Xena Warrior Princess, Joxer the Mighty and Gabrielle the strawberry blonde bard are all characters owned by Studios USA and Renaissance Pictures. This story line was all *MY* idea, so if you steal it the faeries, nymphs and muses will cause you great troubles. I'm not making any money from this so lets all get comfy and read the frikkin story shall we? }}:)
Before we get underway, some formalities:
Content: Lot's of sexual tension - between opposite sexes too! (ooer that makes a change now doesn't it?). There is some very subtle subtext but *gosh* it's fun!! Some gore, and oh that naughty s-e-x word between a woman and a - ready for it? MAN!
Disclaimers: Artemis' integrity as a Goddess who only likes virgins and really doesn't dig men or lovey dovey stuff all that much is also slightly damaged, so Classical Myth adherers are warned! Also - I do know not the unit of measurement ancient Greeks used to count the hours all those thousands of years ago and I am not really bothered. So I use the terms 'hours' in relation to 24 of them being in a 'day' with complete and admitted ignorance. If you know the real units of measurements and would like to help a writer gain that *little* more accuracy email me and I'd be grateful.
Rating: 18+ - it can get pretty steamy!
What else is there to know? Read read read!
Send feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org
You can find more work by Nacey at The Gabrielle and Joxer Romantics' Society, at the GJerotica Archive, and at her sites Joxer the Mighty and Blunder On! The Daring Adventures of Joxer the Mighty!
What is a Hero?
By Nancy Lorenz.
Artemis giggled. "Again?!?"
Ares rolled his tongue around in his mouth darkly. "Yeah, so?"
She tisked through a pout, her hair the black of the darkest midnight framing her healthy pale olive skinned face. Her deep brown eyes sparkled at him as she cleaned her nails with the tip of one of her arrows.
"Honestly brother, how hard can a mortal female be to defeat?"
"What makes you think I'm trying to defeat her? It's not defeat I want Artemis. Oh no," he grinned a knowing grin, "It's gratification I want from her."
Or so went the story. Artemis rose an eyebrow only for a moment.
She giggled at him, her grin emphasizing her nymph like nature, her legs crossed at the table, her knee high sandals and short toga making her look younger than she was.
"Some God of War you are!" she chuckled, "Can't do your job because of your love for a woman!"
She didn't buy it. And fewer of the Olympian Gods did every day. He was fast running out of relatives to bullshit to. He fully realized his father's increasing concern as to his performance as the God of War. Had he sent one of his favourite daughters - which he knew to be the ones that weren't dead or turned into animals or stellar constellations - to grill him about this? His paranoia was probably getting the better of him but he knew better than to take Artemis on face value. Although beautiful, carefree and spirited she had also been heartbroken, sworn virginal at the death of her first (and only) love, and held more of her fair share of wrath towards mankind, men being a key area of the angst in her existence. Why she was suddenly concerned about him of all Gods confused him no end. Artemis sat awaiting a response, so he gave her one.
He sent a frown of disbelief in Artemis' direction.
"I don't love Xena," he said sternly, getting up from his pew and strolling to the lounge fetching some wine, "I love the havoc she caused, the fighting, the leather, the brass..." He smirked.
His sister shrugged.
"Oh Ares, busty brassy Valkyries are a dime a dozen. Why not find another human to play with awhile, huh?"
Ares shuffled on the spot uncomfortably.
Artemis looked to him with disdain.
"Besides you're a coward, a miscreant and a scoundrel, what could she possibly see of any worth in you?"
He handed her a clay cup of wine.
"Couldn't be my devilish good looks, black leather and abounding charisma now could it?" he grinned.
Artemis looked at him sternly.
"Now, vanity is Aphrodite's look out!" she said primly cradling the cup in her hand," You've been trying to get this Xena back for years, even putting the soul of that scamp Callisto in her body didn't bring her back to the way she was," Artemis pouted and looked to Ares with a pained wince, "Honestly Ares, this is turning into a bit of an obsession now isn't it? I mean really! It's ridiculous! Most of your best-laid plans have something to do with this Xena girl! She's a mortal for Olympus' sake!"
Ares scowled and sank at the pew across from his older sister.
Artemis giggled once more, "Oh poor brother!" she pouted, "Lost his Warrior Princess."
He clamped his teeth together, his jaw muscles bulging.
She laughed once more, the sound tinkling and crystal. She pursed her lips, sipping the wine.
"She fights now, isn't that enough?"
He rolled his eyes.
"Yeah, it would be despite the fact she is fighting for good and-" he shrugged with great sarcasm, "What'd'ya know, I'm not! World domination doesn't sit with her for some funny reason, don't ask me why!"
"Oh Ares I hate it when you try to talk cool it's so unbecoming for a God of Olympus! And all those pesky Godlings you hang out with - people will talk!"
Ares rolled his eyes.
"I'm gonna say this just this once in a dialect you may understand," she cleared her throat, " Ditch the bint!"
Ares looked at her with a stern sideward glance.
"Hey, the Discord thing is giving Olympus a real bad name brother!" she stood up, sliding her arrow back into her case. Strolling over to Ares she placed her hands on his ample shoulders, massaging them gently, "Oh Ares, you can do better than her, you are the God of War, you deserve a princess!"
"Funny," he muttered.
Artemis rolled her eyes.
"Okay, big sister is gonna finally do you a favour and help you out with your Xena hang-up okay? On one condition..."
He glanced up at her doggedly.
"Name it," he said darkly.
"If it doesn't work I want you to drop this thing okay? Daddy is getting really worried about you, and as a God you have your responsibilities. Enough of your time has been taken up by this mortal. I think all of Olympus would be in agreement that it is time to end this one way or another."
He felt dread wash over him and he pursed his lips, running a finger over his beard briskly.
"What's your plan?"
Artemis grinned, massaging his shoulders once more with vigour.
"Well, the one thing a woman loves, even Xena, is to be needed. But you lay it on somewhat -"
He glanced at her.
"It's true," she said, tilting her head and bringing her full pink lips to a pout, "that a woman does like this, but you have to learn how to dole it out in little pieces. Keep her on her toes, starve her of your company, she will soon crave you, handsome brother! You must make her understand that she needs you."
He snorted quietly.
"You don't know Xena, she is not like other women, and she needs nobody."
"Hmm, you haven't listened to a word I've said have you?"
The Goddess slid around to face him on the lounge, placing her hands on top of his squeezing them firmly with intense excitement in her eyes.
Ares only glanced at her tiredly with handsome brown eyes.
"Relax brother, I've got just the idea..."
Gabrielle crouched behind the shelf of assorted gourds as Xena tried her utmost to blend into the armour rack. She barely breathed. Gabrielle did not want him to find her. The last thing she wanted was for him to fall over himself, crying out their names in public. She wasn't looking forward to catching up with him later either, as she knew Xena would want to do - out of guilt? Or because she actually liked him? And she would do damn near anything to get away from him again.
"Is he gone?" she whispered.
"No," Xena breathed, "Shut up!"
She could hear him move about in the room, his armour clunking.
"How much is this fine sword, good man?" he said, obviously attempting to lower his voice to a booming tone.
Gabrielle tried extremely hard not to giggle. She pressed her hands against her mouth hard, wincing at the pressure.
"Wow!" the voice suddenly heightened to its natural tone, "That's a lot of dinars!"
She squeezed her eyes shut, pursed her lips, the laughter had seized her by the throat but she didn't let go of a sound.
"I'll just take a look of your wonderful range of gourds!" he muttered.
Gabrielle gasped. Xena glared at her, her icy blue eyes scolding her, but a sparkle of jocularity giggling behind the harsh expression.
His huge dark eyes looked over the gourds one by one, the pretty bard keeping her face stony still, feeling his eyes skim past her. She watched him make it round the corner of the gourd rack, strolling towards the armour.
"Chain-mail…." He strolled along, "Leather vest, bronze chest-plate, Xena…"
He doubled back.
Xena slapped on a grin.
"Hi Joxer! How are you?"
"Uh – fuh – fine, I'm fine, I didn't notice you there," He pointed to the door, then to himself, frowning slightly.
There was a giggle and Joxer spun around, his armour clanking after him. Words escaped him as he saw Gabrielle crouching at the gourd racks. He turned and looked to Xena, completely agog, who smiled as innocently as she could.
Joxer sipped at the ale tentatively while Xena took a hearty swig.
"We've been travelling north, following Mallecium's main battle front," she said, licking the ale at the corner of her lips sharply, "He is with a group of about sixty men, maybe less…"
"Who knows why they are heading north, there are only small farming villages from here," Gabrielle said, a small crease in her brow.
"Land," Xena stated darkly, "He wants as much of it as possible, and fast. Farming villages won't put up much of a struggle either."
Joxer and Gabrielle both pursed their lips in a similar expression of compassion. Glancing up at them Xena couldn't help but smile, Gabrielle suddenly getting self-conscious.
"What?" she said.
"Never mind," grinned Xena, "What brings you along this way Joxer?"
Joxer pursed his lips, putting on the hardest most rugged expression he could muster.
"I was along this way to regain the loot stolen from a nearby village – Mallecium took the town."
Gabrielle looked to him, a slight smile playing on her face, "How did you expect to do that?"
He smiled, like a boy who held a secret.
"Am I not nimble and quick? I find my strength is in wit rather than brawn!"
"What wit!?" Gabrielle chuckled.
Joxer pouted, looking hurt.
Xena gave a knowing grin and just took another swig of her ale. The thing was Xena knew that Joxer wasn't that far wrong. As ridiculous as he seemed, under the rubbery faced nincompoop before them lay genuine bravery, compassion and a true sense of honour. He was indeed intelligent, when he needed to be, or he wouldn't be alive. And – he was willing to risk his life for Argo. Anyone ready to do that for her was not so bad in her scrolls. Hmm, bravery, intelligence…. Those were the things most warlords lacked, and she knew this was his best advantage. Besides, he could tell a mean joke. Xena watched him talk to Gabrielle a moment, his eyes bright, and his rubbery lips playing in a smile. The strawberry blonde woman just rolled her eyes at him, stifling a grin that demanded to grace her mouth. She looked to Xena, her light brown eyebrows coming together in a frown.
"You okay? You look – " she paused, "Distant."
"I think Joxer should ride with us this time…"
Both Gabby and Joxer glared at Xena.
"You do?!?" Joxer rasped, "I – uh - of course you do!" he said, lowering his voice, till Xena looked at him sternly and he cleared his throat, "Uhh yeah!"
Xena looked to him with a thin smile.
"If I guide you, teach you a few things, will you help me plan an attack on Mallecium's men?"
Gabby was aghast! Was Xena crazy?!? Mallecium's 60 men weren't formidable, but she had always felt it wise to assume nothing as granted.
Xena glanced to Gabrielle, then to Joxer. She pulled out some dinars from a leather pouch hung at her belt and handed them to Joxer.
"You pay the barman, Gabrielle and I will ready Argo."
Joxer nodded and moved off to do as she asked.
Xena rose slowly, making her way outside, Gabby bounding after her. She waited till they were a fair distance from the inn.
"Got a problem Gabrielle?"
Gabrielle glared at her, her blue eyes flashing.
"Are you crazy?" she exclaimed.
"No," Xena replied calmly, "Why, what makes you think I am?"
"Recruiting Joxer for one thing! What are you trying to do?"
"There have been too many times that Joxer has been in a spot and we have bailed him out - one of these days he is gonna get himself killed. Hopefully with a bit of training, he won't."
"What makes you think it's you that has to do that?"
"Somebody has to. Besides," She tightened Argo's saddle; "I'm not trying to make a warrior out of him, just teach him enough to save himself."
"But," Gabby stuttered, "I-It's Joxer we're talking about here… Do you really think he can be taught to use a weapon?"
Xena gave her a level look as she adjusted the last of Argo's straps.
"Anyone can be taught to defend themselves. Look at me, I used to be a young betrothed woman… Look at you… A young girl from Poteidaia. So, Joxer is a little full of it-"
Gabrielle eyed her.
Xena rolled her eyes and nodded, "Okay, very full of it, got too much bravado, but he wants to be a great warrior more than anything else in the world! And it's not because he wants the fame or the women; it's because he wants to help people! He'll try to be a hero whether I help him or not." She smiled and shrugged, " May as well teach him a few things that may save his life!"
Gabrielle frowned, and Xena could suddenly see the hurt in her eyes. She pouted.
"You never asked me to help you plan attacks."
Xena grinned and took Gabrielle by the shoulders.
"I've never had to! You've always helped me and you know it!"
Gabrielle sighed with a smile. Xena was right, again. She frowned slightly.
"It's not like you though, to really get involved…"
"I'm already involved, he is our friend, and friends look out for one another!"
The younger woman nodded with a smile and turned to look at the inn entrance. Joxer flung the ragged curtain aside, whacking his arm on the door frame. Though he wore metal arm cuffs he was still in pain and he gripped his arm preciously, hopping up and down and knocking over a neatly stacked pile of baskets nearby. He bent over in his excessive armour, clanking, trying feebly to replace the baskets. He was so embarrassing, so… so… irritating!
Gabrielle shook her head.
"He is such an embarrassment!"
Xena grinned, mounting Argo swiftly.
"That's because he reminds you of yourself not so long ago!"
Gabrielle spun around.
"JOXER!" Xena yelled over Gabrielle, "Let's go!"
Joxer looked to her, and hurriedly piled the baskets on a peasant apologetically. He bolted from the inn.
"Coming Xena!" he cried.
