Author: Xebbie
Story Title: In The Clear Light of a New Day
Characters: Gabrielle & Joxer
Rating: NC-17
Summary: Joxer is crushed when Gabrielle tells him they need to spend some time apart. However, Gabrielle ends up being the one who suffers after he leaves. Sixth in the Pillow Talk series.
This rating is for explicit m/f sexual situations.

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

Explicit male/female sexual situations. NC-17. Der. I made up for the relative lack of legit erotica in the last one with this one, I think. Still, you have to sit through two sections of boring *plot* before we get to the good stuff. Or you could just skip ahead... I have a feeling people do that a lot with these stories.... Although you might not know it to read the first two thirds, this story is sexually explicit and features graphic activities between two consenting yet unmarried adults. If you're not a consenting adult, marital status notwithstanding, you should not be reading this. Thanks once again go to MommaMuse, who encouraged and beta'd and gave me the title this time (yay!), and to Misty, who was so impossibly encouraging as to turn my minor ego into a major one for a while (you're playing with fire, Misty)...

This is the sixth story in the Pillow Talk series, following Pillow Talk, The Look of Love, My Favourite Mistake, Accidents Will Happen and Heat of the Night. In terms of the series, somewhere mid-season four. Pre-haircut Gabby. Probably between 'In Sickness and In Hell' and 'If the Shoe Fits,' somewhere. In terms of THIS series, this one is third chronologically (being preceded by My Favourite Mistake and Accidents Will Happen), but all three of these stories are sort of a "flashback" after the events in The Look of Love (written first, takes place more or less last). Go figya!

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

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In The Clear Light of a New Day
by Xebbie
© 03/00 by Xebbie

I paint a picture of my prison
Red blue and grey for the skies above
Framed and signed with a title:
Anything but love

He had to go, but I won't miss him
I have got better things to do
Like writing stories, and painting pictures
Of anything but love

--The Squirrel Nut Zippers, "Anything But Love"

When Xena came back from hunting, a rabbit in each hand, the camp was empty. Gabrielle's absence was expected, since she knew the blonde bard had intended to go bathe in the river before fixing lunch, but Joxer had been there when she left and was supposed to be there now.

The initial twinge of worry was compounded when she noticed his armour was still sitting in a heap over by his bedroll. Not good. Joxer might wander off without his helmet, sure, but not without the rest of the junk heap he called protective wear. For better or for worse, he wore it any time he travelled, especially on his own. Xena frowned; it was very possible he'd just wandered off to answer the call of nature. She put the rabbits down by the fire site and knelt, looking for tracks.

No signs of a struggle. He was probably fine, she chided herself. Not like her to get so overprotective of the big idiot; after all, he came and went from their lives constantly and she had never considered it her job to look after him day and night. Why worry? If Joxer wanted to wander around without his kitchenware armour, it was his business. In fact he was probably better off without it.

Xena settled down to skin the rabbits, trying to ignore the nagging in the back of her head that was telling her she'd missed something. Shut up, she told it, if I spend all my time worrying about keeping Joxer out of trouble I'll never have time to breathe. It dawned on her suddenly, however, what she'd been missing about the tracks. They were faint, but there were none from less than an hour ago. Wherever Joxer was, he'd been there for quite a while.

And where was Gabrielle? Did a bath really take that long?

She dropped the rabbits and sprang to her feet, sprinting in the direction of the lake Gabrielle had claimed as her bathing pool earlier. Upon bursting through the trees and onto the shore, she came face-to-face with a perfectly safe Gabrielle who was staring at her, wide-eyed, from the water.

"Problem, Xena?" she asked, a touch of sarcasm in her voice.

Breathing a little bit easier, Xena nonetheless didn't relax completely. "You seen Joxer?"

Gabrielle smirked. "Not by choice." Her cheeky expression faded when Xena's face remained serious. "Is he okay?"

"Probably. I don't know- I came back to the camp and he was gone. His armour's still there. It could be nothing but I'd feel better if I knew where he was. Finish up and give me a hand, will ya?"

At this, the bard looked fed up. "Xena..."

"You're clean, Gabrielle. You've been down here since I left; I think you're set for a week, bathing-wise." Xena gave her a crooked grin.

"Can't we just let him find himself? You said yourself it's probably nothing," Gabrielle said, her shoulders slumping in defeat.

Xena chuckled and turned to leave. "C'mon, a few minutes is all I ask," she said. "I know we've seen a lot of him the past week, but as tempting as it is to let him get kidnapped I think we'd regret it eventually."

"I'll meet you," Gabrielle said to her friend's retreating back, and signaled with her hand under the water.

Next to her a head surfaced, gasping for breath and sputtering. He barely had time to inhale a second time before Gabrielle saw Xena start to turn back. Unceremoniously she shoved the head full force back under the water, this time with a great splash accompanying it.

"What was that?" Xena asked, puzzlement written over her face.

Gabrielle played it innocent. "What?"

"That noise. The splashing and the- gasping?"

"Oh, uh... fish. A fish- one surfaced just next to me. That was the splashing. The gasping, um... Well, I didn't hear anything... Just the splash... Aren't you going to look for Joxer?" She gave Xena a sincere look and hoped she wasn't overdoing it.

The Warrior Princess stared. Her best friend was chest-high in water, one hand held firmly below the lake's surface, and was maintaining strict eye contact. Xena paused, then shook her head. "Okay, then. If you find Joxer, just go back to the camp, I'll meet you there." The blonde nodded vigorously, and Xena cast her one last look before stepping back through the trees to try and track down Joxer.

Joxer, meanwhile, burst from the water the moment Gabrielle's pressure on his head let up. He spent a few moments gulping down air, which quickly turned into coughing up water, then he finally spluttered, "Are you trying to kill me?!"

"She looked back! What was I supposed to do?"

"Give me a moment's warning, at least! I didn't even get a decent breath of air!"

As usual when being accused of something by Joxer, Gabrielle looked extremely cranky. "Oh, so you'd rather we get caught like this, then. You get to explain it to Xena in that case."

"Better that than you explaining to her why I drowned."

Raising an eyebrow, she said archly, "Easy enough. I'd just tell her that a week with you was a little too long."

"Ouch." He glared at her, pushing his drenched hair back from his face and squeezing the water from it. It lay flat for a moment and then began to stick out in spiky clumps. Gabrielle held her expression for a moment longer, then gave in.

"Okay, okay. I panicked. There was no way to warn you- I did the only thing I could think of." She smoothed his hair back down, to no effect, and smiled. "If you're well enough to argue with me, you're fine, so I don't see why you're complaining."

He grinned good-naturedly. "'Cause I don't like swallowing half the river at once, that's why. But it's okay... nothing I haven't been through before." He wrinkled his nose uncomfortably, and said, "Ugh... it went up my nose."

Gabrielle turned away in mild disgust as he started alternately sniffling and snorting. "Lovely," she muttered. "You amuse yourself and then meet me in the camp."

An arm caught her as she started to leave, encircling just beneath her breasts and pulling her back to his body. "How 'bout we amuse each other?" he said, and kissed her shoulder warmly.

As his kisses travelled gradually up the back of her neck, she wriggled in his hold. "Not now," she said, as firmly as she could manage, and was fairly successful at keeping any weakness out of her voice. "I told Xena I'd go look for you." The arm holding her kept a tight hold, and his other hand cupped her breast, kneading gently, creating a warmth beneath the cool water.

He trailed his tongue up her neck, towards her jaw, and flicked her earlobe playfully. She couldn't hold back a whimper. Suddenly he spun her around to face him, grinned, and said, "Hey! You found me!" With a stern look, she said, "Ten minutes. That's all." He nodded, and she threw her arms around his neck and attacked his mouth.


The truth of the matter wasn't that Joxer was unlikable. It was more like, too much of him was all-too possible to reach. Honestly, Gabrielle usually wanted to kill him by this point, after having spent night and day with him for nearly a week. This time it was different- after all, up until a short while ago, the nights and days hadn't been filled with wild (and secret) sex. Sex, it seemed, made up for a lot. As a result, her saturation point had been vastly altered and as of right now she only found him mildly irritating and slightly in the way.

