . holding them fast. The two heard someone coming and their thoughts turned to fear.
In stumbled the spaghetti strainer warrior. "Joxer?!" they cried half-angry, half relief. "What happened?" he asked, blinking in the light . . . and looking at the trap said "What's this?" "Joxer, you'll have to use your sword. Pry us open. There's not much time to lose," Xena said.
Indeed the first time - Joxer looked up to see a massive swing door with long deadly spikes perched above, ready to fall when the rotating machine that clicked as the seconds ticked away to the final moment when the door would slam into them, piercing their bodies with a thousand spikes.
Wedging the sword between the wall and the constricting frame, he pulled and tugged without result. With both feet on the wall the put all the strength he could muster into it and pulled only to lose the grip and fall to the floor.
The ticking mechanism was drawing to the final seconds.
He attacked the metal frame again, then again, glancing up to see the spikes ready to fall. He attacked and hacked with his sword over and over. When beyond the view of the women, he saw steps hidden in the wall to their left, with a lever protruding out of the wall.
"There's a lever over there"
"Try it!" they screamed.
He raced over and pulled the lever. At the same time, the ticking reached its final point. The frame swung open, releasing the two, who dived out, just in time to avoid the spiked wall, which came crashing down onto where they'd just been standing.
Xena and Gabby looked each other over to make sure okay. "Are you all right" Xena asked running a hand over Gabby's arms and back "Yeah . . . yeah I guess so . . . considering we were almost mincemeat."
Racing over to the stone relic - the icon of their quest, Gabby grabbed it and made for the cave entrance. Meanwhile Xena turned her head to tell Joxer "Let's go."
But they had been too busy seeing if each other was okay to notice the gaping hole that opened up when the lever was pulled.
And they had been too busy trying to escape from the falling spikes to hear Joxer's almost mute cry of terror.
Or the silence that followed . .. .
In a matter of moments, Xena was leaning precariously over the hole. "Joxer? . . . . "
She waited for a response . . . .
"Joxer are you down there?" . . . .
The hole gaped open pitch black . . . going downwards into a sea of darkness . . .
This time Gabby tried, "Joxer?" and after a pause, "Joxer, this isn't funny."
Moments passed . . . seconds, minutes . . . .
Time stopped . . . . . . . and all was silence.
At last a small, strangled solitary cry of anguish came up from the blackness . . .
Xena's eyes searched the darkness "Joxer!" she yelled. "Joxer, where are you?" she said, looking for anything that moved, anything other than the darkness that engulfed her friend.
"Joxer, I can't help you unless you talk to me," her voice echoed down into the cavern . . . .
She accidentally pushed a small pebble over the edge . . . . . and it fell down into the darkness . . . . . . . down . . . down . . . . . far into the earth . . . and landed at the bottom, next to a broken body in the throes of agony . . . lying inert amongst the rocks.
A small failing cry of despair came out of trembling lips and fear filled eyes . . . .
With that, silence filled the cavern. Voices echoed off the walls of the abyss. Pebbles and small rocks began to fall down onto the floor. A rope free fell down into the darkness, landing just a couple of meters away from where the bleeding form lay. The sound of feet bouncing off the cavern wall punctuated the quiet darkness all around.
Strong arms held the rope tight as the figure descended down into the depths of the abyss. The faint hint of a fire's light began to illuminate the bottom of the cavern. Small rocks began to fall from above more and more. The sound of someone propelling their way down the rock surface got louder and louder, until, in a hail of small rocks, the Warrior Princess herself landed on the cavern floor.
Holding a torch in her left hand, she surveyed the cavern floor. A large boulder lay in the middle obstructing a view of the other side. As she began to walk cautiously to the other side, she saw a small broken spaghetti strainer lying to the side of a rock . .. . it's tin surface splashed red. Sadness and worry played across her face she called for the tin hatted warrior . . . . with no response . . .
She continued around the boulder, gingerly stepping around to the other side of the rock. The flames of her torch rounded the bend, revealing the scene before her . . . Xena knelt next to the broken bloody body that now barely resembled the fun loving fool she knew.