"Is it a… an animal?" Gabby asked, looking up to Xena. Xena looked down, high on Argo's saddle and smiled nonchalantly with a shake of her head.
"A monster then?"
Xena nodded with a smile, Joxer looking thoughtful.
Gabby snapped her fingers excitedly. "Has Hercules killed it?"
Before Xena could respond, Joxer muttered, "Hydra."
Xena rose an eyebrow and grinned with a small nod.
"How did you know that?" Gabrielle exclaimed.
Joxer felt himself go stupid as he looked at her and he struggled not to stutter. He knew it was happening, it happened every time he neared her. Actually it happened every time he realized he wasn't alone and that people were conscious of what he was saying, but it seemed to be an amplified problem as soon as he laid eyes on Gabrielle. He grinned like an idiot.
Gabby shook her head. "Okay, okay, next?"
Xena grinned. "Ok I have one."
"Are you human?" the bard started.
"Are you … female?"
"Yes," Xena replied peering through the forest ahead.
"Are you an enemy?" asked Joxer.
"A relative of yours or Gabby's?"
Gabby frowned. Damn Xena was good at this game. She had a passing glance at Joxer. He had a quiet sparkle in his eyes. Xena noticed Gabrielle's fascinated gaze and followed it. Joxer glanced to Gabby, then to Xena.
"Are you Xena?"
Xena grinned widely. "Yes!"
Gabby's jaw dropped.
"How in Hades did you get that? We only asked five questions!"
Joxer gulped. Her blue eyes flashing at him, he stuttered.
"B-Guh-uh … Any warrior could – uh…" Xena looked at him matter-of-factly and he stopped. "Deduction!"
"Deduction – logic – you know – Archimedes has been playing around with the concept for quite a while now."
Gabrielle glared at him. Was this ‘witticism' coming from Joxer? By the Gods he irritated her! All she wanted to do was have him go away, or every time he did anything embarrassing melt into a puddle and seep away. Not only that but she had the compulsion to pound his ridiculously fleshy face to a pulp! She startled herself. That was quite a violent thought. What invoked it? HIM! Gabrielle the Bard, staff expert and Amazon QUEEN was Xena's sidekick – not JOXER! Dumb Joxer with his even dumber hat! All he could do was get himself in trouble and gawk at her, stuttering dimly. Okay. Maybe she was a little cranky. Joxer had gotten the last five 20 question games, and Xena was looking more impressed all the time! She sighed.
There was clanking about, and Xena turned her head, seeing Joxer grinning with his hands cupped. The strawberry blonde bard was not paying attention, more content on gazing into the surrounding woods with a deep scowl. The foolish warrior brought his cupped hands over to her, putting them in front of the young woman's face. She glared at him. Bringing his hands away somewhat, he brought them apart.
Colour burst from his hands as a butterfly escaped from his fingers. Gabrielle gasped at the flurry till she realized what had happened, and she looked up at the butterfly, it fluttering furiously into the air, regaining its lost mate that was fluttering around aimlessly.
She gazed at Joxer, a soft smile on his rubbery lips.
Argo snorted abruptly as Xena pulled her reigns. She grinned to herself, her eyes sparkling.
"Xena wait," Gabrielle stopped as they reached a fork in the road, Xena already leading Argo down one direction.
"That road leads to a river – we're heading for Minoeta."
"We're going this way."
Xena looked levelly at Gabrielle. The younger woman shrugged, and started for the other fork in the road, Joxer clanking along with her.
Xena began to unload Argo, Gabrielle looking at her oddly. The river's edge was beautiful, the crystal water lapped the brown sandy shore lovingly and as Gabby focused onto the rocks and algae under the water she cocked her head slightly.
"We're staying by the river?"
"Yes," said Xena in her contralto.
"For how long?"
"A few days – long enough for Mallecium to get tired of waiting for me."
"won't that give him time to take the villages?"
Xena grinned nonchalantly, "He doesn't dare Gabrielle. Not while I have the Athenian Army with me…"
Gabrielle furrowed. "But you don't-"
Xena grinned, "Shhhh!"
Gabrielle grinned, then gestured to the burbling water, "Good fishing here."
Xena smiled idly, lowering Argo's saddle onto a rock swiftly. "There you go girl."
The horse snorted back contentedly.
Gabby hummed to herself as she pulled out some scrolls - it was going to be a long day. "Righting wrongs and singing songs, being mighty all day long…" She stopped, a gulp catching in her throat as she realized exactly what it was that she was singing. She glanced to the others to see if they had noticed her faux pas, and much to her horror, they had. Joxer seemed to be stifling a smile; Xena was smirking at her.
"What?! What! It's that darned song!" she said, "It gets stuck in you head!"
Joxer suddenly looked overly impressed with himself, "Yeah, you see, that's the point! That's why I made it up - so people would get it stuck in their heads and remember me!"
Gabrielle chuckled and shook her head. "Joxer, you are hard enough to forget!"
Joxer swelled with what seemed to be genuine confidence. "You think so?"
"I know so!" she laughed.
He smiled like a boy receiving praise for his first great achievement. "Thanks!"
Gabby looked up at him. She had intended to insult him with what she had said but he had taken it differently. She opened her mouth ready to strike him down with a flame of words but his near black eyes were glowing happily and she hadn't seen him this proud of himself - well - ever! She sighed, and waved a hand.
"It's - it's ok," she smiled, and decided to go back to her writing.
Xena glanced at Joxer, and thought to take advantage of his confident state. She slapped him on the shoulder roughly.
"Come on," she said.
"What are we doing?" he asked.
Xena smiled. "I'm gonna teach you a few things that will help you to defend yourself."
Anyone else priding himself or herself to be a warrior would have protested, adamantly stating they already knew how to defend themselves. Joxer just stood eagerly and nodded.
"Okay, what are ya gonna teach me first?"
"Falling over," Xena replied.
"Pfffffffft!" Joxer rolled his eyes, " I can do that already!"
"Suuuuure!" he grinned.
"Okay," Xena looked at him with her striking gaze, "Push me over."
Joxer looked aghast.
"I said push me over!" she said firmly. He sighed, and lunged at her shoulders, knocking her off balance. He expected her to crash into the wet sand, but her rear barely touched the ground when her strong arms pushed the ground away from her and she rolled over to a crouched position. From there she let a leg whip out and knock Joxer's from under him. He landed with a terrible splatch in the sand.
"Ow!" he tried to get up, his bottom stuck in the soft sand. Xena extended him a hand and pulled him to his feet.
"Falling over is more than landing on your rear," she said evenly, "I want you to tell me what it is."
He thought about it for a long moment, tending his bruised bottom gingerly. "It's about - about - taking their strength from the push - and using it to your own advantage."
Xena grinned, "That's good Joxer, now I want you to try it."
"Me?" he said looking nervous.
"Yeah you," she said kindly, "Don't be shy."
"I'm not shy," he winced, "I'm scared you're gonna kill me!"
"I won't kill you!" she chuckled, "This is only practice, now come on!"
He nodded, pursing his lips and ready. He felt two strong hands pummel into him and he flew back. He brought his arms down, ready to push off the ground and roll, but his armour pulled him down with it's weight - as he rolled his helmet dug into the soft sand and he tumbled into a heap. Xena winced, helping him to his feet again.
"Okay, I think for now we better lose the hat, "she pulled off his woven helmet, tossing it to the ground. "Just while you're practising on this sand anyway."
He nodded, and proceeded to loosen his armour.
"No, you don't have to-"
"It was weighing me down, "he said with a slight frown.
"Okay, we'll try it again," Xena smiled after he lay his armour down on a nearby bank, wearing only a fluffy textured woven vest, a rich blend of purples, maroons, slivers of green and orange running through its shaggy front. His pale arms were bare, not overly muscular but by far adequate. He approached Xena again, and she lunged at him. He flew backwards, and he pushed at the ground letting the impact run through him, beginning to roll correctly but somehow did an odd tumble and landed on his side. Xena helped him up once more.
"You're getting better."
"You think?" he said doubtfully, dusting himself off. Xena dropped a hand on his shoulder.
"Yes, there is improvement, "she said, "And room for plenty more. Again!"
Gabrielle didn't pay much attention to the two warrior's activities. She crouched over her scroll, trying in vain to write a beautiful poem of her lost love Perdicas, but everything came out soppy, shallow, even for her. It didn't sound very good and it didn't say much about the man she had loved or why she had loved him so. She sighed, finishing the poem quickly and stuffing it away in one of the satchels. That's one Xena can use for going to relieve herself, she thought darkly. Another blank scroll lay in front of her. She had a long think, of what, or whom she should write about. She grinned suddenly. She could write the tale of the great Xena teaching the fool Joxer to fight. She chuckled. Joxer was such a clod; it would be a great comedy! Full of slapstick and foolishness! The bard glanced up at him, ready to feast her eyes on the very embodiment of idiocy and-
Her grin shrank away, and she blinked. She glanced about her, seeing if Aphrodite was about, as what she saw defied what she knew had to be there. Xena, tall and regal, graceful as always, with the most caring of smiles, pushed at Joxer, who fell to the ground, and into a roll. Nearly. He fell on his bottom when he got to the crouching position at the end of the roll. Nonetheless it was more than she had ever seen him do before. His pale arms were covered with damp sand, and he massaged his surprisingly wide shoulders with a strong looking hand. It was strange; he was completely inept at the arts of the warrior, yet he had the hands of a strong sword-fighter, looking more powerful than many she had encountered. How she had never noticed these physical characteristics before she was unsure. He had always seemed so little, thin, weedy, unkempt. He always would she thought, but there was something here she hadn't noticed, something that was always there but maybe she fought to dampen while he was around her. He pouted, then grinned determinedly at Xena, his near black eyes glowing and his stature was more erect and confident, and less pathetic. And this was really Joxer! No spells, no mortal meddling. This confidence was something she had never seen in Joxer before. If she did even begin to see it happen she would have very likely trodden it out with wry witticism. It was amazing to see such an inept warrior fool show such human qualities, qualities she related to. She had never noticed for all the long silly stories he told, and his foolish behaviour. She knew however, it was his mouth and the ridiculous words that came from it that had kept him alive so long... Like her before- Gabrielle's heart stopped. Before she had learnt to fight.
She had something in COMMON with Joxer! The pretty bard shuddered, looking at the scene in front of her once more. He was a fool, a popinjay, but she saw something else now. She smiled, pulling out her quill.
What is a hero? Is it muscle? Is it lack of fear? Of hate? Of weakness? Her quill flew furiously across the scroll, her heart racing with it. She hadn't been this inspired like this in - a while actually. She went to stretch a leg over the log she sat on, but her leg found itself in a muscular black clad lap. She gasped.
"Ares! What are you doing here?"
He pouted, seeing her foot in his lap and cradled it in his large hands sensuously. Gabrielle withdrew her leg immediately. He cocked an eyebrow.
"I'm here to see you my dear."
She looked to him with disbelief.
"You are here to see me?" She laughed. "Oh that's funny Ares!"
Ares narrowed his eyes, regarding the scroll in her lap. "May I?"
She let him take it, and he began to read it, "I didn't know you liked to read poetry…"
"I have to keep myself amused somehow, can't be causing death and war all the time or there wouldn't be any people to cause trouble with! And you know what?"
He chuckled heartily, "This one doing a good job! What is a hero?" He heightened his voice, wavering it dramatically, his performance dripping in satire, "Is it muscle? Is it lack of fear of hate of weakness? Is it muscle? Is it how many you kill, how many kings you fight for, how many you'll save?"
Gabrielle pouted a little, trying to hide the hurt that a God laughed at one of her poems, even if it was Ares. He read further, looking up to Joxer and he smiled.
"Why - this is about him isn't it?" he grinned.
"Yes," she replied.
He laughed again.
"You know he is nothing but an inept fool," He put an arm around her, taking her hand and caressing it. Snatching it back she moved along the log away from him.
"I used to think that," she said, "I'm starting to think that yes, he's a fool, but there is more to him than that."
Ares cocked an eyebrow, running his tongue along his bottom lip, "Why not write a great song of the God of War, his fantastic conquests and his triumphs?"
Gabrielle tried hard not to laugh, "I'm sorry Ares, you don't really inspire me to write a song."
"And Joxer the Foolhardy inspires you?"
"I suppose he does!" she smiled.
"Well if the poem is any indication it seems like you fancy him… lacking as he is," he grimaced slightly. Gabrielle laughed.
"Oh, no no, not Joxer."
"What's that Gabrielle?" Xena looked to her, Joxer on the ground.
"Um," she closed her eyes and pouted, How do I explain this? she thought. "Ares is here."
"She can't see me," he muttered nonchalantly.
Gabby doubled back at him, "You're kidding!"
He shook his head, his brown eyes looking to her tenderly.
"But she can always see you!"
"Not this time," he smirked, "I'm only here for you."
"Who are you talking to?" Joxer frowned, his brow like a little puppy's.
"Ares," Xena replied. She knew Gabby wasn't lying. She could feel Ares' formidable presence like a dark looming storm. He was an intensely passionate and terrifying God, powerful in every aspect. His realm of godhood was a source of much human pain. The question was - what did he want with Gabrielle?
"Whatever you're up to Ares, you can forget it. I'm not joining you."
Ares burst into hearty laughter.
"I don't want Xena," he chuckled.
Gabrielle looked to Xena. Obviously she hadn't heard that.
"He said he doesn't want you Xena…"
"Then who-" Joxer started.