On the other hand, where before recently Gabrielle had been finding it harder and harder to put up with Joxer for long, Xena had seemed to be able to put up with him for longer and longer. She still complained often about him, but she wore an odd expression on her face that told Gabrielle- and, if he knew her well enough, Joxer too- that her complaints were just words and Joxer's life was in no danger, no matter what threats she idly gave. Still, she was still Xena; she was still not a people person, and she still hit a point where having a clumsy tagalong who tended to fall at inopportune times became a burden rather than just an inconvenience.

"There. You're bandaged up. Don't do that again." Xena gave his arm a hearty pat, right on the bandage she'd applied to the scratch on his forearm, and ignored his yowl of pain as she stood.

"You're acting like I did this on purpose," he muttered.

Noncommittally, Gabrielle said, "No one said that."

Xena snorted. Joxer was able to translate it as "Yet." He stood and followed his friends, who had started walking again, nursing his pride as he did. What, did she think he tripped over that rock for fun? Xena was cool and everything, but she was so crabby sometimes, and every now and then it really bugged him. At least Gabby wasn't picking on him this time, in any case. That was a fair tradeoff. He smiled as he watched her walk, ahead of him, her hips swinging in this way that made him really, really wish Xena weren't there. A little privacy could work wonders.

In some ways, his dreams had come true. Gabrielle saw him as a man- not just an annoying little boy. She liked him. She desired him. In other ways, his dreams were completely out of reach, since she'd told him repeatedly she wanted no relationship, that he was basically just the easiest breathing male within reach whom she could seduce (well, it hadn't been said in those words, but in darker moments that was how Joxer thought of himself). If he told her how much he loved her, she'd undoubtedly freak out and call the whole thing off.

But still- this was a step. This was such a huge step. And if he was really, really attentive and good in bed and served all her needs, wasn't there a good chance she'd come to see how valuable he was and maybe think about an exclusive relationship? Joxer blinked; that sounded like she'd tie him up and keep him under the bed for a rainy day. ...Not that that thought didn't have a few passing merits, he considered, and tucked it away for a lonely night.

Shaking his head, he pulled his chariot of thought back to its original course. The point was that he had a chance with Gabrielle, where before he'd had none. Some old saying about not buying the cow when you get free milk flitted through his brain and he forcefully ignored it. Nope; this was the plan, and he was sticking to it... Keep sleeping with Gabrielle, keep her smiling, keep her from yelling at you, and see what happens. He grinned. Nooooo problem.

Several yards ahead of him, Gabrielle slowed to a stop and turned to wait for him, signaling to Xena to wait. Xena, frustration showing in every move, pulled Argo to a halt and turned to glare at Joxer as he walked. "Come on, Snail Boy, we have places to go!" she called.

Gabrielle smiled at her apologetically. "Don't be too hard on him," she said, her brow creased. "You know how he is, he's always like this." Xena frowned, and turned to face their path head-on again. "Yeah, but too much at once. Come on, usually you're complaining about him long before this. You going soft?" she teased lightly. Gabrielle's smile disappeared.

When Joxer caught up with them, she stared at him for a moment before starting to walk again. Xena passed them both quickly, and after a moment Joxer tapped her shoulder. She pulled back from his hand, prompting a puzzled frown. "Stop acting so familiar," she hissed irritably, "she's going to know something's up."

"So familiar? I just tapped you!" he said in a stage whisper.

She turned and glared at him. "You stupid- keep it down!" More calmly, she began again. "Just remember- we are not in a relationship. Act normal around me. No touching or smiles or anything... Just... just get on my nerves like usual or something." With that, she began to walk more quickly, letting him fall behind again.

The words had stung, although they were typical for Gabrielle. Any pain was dulled by a sort of irritation he felt growing inside towards both of them. They didn't even try to understand him or tolerate him, but if he found fault with them over even half of their little quirks he'd probably be killed by them both. He rolled his eyes and ground his teeth, vowing as he always did not to take all their abuse like a wounded puppy dog, and walked to catch up to them.


He didn't assume they'd meet that evening, what with the way she'd been acting. Within a few hours, Gabrielle had reached her usual "Joxer is a pain" state of thinking and now she and Xena were both treating him with that sort of level, pained tolerance which they went to great lengths to demonstrate was a real labour of love. Joxer was actually used to this mood of theirs by this point, since it was a regular occurrence whenever he spent an extended amount of time with them. Admittedly, his tolerance for the two women wasn't top-notch at the moment, although he told himself firmly that he'd be happier with them if they treated him like a person. In any case, when Gabrielle reached this stage she usually wouldn't speak to him without causing him great bodily harm somehow, so he was extremely surprised when she picked up a rolled-up scroll and tapped it in her hand four times- the signal that she wanted him to meet her later that night.

Unlikely as it seemed, particularly since part of the reason they'd made love that morning was because they both felt they needed a full night's sleep, he nonetheless waited up until Xena was soundly asleep and then snuck through the trees as quietly as he could. He went fifty paces east, as straight as possible, then stood and waited. A few moments later, he felt her behind him; her hand lit on his shoulder, fingers stroking lightly down his arm before falling from his skin. "It's me," she whispered, her voice like a warm caress.

"Hi," he murmured, turning and reaching out to her. He caught her in his arms and pressed his lips against hers, forgetting how lately she had asked him not to kiss her except in the heat of the moment, only this moment realizing that he'd been aching to kiss her all day long. She allowed it for a moment, then broke the kiss and pulled back. He lowered his head and kissed the juxtaposition of her shoulder and neck, brushing his lips over her skin softly before wetting his lips and kissing her more firmly.

She smacked him and pushed away. "Joxer, not now."

The entire thing came crashing down around him, and his shoulders slumped. "Oh. Sorry." The heat of irritation and sexual frustration closed around him suddenly. As if he was supposed to know she wasn't in the mood. "I didn't know..."

The figure before him was nearly invisible in the blackness that surrounded them. He sensed her moving, but couldn't see what she'd done. When she spoke, her voice came from a slightly different location. "Forget it. I should have been clearer."

Well, yeah. No kidding. "So... you just wanna... talk?" At least she wasn't holding it against him.

She made a little low noise in her throat, one that he knew wasn't good, and said, "Yeah. Talking is exactly what I want." He felt her hands on him again, now applying pressure on his shoulders. "Sit down."

When she'd heard the rustle of leaves, she sat down after him. His skin was so light, he nearly glowed even in this limited moonlight, so she had a better idea of his location than he evidently had of hers. "What's up?" he asked, disappointment evident in his voice, and she suppressed a sigh. They'd already done it this morning, how often did he want sex? Oh, well.

"Uhm, how are you, Joxer?" His response was to blow out a frustrated breath of air. She took that to mean that he felt much the same way she did. Good sign. "Okay. Yeah, I kind of know what you mean. Uh..."

He reached out a hand and felt around until he found her knee; then he rubbed it absently. She couldn't decide whether to tell him to stop or not. "If this is nothing, Gabby, I'd like to get back to bed," he said curtly.

That made up her mind. "Stop that." She swatted at his hand. "It's not nothing. Look, I... I'm sure you've noticed that we're all a little tense lately." She didn't wait for a response, but still heard him snort a little in reply. "Okay, yeah. Well, you know, sometimes people just need some time to... recharge. Clear their heads."

"Right," he said, and the pale blob that was probably his head bounced in front of her.

"So you know that it's important that people are ... well, given time to be aware of themselves, to communicate with their own inner feelings." Well, that sounded nice, anyway, although she wasn't sure it made a lot of sense. The pale blob nodded again, with, she thought, a certain amount of conviction. "So we're agreed, then? You can meet up with us in another few days, when we're all rested and in touch with ourselves."

"What?" He stood up. "Are you telling me to go away?" he asked, his voice rising with each word.

Gabrielle bit her lip, lightly. "Not permanently! I just think-" The blob was pacing. She sighed. "Joxer, stop it and listen to what I'm saying. I think we need some time to ourselves. Don't you want to take a little time off?"

"You don't need time off from Xena," he said sullenly.

"Oh, for crying out loud," she whispered, then continued only slightly more loudly. "That's different."

"Uh-huh." He stopped pacing and probably faced her. "Xena's not an annoying dork."

She clenched her fists. "I never said that."

"Yeah, but I know what you think. I'm not that dumb."

"I don't think that. You're putting words in my mouth and I don't like that. This is-"

"Yeah, right. What am I supposed to think, Gabrielle? You can't be around me for more than a few days at a time, how-"

"I'm trying to explain, Joxer, just-"

"Well I'm tired of it! I'm tired of- You always do this! What am I supposed to-"

"Maybe if you weren't acting like... like an annoying dork!"

