See disclaimers in Part One
Callisto stepped up the forest trail, the hillock lumpy and sodden. She wrinkled her nose.
"I don't get you Artemis - you actually chooseto live here... You could have a lair like Ares, or a great palace room like your Daddy..."
Artemis eyed her.
"I like the forest," she said softly, "I am the forest. I am the hunt."
"Oh, I see," Callisto grinned maniacally, "So, if you are the forest, that means Aphrodite is love right?"
"Yes," Artemis replied, examining a tree idly.
"And Ares is War, Demeter is the grain, and Poseidon is the sea..."
"What's your point Callisto?"
Callisto frowned, withdrawing her sword and swirling it about her.
"My point is - what am I then?"
Artemis glanced at her.
"You are Callisto."
"Uhuh, and I do what?"
Artemis turned from the tree she was tending, folding her olive arms decidedly.
"You don't do anything, you personify the woman you once were."
The blonde deity's expression hardened.
"Oh come now," Callisto pranced to a tree, bringing up her sword, "I must do something, I must be something, you are the forest, what am I?"
The Goddess of the Hunt was losing patience. She sighed hotly.
"I told you, you are Callisto."
Callisto pursed her lips.
"I'm the Goddess of Callisto?"
"Pretty much yeah." Artemis replied.
"Mmmm-no!" Callisto wavered the point of her sword at the knot of a tree, "I don't think that is good enough Artemis, I wanna be the God of something, not just myself."
She narrowed her eyes at Callisto.
"Maybe I'm wrong, maybe you are something," she said, placing her hands at her bony hips and regarding Callisto, "Yes, you are the God of the Tragedy of War. You are everything that War is responsible for, the pain, the death, destruction," She paused painfully, "The loss..."
Callisto brought in her lips, her eyes welling with tears that refused to fall with the light wash of emotions that Godhood gave her.
Artemis nodded, "Yes, the burnt children, the dead corpses and smell of death in the wake of the dark-hearted fools. You are all this, and the endless revenge it brings."
Callisto blinked down hard and long, and she brought her sword back up, stabbing the tree in front of her idly. She sniffled. "Nope. I don't like that. I want to be the God of something else!"
Artemis grabbed Callisto's sword and threw it down.
"Please don't defile my trees," she sighed, "You can't be anything else, unless you steal Godhood from someone else..."
Artemis grew silent. You swore, a voice she presumed to be the Great Zeus said to her darkly, You would caretake his Godhood for him!
"What is it dear?" Callisto leered, a grin forming on her just distraught face, "You have an idea?"
"Of course I do!" she chuckled, "I convinced Ares to give up his Godhood for a day, all for Xena..."
Callisto's brown eyes glinted.
"Oh, how wonderfully noble of him," she put a greaved hand to her armoured chest, "He better like the idea of being human, he has the rest of his life to enjoy the experience!"
The forest clearing rustled with the breeze lazily, the trodden dry hard ground...
From a thick of trees a deer stepped out tentatively, it's dark little hooves hitting the ground softly with a gentle thud. Sniffing the air, smelling no danger, he ventured further out into the clearing where some fresh shoots where waiting to be nibbled.
A wind suddenly whipped up from nowhere, the deer bolted and ran.
There was a blinding flash, and two figures burst from the air and landed with a hard clobber.
Xena landed on the ground with a thump, and she rolled from the impact, the armour digging into her - she was no longer in the dress. Ares was already nearby, groaning and writhing in agony.
"Oaoh wow I'm pain!!!"
Xena got up carefully then crouched next to Ares, taking his arm in a warrior's hold. She helped him sit up, grinning.
"You musta landed on a funny angle, but you'll be fine..." she grinned.
Ares pulled himself up, wincing painfully. He looked up to Xena suddenly, a grin on his face.
"I'm human!" he said, seizing her by the shoulders, then jumping to his feet. He grabbed Xena's hands and pulled her up, "It sucks!"
Xena's eyes grew wide.
"Then why did you want to be human?"
He dusted himself off, "Strangely, I forgot how awful it was..."
Xena smirked, "Yeah, that happens!"
Looking up at Ares' dark ruffled long curls she let a smile form on her lips, pulling a dry dead leaf from his hair. His locks felt soft, they bounced back as the leaf let go. He looked up at where he leaf came from he gently felt his hair between his fingers, the tingling of it pulling at his scalp. He let it go suddenly, clenching his mouth darkly .
"Everything's so damn vivid," he grumbled "It feels nothing like it does when I'm a God."
"Enjoy it," Xena smiled, "You only have 24 hours of it..."
He looked up to the lock of hair falling down over his face, before he could brush it from his face Xena shot her hand up and stopped him, she herself brushing the lock away behind his ear. He closed his eyes contentedly, as her hand passed his face he took her hand by the wrist, pulling it away, leaning towards her with intent. Xena enjoyed the closeness, the passion for a moment, then pulled her arm back. Ares glared at her. She couldn't let herself forget who this was.