"Aaagh!" Gabby yelped, her hair moved that her neck was exposed. She smacked at the space next to her, seeming to hit something. "Stop that! Eww!"
Joxer's dark eyebrows tilted, "What's he doing? Gabby!"
Gabby wiped at her neck vigourously, "Oh yuck! Ares!! By the Gods!"
He rose an eyebrow. Gabrielle let out an angry breath.
"Will you tell me what in Tartarus this is all about?!"
The thing was, those caresses and adoring touches were divinely passionate - how such expert kisses came from such an entity that thrived on so much destruction baffled her.
"I want you, Gabrielle. Not to join me, no," he shook his head with a smile, "I want you to" He paused, looking her up and down, running over her with his eyes, "please me."
Gabrielle physically shuddered with disgust.
"Okay, that is not going to happen!"
He took her suddenly in his arms and kissed and nibbled at her neck. She squealed.
"Oh! Get off me! Ares!!" she squirmed, "You can nibble me all you want but I'm NOT gonna be pleasing you, you GOT that?"
Joxer bolted upright, fear for Gabby raging in him, but he felt totally helpless. "Gabby!"
Gabrielle seemed unable to move, she turned her eyes to Xena and Joxer.
"Um, Xena, Ares is trying to seduce me!"
Xena cocked her head and blinked. "Well it doesn't look like he is doing a very good job…"
Joxer couldn't stand it a moment longer, he stepped forward, ready to bound towards the invisible God and tear him off Gabrielle, or die trying which was the more likely of the two. A firm hand on his shoulder stopped him before he could take another stride. It calmed him a little, but he still felt enraged, and utterly utterly helpless. He was worried he would start to tremble, like a frightened child, but it would be anger and despair for his bard that shook him.
Xena looked on, at the ready to intervene, analysing the situation carefully. Gabrielle didn't seem too distressed, just very surprised. Nonetheless, it had gotten far enough. She sprang forward, pulling her sword out and ready to press it to his throat. Her sword just swished through thin air. Oh great! she thought, He doesn't exist for me either!
"Ares!" she said firmly, "Leave her alone!"
Gabby continued to struggle with the invisible force, till she seemed to pry free. Ares looked to her with amusement.
"You have great will power to resist me Gabrielle," he then frowned, "Even Aphrodite couldn't withstand me…"
Gabrielle rose an eyebrow at him, stifling a smile. "Didn't she also get it on with Pan?"
Ares just clenched his jaw shut. Gabby continued with a chuckle.
"Well, Aphrodite will do it with just about anybody - hey she's the Goddess of Love right, it's her job!"
"I wouldn't mock her Gabrielle," he said darkly, "She is liable to make you fall in love with a tree."
"Sorry, you're right," she said, "My apologies to her loveliness, it's you Ares that is the pathetic one here."
Ares rolled his tongue around in his mouth, anger rippling his muscles, "I will not sit here and be insulted!"
Xena grew concerned as Gabby's eyes widened.
"Do what you will little woman," he said, his voice raising, "But know this - you insulted the God of War - and spurned his love!" He narrowed his eyes smugly, "You're in trouble now."
He gave a violent upward thrust of his arm and a jump to his feet.
"Ares, WAIT!" she cried, but with a whirlwind of sparkles and glowing air he was gone.
Joxer did not hesitate. He raced to her side, placing his hand on hers gently.
"A-are you okay?" he stammered, "If I could I woulda ripped his heart out and squished it with my bear hands!" he started eagerly, but sank a little, seeing her unappreciative wince, "But I figure I would just get myself killed if I tried huh? Especially with that pathetic excuse for a roll I do!"
Xena rolled her eyes and pouted at Joxer.
"I told you, you are learning that roll well, you just have to keep your balance at the end!"
Joxer nodded and rolled his eyes back, not believing what she had just said.
Gabrielle frowned a little and looked at him with a friendly smile. "I appreciate the sentiment Joxer, and if you keep practising maybe someday you will be able to carry it out!"
He swelled with a new-found confidence, looking up to Xena who grinned.
"Okay, let's go," she said. Joxer stood and made his way back to his falling over position. Xena looked to Gabby, who frowned.
"Xena, I think I really upset Ares, and you know it's not good to upset a God - what if he- I mean - I'm really worried Xena."
Xena nodded, "I think we better be ready for trouble."
Gabrielle nodded, and shuddered. Xena put an arm around her to comfort her, resting her forehead against the bard's.
"Now you know what I put up with all the time," she grinned.
Gabrielle grimaced, "Ugh, he is such a sleaze! How do you put up with him?"
"Well, he is good at what he does…"
Gabby rolled her eyes, pushing Xena away. "Ugh, go teach Joxer stuff before you make me sick!" she said with a chuckle. Xena grinned, slapping her hands on her thighs roughly and getting up.
"Joxer!" Xena approached him, sliding her sword back into it's sheath. "Think quick."
She lashed out, lunging with her arms into his shoulders. He dropped to the ground, did a shaky roll but somehow found his feet. Xena stormed to him, she seemed unrelenting and he froze - what was she doing? He rose from the crouch slightly, ready to try the low kick but he glanced up. She was expecting it. His brain nearly turned off - instinct was all there was. She dropped to the ground as she stopped, her leg whipping out ready to knock his feet from under him. He jumped, pulling up his legs in a ball, then as he cleared her leg he glanced to her. Unfortunately he didn't see the other leg coming.
He crashed into the dirt, rolling onto his side. Cradling his head he glanced up at Xena. He was surprised to see her eyes glowing with - pride?
Gabrielle let a crease settle in her brow.
"Did you teach him that jump Xena?"
"No," Xena said, smiling her pouted smile.
Gabrielle grinned, "Joxer, that's amazing!"
Joxer felt himself blushing and he pursed his lips and got up ready for the next practice, too embarrassed to do anything else. It was a little humiliating, having such praise for a simple manoeuvre.
Xena frowned, "What's the matter?"
He shrugged darkly, "It is an easy thing to do, jump in the air! And you both are congratulating me as if I just slain the Medusa!" he sighed, "Is that what you think of me? Is that what level of competence you think I'm capable of?"
"No!" Xena grinned knowingly, and sat down on the log, pulling a gourd from their things. "Joxer, did you know how long it took me to learn that move I showed you just then?"
He shook his head.
"Two days---?!?" Joxer tried not to gasp.
"Yeah," she said, taking a swig of water from the gourd. "I had never done any sort of training before in my life - if you don't count playing with my brothers as a child and picking up things they were taught cause I was interested," She smiled, "I was a terrible bully, which helped, but when my village was invaded I picked up a sword and used my brains. I lived because I used my head, not my skill at the sword because you know what?"
"I didn't have much skill with the sword - I picked them up and did little tricks but I wasn't a fighter." She put the gourd away and got up, "Now you aren't much of a fighter, but you're still alive right?"
"Yeah," he said softly.
"And that is because you're clever. Intelligence is the most important asset any warrior could have. You are nothing if you haven't the intelligence to read the next move, know how to defend from it and most importantly - "
He looked to her.
"Not get into a fight in the first place," she finished.
He smiled soberly, "I'm good at that…"
Xena grinned and put an arm around him affectionately, "I know!" She patted his back, and pushed him gently towards where they were practising before. "If you ever feel doubt as to the value of a clever tongue - " Xena gestured to Gabrielle, "Just talk to her and she'll set you straight."
Gabrielle leered at Xena, and tried to settle back to writing again. She began to hum a little song to herself, about a mighty warrior called Joxer. He smiled at her, and nodded.
"See it works huh? You can't forget me!"
"Nope! I can't!" Gabrielle winced at him, then smiled.
Xena stood in front of Joxer and looked at him with a noble smile. "You're ready…"
"For what?" he asked.
"The next lesson!" she replied.
The river's tide had receded, the two warriors having more room for their practice, and not far from the shore fish leapt into the air catching tiny bugs a little above the water. It was a gently overcast day, the air warm and comforting, the sounds of river birds was not far off, and their occasional caw and akk disturbed the cricket song. Xena and Joxer continued to duel between each other, half the day been toiled with their activities. She taught him the basics, more the theory than the heavy duty moves, and he soaked it in eagerly, like a baby learns how to talk. She taught him how to duck, how to defend, how to cripple an enemy with simple pressure point techniques. She didn't teach him how to kick or punch or even use a sword. They lunged hands at each other, arm greaves clanking against each other repeatedly like two cats batting at each other in a squabble. He was learning to match her, he still had a lot to learn. Happily she knew he was resigned to the fact he wasn't going to learn how to sword fight any time soon. The longer her sweet friend could keep his blood innocence, the better. If she kept the way she was going, hopefully he wouldn't have to lose it at all. After they had tired themselves with physical activity, they broke for a meal, nutbread and cheese. Xena drew hypothetical battle scenes in the sand, symbolic representations of a myriad of possibilities that Mallecium could use. She explained to him the basics of strategy, of hitting an enemy where they are weak, taking out their strong points that have little defence.
Joxer picked things up remarkably well, and when not reminded of his 'Joxer the Mighty' persona he was rather keen witted, surprising even the seasoned Warrior Princess at moments. She felt a warmth inside her. This man would be no great fighter, not in his lifetime, not like Xena, but he would do great deeds, greater than any Xena, perhaps even Gabrielle, would ever achieve. Either way she had the satisfaction of knowing she helped him along his way.
Gabrielle sat in the sand leisurely, humming to herself, deep in concentration as to what she was writing. She looked up. Something wasn't right. The caws an akks of the river birds breaking the near silence of the afternoon weren't caws and akks anymore. And why there should be that noise nearby when there weren't any reeds was curious. The caws and akks turned to cries and shouting. Xena was already halfway up the bank, leading Argo towards her saddle.
Suddenly a group of men burst from the nearby path, all dressed in farmer's and villagers attire, they swamped the camping site.
"He's insaaane!" one man cried.
"I am Calamus! A warrior is sacking my village!" another huffed, running towards Xena and seizing her by the shoulders. His white scarce hair billowed with his movements and his generously plump face shuddered, covered in sweat and pale and clammy. Xena had indeed smelt fire, but it as only the amount of smoke a small bonfire would be responsible for! Xena snatched the saddle off the rock and began fastening it to the mare's back.
"Where is your village?"
"It's Minoeta!" he said.
"Are there wounded?" Xena asked.
The white plump man nodded. "Y-yes! My Wife - her arm has a very deep gash! Xena sprang up onto Argo. Gabby had her staff and was at the ready, Joxer was adjusting his armour.
"No," Xena said firmly, "I want you to stay here Gabrielle!"
Gabrielle's stature sank visibly, her throat grew hoarse.
"If one warrior is causing this much panic and destruction, then it's no mystery as to who it is."
Gabrielle pursed her lips darkly.
Xena nodded. "And I'm not letting him get near you again."
"What about me?" hollered Joxer.
"I want you to look after Gabrielle!" she cried over the villagers' ruckus.
Gabby rolled her eyes, and turned away from Xena. Joxer nodded.
"No problem Xena!" he waved, tipping his helmet awkwardly.
Xena pulled Argo around, ready to start for Minoeta.
"Wait!" the old man plodded after her, "We are going to the next town for more help and medicinal supplies - tell my wife I am ok and that I love her!"
"What is her name?" Xena asked impatiently.
"Centris," he said with some affection, "We will be back at the village as soon as we can!"
Xena nodded, "See you soon then," she muttered, "HYAA!" She kicked Argo into a gallop and charged up the river bank to the nearby road, the sound of the horses urgent pace trailing onto the distance. Calamus nodded at Joxer, and blundered away, the other villagers already running towards the next village, some running back towards home for their families.
Joxer looked to Gabrielle.
"You're gonna go after her anyway aren't ya?"
Gabrielle glanced at him.
"Not this time.'
"Wuh?" Joxer's brow descended, "Why not? You always follow her…"
She turned around, her blue eyes boring into him darkly.
"This is Ares," she said so softly, her voice was husky, sending the hairs on the back of Joxer's neck on end, "And he and Xena have this," she gestured, "Thing."
"Thing?" Joxer frowned.
"Yeah," she nodded, "And I know when Ares is the problem just to let Xena do her thing."
"Oh," he said, sheathing his sword, "And you don't worry about her?"
"Of course I do," she let a smile bless her face, "But in every encounter with Ares thus far he has left her unscathed. I think he has a crush on her myself." She giggled.
Joxer cocked his top lip.
"Yeah - well - how 'bout all that seducing stuff?"
The pretty young woman shrugged.
"Maybe he was trying to get Xena jealous…" she stopped and frowned. "I hope she's okay…"
Joxer pulled off his helmet, pursing his large pale lips gruffly, "I'm sure she'll be fine!" he said, rubbing his shoulder, "With a push like that how can she not be!"
Gabby rolled her eyes and grinned.
"We better set up camp - it'll be dark in a few hours-" The bard threw her hands up in the air hotly, "Xena has all the weapons! How can I get us dinner if we-"
Her eyes locked onto Joxer's sword. His eyes grew wide.
"Oh - oh no no!" he shook his head, "This is the sword of a warrior, not a chef!"
She grinned, gnashing her teeth. "I'm Queen of the Amazons! I think that makes me warrior enough!"