"Aha! A-ha, ya see? I told you-"

"Joxer!" She lunged out in the darkness with a fist, and made contact. He yelped. Silence fell between them, and she couldn't bring herself to break it for a few minutes. After it became clear that he wasn't going to say anything, she cleared her throat and said, "I... I only said it because it was what you had said. I don't really think that about you."

"Oh." His voice was muffled, probably through his hand.

"Did I get your nose?" she asked. Her voice, so soft after their recent argument, seemed dwarfed in the vast silence it was attempting to diminish.

He hesitated before answering. "Yeah. It's... it's okay though. I don't think it's bleeding." She was at his side a moment later, pressing against him and holding a gentle hand to his face. "It's... it's okay, Gabby, really. You didn't hit me that hard."

She started to step back, then seemed to change her mind and slid her arm around his shoulders, giving him an awkward hug. He returned it, although it was somewhat stiff, and his heart melted from the gesture. He'd never deny that she was a remarkably confusing woman, but he even loved that aspect of her, in a way.

When she slipped back out of his embrace, she stood still for a moment and then said, "This is what I was talking about though, Joxer. This is why we need some time apart."

He hung his head. "Okay, I guess. We always just kinda worked past it before, but..."

"No we didn't," she said, her tone gentle but insistent. "We always take time apart. Eventually we just all get on each others' nerves, and you leave for a while, and then a while later we meet up again and it's the same as always." His response was a sigh. "What?"

She could tell he was reluctant to say it. "Well, I mean, before we weren't... y'know. ...Together."

Her stomach tightened a little. "We're not together now, either."

"No no- I know, I don't mean- I mean, well, we've been getting along better, and stuff, and- you gotta admit, things are different between us."

"Well-" She considered it for a second, then shook her head a little. "It's a new aspect to our friendship, yeah, but it's not really different. We don't need to treat each other any differently, Joxer. Neither of us should have any more of a problem with you leaving than we used to."

Joxer tried to find the words to say what he thought- that it was very different between them, that he wanted to treat her differently, that he would like being treated differently, that this just wasn't fair. The words escaped him, as they usually did, so instead he just shrugged.

"Okay, I guess." After another moment of silence, he said softly, "I don't want to leave you."

Something in the words, and the way he said them, sent shivers through her. Joxer had a way of speaking, when he wasn't trying to sound bold or impressive, that was actually genuinely sexy. It bothered her a little. "It's for the best," she reiterated. He sighed again, a sigh of reluctance and moderate distress. "Are you afraid things will change while you're gone?"

Her insight into things he'd left unsaid surprised him, and it was a second before he answered. "Well... yeah, kind of..."

For the second time in a few minutes, she put an arm around him and sort of half-hugged him, ending it with a squeeze to his forearm. "It won't change. Things are going to stay just as they did before. I'm not going to like you less when you get back, or anything, and I do want you to come back. You know that, right?"

He nodded, still rather sullen. "Are you still gonna... want to..."

"I can't promise that," she said crisply. His heart sank. "But what's important is our friendship, right? That you and I can keep up what we have, sex or no sex. I'd be sadder if we couldn't spend time together doing anything but having sex."

"Well... yeah." He had to admit, he felt that way too. Hesitantly, he moved his arms to hug her, then thought better of it midway through and changed it to a strange sort of arm-clasp before backing up a few steps.

"Look, Joxer, don't be like this. It's just a few days, and you don't have to leave now. I'll see you in the morning, okay?" She squeezed his hand in the dark, then was gone.

He stood for a few seconds, sighed, and followed.


Gabrielle stretched beneath her sleeping fur, opening bleary eyes which took a while to focus on the raven-haired Warrior Princess packing up the camp around her.

"Morning, Gabrielle," said Xena, sounding all-together too cheerful for Gabrielle's liking. Or at least, as cheerful as Xena ever sounded. "Glad you woke up on your own... I didn't have to dump water on you after all."

"Ha. Ha." Gabrielle rubbed her eyes and looked about the camp. Something was missing, she felt certain. Argo... supplies... scrolls in small pile behind her head so they didn't catch the fire... What wasn't here?

"Oh, Joxer told me to tell you goodbye for him," Xena said offhandedly, and something in Gabrielle twanged to attention.

"He's gone? He left already?!" she blurted, sitting up quickly.

Xena gave her a puzzled look. "Yeah, a while ago. He didn't want to wake you up."

Gabrielle blinked, momentarily speechless and stuck between insulted and hurt. "Did he... did he say anything?"

"Like what? Like 'tell Gabrielle I blame her', like 'that stew from dinner last night didn't go down right'? Help me out here." She paused. "In case you're wondering, no to the first statement and yes to the second. Was there something you were expecting him to say?"

The blonde shook her head slowly. "No, I just... I didn't know he'd be leaving so soon."

"But you did know he was leaving." It was a statement of fact, which Xena was prone to making. "Can I assume words were had last night?"

"Go right ahead," Gabrielle answered airily. "Assume whatever you want, just don't assume you're right." She stood and stretched, then went about rolling up her sleeping pelt.

Xena stood behind her during it, and by the time Gabrielle was done she was very aware of the presence of the warrioress and not exactly pleased with it. She stood with her arms crossed and waited for Xena to say something. It didn't take too long. "Do you want to talk about it now?" she asked, an air of certainty in her voice that Gabrielle didn't quite care for.

In fact, if it hadn't been for that certainty, Gabrielle might have spilled it. However, she was feeling a bit contrary today, particularly because of the shock of waking up to find Joxer gone; the fact that she was shocked in any case bothered her because honestly, he'd done it before. They kept their own schedules and it was just like him to take off whenever he felt like it, much as they did at times. It had never hurt her feelings before. In any case, she wasn't in the mood for Xena's slightly patronizing attitude this morning, so she just took the easy way out and denied it all. "Talk about what?" she asked innocently.

Xena walked slowly around her, finally coming to a stop in front of the bard and looking her in the eyes. "For the past few weeks now," she said evenly, "something has gone on between you two. One minute you're not speaking, the next you're defending him, then you barely tolerate him again. It doesn't take a genius to see that something is up, and I just figured maybe you were finally ready to talk about it."

"Xena," Gabrielle said, measuring out the exact amount of tolerance that should go into this statement, "there is nothing going on. Joxer's just hard to put up with, that's all... but he's like you are... Like family. He's just like the embodiment of the annoying parts of family." She grinned as Xena smirked. "I go through stages where I can put up with him, and where I can't. That's all. Sometimes I take it out on him harder than I should, and I've been trying not to do that so much anymore."

"Good," Xena answered, giving Gabrielle a solid pat on the back. "Kinda worries me when you're beating him up more than I am." She winked, and loaded the last of her gear onto Argo. "You grab breakfast and we'll get going, okay? Joxer said he'd go west, so I figured we'll go northeast for a while and then head back once we can stomach him again. Should give us at least six days."

"Sounds divine," Gabrielle said, relief flooding through her. This would be the first calm, relaxing, Joxer-free period of time she'd spent in almost an entire cycle of the moon. She put aside the last of the reproach she'd felt from Joxer's early departure and determined to really enjoy herself for the next few days.


Joxer plodded. He didn't know where; all he knew was that he was probably going west, because he'd told Xena he was heading that way and she hadn't corrected him when he'd set off.

His footsteps felt heavy, which was characteristic of plodding; in fact the description basically extended to the rest of his body, which felt like it could probably just fall over any time if he weren't struggling to stay upright. It was probably being weighed down by his heart.

Gabrielle had told him to leave. They'd seemed to be getting along so well; okay, maybe not the past few days so much as before, but... but...

But now, he just knew, he'd come back and she'd yank his nose all the time again, and yell at him, and throw things at him if he tried to touch her. The "I need space" line was always followed eventually by the "I need permanent space" line.

He plodded, and had no idea how long he'd been plodding for before he plonked down by the roadside, giving in to the inexplicable weight of his body. He flopped down onto his back, then sat up again with a yelp after his helmet hit the ground beneath him and first dug into the back of his head, then twisted around over his eyes when he tried to change his head's angle on the ground. Giving the earth a solid glare, he settled for pulling his knees up towards his chest and perching his elbows on them.