"Joxer?" she barely whispered.
The body lay unresponsive.
She gingerly surveyed the extent of the damage, running an experienced finger over the broken bones and the gash on his head. Wiping the blood from her hands, she stood up and yelled up to Gabrielle . . .
"I found him."
"What? How is he?" she asked in a trembling voice.
A silence followed.
"Gabrielle, send it down."
A worried "Okay" came down from Gabby.
And a few moments later the rope was pulled up, followed by some tussling noises up above. A stretcher of sorts came jumbling down into the cavern, to where a warrior princess crouched, covering a now semi-conscious Joxer.
Hazy eyes slowly returned to focus . . . and a universe of pain filled every nerve of his tortured body. He looked up, searching the hazy darkness for any hope . . . and slowly, the beautiful traces of a woman's throat and neck came into view ... And in the middle of that universe of pain, gentle blue eyes met the cries of a tortured soul.
A heartrending cry moaned out of Joxer's soul as Xena lifted his limp body up out of the jagged rocks and back down onto the awaiting stretcher. The ropes fully secured around herself, and with Joxer tied firmly into the stretcher, Xena began the long ascent to the top, with Gabby pulling for all she was worth.
For what seemed hours and hours, the two climbed and pulled and dragged Joxer to the top, pausing several times out of sheer exhaustion. But crevice by crevice, Xena climbed her way to the top of the cavern, the stretcher following in tow.
At long last, Xena climbed back over the top - such that with Gabby pulling in support, brought up the now blood-soaked stretcher as well.
Xena lay down exhausted. At the same time, Gabby rushed over to the
bleeding form in the stretcher. Two frightened eyes looked up mutely at
her and slowly began to fade . . .
"Xena?" the voice was frantic yet fading "He's losing too much blood . . . . "
The bard's worried voice seemed to fade out of existence as darkness again came to take over . . . .
" . . . . Xena, I don't know . . . . . . . I don't know if we can save him . . . . . . . . . "
A silence and void filled his head, and then the voices again muted . . . trailing away . . . . The searing pain eclipsed all thought and awareness . . . and a deep darkness shrouded his consciousness into painful depths . . . . . . . . . . .
Xena and Gabby looked down at the pitiful form in despair.
Gabby looked over at the stone relic she had grabbed so eagerly just a short time ago. "And all for THIS hunk of ROCK !" An angry look on her face, she picked up the relic and started to throw it down into the gaping hole.
"Stop," Xena cried out . . . "One of the superstitions surrounding this 'rock' is its ability to heal, so if we can figure out how to use it, maybe we can help Joxer."
"But how do we figure out how to use it," Gabby cried out in frustration.
A wicked gleam appeared in Xena's intense blue eyes, and her coquettish face lit up with a brilliant smile. "Because, dear Gabrielle, I have the scroll of the ages in my saddle bag with Argo."
Gabby didn't say another word. She rushed out of the cave at top speed to get the scroll, while Xena leaned over Joxer to try and make him as comfortable as she could. She was relieved to see Joxer was out cold. "Good," she thought, "he is not in pain as long as he is unconscious."
Xena felt all along Joxer's head and body, and it did not look good. He had many broken and jagged bones, and he was bleeding from one ear. "I don't know about this," she said out loud. Gabby, just returning, heard her and said, "Now, let's try to keep a positive attitude, because that is always the best. I remember when . . . " But Xena cut her off, "Enough talking, let's get busy."
Somewhere from a long distance away, Joxer heard them as he barely regained consciousness. Terrified, he struggled to clear his head and wake up, but it was too hard; the pain was unimaginably fierce. He sank back into the blackness where there was no pain and blissfully no fear either.
When Joxer awoke sometime later. Sharp memories flooded his foggy brain. Fear coursed through him - "Oh my Gods, I might be in Tuataras right now . . . I don't dare open my eyes, Hades might be here to sentence me to who knows what for all my cowardice."