Joxer just continued to shake his head, stepping back from an advancing Gabrielle. She leapt at him, reaching for his sword. With a yelp he turned and ran, Gabby close after him. He skitted around the camp, Gabrielle grasping at him. He could feel her hands clamber about his waist, his heart racing as he bolted and desperately sprang from a much faster and swifter Gabrielle. He felt a hand latch onto his armour, pulling backwards sharply. The yank was enough to disrupt his gait and his foot twisted on a half buried stone instead of pounding on the earth next to it. He felt his balance leaving him and he crashed to the dirt. A body, soft and warm, landed on top of him, small hands fumbling for the sword and she grinned.
"Cooome on Joxer!" she said, struggling for the sword, "Gimme your sword so I can make us some dinner!"
"The oils will ruin the finish!" he complained, "And you'll make it smell of dead animal!'
"I'll promise I'll clean it!"
Looking up from her fumbling hands he watched Gabrielle struggle for the sword for a moment, the rounds of her cheeks flushed, her lips moist from her excited breaths. Joxer felt himself grow limp all over, too enamoured to resist, and he suddenly realized that he was growing less limp in a very embarrassing-
He slapped his hands down on hers over the hilt of the sword and smothered her movements. She flicked her head around, her nose nearly tipping his, meeting a calm set of dark eyes. She took an abrupt breath in.
"You can use my sword Gabby," he said hurriedly. Furrow and a hint of a smile flashed onto her face.
"Just clean it after you use it!" he said awkwardly, "It's been a weapon in the family for years!"
She nodded, a small smile on her lips. He tried not to give an enamoured sigh, she felt so good lying against him, her sweet face so close to his. She smelt of herbs and pretty flowers, her strawberry blonde hair that fell down against his cheeks silken. It seemed an eternity as Gabrielle gazed at him with a soft smile, seeming surprised at his generosity, till she shook her head, snapping out of the gaze, and she felt a heat come over her. A red hot heat that made her cheeks and chest burn.
Was she - blushing?
"Thank you Joxer," she smiled, planting her hands on the ground either side of his head, pushing herself up off him.
"Now let's get something to eat."
"Good idea," he said, getting up after her, dusting the sand off him. "Where? We don't have a bow and arrows so deer are out I guess…"
Gabby pointed to the river.
"Fish?" Joxer raised his brow and it wrinkled a little.
"Yeah," she nodded, planting her hands on her hips.
"Oh, okay," he agreed, and trudged through the sand to his large satchel. He pulled out a small length of inch thick stick with the line wrapped around it, at the end of it being a bone hook - minus the barb. He rolled his eyes at himself and chucked the line back in his satchel. "A lot of good that will do!"
"It's okay Joxer," Gabrielle smiled, "It's a warm day - I'll catch dinner, you'll get the wood."
"How are you gonna do that?" he scoffed, but his surely expression fell off his face as the rounded, well toned bard loosened the lace at the front of her shirt.
"I- duh-" he shook his head, trying not to blush, "I-I think I'll go get that wood!" He turned, clanking for the surrounding underbrush.
"Good idea," Gabrielle nodded vigourously. He scrambled into the brush, he felt his cheeks flush hot as he did his best to concentrate on the sticks and branches laying on the ground. His heart was pounding against his ribs, he felt as if he were going to keel over from a heart attack.
Suddenly, he heard a splash of skin against water, and a high pitched squeal.
"Gabby!" he called after her, "You okay?!?"
"Yeah!" she hollered, "The water's just cold!"
"Okay!" he replied, squeezing his eyes shut and thinking of mundane things such as pomegranates and his armour and his sword and his stupid helmet and gentle little birdies and baby rabbits and - Gabrielle looked like a rabbit sometimes, he smiled to himself, all cute and timid and cold and nak- No! He shook his head vigourously, trying very hard to think of something else. Sticks. He would clear his head and think about sticks, and how fascinating sticks are, and how when he got enough he would pile them by the campsite where Gabrielle would be cold and naked catching - NO!!!
He sobbed inside, pinching himself and slapping himself to his senses.
This is going to be a long hour or so, he thought soberly.
The village was in ruin, and mostly deserted. It's square was scattered with belongings, obviously thrown out of the surrounding houses and shops by the villagers to escape the fires that had consumed the place. The rich acrid smell of burnt human flesh filled Xena's lungs and hung in the air like the subdued weeping of the remaining villagers.
She gazed about the charred scene darkly, trying hard to forget days gone when she was responsible for such havoc.
"Heeelp us!" an old woman staggered from a pile of clothes and furniture "Please, where is my son?" the wrinkled crone wailed hysterically. Xena jumped from Argo, and approached the lady.
"Who is your son?" she asked of her calmly.
"Demetrius," she replied.
Xena let the faces at the camp run through her mind once more... She looked to the lady.
"There were a group of men that came to my camp," Xena looked about her, "Could he have been with them?"
"Was Calamus with them? He is my husband…"
"You must be Centris. Yes, he was taking a group to the next town for help I think… I can't be sure - I'll find your son as soon as I apprehend the person responsible for all this!" Xena gently rubbed the woman's shoulders, and moved past her to the middle of the square.
"ARES!" she called, "I know you're here! Show yourself!"
There was a wind, and a light innocent light filled the air. It lifted quickly and things were as they were. Xena knew that wind. She felt it when she was with the Amazons, and at their temples in their villages. That wind sang in their eyes and lived in their souls. It followed Xena too sometimes, lifted her occasionally when in the face of adversity. There was more than she thought was going on here. Strangely, the wind returned, a different heavy foreboding wind that warned of death, the sky grew a little dark, and with a pulse of light and a shower of sparkles, the wide shouldered, olive skinned Ares appeared before her, a smirk on his sculptural lips.
"Hello Xena," he smiled, walking towards her leisurely, taking her hand and kissing it idly. "So glad to see you are as predictable as ever…"
"I beg your pardon?" she frowned.
"You came alone," he rose his eyebrows, his surprisingly melting brown eyes drinking in the sight of her, "I knew you would..."
"Sorry to disappoint you but you're not getting to Gabrielle that easy!" she said with a thin smile. Ares threw a smirk in her direction, placing a hand on her shoulder and massaging it strongly.
"Oh - I love how moralistic you are Xena," he grinned, standing behind her and talking huskily into her ear, "It's probably why I find myself so drawn to you - I find it hard to adhere to human morals… Even Godly morals for that matter."
"So I've seen," Xena said dryly.
He let out a satisfied breath, and gazed at her passionately, "Come Xena, what say we get out of this pit and to somewhere a little more - suited to the occasion?" He rose a hand ready to weave his magic, but a strong cuffed hand stopped his. Xena narrowed her eyes at him fiercely.
"I told you I'm not joining you."
Ares tilted his eyebrows, pouting slightly, "You think I am that shallow my dear? The God of War has needs too."
"Ares, what do you want?" she scowled.
Xena couldn't quite believe what she was hearing. This was indeed strange, but somehow, she knew she was safe. Ares was somehow disarmed of any harm he could do.
"You want what?"
"Dinner, and your fine company this evening."
Xena blinked. Had the world gone mad? She blinked again, slower this time.
"WHY the destruction of this village and the molestation of my best friend?"
Ares looked smug, "I had to get your attention somehow, thought I might enjoy it." He looked around, and suddenly looked impatient, "Shall we go?"
"What in Tartarus makes you think I'm going anywhere with you?"
He cleared his throat awkwardly.
"You - khmm - need me."
Xena narrowed her eyes slowly, her lips drawing together in a stern pout. He had a point.
"On a few conditions," Xena said evenly.
The handsome strongly built God rested his arms with his hands together expectantly.
"You restore this village as if you were never here!"
He hesitated a moment, ready to laugh in her face but something stopped him and he smiled graciously, "Very well, I had my fun with it." He lifted his hand leisurely, and the whole scene lightened to healthy lively tones of a prosperous village, beautiful robes and sweet meats hanging in the market-place nearby.
Xena grinned, "No tricks - I want to be returned to the same time place and dimension as I left!"
Ares nodded, looking very worn all of a sudden.
"You don't try and get me to join you, because it's NOT going to happen!"
Xena thought about it a little, she had a God at her disposal here and she wasn't going to waste this opportunity. "I don't want to owe you anything from these conditions…"
Ares rolled his eyes, "Ok anything else while you're at it? Perhaps the Nile?"
Xena nodded, "Yeah! I want you to apologize to Gabrielle - with - flowers, chocolates, wine, sweetmeats and aaaa-" she thought hard, and smiled thinly, "A lute."
The God smiled, probably because it was the end of her demands, "I agree to your terms," he said taking her hand, and raising his other.
In the swirling realms between here and there Xena felt a third with them, like the spirited play of birds and deer and the skill of a keen marksman melding in some strange unity... It was female, untouched, unbridled innocence and strength of character, nothing had maimed her, she was strong as an old old oak, free...
Fear not my child....
I am not your child
You were born of my wishes - does that make me not your Goddess?
I am not your child - your daughters are the Amazons - I am alone in my purpose and do not share their ideals...
No matter ... I still favour you - and you are safe as long as I am with you... He can do you no harm... You shall never die by an immortal's hands...
Gabrielle snuggled into her clothes, her midriff freezing. It would be cold till Joxer came back with the wood. He had been away a while, she worried he had fallen over or been beaten by smugglers. Oh you old mother hen Gabrielle! she tutted at herself. There was some rustling in the nearby bushes, and the bard grabbed her staff.
"Who is it?!?" she shouted.
"It's only me!" he called.
Out of the bush burst Joxer with a huge pile of sticks and fallen branches broken into smaller logs in his arms, nearly piled over his face. Gabby gasped, trying not to giggle.
He looked sheepish as he dropped all the wood. "I didn't want to risk walking back and seeing you na- not covered."
"That's good of you," she chuckled, crawling on the sand towards the pile of kindle, separating the thinner sticks to the sizeable branches. Joxer pulled off his armour, looking about for the fish. They lay near the circle of rocks they would put the fire in. He counted four, three larger and a slightly smaller one. It would be a good feed tonight, he thought. Gabrielle shivered slightly, the breeze whipping against her damp skin.
"Are you cold Gabby?"
"I'll be ok once we get the fire going," she smiled, rubbing the goose bumps on her arms.
Joxer got up, walking to their things. He felt the cold, and he wasn't even damp! He couldn't have her freezing like this. He rummaged through their things to retrieve a blanket for her. Suddenly something in the air changed, there was a warm, dark wind, and he span around.
"Xena!" Gabrielle sprang to her feet, "Are you okay?"
Xena stood there, Argo behind her, pawing nervously at the ground. Ares stood next to her, feeling very ridiculous with flowers, chocolates, wine, sweetmeats and a lute in his arms. Xena glared at him sternly, and he stepped forward, giving them to Gabrielle. A feather could have knocked the bard over.
"Thuh- thank you! Thanks Ares…"
"I'm sorry I behaved so badly before," He smiled gently, playing to the moment, I hope Artemis knows what she is doing, making me go through this! he thought," Even though I'm a God I shouldn't have treated you that way. I would be very grateful if you would accept my humblest apologies."
Gabby nodded with a dumbfounded smile, "Sure, just - don't do it again!"
Ares took her hand, and kissed it in a gentlemanly fashion. He turned to Xena and smiled.
"Are we ready then?" he asked her.
"Sure," she looked to Gabrielle and Joxer, "The village is fine now, and Ares has asked me to eat with him tonight. I want you both to enjoy the food and the lute."
"Are you sure everything's kosher?" Gabrielle hissed at Xena.
Xena nodded, and winked at Gabrielle. "Just take the presents and trust me!" Xena knew something.
"See you Gabrielle, Joxer," The God of War bowed a little, "I promise to return Xena to you safe and sound."
Another wind whipped up, warm and dark as before, and they both disappeared.
"This has been a really weird day!" Gabrielle exclaimed, looking through her gifts. Joxer crouched down next to her, picking up the lute and plucking it idly.
"Ares definitely wasn't himself that's for sure," he muttered.
There was a giggle, nymphly and innocent, and Joxer stared oddly at Gabrielle.
"Was that you?"
"No it was me!" With a shower of green haze and glowing orbs, a curvaceous Goddess appeared before them, dressed in an Athenian toga, beautiful patterns fringing the bottom, her knee high sandals hugging her legs and her long bow reaching her waist. She swung it about, regarding the mortals casually.
"Artemis!" Gabrielle gasped, feeling her knee bend and she knelt before her.
"You may rise Queen," she smiled, She glanced over the presents and grinned. "Xena is doing a good job!"
"Of what?" the bard asked, rising to her feet.
Artemis chuckled, it sounded like a tinkling rivulet, "Hhmmm, My brother has been whinging about Xena for far too long - I wanted him satiated before his duties as a God of War begin to suffer," she smiled, turning to Joxer. "Not to mention the wonderful task of making him look like a fool!" She looked Joxer up and down a moment, her face ponderous, "I don't like many men but I do like you, you're harmless!"
At this, Joxer blinked.
"Why do you want to make a fool of Ares?" Joxer asked her with a puzzled frown.
Artemis spun around, pacing to the river's edge, pouting moodily. She spun back at them.
"Do you know how many of my forests have been felled and ruined for the sake of a war or two? How many rivers have been poisoned by the blood and the flesh of the dead? Too many!" she huffed. Gabrielle gazed at the beautiful Goddess and nodded compassionately. "Not only that he is bullying my two favourite mortals!"
"Who-" Gabby gulped, "Me and Xena??"
Artemis grinned, "Yes Gabrielle, Xena and yourself. You are both strong! Willful! My Amazons adore you! I think you both were the best idea I ever had!"
Gabrielle looked at her with wide eyes, "We are your idea?"