What a day so far. He'd known he couldn't face her, especially not with Xena around, so he'd just left first thing. Not that Xena cared; she just gave him that look - the "Whatever, Joxer" look - and so he shrugged and left, plodding off with the sunrise against his back.

He missed her. Gods, how he missed her. He gazed down the road in the direction he'd come from- maybe they'd changed their minds and were coming his way after all? Maybe- ooh, even better- maybe she'd changed her mind after she'd awoken to find him gone, and was coming to find him and tell him she'd been wrong. If he squinted just right, he could see her running towards him, arms outstretched, her hair flowing behind her over each shoulder in turn, abs and legs and breasts all working and shifting and heaving and by the Gods, was it getting hot out here?

He sighed, took off the helmet, and lay back again onto the ground. It obliged this time. Being without Xena and Gabrielle was almost painfully boring. What was he going to do while he was away from them? Any activities that came to mind paled in comparison with what he'd been doing with Gabrielle all week. And it wasn't as if he couldn't hire someone for a day or so, but even that paled in comparison to doing it with Gabrielle.

What a rut. And he hadn't even been gone from them for a day yet. He could almost hear Gabrielle laughing at him, rolling her eyes and shaking her head as she walked away at Xena's side. He'd kill even to hear her laugh at him again! ...Okay, maybe not kill for that. Knock somebody around a little, maybe, sure. He gathered his mental strength and stood, refastened the helmet, and set back off again. There was a long, lonely road just waiting for him, and he might as well not disappoint it.

By mid afternoon he reached a town, and splurged on a hotel bed for the night. It had been a while, after all, since he'd had the luxury. The place wasn't bad; apparently there was a local casino and this was the "official" hotel. Joxer groaned. Just the types he wanted to rub elbows with. He took a quick meal and then went to bed early, finding the bed to be a small comfort in comparison with the softness of Gabrielle's body. He could sleep on hot coals next to her, and enjoy it. Well, but only if she wasn't in pain from the coals. And if she were there of her own free will- he'd hate to have her there involuntarily, sleeping on coals. Oh, and also... hmm. Maybe that wasn't the best comparison to use.

The night passed this way, and Joxer slipped into a light sleep a few hours after midnight. Somewhere midway through, it became a deep sleep, filled with dreams from Morpheus.


When the morning sun cast its first golden rays, they all seemed to gather right on Joxer's face. He awoke in the middle of a dream about getting into a fight with Apollo, and losing, to find sunlight streaming in through the window of his room. He grunted and covered his eyes, to little effect. Finally, sitting up, he managed to leave the area of the sunbeam.

It took some blinking to be able to see again. When he'd managed it, he got up and looked out the window of his room. The town was pretty big, nicer than he'd thought the day before, and he felt uplifted after his sleep. Maybe he had been overreacting a little, after all. Gabrielle's comment from before he'd left came back to him- she'd rather be able to value his friendship without the sex than not relate to him any way but through sex. Maybe he should have some more faith, after everything they'd been through. She was right- they'd been apart before, and if she was viewing their friendship as no different, he shouldn't either. And nothing had ever changed while he was gone before.

He strapped his armour on and went out to look the town over. Maybe he'd even hit the casino for a while later... just to explore.



"Hm?" The bard wrenched her eyes from the road they were leaving behind them, and turned to look at Xena.

"Do you hear something?" asked the warrior.

Gabrielle blinked. "Uh, no... Why?"

Xena cocked her head. "You keep looking back the way we've come. I just wondered."

"Oh, I thought I heard something, but I was wrong. It's nothing," Gabrielle laughed, casually. Inwardly she realized she was just racking up the lies lately with Xena. Most of them were lies of omission, true, but they were still piling up, and she wasn't exactly comfortable with that. Well, eventually she'd tell her about Joxer, and then all the need for lies- for omissions - would be gone.

Argo nickered and shook her head, and Xena smoothed the mane of her other best friend. "You didn't hear anything either, did you, girl? It's not just me going deaf, is it? Can't have that."

"It's really nothing, Xena." Gabrielle laid her hand on Xena's shoulder, and they shared a smile. That was something they'd been missing lately; their closeness had been slightly compromised by Joxer's presence. Yet now, they still didn't seem to be able to quite catch up with it, because it was like Joxer was still there.

Gabrielle couldn't quite explain it, but she couldn't stop thinking of him. It had been three days since they'd parted ways, and the first day had been pure bliss: calm, quiet, peaceful. Just having him gone had erased so much tension that she'd practically soaked up the relaxation right out of the air.

But somehow that hadn't lasted. If the first day had been wonderful, the second day should have been even more so, and yet... Gabrielle had found her mind wandering periodically during the day, more and more frequently, and generally speaking it turned to him. She brought him up in conversation with Xena at least four or five times before she realized she was doing it, and found herself biting back references to him for the rest of the day. Not only that, but little things had somehow become associated with him- Xena's arm muscles as the Warrior Princess flexed in a stretch, the clank of the kitchenware as she prepared their meals, even the brush of her sleeping fur against the skin of her leg gave her a warm flush of familiarity before she frowned and decided to ignore it.

They'd stopped bandits, spied on a warlord's army, helped a little girl find her lost puppy, and stopped more bandits. It had all gone off without a hitch, and Gabrielle actually spent a few hours afterwards wondering what Joxer would have done if he'd been there.

If it had been anyone else, she would say she was missing him. But this was Joxer, and she'd known him for three years, and she just didn't miss Joxer. He was a constant in her and Xena's life, and he came and went frequently and generally without warning. She never missed him because she knew she'd see him again. Therefore she couldn't be missing him now, because she knew she'd see him again.

On the third day, today, the idea had occurred to her that he might have travelled a ways before regretting his decision to leave so early and trying to catch up with them. It would be just like him- pointless and stupid, but somehow kind of sweet. She knew it would never happen, though. They had a plan, and Joxer had no reason to break that plan. But for some reason, she kept glancing over her shoulder at the path behind them, as if she knew he'd be running up the path any moment now. A few times she almost froze, swearing she could hear the junk he wore clanking as he jogged to catch up with them, but it was either the kitchenware in Argo's saddlebags or, even, just her imagination.

This was stupid.


They watched the sun rise together, Gabrielle sitting on a log by the lake, Joxer sitting in front of her on the ground. She wrapped her arms around his shoulders, her eyes on the horizon, and smiled when he kissed her fingertips tenderly before entwining his fingers within her own.

"This is ours," he said simply. She leaned forward and kissed the top of his head, agreeing silently.

And then he turned, a sweet smile on his lips, his hand cradling her cheek. The light of the early morning sky reflected pink in his eyes, as though his love manifested and burned there, in colour.

"I missed you," she told him. He put a thumb to her lips, the pad of it barely skimming them before she pursed her lips and kissed it.

"Come here," he murmured.

She slid from the log, wrapping her arms slowly about his neck in an embrace she'd been so desperately missing, and smiled at him fondly. "I'm going to kiss you silly," she said.

The smile became a grin. "Do you mean you're going to kiss me until I'm silly, or that I'm silly and you're going to kiss me?"

"Shut up," she growled affectionately, and took his lips in a loving caress.

Gabrielle shoved herself awake. The first thing she was aware of was alarm, mingled with an emptiness. She caught her breath, staring ahead blankly as she tried to remember what had been in the dream to disturb her to the point of panic.

Slowly the details emerged from the fog. Kissing. Love. Joxer?


It was about sex, right? It must have been. That was why she kept thinking about him- she missed the sex. It didn't matter that she couldn't remember any sex in the dream... That would probably come back to her soon enough. It had to. A dream about Joxer that was about nothing more than romance was definitely enough to scare her awake. Maybe she was going to dream about sex, but part of her hadn't realized it and had gotten so panicked by what it was seeing so far that it had just snapped her out of it.

She stood up, wiping her mouth absently, and looked about. Xena slept peacefully on a few feet away from her, unaware of things. The sun hadn't even thought about rising yet. Gabrielle picked her way over to the remains of the fire from the night before, and poked at it restlessly. It probably hadn't even been Joxer, actually! Just some nameless, faceless guy... or maybe it was a love from her youth. She could be labeling it as Joxer in hindsight, because he was the man she'd been with most recently.

Okay, see, nothing to worry about! Calm down, Gabby, calm down. Dreams can mean any number of things, and sometimes they're JUST dreams. Calm down. She bit her lip. And don't call yourself 'Gabby'.