Taking a deep breath, he cautiously opened one eye. To his utter surprise, Gabby was leaning over him, peering at him with a face full of deep concern.
"Oh, Joxer, my darling, thank the gods you are alive !"
Putting his hands up to rub his weary eyes, he blinked several times to clear his head and then looked again sure the vision of Gabby would disappear like a puff of smoke. But it didn't happen. Gabby was just as real as the first time he saw her leaning over him, only now she was making cooing noises, and then she was putting her cool hands on his face. OH! Those hands felt so good to his feverish face. He closed his eyes again, and simply relaxed into the sensation.
Then as his eyes were closed, he felt soft warm lips starting to kiss his mouth. His eyes flew open in shock, only to see a soft tender expression on Gabby's face, her eyes closed in bliss. He slowly returned the kiss.
The kiss deepened, and Joxer forgot all his fear and pain; it was but a dim memory. Gabby's mouth was so soft and sweet and tender and . . . so inviting. The heat of the kiss burned into his soul and body. He forgot all but the sensations coursing through his eager body. He pulled her down onto the soft bed and turned her over. A soft moan escaped her lips.
All of the former pain Joxer felt transformed suddenly into wild abandoned passion. To his utter delight, Gabby matched his passion perfectly. Candles and a fire in the nearby fireplace lighted the dim room, and Joxer felt as aglow as the soft flames of them. The fires burned hotter and hotter, and their moans of pleasure filled the quiet room.
He had wanted her for so long; his ache was so deep and had such longing . . . he slowed down deliberately - he wanted to make these moments special for her. He also wanted to explore her exquisite body with his hands and lips. He kept going until she begged and pleaded for him to release her from her aching need.
With a sudden shift, she flipped him onto his back. To his utter surprise and delight, his beautiful Gabby mounted atop him, and what remained of her clothing falling all around their middle shielded from view their labors . . .
With a sudden loud moan, she positioned herself, and then became one with him. She rose and fell atop her lover, faster and faster in her eagerness to find release, as he thrust upward and she downwards . . . her head to her side, tender moans coming from deep inside her soul . . . .
And then . . . sweet release . . .
Exhaustion overtook them . . . and they fell together breathing heavily.
Afterwards, they lay close to each other, basking in the glow of the dying fireplace. The only sounds were their sighs of contentment, and coos of bliss. Their naked bodies were intertwined and relaxed and all former aches sated. Joxer suddenly thought, "What has happened?" Then he thought, "I don't care what has happened, I am simply in paradise. Why question it?"
Joxer looked down at the now sleeping Gabby, and noticed she shivered softly. He pulled up the covers to her chin and gathered her in his arms and snuggled down to drift off to sleep. Just as he was drifting off, he heard a strange noise. It sounded like a passel of children coming. The noise got closer and closer, and suddenly the bedroom door was flung open. "Daddy, you are awake!" Several voices cried out, and then five little bodies flung themselves onto the bed. Jumping up and down and cheering, the little ones hurrahed and giggled wildly.
Gabby woke up with a start, and immediately started calling out names to each of the children. "Theodorus, Michaelus, Xenarette, Amadora, Claudius, stop this at once!"
"Daddy! Daddy! Look what we made for you!" Scooping each one of them up, he placed the small ones on his two knees and listened intently to his children as they talked excitedly about the new toys they'd made and the stories they told about their playtime in the fields and woods near about. Soon, their voices faded out, and Joxer slipped into smiling sleep. The children tiptoed out to bed. Gabby smiled and fell asleep on Joxer's shoulder.
Opening up the scroll, Xena scowled. "Damn! It's written in some strange language." "Let me look," Gabby said. "Oh, the writing is similar to a language I've read before, the..." "Stop it," Xena cried out, "Who cares, just interpret it and let's do this quickly, he's losing a lot of blood." "Okay, okay, grumpy."