"Yes." Artemis smiled, "I have appeared before you to let you know that your companion Xena the Warrior Princess is well, and has my protection from any God or Immortal, but I cannot guarantee her safety from the upcoming battle with Mallecium's men - I bring you a warning - Keep away from him, or bring reinforcements but do not let her duel with Mallecium on her own because if she does," She look at them both darkly, "Xena will die."
"Wuh- How?" Joxer began, but Artemis' lips curled upward and she placed a finger on his large pink lips.
"I said if - do not let her face him alone! She is always a target, my favourite child! One of my finest creations! For now - relax!" She spread her arms out with a bright smile, "Xena had Ares bring these for you - and for good reason - she wants you both to enjoy the night while she is gone!"
"You're telling us to party while Xena's life is in danger?!?" Gabrielle exclaimed. The pretty Goddess shook her head with a glint in her eyes - aside her real age she appeared to be only seventeen. Her ringlets bobbed and she swung the bow over her shoulder resolutely.
"Gabrielle I told you - she is safe! I bring you warning so you may avert this danger! I promise you - Stay with her till Mallecium is dead and no harm will come to her. You do not trust your Goddess?"
Gabrielle fell to her knees, again not really knowing why, but an overwhelming love for this innocently wise being overwhelming her. She grinned, "Of course I trust you, Goddess."
Artemis let a hand drop on Gabrielle's silky mane gently, and she stroked it lovingly. "I am very proud of you bard... So is my brother! You do our names great justice."
Joxer looked longingly at the Goddess' hand run over the girl's hair. It looked as if it would feel so light and soft that it would almost wouldn't feel like it was there at all. He imagined it was his own rough large hands running through the reddish blonde locks, and it somehow looked terribly wrong. His boorish and clumsy digits would likely catch on her silken strands and pull at her delicate scalp. He frowned and looked up at Artemis, who just gazed kindly at him. She was rarely kind to men, if ever. The fact that the Virgin Goddess of the Hunt was gazing at him with such reverie puzzled him.
"Look after my Queen, dear Joxer."
He nodded, it seemed an absurd request as he always did. Or tried to.
Artemis crinkled her nose at him with a grin, "Show her a good time tonight!"
The Goddess lifted an arm that entwined like a twitter of a bird, sparkles trailing after it and covering her till they receded and she was gone.
"Well," Joxer said, trying to clear his head of the hair stroking thing, "Just you and me now..."
The bard looked sideways at him and piled some sticks into the circle of stones.
"Pass me the fish will you Joxer?"
Mallecium growled. He had been waiting a really long time. Days, for Xena to make herself known. He knew she was around, his spies were sufficient enough to tell him of her exact movements, though it seemed that she had just - disappeared. His forces were confused as to why he was waiting for her, they were too stupid to understand. It was well known that Xena was allied with the Athenian Army, and the word was they were following close behind. Also, Xena would try to talk to him first, and this was when he would take her, when she went about her diplomacy with him, in his tent perhaps. He laughed heartily to himself, knowing what he would do to her once he had her under his control. Chains and leathers came to mind, no joy involved of course - for her anyway. He grinned. Yes, the mighty Xena under his power, taking what he will from her, doing far worse than killing her. Her existence would be long, drawn out, slow and painful. That is what she deserved, her strange sudden turn to good smashing his faith in her, he thought she was the ultimate warlord and would rule all of Greece in time. How he loved to watch her fight! She cut down men as if they were long grass in her way, her chakram bouncing from throat to throat and the life blood of men would flow from it's touch. There was no way to defeat her - such a formidable woman was indestructible weapon to weapon, fist against fist. She had an unearthly prowess, an astounding ability to use bodies as jumping boards and use her powerful thighs to thrust herself through the air ready for her feet to crush jaws and break noses. Ah Xena, wild animal turned tame, he thought sadly, I was to be with you as a loyal follower, only young was I when I admired you, now older and wiser am I and I despise you. You just abandoned everything I believed in!! That Hercules!! I shall kill him!! But not until I bring you the most exquisite pain! He chuckled, Hercules has a thing for you now - how wonderful! He shall see your soul destroyed before he dies!
Mallecium laughed to himself, happy with his plans. He had to still wait though, for Xena to turn up and talk with him. How exciting it will be to see her again!! He could not wait to have her tied and bound and vulnerable as a baby! And he would, he would very soon!
Joxer plucked at the lute, humming soulfully to himself, pouting and looking up past the foliage of the trees to the stars. He wore no armour, his black scruffy hair in tufts, his dark eyes glinting from the glowing coals in front of him. The western sky glowed dull from the recently setting sun, day birds now silent from the day's calling. Gabby gazed at him quietly, prodding the fire and resting her head on a propped hand. He let his lips part and he mumbled some meaningless sounds to himself, a smile forming on them as he seemed to think of something, and he continued with his tune. Gabrielle tried not to smile at him, she just pursed her lips and gave a curious furrow of her brow.
"I never picked you as a musician, Joxer."
Joxer looked up, frowning slightly in question.
"I knew you could play," she continued, "Only after you picked up a lute and started playing it. Some minstrels live their art. You don't seem to."
He smiled. "Maybe I do and you just don't notice!"
Gabrielle blinked slowly. He spoke as a fool, his lanky grin spread across his face, but she sensed something else there, and she suddenly felt as if she had been ignorant the whole time she had known him till this day. Why did he act so foolishly, when there was such a sensitive soul underneath it all? He had told her of his terrible childhood once or twice, the very vision of a young boy with jet black hair and large obsidian eyes being beaten by a leather-armed brute of a father sent shudders of horror and grief down her spine. How joyful Gabrielle's childhood had been in comparison to Joxer's. Is that what pain does to someone if they are a child, turns them into a clown in adulthood? She herself had been awkward and silly, sitting in the sidelines of the battles, punching air and gnashing her teeth like a little child, but her years with Xena had mellowed her. She took a lot seriously these days, especially around Joxer. What if Joxer began to take things just as seriously through Xena's teachings?
Gabrielle imagined being in a town, and not being ashamed to meet Joxer there. He would turn around and meet her, minus ridiculous armour perhaps, and smile handsomely (handsomely?!?) at her arrival. "Hi Gabby..." he would say, Joxer being Joxer who always seemed to call it out the way a child called for it's mother. He would be civil, gentle, kind and not silly... She thought about it hard, as in her mind they sat down for a beer, as an equal to her - not because he is who he is but because of the fact that he lacked silly attire and a goofy grin. And yet in this new improved Joxer seemed to lack something else - his eyes didn't glow with the same fervour, he seemed sad that he had lost something. Would this new Joxer trip up, causing her to grin, especially if she was down? Would he relieve her from the dark world around her that was constantly threatened by insane Gods and cruel warlords with his ridiculous stories and ineptness for grace? She thought about this new improved Joxer and frowned sadly. She didn't know. It wasn't likely. And not only that, things seemed a little greyer with this alternate Joxer, like the fun had left the world. It wasn't Joxer anymore it was - someone else.
Gabrielle looked up at Joxer, the real Joxer, who sat by the glowing embers, holding the lute gently now, no longer plucking it but cradling it in his lap and gazing up at the stars. He sniffed the air, frowning slightly.
She sniffed the air - smoke... fish!
Gabrielle dove for the fire, ready to pull the sizzling fish from the coals, regardless of her hands, but a bigger pair pummelled into her shoulders and she tumbled backwards into a heap.
"Joxer!" Gabby started but the man yelped, springing a foot or two in the air, his knees smoking. He fell back on his bottom. "You've burnt yourself!" she gasped, cradling his knee gently. Pulling back the fabric she also pulled back a bit of skin attached to it.
Gabrielle winced, "I'm sorry, Joxer, what was I thinking?"
She grabbed the gourd from the satchel and opened it, pouring water over the burn, the skin mostly a blushed pink apart from an area of severe redness and a couple of blisters where his knee took his weight. Darn, it was a pretty bad burn, not too bad, but still rather painful. She released a flustered breath.
"Dammit Joxer, why did you do that?"
He winced painfully, "I thought you were gonna burn your hands, and then you wouldn't be able to write or anything... OW!"
Gabrielle glanced up at him, the stirred fire dancing in her crystal eyes, she seemed to mellow, and guilt played in her features.
"I'm so sorry Joxer, if I hadn't of lost my cool and dove for the fish like that I-" She looked up at him, he was moaning in pain, laughing through it like he always did with some pitiful half yelp. His eyes were brimmed with tears of agony and he hit the ground trying to get past the pain, his fist landing in the soft sand with a thump. "Kmmph-"
She stifled a giggle, tears of laughter filling her eyes as she recounted the last minute's events. She would laugh after Joxer had been tended to! The bard knew what to do, she had burnt herself on her pots a number of times and what was needed ointment and gauze. She frowned. Ointment they had - no gauze. She had never burnt herself this bad before and ointment was all they had ever needed. She rummaged through a nearby satchel, there was nutbread, a little pot of ointment, aah! An old scarf! She remembered buying it to wear over her face to hide from a thief out to get her for the severe bruising to his delicates. It will be perfect.
She looking into Joxer's boot, pulling out a knife. He was in too much pain to care what she was doing, he just wanted her to stop the pain. The water had soothed it. When it stopped flowing over his skin the pain returned however. He watched her rip at the scarf, feeling sad she ruin such a pretty piece of material for him. Gabby dug her finger into the small pot of ointment, and held it over Joxer's knee.
"This might hurt a little - but the ingredients will soothe and numb the pain."
She dabbed on the ointment carefully, and he breathed in abruptly through his teeth, but as she continued to apply the cream, he felt relieved as the pain began to come to a halt rather than increase.
Gabrielle looked to him with a smile as she wrapped the burn.
"There, should be fine now."
He nodded, looking down at his knee then up to her eyes, gulping, still panting from the shock. Hmm the shock.
"How are you feeling Joxer?"
Her tone was so sweet and caring, he tried so hard not to bask in her care, not to enjoy it, he knew he would never get it in any other circumstances. "I'm ok now," he said, "You don't have to worry about me anymore..."
Gabby just grinned at him.
"You should have seen your face!" she chuckled, "When your knee landed in the fire!!"
He blushed, noticing that she took particular enjoyment in seeing him in pain. Was that how much she hated him? That she liked seeing him in agony?
Gods, why do I find it exciting to see him in pain? she thought, The sound of his yelps brings me so much satisfaction! He is so annoying, why? I gotta pin this down so I can identify it - and not let it annoy me anymore. He was embarrassing! Yeah!
She watched him pick the fish from the glowing coals, the shadows of his pale skin dancing from the flames. His lips pouted as he examined the dinner. Joxer pouted a lot, it was just one of his expressions, she never really took much notice of it before he was under the spell of Aphrodite, in which he did it all the time and the expression seemed to ooze machismo. But this was normal Joxer. She smiled. On anyone else those lips would be almost sexy. PANG! There it is! It was like a pebble or tree nut stuck in her boot, lodging in a crevice in her toes and it just made itself known by being in a particularly sensitive part between her little toe and her second one up. But it was so intriguing this annoyance, unlike the pebble thing. She dismissed it and brought her attention back to the fish.
"Are they edible?"
Joxer pulled off the green leaves and smiled.
"No problem, the outer leaves just got a little singed."
Gabrielle settled by the camp, laying out her pelt and beginning on the fish. It wasn't too badly burnt in fact, the fish probably needing the few more minutes anyway. She turned her head to the pile of gifts nearby and smiled.
"Hey Joxer, how 'bout some wine?"
He grinned and reached for the corked amphora of wine next to the lute and Argo's saddle. Apart from the throbbing in his knee this was the nicest time he had had - well - ever! Gabrielle took the amphora eagerly, unplugging it and taking a tentative sip. She closed her eyes and smiled.
"Now that is the finest red wine I have ever tasted! Thaaaankyou Ares!"
Joxer sank. This night wouldn't be happening if it wasn't for the fact she was stuck with me. I may as well ask her this - I have been meaning to for a while.
"Do you consider me a friend? I mean -" he stuttered, "If it weren't for the fact that Xena seems to like my company would you have me around?"
She looked up at him with a mouth full of wine and fish thoughtfully.
"You're here now aren't you?" She swallowed. "Does red wine and fish go together?"
He shrugged. "But - You always seem to look like you don't want me around-"
"This is great - we can save the nutbread for breakfast!" she smiled, looking at the fish and sweetmeats before them. She offered him the amphora and he took it, drinking from it heartily. The wine was good, not too dry, not too sweet. Perfect. It made his stomach warm and he rolled the wine around in the amphora for a bit. It splooshed pleasantly.
"You don't want me around do you?"
Gabrielle rolled her eyes, "Joxer, if I didn't want you around you would have seen the wrong end of my staff a long time ago! Yes! You are my friend! And for once I am actually enjoying your company!" she said with a little frown and a smile, "So enjoy the fish and the wine! Then we can eat the sweetmeats - it looks like he gave us toffee..."
Joxer took a large swig of the wine, the alcohol racking his tongue but the round aftertaste like a long drawn out kiss. Gabrielle's exultation at the wine certainly was warranted. He handed back the wine and she grinned. He looked up at her, pulling some flesh off a bone.
"You don't drink much do you?"
Gabby blinked at him. "I love to drink - Xena is so in control she just doesn't make it any fun!"