It was still so early, Gabrielle decided to just go back to bed. Back to bed. Relax. Calm down. Don't stress. It meant nothing. She lay down, forcing herself to breathe deeply and relax.

She lay awake until dawn.


Something is up, Xena thought as she walked alongside Gabrielle on the road to Pyrnos. She didn't know exactly what it was, but it was affecting Gabrielle in strange ways. She did know it was about Joxer, and was willing to bet that it had something to do with Joxer's feelings for her best friend. She'd left them alone for a few nights a while ago, forgetting that Gabrielle and Joxer alone together made for the strangest situations, and upon returning had found... well, she didn't really know.

There were several options. Joxer might have told Gabrielle how he felt, although Xena wasn't sure the big dope really had it in him to just come out and tell her... But, he'd surprised them before. If that was the case, she wanted to smack him upside the head for his poor timing. All he had to do was come to her, and ask, and she'd have told him Gabrielle couldn't handle that sort of thing right now!

Then again, it might have been something else. Maybe he hadn't told her- maybe she'd figured it out, or maybe it hadn't been said at all. The only thing that was certain was that Gabrielle had been on a hair-trigger for mood swings when it came to Joxer, ever since. She went from grousing about him almost violently, to spending a good hour chatting with him like they were the closest friends ever.

The one thing Xena might have considered, if it weren't so... so strange, was that Gabrielle's feelings for Joxer might be changing. The bard spent more energy being angry at the gangly young man than she used to (and it certainly seemed to be exhausting her, from the way she'd begun sleeping), but she also spent more time being friendly with him now.

So... Xena had to admit... It wasn't out of the question that Gabrielle might be... She took a deep breath, and admitted it to herself. Gabrielle might be developing romantic feelings for Joxer.

She couldn't tell at all, really. Sure, she knew her best friend almost inside out, but when it came to Joxer she'd never been able to figure her out entirely. Gabrielle's behaviour towards the man had been perplexingly inconsistent since the beginning. And while Xena had begun to find more things to like about Joxer, especially since she realized he was willing to die defending his cause- not just for his friends, but for his friend's horse - Gabrielle fought against changing her opinion of Joxer.

So, wouldn't she fight even harder if she started falling for him? Xena shrugged. Maybe this whole idea was ridiculous. Gabrielle and Joxer- they were like two little kids when they were together, always trying to one-up each other, picking on weak points.

If only she could get Gabrielle to talk to her about things, about whatever had happened. If Joxer had her sworn to secrecy about something...

...Well, then Xena would just have to go straight to Joxer to find things out, in that case. Sure, why not? If things didn't become clearer when they met up with him next, she'd go straight to the horse's mouth. So to speak. She smirked involuntarily at the comparison.

Next to her, Gabrielle paused in her soliloquy on raindrops. "Xena? Do you find something amusing about this?"

Xena tried to put on a straight face, but that made it worse. She snorted. "No, no. I was thinking of something else entirely."

"Oh." The blonde bard got huffy. "Well, glad to know you take such an interest in what I have to say."

"I do," Xena said, trying not to laugh. "You know I do."

"Joxer listens to me," Gabrielle said airily. Xena noticed her shoulders tense a moment later, as though she were chiding herself for what she'd just blurted out.

"Does he," Xena said thoughtfully.

Gabrielle whipped her head around to stare at the Warrior Princess, then took a deep breath and changed the subject. "Anyway, like I was saying. The way the drops get suspended in spider webs... It's... almost like crystal, isn't it?"

Xena didn't interrupt the flow of Gabrielle's thoughts again, and the bard took the opportunity to speak not only about raindrops, but, eventually, on dewdrops and even fog. Xena listened to most of it, and Gabrielle seemed satisfied.

It wasn't until they entered the town of Pyrnos that their easy pace and situation was broken. It began with a clatter, from far off down the agora, and was followed by a yell before the two women even had a chance to turn.

The creaking was the final giveaway. As she turned in the direction of the commotion, Gabrielle found that her hands were sweaty and her heart seemed to be beating faster. She had just enough time to wonder what on earth was giving her butterflies in her stomach, before she saw the stupid helmet down the street, and an odd thing happened. Her heart seemed to lurch in her chest, in a pleasant way, and a grin broke out in jubilation over her face.

"Here we go," muttered Xena, next to her, and Gabrielle realized where she was. She blinked, as if waking from a dream, and felt her face go hot. The grin faded about halfway, looking uncertain at the edges. What in the world was she reacting like this for?

Joxer ran to them, without calling or waving or anything, and he didn't stop running when he reached them. A moment later they saw why, as a pair of large and angry-looking men burst out of the crowd after him. Joxer hid behind Xena, finally, panting.

"Wow, what a welcome," Xena remarked, as Gabrielle glared at him over her shoulder.

"Hi," he panted, crouching behind the statuesque warrior woman, and nodded at Gabrielle. "Uh- trouble."

Xena sighed. "I can see that. Maybe you should move back out there and deal with it."

Joxer looked up at her, his expression petulant. "Aw, c'mon!" Gabrielle gave an exasperated huff, her jaw clenched, and wouldn't look at him. He pouted. "Xena, they're gonna kill me!"

Ahead of them, the two men stared at Xena as a crowd formed around them. "Step aside, this is business," said one.

Elbowing Joxer as discreetly as she could, Xena addressed the two men. "He's ours. I guess that makes it our business. Tell me the problem."

The two men looked at each other, evidently consulting one another in silence, and the second nodded. The first spoke again. "Very well, then. This lying scum lost to Adavaldus in the Happy Warlord Casino over there. Then he wouldn't pay, but instead simply ran out."

"You went to a casino?!" Gabrielle hissed. Xena's back went rigid.

"He cheated, Xena! His cards were marked!" whimpered Joxer.

"That's a lie!" said the second man, his eyes flashing.

Joxer straightened up and yelled over Xena's shoulder. She winced. "Is not! I saw it! He just hid 'em before I could show everyone else!"

"You will pay, either in dinars or in blood!"

"Yeah, well, now that my friend Xena is here you'll- OW!" Joxer nursed his nose where Xena had hit him, as she addressed the others.

"If I pay off the debt, will that work?"

Gabrielle stepped forward. "Xena, don't. We can't afford this, not for Jox-"

"Will it work?" Xena repeated.

The first man nodded. "Money is money. He owes 10,000 dinars, cash... although I'm sure Adavaldus will accept other forms of payment from your lovely self, if you cannot pay."

Xena turned a rather bloodcurdling glare on Joxer, who cringed. "I won a whole lot, and the last bet was supposed to double it, but he cheated, so-"

"Irrelevant! Without proof you have no claim-"

"I'll give you fifty dinars," Xena offered, no emotion sounding in her voice at all.

Behind her, Joxer muttered, "Actually he owes me about seven tho-" Xena elbowed him in the gut.

The two men again consulted each other without sound. "That is an insult," said the second one, drawing his sword.

Xena didn't move, but her eyes narrowed. "Fifty dinars, and your boss gets to keep his integrity instead of having me expose him. Take it or leave it." Another silent consultation, this one ending in a solemn nod from both men. As Xena stepped forward to pay the two men, Gabrielle gave Joxer a scathing glance.

"You'll pay us back, Joxer," she informed him.

"Oh, like there haven't been about a dozen times I've bought you stuff-"

"You'll pay us back."

He wilted, a sign that he was giving in. "But ya know," he groused, "if she'd just go beat up that guy and get my winnings back, I could pay you guys back real easy."

No matter how many times she smacked him, he still never seemed to see her hand coming. The fist was casually thrown into his face, and she said with an odd sort of patience, "Number one, if you had those winnings we wouldn't have to pay those goons off, so you wouldn't owe us anything."

"Oh yeah," he mumbled, wincing.

"Number two, what were you doing in a casino anyway!? Joxer, for crying out loud, after what happened last time-"

"Hey!" he said indignantly, a pout forming on his features. Xena walked back towards them as the argument continued. "I can go wherever I want, Gabby, I'm Joxer the Mighty! And it just so happens I'm real good at gambling!"

"That's.... the... point!" she yelled, grabbing his ear. "You're good at it, and everyone can see that, and you're an idiot, and everyone can see that! And that makes you a target!"

"Okay, enough," Xena said, stepping between them and forcing Gabrielle to let go of Joxer's ear. "It's taken care of now. Although honestly I don't know how you manage to survive when you're not with us," she told Joxer. He shrugged, grinning sheepishly. "Well, with the money we've got left, it's between dinner and a room at an inn. Who votes for what?"