Gabby interpreted and instructed Xena what to do. From her little pouch of herbs, Xena brought out the necessary ingredients to quickly mesh together to form a small ball, which she forced down Joxer's throat. In a few moments, Joxer's facial expression changed from pain, to a curious smile. Xena and Gabby looked at each other in wonder. His breath came quicker and his face flushed and he began to sweat. "Whatever is happening, he is enjoying it," Xena said. "Wonder what he is dreaming?" Gabby posed, but Xena didn't answer, she simply got a strange look of knowing on her face. Gabby was puzzled, but she didn't ask.
Next, Gabby poured some heated oil over Joxer's body and asked Xena, "It says to light this with a flame, do we dare?" Xena simply nodded, "Yes, I am certain the cure is within this scroll, I would stake my life on it."
"Okay," Gabby replied and lit the flame.
And within Joxer's unconscious mind, the images became different . . .
The former homey room with Gabby faded away and took on an baleful red hue and he was alone . . . . . A dark figure appeared out of an obscure cloud . . . . Rising ominously above him . . . with red fiery eyes, shaking the entire house with her pent-up ferocity and in a flame of light, Velasca the goddess of chaos towered up above him, screaming down at his frightened soul, gripping him with fear and threatening his death . . . And then just as suddenly . . . . all went black . . .
Joxer screamed awake, his eyes flying open in shocked surprise. "It is Velasca, run for your lives!" he cried out, and then suddenly became unconscious again.
Joxer found himself floating through a long dark tunnel, toward a glow in the distance. He did not feel scared, but rather a peaceful feeling flowed into his body and mind. As he drew nearer the light, he started feeling a bit uneasy. Then suddenly with a shock, he landed on a cold hard floor in a dimly lit room that smelled like old urine.
His head ached, and when he tried to raise his it, a wave of dizziness overcame him. It was cold and dank there, and noises of scampering vermin were in the walls. Shivering, he tried to gather his clothing tighter about himself, but found it did not help.
As the dizziness subsided, he got up slowly. His eyes flitted around the room. He was in a prison cell! How did he get here? What had he done to deserve this?
His despair and uneasiness overcame him, and tears stung his eyes. He sat down on the hard cold floor sadly.
Suddenly, he heard footsteps coming closer and closer. It sounded like a single pair of booted feet. He cautiously sent to the door and peeped out to see if he could see his jailer. As the footsteps drew nearer, he grew more frightened, feeling helpless without his sword.
But fear changed to joy as he saw Xena coming around the corner of the dungeon. He was never so glad to see anyone before. "Xena, please get me out of here." "Hold your horses," she growled, "I have to figure out which key fits this lock."
After five tries, a key finally turned the lock, and Joxer lumbered over to throw his arms around Xena in gratitude. Expecting his usual reception, he grimaced ahead of time and waited to be flipped. To his utter surprise, Xena returned his hug and laid her head on his shoulder. "Oh, Joxer, I'm so glad you are okay, I got here as fast as I could."
Joxer was shocked, but did not want to question the warrior princess. "How do we get out of here?" he asked. "This way, follow me," she replied.
He followed her down endless corridors, and they finally came out in the original cave where he remembered rescuing her and Gabby earlier, then on to the outside where the sun was warm and pleasant, and a soft summer breeze blew across his brow and through his hair. Oh! It felt so good to be back in the sunshine.
Xena led him to a horse drawn cart nearby. They climbed on, and he asked, "Where are we headed?" "Home of course, silly husband," she replied. "HUSBAND!" Joxer said in a rather squeaky voice. Afraid to ask anything else, he remained silent for awhile.
Soon they arrived at a hut on the side of the mountain. Xena helped Joxer out of the cart, as he appeared to still feel a little weak.
They got into the house, and Xena helped Joxer to bed, tenderly pulling covers over his long form. She kissed his forehead, and tiptoed out. Joxer fell asleep immediately after his long, long ordeal.
The next day he awoke to the sounds and smells of food cooking. He got up to investigate, and discovered Xena reluctantly cooking breakfast. "Good you are awake, do you feel like taking over, sweetness?" she asked. "Ah, ah, um, well, okay," he replied.
Soon breakfast was cooked and eaten.