Joxer nodded. This was true. Xena was such a sobering person she wasn't one to get inebriated. She rather sat in the corner, a formidable presence, like a queen on her throne. She usually would talk quietly to someone or watch the jolliness from afar. Not Gabrielle. The one time he did see Gabby rather tipsy at an inn she sat in the corner reciting poems, being rowdy. It was such a wonderful sight, seeing her so friendly and happy. Gabrielle wasn't a sad drunk - not during the first flagon anyway. She was very different to him when she was tipsy, being far friendlier than she would ever allow herself when she was of her right mind. Gabrielle lay on her back happily, nibbling at a piece of meat on a rib.
"Joxer, tell me a story?"
He pouted in thought, then nodded with a shrug.
"Okay. What story would you like to hear?"
Gabrielle chewed the fish, placing some of her delicate fingers over her mouth hiding a smile.
"Um - surprise me."
"Hmmm-okay," he frowned it thought, releasing a long alcoholic sigh. "There was this kid right? And he was really shy. I mean really really shy. And he loved to learn about stuff."
Gabby nodded, drinking from the amphora with great enthusiasm. "Was he cute?"
"Wwwellll, some thought so, though they took pity on him because he was so awkward."
Gabrielle frowned. "Is this about you?"
Joxer looked at her. "No. This is a story an old lady in my home town used to tell me when I was down as a child."
"Oh ok. You know Joxer, I don't think this amphora is running out..." She looked up and cracked a smile, "Please continue with your story!"
He nodded. "Aaanyway, he was not very strong. And he naturally got a lot of jeering from the other boys for burying his head in scrolls all day. Anyway all these kids grew up. There was one stranger from another town who came in, a young man, seeking help. Zeus had stolen a girl from his town, and was holding her in a tower on a hill." He gestured the hill with his bare arms. His lips were taut, his eyes excited. "He left a serpent woman to guard the girl, and only the one that could get past her would be able to claim the girl as theirs. Every man in the town that was of age ventured to the tower, and one by one they did not return. This continued till there was only few men left, including-"
"The wimpy guy!" Gabrielle grinned.
Joxer nodded with a long grin. "Yeah! Well! They all decided to go in a group, bringing the wimpy guy along for fodder in case they were in a spot. They get to the woman with a snakes tail instead of legs, and claws, and she was really ugly! So one particularly brave man draws his sword and goes to cut her head off. She gave him this weird stare and he fell into a heap of dust! The next man gets angry at this, and runs to the serpent woman, but she too turns him to dust. Again the next man decides to attack her, this time trying to throw the weapon. The weapon lodged in her limb. She pulled it out as if there were no wound. One by one the men were turned to dust, as if their only faith lied in the sword. Finally the smart guy says, 'Oh beautiful lady!' He knelt! 'How can I compare your beauty to anything on this earth? It is like the sun compared to a tiny star!' The snake woman smiles with her crooked teeth, 'You really think I'm pretty?' The smart guy nodded. 'Oh yes! I do!' And from his satchel he pulled a mirror - 'See? look!' And the snake woman looked at her reflection, enjoying what she saw. 'I would like it if you would keep this mirror my lady!' The snake lady smiled at him happily, 'Why thank you dear man, I will, you are a dear man!' And the once fierce snake lady was tamed."
Gabby chewed on the meat contentedly. "Wow... What happened next?"
"The smart man came to the tower. He was not very strong, but he picked every lock of all the doors that barred his way. And he finally got to the girl. She was beautiful, long-" he stopped and grinned, "Blonde hair," Gabrielle smiled, "and she was as beautiful as he had expected that she had gotten Zeus' fancy. So, he took her from the tower safely, being careful to not set off any traps, and-"
"He kept the girl and they lived happily ever after!" Gabrielle said drolly, taking a swig of wine and handed the amphora to Joxer. He held it. Gabrielle had been drinking from it all through the story, and it was still nearly full. He shrugged and drank some more, its warm caressing aftertaste filling his mouth.
"No, he let her free."
Gabrielle rose her eyebrows and nodded, "And he was miserable for the rest of his life as she ran off with one of the muscle-heads who lived?"
Joxer shook his head. "No, not at all. The girl was so gratified that he let her go, she gave him her necklace. Whoever wore the necklace had the power to control the minds of the weak. And through this her gift he became king of the realm, and was a good king to his people. But he was lonely, so when it came time to choose a queen, he chose the girl, who accepted as she had fallen in love with him because he was kind of heart and brave of soul."
The bard gazed at him for a long moment, her blue eyes boring deep into him. He returned her gaze, with a pout.
"That's a very very nice story, Joxer," she said, the drink obviously getting to her. "I wish I was that princess... only sometimes though... I like being me most of the time..."
Joxer looked at her. The wine was very strong, it was getting to him too. Aah wine of the Gods, gentle on their immortal minds, but so intoxicating for the mortal flesh.
"What time do you like being Gabrielle?"
She let her lips do strange things, they were pleasantly numb, "When I'm with Xena, and when I'm not bored. Like now."
Joxer smiled. "And when do you not like being you?"
Gabrielle's eyes grew distant, and she turned her head to him, gazing past him, "Sometimes, when I sit alone, and Xena is asleep, I'm alone with my scrolls. I sit there with an empty scroll and it wants to be filled. All that comes to me is how much I miss Perdicas."
Joxer's throat grew tight at the name.
"I try to write happy stuff - like I used to. All that comes out is his name, and it is almost a curse - "her eyes grew red, "I love him, I don't want him to be a curse. I want his memory to be beautiful."
He shrugged, "If you smile at his name, feel whole at his sight in your mind," Joxer gazed longingly at her, "His memory will be as special as you want it to be."
Gabrielle tried to smile. It was hard. The dark wells of Joxer's eyes seemed to be warmer than usual, but the reminder of Perdicas' own dark eyes ripped at her. The fool before her, lanky and awkward, was in love with her, she knew. She wasn't sure how, he never said. He showed it. She noticed his gentle gazes. They were tender and loving and all too much too accept. He was a fool a nincompoop! ...He loves you Gabrielle... But Perdicas!! Perdicas is dead, it's time to move on... NO! Never! I love him! ...Joxer loves you... I can't love him I love Perdicas - If I stop loving Perdicas he will die! He is already dead, and you will be too if you do not move on... Perdicas can't be dead he can't be!! ...He is! Look at Joxer now!!...
She let her eyes move to Joxer. His black dishevelled hair sat in awkward tufts on his head, his dark eyes looking up at her, seeing into her like she never thought anyone else could, except Xena, and ... Perdicas. He knew. He knew she was grumpy. He knew she slept in. He knew she could be cruel, vicious at times, but he knew she could be other things, things she could never accept about herself. He thinks I am beautiful ...You are... Her heart seemed to rise in her chest at the sight of him, even when he was foolish - she couldn't - no he is a fool! An idiot! She had the sudden urge to squeeze his nose, jump on him and strangle him from behind, kiss his ear- WHAT?? She shook her head, no beat him up you fool!! Grab his head and kiss him softly! Tears welled in her eyes. No, no no no this could NOT be. She sat up abruptly.
"Gabby, are you all right?"
She looked at him. Oh I love how he calls me that!
"Yeah, I just - gotta take a quick walk!"
He frowned. "I wouldn't - you're drunk. And you could get into trouble - I'm not really in the state to save you if anything happens."
Gabrielle stood shakily. "I'm leaving!"
He jumped to his feet, his knee throbbing. "Gabby, please stay here."
She looked at him, swaying slightly from the wine, and sighed. "You are so right!" she said, plopping back down on her pelt. "You're also really really annoying do you know that?"
"What makes you say that?"
She leered at him shakily, looking for the wine. "You're always tripping over things! And making loud noises! It's SO embarrassing!"
He looked up at her sadly. Each of her words dug into him like knives. Why didn't she just get his sword and run him through rather than torture him like this?
"And you know when you pout? I hate it when you pout!"
He wiped the sad pout from his face.
"I hate it even more when you're not in your dumb armour!" Gabby found the amphora and took a swig. "You sit there with your black hair and its all messy and your tunic - if you were anyone else I'd say you looked sexy and I HATE you for it!"
The pain stopped in it's tracks and did a full about turn to utter joy and flattery. He felt his insides melt slowly, the truth serum that was the wine from the fruit of the gods had done it's work. I wonder if it was what Xena had intended, when she got Ares to give them wine? He didn't know what to say, as Gabby scowled at him, cradling the amphora tenderly. He looked at her...
"Was it the talk about P-Perdicas that upset you?"
She raised her head soberly.
"No, no, no. I ruined this good time Joxer - I'm sorry."
Joxer shook his head, "It's ok Gabby, just relax and enjoy yourself."
She got up shakily, scrawling along the ground and collapsing at Joxer's side, dragging her pelt along with her and snuggling to him.
"Play me a song..."
Joxer took the lute, looking up to the canopy of the forest briefly, wondering what he could play her. He knew a lot more than she thought...
"Muse of the song, bring me a lyre, make me play long and never tire," he sang not very well but on the note, however playing the lute masterfully, "I'll play as a bird, I'll play as a fawn, I'll play for your beauty from now until dawn. Gentle Muse, your grace it inspires the tunes of the Gods, for them they are nothing without a song to be merry to, Gentle Muse, Muse of the song."
Gabrielle was picking at the remains of his fish, snuggled to him contentedly. He was in heaven, he must have been dreaming. The woman of his life was snuggled against him chewing his cold fish, listening to him sing in an all too average way. Was this Aphrodite's doing? Was she bored? Maybe Bliss had gotten loose again. He chose a next song. The song of Orpheus and Eurydice came to mind.
"Orpheus, man so fair, handsome features, jet black hair. Eurydice, the beauty of beauties, of her face came pleasantries. Orpheus loved her like the bird loves the fruit, of her only was he so moved. He would play her his tunes, only Apollo could rival, and they did marry, their union was final. Gentle Eurydice, a pomegranate she wanted, and leave to the garden as the birds...."
Joxer sang her verse after verse, till Orpheus, so impatient to see his love looked back at Eurydice during the hike back up from the underworld and she was lost forever. He sang it true, his throat catching during this verse. He felt for Orpheus. He was so close. So damn close to having her again. He looked down to Gabrielle, who had a toffee at her lips and played with it between them idly. She was gazing into the fire sadly. She looked up at him.
"Why do you tell such a sad story Joxer?" she said and thought for a moment. "I tell Xena happy such happy stories - but sometimes I don't feel like them." She smiled and looked at Joxer. "I feel like one now."
Joxer smiled. "Okay, how about - the story of Cupid and Psyche?"
She grinned. "I like that one!"
Artemis stood at the edge of the precipice, the mountain below her tall and menacing. Rocks and pebble litter were piled up around the area, as was a modest and hastily placed memorial totem. She chuckled, surveying the scene. Centaurs, she thought, such sentimental fools...
She outstretched her hands, motioning a division as she swung her arms apart with a delighted squeal.
The ground shook violently, anger in it's very rumble, outraged at the disturbance it had just been dealt.
From the growing crack in the ground a shape flew forth.
"Raaaaah!" a familiar, maddening cry erupted from a dust coated body
Artemis chuckled, "Oh you are so melodramatic my dear!"
The dusty, dirty figure before her lifted its arms, light beginning to beam from her body. It kept growing till it glowed like a star, the light then receding. Before her stood a pristine Callisto.
"Well well well if it isn't my old hunting partner!!"
The blonde woman, peering curiously, raised an eyebrow.
Without waiting a response, Artemis pulled Callisto into a close hug, one Callisto was surprised to receive, though she let it continue. It was a loving, tender hug, one she hadn't had in so long. She separated herself from the Goddess, pursing her lips curiously.
"Why have you recovered me?"
Artemis smiled gently.
"It's time for your pain to end Callisto. I'm sorry I left you alone for so long. I was needed elsewhere, but I am here now! My dear Callisto!"
She gripped the younger woman's shoulders with a grin.
Callisto growled, pacing a moment.
"Where have you been? I've been sitting in that pit for ages! There isn't a lot to do in a pile of rubble you know," she sighed with resign, "Oh if only Xena had thought of something a little more comfortable."
Artemis scowled, "That scamp! Look what she has done to you!"
Callisto rose an eyebrow.
"Well, I was the one that ate the ambrosia..."
"Clever! So clever! Now I can be with you for eternity my child!"
Grabbing Callisto she hugged her again. Callisto screwed her face up a moment.
"Okay okay, get off me."
Artemis grinned again, a slight jump in her composure.
Callisto couldn't help but smile softly, this unabounding love from the Goddess new but - refreshing. It filled her with something. Something she wasn't used to. It was sweet - sickly sweet. With a dash of wry to her expression she cocked her head.
"So - what can I do you for?"
A slow smile forming on her lips Artemis placed her hands at her sides.
"The Amazons are but a shadow of the past, my ideal is crushed. Not one of them places importance in the idea of a virginal existence any longer. I wish to 'deal' with the two women that helped bring this about."
Callisto grinned, a new fire in her eyes.
"What do I get for helping you out?"
"A place in Olympus, Callisto. You will be adjoined to my family of Godlings, you will be alone no more."
Something lost in Callisto found a familiar thread, found a - a way home? Callisto pulled her sword from it's sheath, swirling it around her. A family huh? Better that eternity alone, she figured.
"Okay okay, I'm in."
Artemis gave a slick grin.
"Oh, I've missed you!" she said, "We have work to do!"
The blonde warrior whirled her sword about herself leisurely, skipping up the embankment, turning to Artemis as she spun around. She wanted to be sure. She wanted to be sure that Xena paid for burying her in the ground to rot in spirit for eternity.
"I don't care what we do Artemis, as long as I get to kill Xena!"