"Dinner," said Gabrielle, just as Joxer gave his vote for "Inn." Xena rolled her eyes as they both gave her expectant looks to break the tie. She voted dinner, as a good meal meant more to her than a room with a bed, and decided to scout out for stables to sleep in when they were done with their meals.


He didn't assume they'd meet that evening, what with the way she'd been acting.

She'd been right when she'd assured him that everything would be just as it always was when he returned, because she was acting exactly as she always did towards him- irritable, low on patience, and superior. In a pathetic sort of way, it was comforting. He'd missed it.

They settled in for the night in one of the many stables that the town provided for its visitors who came just for day trips to the casino. He had realized midway through dinner that he'd better curb his meal, since Xena and Gabrielle were both giving him dirty looks as he essentially ate their money away. Picking up belatedly on the lingering grudge they were throwing at him, he'd finished off the remainder of the chicken he'd intended as a starter course, then sat back and twiddled his thumbs through the rest of the meal.

It hadn't seemed to satisfy Gabrielle, who was still giving him looks from time to time right up until they laid out in the stable, late that night. Joxer was used to this by now. As long as she didn't decide they "had to talk", he'd be okay; a little intimacy would have been nice tonight, but he knew better than to press his luck.

He was just spreading out among the hay, trying to get comfortable, when she took out the scroll. Watching him very intently, as if to make sure he realized the significance, she tapped it deliberately in the palm of her hand- once, twice, thrice... then after a pause, a fourth time.

He gulped.

"Well Joxer," Xena said, evidently oblivious to the wordless exchange between her two friends, "I guess tomorrow we can get you to work paying off those fifty dinars."

"Ah." Joxer blinked a few times, dry-mouthed. "Y-yeah. Uh- how?"

"Oh, the general odd job... cleaning up after Argo, shoeing her, maybe.... Polishing my chakram 'til it shines... Helping me with my target practice... the like." She slapped him on the back, grinning, and paused when he didn't move. "Hey, dummy- it's not like I won't be careful. As long as you don't move, you won't feel a thing." Still no response. She rose an eyebrow. "Joxer?"


Gabrielle passed by them both, kneeling down and making a little nest for herself in the hay. "Forget it, Xena, I think he's out for the count tonight. It's even more like talking to a wall than it usually is."

Xena snorted. Joxer managed a weak "Hey...!" before the two women made themselves comfortable for the night. His heart pounding, Joxer lay down to wait for Xena to go to sleep, knowing what Gabby would say when he went to her... Knowing that his time, and his chances, with her were over. Strangely enough, he actually dozed off for a while. He awoke when Gabrielle's graceful figure glided over to him in the closeness of the stable, making no sound but the rustling of the hay, and kicked him in his feet.


"Shut up!" she hissed, and somehow her whisper carried the emotional volume of a shout. She walked out through the door into the night, and after gathering his wits, Joxer followed her.

Outside, the air had become cool enough for them to see their breaths in front of them. Gabrielle looked about the moonlit road, pausing to listen to the voices still laughing boisterously from the casino a few roads down, and turned to him. "We should go into another one of these stables," she said softly. "I don't think there's anyone else who would come here and not stay at the casino."

"If Xena had gone and gotten my winnings back, we coulda-" She put a hand over his mouth, silencing him, and led him into the stable on the corner. It was dark, but the moon streamed inward from the windows at the top, and so they could see to navigate. Gabrielle led him up to the second story of the building, then paused and turned to face him. Bathed in moonlight, she looked ethereal. He gulped again. "Um... go ahead."

Her eyebrows went up. "Just like that? Just... 'go ahead'?"

"Well, yeah. I know why we're here, so let's not prolong it with small talk. Just-" he splayed his hands out in front of him. "Get right to it."

"Ugh. Gods, Joxer, I know I said I didn't want romance but I didn't think you'd make it mechanical..." She put a hand over her eyes, totally missing the look of surprise and incomprehension that flooded his face.

"Muh... Mechanical?"

She went on, crossing her arms and giving him one of those Gabby-looks that made him feel like he'd done it again without even knowing what it was, or that he'd ever done it before. "Okay, I guess I asked for it... sort of... But I can't do it that way. Happy? I can't just jump right into sex without some kind of personal business to it, it's just-"

"Sex?" He blinked. "We're having sex? Tonight?"

Gabrielle waited for a second, then started laughing. "Why did you think we were here?!" she asked between muffled snickers.

Joxer laughed too, in relief and embarrassment. "I thought- I thought you were gonna tell me- um, well... forget it."

She slid up to him, unexpectedly, and put her arm around his shoulders. "Thought what? C'mon, it's me. You can tell me."

He smiled, feeling himself melt, and hung his head a little. "I thought you were gonna tell me you didn't wanna see me anymore. That I should go away. Somethin' like that. See, it was stupid."

"Yep," she agreed, nodding, and lifted his head back up with the hand that wasn't being used to stroke his neck. "I told you when you left that things would be just like usual."

"Uh, but you also said-"

"-That I couldn't promise anything." She quirked her mouth into a half-smile, running her thumb over his lips, and leaned closer to him. "That wasn't a 'no', Joxer."

"Ahhh." The sound was both a sigh, and a noise of understanding. He kissed the pad of her thumb, and stroked his fingertips lightly across her shoulder and down her arm. "Well... with the way you were acting..."

She grinned. "That wasn't a 'no' either," she murmured, and leaned close to him, catching his lips in a quick kiss. Her tongue flicked briefly across his lips, then departed. "So...? Should we 'get right to it'?"

He took a breath, suddenly shaky. "I missed you," he said huskily, gazing into her eyes. She faltered for a moment, looking away, then recovered and gave him a searing kiss. He moaned into her, running a hand through her hair, stroking the tops of her ears delicately, tracing his fingertips down her neck... She grabbed the front of his tunic, pulling him closer, pushing her breasts against him as she let go of his clothing and grabbed his head and shoulders. They spent several moments this way, reacquainting through the kiss, their passion quickly building, before he drew back with a shuddering breath and dropped small kisses over her face and neck.

"Ohhhh, Joxer. Oh, I like that. Do that more, do it lower." She smiled, gripping his tunic again, unconsciously tugging at it as he suckled at the base of her neck.

She shivered when he spoke, mumbling against her now-wet skin, "You're a lot more vocal this time."

Her entire posture changed in his arms. "Should I not be?" she asked, uncertainty seeping into her voice. "I thought- I could direct you."

"Just like during the day, huh?" He lifted his head to grin at her. She glared and smacked the side of his head, but with no real force, and he took her hand and kissed it. "It's fine, Gabby. But I'm gonna do stuff whether you tell me to or not."

"Stuff? What stuff?"

There was a mild note of irritation in her voice which, for some reason, Joxer found to be a bit of a turn-on. He just grinned. "You'll have to wait, won't you?" He cut off her attempted protest- if that's what it was going to be- with another heated kiss, this time letting his hands wander. Tracing along her bare skin, he eventually found her breasts, cupping them through the rough fabric of her top.

"Mmm- there-" she said into his mouth as he worked his fingers underneath the fabric. Breaking away from his open mouth, she gasped briefly. "I want you out of - this, too." She tugged at his tunic. He nodded, and stepped back so that she could undo his laces while he worked on hers. Not surprisingly, she finished first, and made him stop to slide the shirt off before completing his work. Once he'd shed the garment, he was distracted by her cleavage, and forgot about the laces for a while as he devoted himself to licking the tops of her breasts. Gabrielle gasped, holding onto his shoulders, his bare skin radiating heat against her slightly chillier arms. His hair was brushing against her collarbone and it felt inexplicably wonderful, soft and sweet and arousing.

"Nipple," she said breathlessly, and repeated it when he looked up at her, his eyes clouded with a questioning lust.

"Oh. Uh huh," he said raggedly, and knelt on the ground before her while he fumbled at the remainder of her laces. He still didn't bother to remove the top completely, just loosened it enough now to free her breasts most of the way, and the fabric slid down her shoulders as he tongued the nipple of her left breast with dedication.