"Glad you're feeling better, husband," Xena said, and sauntered over to begin a very hot passionate kiss. Joxer was too surprised to argue, and too quickly consumed with desire. He relaxed and returned the kiss.
"Go back to bed," Xena ordered, "I will be in shortly."
"Okay," Joxer complied, and went back into the bedroom. He lay down on the bed with his arms behind his head and waited to see what would happen next.
He had almost dozed off, when he heard Xena coming. She was singing a soft, jazzy tune in her deepest sexiest voice. As the bedroom door opened, Joxer was already aroused. But, the sight he saw was not what he expected exactly.
Xena was dressed in black leather and held her whip in her hand, which she cracked over Joxer's head. "Gulp!" he swallowed audibly. "Up out of that bed, you slave," Xena growled. Joxer complied in fear. "Down on your knees on the floor, you dog!"
Joxer had never seen this side of Xena before, and he felt frightened, but mysteriously aroused too.
"Now squeal like the pig you are."
Frightened, Joxer obeyed and did his best pig imitation, oinking and scampering around on all fours.
"Lick my toes, husband," she ordered. As he complied, she slowly reached down and began to run her experienced hands over his body. He became even more aroused.
She suddenly picked him up and threw him back onto the bed. Quick as a wink, she had tied his hands and feet to the bed, and stood on the bed over him tossing her long hair around. She ran first her hair over his body, then the whip.
Joxer was too much in shock to speak. He lay back and enjoyed the sensations. Soon Xena was astride him and he was enjoying the best lovemaking in his entire life. Just as he was at the peak of the enjoyment, Xena suddenly cracked her whip, and left a red mark across his bare chest. The pain seared into him, just at the moment of fulfillment of all his desires. His shocked eyes registered the pain, and Xena threw back her head in riotous laughter.
Joxer's eyes opened with a start - expecting to see Xena cracking a whip, but was relieved to see that, rather, she was no longer in a dominatrix outfit, but just her usual leather armor, holding the two halves of the stick she'd just broken to make into kindling for the fire she was making.
Gabby was there stroking his cheek and looking down with her tender blue eyes twinkling, and asked what kind of dream would get him so excited.
Joxer looked up in bewilderment for a while, and then with Gabby's head and eyes motioning downward, he saw what she had been referring to and blushed bright red, trying to place the blanket over his middle to obscure his obvious excitement.
Gabby giggled out loud. Xena sauntered over from a now crackling fire. "Wakey, wakey!" she said with a smile.
"Xena. You wouldn't believe the dream I just had."
"Joxer . . . (and with a twisted smile) you might want to keep this one to yourself, okay?" and chortling to herself, sauntered back over to the fireplace shaking her head.
Gabby turned her gaze back to Joxer's face, and putting her finger on his lips, hushed him . . .
"We'll have you up and back to normal in no time Joxer . . ." and smiling with a twinkle in her eye, she picked up a wash cloth and dabbed atop his forehead.
"It may be a while . . . . But you'll be okay . . . ." she said with a weak smile, and strange emotions played across her face as she surveyed the damage . . .
By now the conversation had taken it's toll and Joxer's head fell back exhausted, and soon slipped into a dream warm sleep . . .
"He's *MINE*!" insisted Xena.
"He's *MINE*!" returned Gabrielle determinedly.
Joxer snapped into the scene suddenly and looked at one and then the other of the women pulling on each arm.
"He was mine first!" yelled Xena.
"Well I found him!" Gabby yelled back.
"He's coming with *me*!" Xena said with a glare.
And with that, the two jumped at each other in a wild cat fight in which the two finally ended up throwing each other across the room from each other, and landed on their booties.
"Fine! If I can't have all of him, I'll take part of him with me!"
And with that Xena pulled out her chakram and prepared to sever Joxer in two.
"No!" screamed Gabrielle, who picked up her staff to intercept.
Just then, in came Draco.
"Gabrielle, I don't want you, I know what I want, and I want Joxer!" he said, looking possessively at Joxer, who was completely discombobulated.
Aries suddenly appeared, laughing riotously around on the floor.