Artemis smirked, "If you play your cards right you might be able to rid us of Ares as well..."
Ares smiled as Xena moved around in front of the mirror, the deep auburn dress that clothed her fitting perfectly, as if it were made to hug her gloriously built body, which it was. The lightly corseted bodice ended at her hips which plumes of falling thin woollen fabric which flowed softly as she moved. The gentle swells of her breasts were covered by ruffles of a darker satin and the arms were a loose lighter shade of a see-through silk that hung like the chitons* of royalty.
"You look a sight fit for Zeus himself - were he not married of course!"
Xena looked up at Ares through the mirror and only smirked silently.
"That's never stopped him before," she said finally. Ares rose an eyebrow and nodded, strolling over to a crystal oinochoe*, the blood red wine of Dionysus inside its clear intricate bowel. He lifted a kantharos* and the wine filled it, placing it near Xena. Xena had always felt safe here, ironically enough. Ares was a formidable enemy when he was against her, but even then she sensed he favoured her somehow. He puzzled her this time - he had come on to her best friend, and ruined an entire village - just to gain her attention. Not only that, but he even apologized for his behaviour! What did he want from her? She had told him repeatedly that she was not going to join him, he didn't seem to be interested in that at all. There was nothing to be done now but accept his graciousness and try and weed out what this indeed was about.
Nearby at a table lay sliced hams, various roast animals, fruits and vegetables from the finest realms, all looking very delectable. Ares smiled.
"Mortal food - this is no trap I assure you..."
Xena turned from the mirror and looked at the food. As delicious as they looked, they indeed lacked the unearthly perfection of the food of the Gods. He was being unusually genuine. She looked at Ares, taking the kantharos, sipping its clay edge. The wine was sweet, the headiness toxic. Ares poured the wine into his own cup, his olive brown muscled arms bare. She often found herself trying to ignore how strikingly handsome the God of War was, as troublesome as he could be. Of all the mortal men she had encountered, none were as sculpturally beautiful as Ares was. His brown eyes were deep and soulful, though also dark and terrifying at times. They seemed to be full of passion and affection when Xena put up a fight, though there were times when he was angry when there only seemed blind rage. Right now they were - she wasn't sure if she could believe what she felt or saw. He seemed to be drinking in the sight of her - lovingly?? She felt shaken somehow - she had not seen that since he had lost his Godhood... You'd be surprised at the change you inspire in a man - or a God... He had indeed returned her to her own body. He seemed a torn God, especially since he had spent time in the body of a mortal Ares. I wonder if all that emotion, the strength of it all stuck somehow? She wouldn't let herself get close to him that time - she simply didn't trust him. Something in him was alive, not the cruel warlord harbinger of death she knew. Xena coolly put the thoughts to rest... He is a God, and Gods do not feel, not like mortals do. They feel glimpses of emotion, only of a second-hand nature through the lives of mortals. That is why they do what they do... But Ares had felt the existence of a mortal firsthand, felt the affection for her, the surprise, the hunger, the fear. Something no other God had really done...
"Feel free to tuck into the meal I have laid out for you..." Ares said, walking towards the lounges in the sitting area, "Join me?"
Xena took his extended hand and rested herself on a lounge, the softness of it luxurious. Ares knew how to live that's for sure. She cradled her cup of wine in her hands, watching Ares sit at the other lounge. His ample thighs bulged in the tight black leather. She often wondered if he ever got uncomfortable in that get up. Xena frowned slightly.
"Do you remember being mortal, Ares?"
Ares took a fierce swig of his cup.
"Yes, yes I do," He crinkled his nose slightly, "It was an unpleasant experience..."
Xena smirked, "Oh, it mustn't have been all bad..."
"Hunger was terrible," the God muttered, "Finally eating though was satisfying, more than I've ever felt whilst being a God. Drunkenness was somehow more delirious, pleasurable... The hangover was something I could have done without. Fighting was exhilarating and death - death was different. Killing someone was not as enjoyable as I thought it would be."
Xena frowned a little, "It lost it's charm quickly for me too..."
He glanced up at her, then sullenly down into his kantharos, "There was one particular emotion that took me by surprise, apart from remorse and disgust at my behaviour over the years..."
"And what would that be?" Xena swigged her drink confidently, looking into the cup rather than his eyes, but something pulled her gaze to him.
Ares looked up at her with his dark brown pools that smouldered under his heavy brow.
"I had felt glimpses of it before, usually from mortals feeling it for one another, and it amused me. There was something similar to it in my heart when I first saw you fight..." He smiled, the regular Ares glowing, "Oh how lethal you were on that battle field. No one stood a chance!"
Xena looked away uncomfortably.
"But love was something I never took seriously... I mean Cupid, Aphrodite? Ditzy to say the least, and the flitting around making life swell annoyed me. Their love often got in the way of my war. But as I said, when I was human, love took me by surprise. And since being a God again, it faded... as if I were only dreaming it a moment."
He finished off the wine and watched the dregs roll about in the bottom of his cup, and Xena saw something she never thought she would see in Ares. Perhaps a part of the humanity - a residue of it - still remained in him? He moved restlessly, pursing his lips.
"You see Xena, love, however faint, is voracious. Your heart isn't content till you have what it wants. No matter what," he swallowed as if it were painful, "It starts like a gentle fascination, then it becomes a yearning, till before you know it your whole being is dedicated to doting on one particular person... It really is quite insidious, if you want to choose who inflicts the most pain between us Gods, Aphrodite and Cupid would take the cake."
Xena smiled softly and sadly, looking up into Ares' dark eyes, "This time Ares - I am forced to agree with you..."
Ares seemed not too surprised - he had known Xena had been through her fair share of pain inflicted by love. Xena suddenly looked self assured and smiled thinly.
"But you, Ares, are a God. Gods feel nothing."
Ares rose his eyebrows with an amused smirk.
"Yes, so many mortals say - I believe to assure themselves they are superior to we Gods somehow. It isn't entirely true Xena. Gods do feel, just not the way you do."
Xena blinked slowly, looking down into her kantharos.
Ares continued, "You see, we Gods find it impossible to change - as the entities we are it is in our natures to do what we are here to do. Hades takes care of the souls of the dead - I provide him with half of them... Artemis is of the animals and the hunt. Dionysus" he rose his cup, "We have our roles and are bound to them. We cannot afford to abandon our duties. So, when we were created, we were made that no matter how we felt, we felt the most to our duties as a God, rather than our own personal pursuits. We are our duties, and nothing else. But we are also feeling entities, with passions, desires and wants far more than any mortal could ever imagine."
She looked at him. His eyes were powerful, more than a mortal man's, more than an immortal man's. In his every move there seemed to be some repercussion, in every blink another movement set into motion. How many wars did he start every week? How many fights did a mere sigh create? There was something very passionate about him, something cosmic that she knew as badly as he behaved there was something very important about him. It was a humbling moment. She often forgot that Ares was indeed a God, and as petty and human as some of them behaved, they were still all powerful... She was privileged to be in his presence, as much as she despised him at times. She looked up at him once more, and pain was still ringing in his features, as pained as Ares could be.
"You still feel it don't you?"
Ares bit down and gritted his teeth, his eyes burning under his brow, "I have not been the same since I spent that time as a mortal. Being mortal was-" He looked infinitely sad, "Fulfilling somehow! Every emotion was richer, as if I could suddenly see colours that were never there before!"
Xena's once cold eyes were now glowing with some sympathy - which she found unbelievably hard to give to him, "Maybe it's the price you give to be a God, the feelings which we mortals have to cram into one lifetime to make our short painful existence worthwhile."
Ares sat upright restlessly, "For the first time I felt love in it's full force, but I also felt it's pain - how you can live with it day to day is beyond me!"
The warrior narrowed her eyes in a thin smile, "We get by."
Ares nodded, placing down his cup sullenly. He looked over to Xena... She didn't look the same as when he loved her, but she was still the woman he had wanted... Callisto's face had held her calmness, her cool assured gaze, and her sensual body movements that were slow and deliberate. He seemed to live for their next encounter now, thinking of new plans he could put into action to capture Xena all so they could fail just so he could see her - triumphant at least. When Artemis actually suggested having her round to his Godly lair for dinner he seemed genuinely surprised - being the God of War that approach hadn't occurred to him.
"As unsavoury as being mortal is to me - spending one day with you as a mortal would make me eternally happy..."
Xena glanced up at him, shock in her eyes. She knew he loved her, it wasn't hard to figure out, but to give up his Godhood - even for a day - was dangerous! Not only that - but he could get hungry, tired, sick, worse!
"You can't mean that Ares, you govern one of the most destructive forces of all the Gods..."
"I don't govern it Xena," he said, "I am that force. I am war. And for a single day in my immortal endless, lonely existence - I want to be something else."
And for a minute she saw that tired, lonely, ragged human who was with her at the castle to reclaim his stolen Godhood.
"Can you do that?"
Ares flashed a broad smile - something she had never seen him do till now, it was bright, gentle somehow. "I'm a God, I can do anything I wish."
Xena pursed her lips, a wry smile spreading across her face. "Could you be a God again afterwards?"
Xena's icy blue eyes bored into him.
"Can you keep your Godhood safe?"
He sighed, standing up and stretching himself, then sitting next to Xena on the sofa he looked at her tenderly. "That, my dear Xena, is something I can guarantee. Would you do the honour of spending the day with me as a mortal - a whole 24 hours?"
The warrior smiled slowly, "It would be my pleasure, Ares."
This was no trap. He was making himself vulnerable, putting himself at stake, all for her.
"Where would we spend it?" she asked him.
Ares looked about him, "I was thinking right here..."
Xena grinned and placed a gentle hand on his shoulder closest to her, "If you're gonna be a human for a day you may as well live as one too!"
She felt herself floating in a void - grey sullen mist surrounded her, suffocatingly moist, too thick to see through. A voice echoed out for her, a familiar voice, and all she saw was the blade coming down, into him, through him... NO!!!!!!
The mist lifted, the place was the sea, the meadows, the bluest of skies, it was all beauty drawn together in some strange amalgamated view, before her blood spilled away to a body, which was no longer gaping with a mortal wound...
She turned... He was no longer dead... He was alive!! She ran to him, ran to hug him and kiss him and cry in his warm strong arms, he caught her and smiled.
"Whoa, what you so sad about?"
"Perdicas!" she sobbed, cradling his face in her hands, "Oh I've missed you so much! Thank the Gods you are all right!"
"Gabrielle I'm fine!! I want you to stop worrying yourself about me! I'm in the best place you could possibly imagine!"
She looked about herself - her surroundings were constantly changing, never the same, always moving, shifting... She looked frightened...
"Perdicas - where am I?"
"Not where you were..."
Gabrielle smiled softly at him - with him she felt safe!
"Are you coming back?"
He only held her.
"You've been through so much," he said, "I can't be there for you and I'm sorry, but he will. He always will, because he loves you. Probably even more than I do..."
Gabrielle looked confused, who on earth was he talking about? Moreover, why was he telling her? She just wanted him to come back with her, and she gripped his arms, holding onto him tight.
"Perdicas, I love you, I miss you - can't you come back with me?"
Again, he did not answer her, he only took her hands and gently pushed her away from him.
"Gabrielle, you've had enough time living with the dead.... He needs you now, you must be there for him, because he'll have a long time looking after you..."
She looked at him with anger, with fear - no! She couldn't live without him!
"I'm - I'm not dreaming... You're alive aren't you? You've come back for me..."
Perdicas gazed at her...
"This love is dead, and there is one for you in the living so deep few have ever known it..."
Her face drew blank at the words, they seeming somehow familiar to her. She shook the feeling.
"As long as I'll remember you you'll never be dead!" she said stoically, "Are we going to try and find our way out of this place?"
Perdicas said nothing, and as he turned away from her, the peals of beauty around her dripped from the sky, the mist seeping in at her...
"Perdicas! Perdicas wait! We're getting out of here remember?"
He only spoke back at her, his voice reaching further than mere words ever could.
"Go to him, he needs you now...."
She sprang to her fours, her eyes flashing about as if she were a frightened animal, she panted. She grabbed her staff, jumping to her feet. Slowly, fear subsided, the haze of sleep slowly seeping away from her, and she frowned to herself slightly. What was she doing? Dropping down her staff she looked to the pelt across from her - Joxer was gone!
"I gotta lay off Ares' wine!" she muttered to herself, picking up her staff once more and trudging to the river's edge, it lapping softly. It had been quite a night, Joxer and herself singing themselves hoarse on the fruit of the vine, eating toffees and boiled sweets till they felt ill. Joxer had joined in the merriment happily, dutifully playing what she willed, though he did not eat as many sweets as she did. Where could he have been? She looked along the water's edge, noticing large deep footprints in the moonlight. Joxer's armour still lay by the camp so he mustn't have been far. She followed the tracks, they led to an alcove made by an old old willow, its low gnarled branches providing a sturdy pew for a quiet dark shape. It's silhouette became clearer as she approached, and she breathed quietly.
"Gabby..." the shape replied, "I'd rather be alone right now..."
Go to him, he needs you now... She pursed her lips.
Joxer got to his feet suddenly, climbing over the branch with a stumble, heading back to camp. She frowned, heading after him, and he climbed over a tiny hillock, down the way to the soft sand of their camp. He stooped at the coals of the fire; he had collected some firewood and he placed it on them carefully. She knelt next to him, turning him to see his face. She could see in the dim glow of the coals, the glisten of spent tears on his face.