It took a lot of effort not to simply let her legs give out and rely on Joxer's shoulders for support, but somewhere in her fogged mind Gabrielle realized that if she did that he was likely to just topple over. Instead she concentrated what little awareness of her surroundings she had on staying upright, as his lips met and left her flesh and his tongue painted the underside of her breast in long, hot strokes. She twined her fingers into his hair, as he held one arm around her waist and used his other hand to tug the laces loose the rest of the way. The hand then wormed its way along her body to stroke her free breast, fingers playing gently across the skin, thumb stroking her nipple to its erect state. Her murmurs of appreciation turned to giggles when the arm holding her close dropped lower, and he made a rather firm squeeze at her bottom.

"Joxer!" she said breathlessly, any attempt at sounding stern ruined by the grin on her face.

He matched her expression. "Oh, should I not do that?" he asked innocently, planting small kisses down her stomach.

"Mmm, maybe you should try it again and see." She purred as he kissed her navel, squeaked as he licked a circle around it, and finally gave another giggle when he spread his hand over her backside again. "Ooh, I think you should definitely think about not doing that."

"Oh?" The tongue trailed back up her stomach, beneath her breasts, and she shivered.

"Yes, you're- ohhhh. You're taking far too many, um," she bit her lip, "too many liber- ah that's good. Liberties."

He chuckled and withdrew, and brushed his hair out of his face. "Guess I should stop, then. Or you'll get mad at me, and we can't have that." She stuck her tongue out at him, and he laughed again, taking her hands. "Come down here," he said softly, sinking from his knees to a sitting position. She looked down at him and smiled, his boyish grin seeming so in contrast with the erection he was making no effort to hide.

She joined him, and took a seat at his side, resting on her arms and leaning to kiss him, her entire body tingling as he met her mouth. The kiss escalated as if they were engaged in a contest to see who could kiss more fiercely; within moments they were entangled in a heap on the hay-strewn floor, and Gabrielle worried that her lips would be raw in the morning at this rate. She didn't actually remember when they'd shed his pants and her skirt, but she was highly aware of the maddening barrier of her underwear and his shorts in between them as they moved.

When they parted, she took a brief gasp of air, then said, "Take off your shorts."

Instead of complying, he gave her an irritatingly mischievous grin. "Nah," he said, panting, "I think I'll take a few more liberties first." He kissed her neck, then began to move out of her embrace.

"Where-" She started to sit up, and he stopped her.

"No no. Lie back. Trust me." He grinned and raised an eyebrow in what was probably supposed to be a seductive expression, but which, on Joxer, simply made him look as though he'd had a little too much to drink.

Gabrielle suppressed a giggle, and lay back down, while Joxer hovered over her for a moment and looked at her almost fondly. Suddenly he leaned down and kissed her forehead. She gave him a patient smile when he pulled back. "Sorry," he said softly, and kissed her cheek, followed by her jaw and neck, and continued to descend down her body that way, delivering warm kisses to her throat, collarbone, between her breasts, then to each breast in turn. "I just...." *smeck* "...didn't know..." *smeck* "...where..." *smeck* " start." *smeck*, *smeck*

She smiled widely, enjoying the attention. "Well... good start." She raised a hand to brush his hair from his face, but he moved away.

"Uh-uh. Stay down, Gabby, I don't wanna tell you again." She scrunched up her mouth at him in frustration, but he just winked. "Trust me," he repeated, bending to kiss her stomach. His hand slid down her body, over her hip and thigh, hooking beneath her underwear for a moment as he stroked now along her inner thigh. Without pausing in his lips' ministrations he pushed her legs apart gently, pressing through the already damp fabric of her panties, then again hooked his fingers at her hip. "These need to come off."

She agreed breathlessly, arching her hips to facilitate her undress. The undergarments were thrown into the corner and forgotten, as his hands slid hotly over her skin - over her hips, her breasts, her stomach, her legs, finally settling on her abdomen momentarily before sliding lower, skirting lightly over her pubic hair and nudging her hot flesh aside to stroke her. She gave a sort of half-moan, half-sigh, tilting her head back, and almost jumped when his lips dropped softly onto her stomach, just above her curls.

He kissed lower, so softly she could hardly stand it, against her thighs now. "Gabby," he murmured, his cheek resting against the skin of her inner thigh as he looked up at her, "I've been wanting to do this for so long now..." She couldn't find it in herself to answer, but managed a nod as he turned his head slightly, kissed her, then tongued a trail up towards her centre. It was amazing, how her skin's sensitivity increased in leaps and bounds the closer he got to -

She moaned loudly at the first touch of his tongue against her outer lips, soft and wet and slow. It travelled a path along the outer sides of her labia, circling closer and closer to her entrance, and his breath came hotly against her when he spoke in a whisper, "Oh, you taste divine." The comment was almost lost as he returned to his task, his tongue dipping more deeply into her, painting her flesh in long strokes.

Gabrielle tried to keep her head, tried to keep still, but her legs were splayed out over the floor of the barn's second level and Joxer's tongue was working in a spiral around her clitoris. She couldn't keep quiet, her breathing coming in louder and louder gasps, her words sticking in her throat as she writhed.

Joxer realized that he could be perfectly content doing this for the rest of the night. Gabrielle yelped her encouragement, throwing her leg over his shoulder, and he wrapped an arm around her thigh in what he thought of as a sort of hug. To maintain his balance and the right angle he had to rest his other hand on her abdomen, but the sort of self-contained little area he was now in was a pretty damn nice place to be.

He kept the pace slow at first, both to torture her and to allow him to truly savour this occasion. Within less than a minute, however, she was rocking her hips in an unconscious effort to speed him up. He delivered at last, administering a few passionate laps along the entire length of her sex, and she cried out and grabbed his head, burying her fingers in his hair. A moment later, however, he retreated again. "Oh, Gods damn it, Joxer!" Gabrielle growled in frustration, and a moment later the young man found his face jammed against her womanhood.

"Mmmph- mkay, mkay!" he mumbled into her curls, and Gabrielle's upper body arched off the ground as his lips settled to suckle on her clit. He worked it gently for a while, then probed below at her entrance, teasing the folds before working his tongue into her opening. Gabrielle hissed softly, her hands embracing his head, and he chuckled and mumbled something along the lines of "Knew you'd like that."

Whatever it was he actually said, she was never sure, as it was unintelligible. "Don't talk with your mouth full," she muttered. Joxer decided that if she had the presence of mind to make a quip like that, he wasn't doing his job well enough. Time to really get down to business, so to speak. He stiffened his tongue, thrusting it within her at a quicker pace, and shifted so that his head was to one side and the hand he'd been resting on her abdomen was towards the other. Sliding it down until his thumb grazed her clit, he let his tongue work her lower half while his hand played her like an instrument. The positioning was awkward for him, but Gabrielle's increasingly dynamic cries of response were well worth it. Her voice was ragged by the time he lifted his head to breathe, letting his hand continue its work. She didn't even seem to notice that he'd stopped, although when he slid three fingers into her she let go of his head and ran her hands over her breasts, her cries becoming higher in pitch. Joxer just watched her for a moment, finding himself short of breath despite what was meant to be a reprieve. His pulse was throbbing, Gabby's body was throbbing around him, and his erection was throbbing painfully in his shorts.

After spending a few brief moments trying to think of a way to quickly and gracefully take off his shorts without having to stop pleasuring his lover, he finally shook his head and gave up. He switched the hand that was working at Gabrielle's loins, the now-free one sneaking inside his shorts and grabbing his aching member, Gabrielle's slick essence serving as an effective and doubly arousing lubricant.

He didn't get far before Gabrielle opened her eyes and said in disappointment, "You stopped."

"Hang on," he muttered, and withdrew his other hand to slide his shorts off and toss them aside, then plunged back into her womanhood, submerging his tongue in her folds. Just the scent drove him crazy with desire, but when Gabrielle screamed and lifted her hips, he drove onward; he caught her and held her, slightly elevated, and simply licked and sucked and licked some more, his tongue spreading warmly over not only her clit, her labia, but overlapping onto her thighs.

It was so different from coital, so soft and pliant, as if he were melting and seeping into her, and there was no control, just a frenzy of tongue and lips, and she felt her insides melt, all over him, and she screamed as she came. A moment later, Joxer was gently lowering her hips to the ground. He wiped his mouth and chin with the back of his hand, then he gave her a self-satisfied grin from his position between her knees. Still panting, she said, "Now that... was something."

He didn't seem to be able to shake the grin. "No one's ever done that for ya before?" he asked, trailing a finger across her leg.