In a surprise to all, Iolaus popped his head in the window and announced, "NO, I want Joxer".
Followed by Hercules, who walked into the room and said "NO, *I* want Joxer!"
Then everyone started arguing over why they deserved Joxer. And at the same time, all the children from the vision with Gabby came running in squealing and screeching, waving little swords in the air and play fighting, screeching for Joxer's attention. The arguing and screeching "Nah nah nah nah nah nah!" . . . and screeching and bickering increased with crescendo, louder and louder until Joxer started going nuts.
Joxer sat upright with fright and collapsed back down again, his heart beating out of control . . .
"Sit still!" Gabby commanded. Joxer laid back down flinching.
The pain racked his broken body. But the stone relic had done its work well and his body was well on the way to recovery. Meanwhile, Joxer laid back, and overcome with exhaustion his eyes closed again, and he began to slip into a deep dreamless sleep.
Gabby sat next to him, dabbing her friend's head with a wet cloth, looking down with eyes filled with regret. She carefully dabbed at a small stitch on his forehead and ruefully surveyed the damage.
"He's had a hard day" Xena spoke at last, startling Gabrielle slightly. She had been standing and watching the two for some time.
The tall warrior princess strode slowly over to Gabby's side, and kneeling, touched the bard on her left shoulder and with her left hand, stroked Joxer's cheek gently.
And with a gentle turn of the head, she searched Gabby's eyes.
"You know he'd go to Tartarus and back again for us" . . . .
A long pause followed, Gabby's right hand caressing the one unbruised spot on his bare leg . . . .
And haltingly looked back up at Xena and said . . . "maybe he already has" . . .
Xena smiled back an understanding smile. And then, hand on Gabby's shoulder, stood up and walked off to tend to Argo.
He tossed his head from side to side, and Gabby's cool hand caressed his cheek soothingly; he quieted into peaceful breathing. A tear swelled in her eyes as she bent over cupping his face in her hands to gently kiss his forehead and whisper, "Don't leave us . . . We *need* you."
Joxer did not hear Gabby's soft whisper; he was deep in a dreamless sleep that lasted for fourteen hours.
His recovery was slow, but steady. Gabby stayed by his side almost constantly, not even trusting Xena with his care. Joxer awoke many times to feel her cool hand on his forehead and to see her sweet smile and her eyes twinkling at him.
He was quiet most of the time, simply because he was too weak to talk much. Gabby did all the talking, seeing how he was, reading him stories, talking to Xena . . .
But all good things come to an end, and eventually Joxer started talking again; the women knew he must be healing nicely.
Soon after, they were all on the road, traveling south to a village that needed help with another giant. Joxer was riding Argo, as they didn't want to take a chance that he would get weak again.
After camping, Xena was exhausted. Gabby and Joxer were talking happily around the dying campfire. "Gosh, I am so thirsty," Joxer said, "Think I'll go down to the stream we saw earlier and get some water." "I'll go with you," Gabby said, "You are still weak."
Joxer thought to himself, "I am not THAT weak." As they walked along, Gabby kept getting closer and closer to Joxer's side, and was holding on to his arm. She tripped over a rock and Joxer caught her. "Guess I am stronger than you thought, huh?" Joxer laughed. "Sure, sure, but I'm not taking any chances."
He looked down at her petite frame. As she looked up at him, her eyes shining, Joxer could not resist moving closer to her. His lips were a few inches from hers. She dropped her chin and looked at the ground, picked up the rock that has tripped her, and flung it far in to the forest. The magic moment lost, Joxer's face fell into sadness, but he quickly hid it from her.
Later as Joxer lay sleeping, Gabby tiptoed over to his bedroll and gazed down at him with obvious, but secret, love all over her sweet face. She gingerly placed a soft, gentle kiss on his sleeping lips. Joxer, oblivious, snored on quietly, as did Xena. She tiptoed back to her bedroll next to Xena.
In her dreams, she tiptoed over to Joxer's bedroll and climbed in beside him to awaken him with a kiss.