"Joxer, what's wrong?"
"Nothing," he said, trying to concentrate on the fire, "I'm fine..."
Gabrielle frowned, "No you're not, now tell me what is bothering you. Didn't you have a nice time tonight?"
"I had a real good time Gabrielle," he muttered, jabbing the fire with a piece of log, "And now it's over... Tomorrow it'll be back to stupid Joxer, he can't fight and he can't think - what's he good for except a laugh?"
"What?" she frowned, "Do you really think that's what I think of you?"
He looked at her a long moment with his dark eyes, she felt them bore deep into her, and he sighed, "Why not it's what everyone else thinks..."
She ran her eyes down his profile, his somehow sculptural brow and regal nose running down to a sadly pouted mouth. How sad he looked!! She had never seen him look so irrevocably sad, so broken...
"It's not what I think," she whispered, her blue eyes shimmering suddenly in the newborn lapping flames. He gazed at her gently - he could never tell her, she would never feel the way he did, yet, somewhere in her eyes, was there... no! Gabrielle let a furrow settle in her brow.
Something bugged her, she couldn't figure it out. Frowning she watched Joxer jab the fire restlessly. He looked up at her with tear glistened eyes.
"Whatcha doing up anyway?" he asked softly.
Gabby pursed her lips, trying to withhold a shudder.
"I - I had a bad dream."
"Oh," Joxer nodded. Gabrielle's heart skipped a moment, though she wasn't sure why. He was really an amiable fellow when in his quieter moods. She liked him this way, though usually if he was quiet it meant he was depressed. He turned his head, his dark eyes regarding hers softly.
"What was it about?"
Gabrielle gazed at the stirring fire, the red flits of ash flying up on the warm rush of air.
"I was in a fog or - something. Perdicas was there, I hugged him, told him I missed him..."
Joxer pursed his lips and gulped, gathering his strength to hear her pine over her dead husband.
"Around me everything was beautiful - I asked him if he was going to stay, if he was going to be with me now and I wouldn't have to be sad anymore..."
"What did he say?"
The young bard's blue eyes shone as she gazed into the fire, a smile tempting it's way to her lips, tears stinging her eyes.
"He - I can't remember exactly - it's a blur - he said something along the lines of - my love is in this world now, not with him."
Joxer's heart lifted only momentarily, his over imaginative mind jumping to the hope that it would, or could possibly, be him. He sighed inwardly, knowing better.
"So what did you say?" he asked, trying not to sound half-hearted.
"I asked him if we were going to get out of the weird place we were in, and I asked him if I was dreaming... He didn't say anything, he just turned and left..."
"Ngoh," said Joxer, mouth hanging open a little lax, "What then?"
"That's where I thought it would end - but he said, as he walked away, 'Go to him," she let a tear fall, trying not to choke on the words, "Go to him, he needs you now."
Joxer felt himself trembling.
"Khemm," he cleared his throat, "Auh, well, you have any idea who he meant?"
She looked at him a long moment, taking a slow blink, then turned her face back to the fire. There was a long silence, and Joxer couldn't help but savour it. It was safe, right at this moment, his feeling's weren't known. He felt her move uncomfortably in the sand next to him.
"All I know Joxer is I woke... and then I found you crying. I just wouldn't wake up like that, especially since I drank all that I did!" She took her bottom lip between her teeth, almost in a trance as if some otherworldly voice was still speaking to her, "The dream was so vivid, he was trying to tell me something, not with words..."
She took an abrupt breath in, looking to him with the stinging in her eyes making them well.
"Do you-" her voice caught in her throat, "You love me, don't you Joxer?"
He pouted, too frightened to move. She knew, did Xena tell her?!? Oh it was so obvious! She would have easily figured it out by now! Gabrielle gazed at him once more, her eyes filled with anticipation, fascination, perhaps more? He felt his heart pounding so fast he was sure it would explode.
He looked down into his lap, avoiding her gaze, quaking like mad. Slowly, and so fractionally, he nodded.
She took a breath in again, holding it. The admittance somehow rocked her, the lanky but oddly beautiful man before her was noticeably trembling. He blinked slowly.
"I-uh I guess I can't ride with you anymore..." he said, curbing a stutter.
"Why d'you say that?"
He swayed slightly, "Cause I guess you wouldn't like me around cause you'd think that all the good things and heroic things I do all the time is cause I luh- ah- luuh," He gulped, "Like ya so much and not cause-"
"You really mean them?" she completed roughly, "Joxer that's the stupidest thing I've ever heard you say!"
Joxer was overwhelmed. He felt all tight inside, could barely move. Suddenly the strength to talk came from nowhere.
"I wouldn't blame ya if-" he stopped, Gabrielle raising her eyebrows expectantly, and he continued, "If ya gave me the just wanna be friends speech, I understand."
She brought her eyebrows down in a curious frown.
"Well, I'm a warrior, not a very good one... People know of me, "He sighed, "It's not because I'm any good... but cause I follow you and Xena around everywhere and get in the way-"
"Now hold it right there!" she said, pointing at him, "You do many things Joxer, including get in the way - at times - " Gabby edged closer to him comfortingly, "But I can count a few times you've helped us too! In more important ways than you realize!"
He closed his eyes slowly, the warmth inside him astounding to him, and he looked down at her sideways with a coy smile.
Gabby grinned, weaving an arm under his and interlocking them elbow to elbow.
"Remember that time I was really grumpy that morning... You came along and me and Xena were still asleep at our camp. You actually tried to make us breakfast without us knowing and ended up spooking Argo when you burnt yourself on the pot?"
He nodded, the smile increasingly cheeky. Gabrielle felt the obsidian eyes warm her delightfully, and she wondered if he realized the power he had in a simple gaze.
"And I was so angry cause I had to get up early because of you! And I was sulking by Argo and I didn't even notice you set down the meal you prepared us, which was really good by the way. I was feeling so grumpy and then I saw what you did and-"
Joxer felt himself blush and she smiled.
"It was a nice thing to do, most men wouldn't even thinkof doing that - it's something they'd expect a woman to do. That's what makes you so different. I forget the nice little things you do sometimes, but I do notice them."
He hadn't intended for his services to have so much importance placed in them. He saw them sleeping so softly in their blankets, like two angels at rest, and with tenderness and love he had prepared the meal.
"I'm just doing what I have to do Gabby - cuz, you know, I'm Joxer the Mighty!"
Gabrielle smiled thinly and nodded.
"Yeah, you are."
He pouted looking into the fire, the glisten in his eyes showing his fear.
"Do I- you know," he laughed tightly, "Get the speech?"
Gabrielle blinked at him, staying quiet for what he felt like was an eternity. Confusion broiled inside of her. He had been so kind to her, so gentle at times, not only that his silly grin and funny voice was sometimes her only solace in a world where pain was so rampant. All of a sudden she found clarity.
She slowly shook her head, placing a hand on his bare upper arm, the smooth skin warm and supple.
She leant towards him. He could not believe what was happening, he was waiting to awake, that this was some sort of cruel dream but she continued to come closer to him, till he felt another soft hand at his shoulder, turning him to face her. His skin roared hotly, fire at her touch, and he could feel her vapour breath against his lips, till the moist petals of her lips pressed against his frightened mouth.
She lent back, still playing in his gaze, realizing fully what she had just done, grinning slowly. All she felt now was hot, roaring passion, her hand still hung at his woven shirt... She pulled herself to him, his body close against her.
"This isn't the wine?" he asked hoarsely.
Gabby shook her head, grinning.
She cradled his head in her hands, pulling herself into his lap and kissing him hungrily. He pulled her back for a moment, looking into her eyes with utter shock...
Gabrielle quietened him with a gentle caress of her hands, running her fingers up through his tousled hair.
He frowned, "Gabby, I can't fight, I can't protect you, people will laugh at you when they see you with me... I can learn to change but I-"
"No," she said, "I like you the way you are!"
He looked at her doubtfully.
She smiled, "I'm gonna tell you a story!"
Grabbing their pelts and laying them side by side, she pulled their blankets up over them, snuggling down. She hugged his torso to hers, burrowing into the nape of his neck.
"Now listen," she breathed, "Once there was a happy village. All the people had their jobs to do, and they did them well. At the end of the day when their work was done, they would go to the square to see the town's fool do his tricks. He would fall and tumble every day, bringing them laughter. The baker would forget that the blacksmith was angry with him for burning his loafs, and the blacksmith would forget the town crier was angry with him for denting his bell by watching the virgins as they walked by, the town crier would forget the king was angry with him for not ringing his broken dented bell at the right time for the town at the proper time for the day to begin, and the king would forget he was angry with the Gods for not bringing good rainfall that year. They all laughed at the fool, their laughter filling the village with joy, and when the people went home, they forgot how angry they were, and only thought of how happy they were to live in such a great village. They laughed at the fool, and when it wasn't time for his games people would ignore him, push him aside. One day, the fool, sick of his treatment, moved on. At the end of the day, there was no laughter. The baker remembered the blacksmith was angry with him for burning his loafs, the blacksmith remembered the town crier was angry with him for denting his bell, the town crier remembered the king was angry with him for not ringing the bell at the right time for the day to begin, and the king remembered he was angry with the Gods for not bringing good rainfall that year. And as time went by, the people got angrier, and sadder, till one day, the town was grey, and the only sound was the sound of bickering and tears. The Gods were angry at the sight of this, and ready they were to turn the whole of this village into black ravens, so that they would bicker for eternity. But - you know what?"
Joxer shook his head with fascination.
"The fool came back!" she smiled triumphantly, "And he tumbled and jumped and rolled and fell!"
Joxer rolled onto his back as she settled on top of him, her nose barely touching his, "And..."
"They laughed Joxer, with him, in happiness, and the only sound that filled that village was the sound of laughter and tears... tears of joy."
He looked at her a long moment, pursing his lips, "What has that story got to do with me apart from the obvious fool analogy?"
She placed her thumbs over his lips, her fingers cradling his jaw, "I don't know why - I need you somehow... When you aren't around - I'm a little sadder, things are not as bright. I imagined what you'd be like if that alter ego of yours that Aphrodite incurred was around all the time - It was a depressing thought. You're special, your strengths are in your heart, and that's rare Joxer. Few men have the strength to be kind, generous and noble. "
Joxer gulped, Gabrielle pulling him to her once more in a kiss. She smiled.
"You - you actually want to - are you sure?"
"Of course I'm sure..."
Joxer felt himself fill with warmth, her body pressed against his own, only the woven bodice and his own vest shielding her skin from his. She smiled, nuzzling at his nose, settling her lips into his passionately, Joxer quivering with the most hot fever he had ever known, frightened yet ablaze at the same time. He felt her nimble fingers loosen the lace of his vest, the bracing night air setting goose bumps on his cream skin only a moment, her own skin soon touching his as he helped her slip off her green bodice. She ran her hands up his chest, her lips planting kisses in their wake, finding their way back up his neck to his lips, then wandering to his ear. He couldn't believe what was happening, he thought it must have been a dream or some cruel joke! But it wasn't, he was really kissing and caressing the gentle swells of her breasts that he had so longingly gazed at all those months, her soft moans were really filling his ears and her trembling hips were really bearing down on him steadily and rhythmically, bringing him the most exultant pleasure he was sure he had ever known. She gripped his shoulders and neck, flinging her head back and pushing herself against him, his pale naked chest covered with a fine layer of sweat. Oh how glorious she was, the Amazon Queen commanding him with her thighs like a rider to their steed, though even he surprised her with a few of his own commands. He played her delightfully and she let out a cry of excitement, her hands tensing out spread, then clamping down onto the pelt as she went for broke and rode him hard. Oh this was something he could NOT believe. He thought he would wake any moment, but it continued till he thought he could not take a moment more, the hot of her body and the surprisingly tight grip of her hands pushing him to a guttural moan, she too letting out repeated moans of approval as he hit the right spots with his deliberate fingers. With a passionate grunt she pulled him over on top of her as she rolled onto her back, the fur of the pelt tickling her bristled arching back. Joxer gripped her lilting rigid waist, he thrust vigourously, her clammy hands clasping his back, her shuddering form letting out a final cry of exultation.
For a moment he kept on, till he finally rolled next to her, spent, his arms weak and shaky. She wrapped herself around him, pulling the blankets over them sleepily, planting kisses on his fluttering eyelids.
"By the Gods Joxer," she toned, running her fingers through his sweat dampened tresses, cradling his head to her bosom, "How the hell did you get that good?"
She gazed down at him, his eyes drooping weakly. He didn't reply, slowly drifting off and as he gently fell to sleep she whispered to him, even as he slept, "I wrote a poem for you yesterday, I think you'll like it!" she let out a hoarse quiet giggle and began to sing softly, "Joxer the Mighty, roams through the countryside..."
His eyes fluttered and he looked up to Gabrielle shakily, a weak smile curled at his lips, "I had a good time tonight Gabrielle, I especially liked your stories..."
Gabby smiled softly, "I liked yours best of all."
Ares placed down his sword at the altar, it's glowing metal humming softly. Xena looked to him with some concern.
"Are you sure about this?" she asked, her eyebrows raised.
Ares turned his dark eyes to her with assurance.
"I'm as sure as when I got Aphrodite to start the Trojan War."
Xena looked horrified a moment. Ares shuffled a moment with an awkward smile.
"Just a little joke there..."
Xena nodded with a wry smile. He closed his eyes, extending his hands to the sword, and there was an encompassing flash...
Continue on to Part Two