She shook her head happily. "Not like that." The grin actually got wider, and she rolled her eyes. "Don't get all full of yourself or I'll stop complimenting you."

Joxer hung his head, but the grin stayed. His current pose made him look irresistibly boyish, despite both their states of undress. The finger he was trailing across her skin took a turn in a southernly direction, and he said almost bashfully, "You just looked like you enjoyed that, is all."

"Oh, please," she snorted. Joxer pressed his lips together, evidently trying not to laugh. "Whaaaat?"

He was shaking from chuckling now, and he leaned over her prone form, leering down at her from above. "Just..." he said, and bent to kiss her, brushing his lips over hers in a light caress, "'re a terrible liar." She yelled in mock outrage and beat her fists lightly against his shoulders, and with that he sank down over her and kissed her firmly.

She slid her tongue to meet his, tasting her essence which still flavoured his lips and tongue, and felt him trembling against her. She put her arms around his neck just as he broke the kiss to lap at her throat; he buried his mouth at her shoulder, his breathing ragged, and she smiled and cradled his head with all the tenderness she felt flowing through her body.

"I need you, Gabrielle," he said hoarsely against her skin, running his tongue over her flesh in rapid, desperate strokes. It gave her chills to hear him talk like that, to see so clearly the truth of his statement, the power she did hold over him now. It went to her head, made her giddy, and she felt as though she were floating; and yet he seemed so vulnerable, so fragile, her heart was filled with affection and the urge to protect him, keep him all to herself so that no one could ever mistreat him.

Shifting her arms, she lifted his head up above hers, and reached up a kiss to his beautiful lips. "I want you inside me, Joxer," she murmured. He gave a choked whimper, descending to her and kissing her beautifully before shifting his weight over her, and sliding into her with a hiss.

She arched to meet him, closing her eyes at the sensation of his flesh pushing and pulling against her own; no matter how many times they did it she still went all weak when the lovemaking actually began. "Oh Gods damn it- oh you fit so perfectly," she gasped, and he made a helpless sound in the back of his throat and hugged her, pressing his face against her cheek as he rocked within her.

"You don't- oh Gabby, you don't know what that does to me when you say things like that," he whispered a second later.

She laughed breathlessly, wrapping her legs around his waist to allow him better entry. "I don't?"

Turning his head to grin at her, he laughed briefly, too. "Hades, you probably do." He propped himself up on his palms, riding her a bit higher, working her clit as he drove his length home. She gave a keening moan, letting her eyes drift shut and rolling her head back as she writhed beneath him. He just watched her, never dreaming that someone could be so beautiful, and knowing that no one could ever be more beautiful than her. His own orgasm seemed irrelevant just now, as his attention was again focused on her, and it was her arousal- not any physical stimulation- which fueled his own. "Gabrielle," he murmured, his voice low and back in his throat, and just the sound of her name seemed to send his senses reeling.

"Joxer-" She pulled his head down, and plundered his lips, thrusting her tongue into his throat as if trying to devour him from the inside out. The blood pounded inside his ears, and once again he found it hard to believe that this was real, that she was really willingly with him. It seemed, at moments like these, that nothing could ever be truly wrong with the world. "Joxer," she said again, after breaking the kiss and gasping for air, "I think, oh Gods, I think I'm- going to- come again..."

"Oh yes," he breathed, embracing her, watching her with his eyes half-lidded. "Please do..." He ached, he burned, yet held back still; when she pulled him closer, he wrapped his arms around her and buried himself within her, faster and harder than before. He smoothed her hair from where it had stuck to her cheek. "You're so... so beautiful when you-"

"Joxer!" She clawed at him. "Aaaaugh, Joxer, tell me-" Her eyes opened part way and she looked at him imploringly. Softly, she said, "Tell me you love me."

He broke, somehow. "I love you, Gabrielle," he said, and couldn't stop. "I love your hair- your beautiful eyes- your breasts..." He stopped to kiss her, and then went on, as she cried out and ground up against him furiously. "I love your lips, I love your laugh, I love your scrolls... Gabby..."

She yelled, half-sobbing, and raked her fingernails over his shoulder without noticing. "Joxer! Oh, Joxer, JoxerJoxerJOXER-" He braced himself, his thrusts now uncontrolled, fueled by pure lust, as her cries became unintelligible and her face dissolved from tense need into pure ecstasy.

"Oh I love you," he said, one last time, and it spurred him to his release; he thrust madly for several seconds more, then froze as his orgasm physically rocked him back, leaving him gasping desperately as he exploded within her. It was eternal, yet it ended too soon, and he relaxed upon her, his arms still wound around her cooling body as they caught their breaths.

It took him a few moments to notice that she was hugging him, actively squeezing his slender frame rather than just passively holding him. He lifted his head from her shoulder, and she smiled at him, so he squeezed her back. His shoulder throbbed where she had scratched him, and he felt as proud as if it were a battle scar. "You're beautiful when you come, too," she murmured into his ear. His heart jumped joyfully.

He rolled off her a moment later, and they spent a few moments arranging hay over themselves before settling down, her on her back and him next to her on his stomach. He draped an arm over her stomach and stared lazily at her. "We shouldn't fall asleep," he said softly.

"I didn't plan to," she answered. "We'd never be able to explain this."

Stifling a yawn, he said, "We could say we were huddling for warmth."

"Naked? While our clothes are right over there, and Xena is just down the street?"

Joxer thought, pouting slightly. "Right. Hadn't thought of that."

She giggled. "No surprise." He grunted in response. She paused, then said, "Joxer? I'm sorry... uh... sorry I made you say- that."

"Say what?"

Sighing, she said, "You know, the love thing. I just... I don't know, I wanted to hear it. But it probably made things kind of uncomfortable."

There was a pause, and she could tell there was some tension in it, and feared the worst. But his voice was warm and soft when he propped himself up on his elbows and began to answer. "Gabrielle... I... I m-" He stopped there, and it was another few moments before he continued, "I... didn't mind saying it. Don't worry about it."

She was infinitely relieved. "It's that pillow talk thing, right?"

"Sure," he said dismissively. She frowned mildly, reminded once again of all the experience he had over her.

Oh, well, no big deal. "I won't ask again, though. It probably confuses things too much." He shrugged silently, staring at her with that pout and that little crease in his forehead, then leaned over and kissed her gently.

When he pulled back, she opened her eyes and he smiled at her, almost sadly. "Sorry. I know you don't like me kissing you when we're not..."

"I didn't mind," she said, and had a feeling she was blushing. She hoped that if she was, it was too dark for him to tell. "I mean... I don't always dislike it. It's... I..." She tried to think of a way to explain her reasons for disliking it before, and couldn't remember them at all now. Joxer was looking at her bemusedly, although she'd never thought he could manage the subtlety of the expression, and finally he leaned over and kissed her again. After a moment, she put her arm around his neck. When this one ended, she crinkled her nose. "Okay, but don't get too carried away," she said sternly. He chuckled, and lay back down.

There was a sleepy silence, which he broke. "So did you miss me?"

"What?" She turned her head and stared at him.

"Y'know. While we were apart. Did-you-miss-me."

Gabrielle's heart was beating more quickly than she was comfortable with. Her response was, essentially, blurted out. "Don't be stupid." She turned her head back and shut her eyes.

"Oh." He shifted next to her, and his voice was muffled when it came again. "Just wondered."

"Well, we split up all the time! Why would I miss you this time, when I've never missed you before?" She turned to look at him again. He had his head resting on his arms in front of him, and was facing away from her. She grit her teeth. Stupid Joxer. "Well?"

"I don't know," he said testily. "It was just an offhand comment. Forget it."

She sighed, crossed her arms, and they lay in silence. Finally she said, "I was happy to see you though."

He faced her again, slowly, and quirked a smile. "Okay."

More silence followed, before she cleared her throat. "Well...?"

"Well what?"

Glaring at him, she prompted, "Were you glad to see me?"

He shrugged. "Sure." She swatted his shoulder, and he grinned and rolled over, putting his arms around her. "Well, you and Xena did bail me out from those casino guys."

"Ah. Glad we're appreciated."

"Although that was mostly Xena."

"Oh, right, mostly Xena."

"I was glad to see you, but then you started hitting me, so I got over that pretty quick-"

"Why don't we just get dressed and call it a night?"

He giggled and hugged her, and despite herself, Gabrielle hugged him back.

Continue on to the sequel Frustration Break

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