"Later," she grinned. She took in the sight of him a moment. He seemed to lack a certain ethereal glow as a human, his hair was wayward and tended to fluff up a bit with the abundant curls, but it gave him a rough farm boy look that actually suited him. His leather togs were gone, he now for some reason was clothed in plain dirty coloured woollen sleeveless shirt and pants, knee high leather boots and a hooded cape around his neck, the hood hanging behind his head. His hair was longer this time round, beautiful and raven, the ringletted locks glowing a rich red as they were hit by the sunlight. As her eyes travelled down his dark curls to his lightly haired chest she noticed his amulet - still the same and as pristine as when he was a God not five minutes ago. A link, a key back to Godhood perhaps? Xena took a quick breath and hit her fist into a cupped hand.
"Where are we going?"
Xena rose her eyebrows.
"We're going shopping!"
"Shopping?" Ares said with great disdain.
Joxer felt the bracing morning air hit his leg, and he wondered why that was.
Only part of his brain was awake, the rest was having rather erotic dreams about a certain bard and he chuckled at it - such silly dreams! The likelihood of him ever attaini- hang on! He pulled his leg back under the blanket, but had trouble fitting under it as another body was there with him. With that his thought processes flooded and he opened his eyes slowly, adjusting to the early morning light. He heard a soft snore at his side, he looked down.
Gabrielle slept still, her long strawberry blonde locks tangled about her face and ears. Gently, he tried to brush them aside, clear her face of the reddish mess. He was largely successful, till one rather stubborn knot near her ear that he hadn't noticed tugged as he softly stroked a completely different lock of hair it was attached to. Gabby started.
Grabbing her staff she whacked him in the head, pushing him back in an alarmed half asleep blunder.
Joxer wailed, falling backwards, trying his best to cover himself with his blanket. Great! he thought, Gabrielle was just drunk when we did what we did and now she'll half kill me for what we did and things'll be like before...
Her eyes widened and she stopped.
"Oh Joxer I'm sorry!!!"
She stooped next to him, completely naked, gathering him up and sitting him at the pelt. She snuggled next to him under the blanket and looked a little embarrassed.
"By the Gods, I thought you were a bandit about to have your way with me!!"
Joxer only blushed as Gabrielle entwined herself in his arms, a giggle coming from her as she did.
"I-" he gave a false laugh, "Ha ha - I thought you came to your senses and - uh"
Gabrielle glanced at him.
"I finally have Joxer," she said with a small smile, "You don't need to worry 'bout that!" She lent her head on his cold naked shoulder, kissing it softly, "In fact I'll always remember it. When I'm grinning as an old lady - you'll know why..."
Joxer's dark eyes glowed.
"Really?" he smiled.
She pushed Joxer back onto the pelt, embracing him under the blanket, closing her eyes contentedly. She took a long breath in, and she smiled.
"What was it I called you when I was under that spell of Cupid's arrow again?"
He looked a little uncomfortable - he remembered it like he knew how to breathe - but he hesitated a moment.
"Uhh - Pookie I think - ummmm" he nodded, "Yep, yeah, Pookie!"
Gabrielle looked at him sideways.
"You didn't have to think very hard to remember that did you?"
He looked guilty. Gabrielle only laughed.
"It's okay 'pookie' I think it's sweet!" she said, propping herself on her elbow, looking into his dark eyes. They looked back at her with such love, she felt herself melt into his hold kissing him tenderly. She rolled onto her back, snuggling under the blanket sharing the warmth of their bodies, and she shuddered.
"Shall we get up, make some breakfast, or sleep in and eat nutbread and sweetmeats?"
"Ya have to ask?"
Gabrielle grinned and snuggled back down into the blanket with him, running her fingers over his neck and chest idly. She hummed a little tune, a familiar one, and Joxer smiled - content - the most happy and content he thought he had ever been in his life. She glanced to Joxer quickly and smiled.
"You know, I'm gonna teach you something today?"
Joxer shook his head, fascinated.
"What are ya gonna teach me?"
Gabrielle only grinned.
Ares wrinkled his nose at the animal guts that hung from the butcher's window.
"You actually eat that stuff??"
Xena looked at him with a sideward glanced and smirked.
"If there's nothing else, yeah."
The market place bustled, like many other market places Xena had been to, and she walked through it with ease and familiarity. Ares tried to, but emotions evoked by the rich smells and festive sounds kept embroiling inside him. He frowned.
"I didn't feel like this the last time I was human - what's up with that?"
Xena rose an eyebrow.
"Well perhaps this time you're in control of things - You know you'll get your Godhood back so now all the little things that you ignored when you were human are being noticed. Besides - that last town you were at wasn't much of a party town, if you know what I mean."
He winced and nodded, moving a rich scarlet silk hanging down as he walked through the crowds. Humans were so confusing a people. They were capable of the most terrible monstrosities, he had seen them, even been the cause of some of them, but at the same time they could be capable of the most awe inspiring beauties.
"So what are we here for?"
"We're here to pick up some supplies - we only have nutbread left and I'm pretty certain Gabrielle and Joxer would have eaten that for breakfast."
"You think they'd still be hungry after all the food we gave them?"
Xena's eyes glinted and she nodded.
"I'd expect so."
They continued along the square lined with finery and food stalls, saying little. There was a sudden crash ahead, and Xena saw a young man in a familiar armour scamper through the crowd, pushing away people relentlessly as he went. She sprang after him, Ares trying to keep the pace.
"Why are we chasing this guy?" he panted.
Xena said nothing, and sprung into the air with her war cry, the people clearing around her in surprise. She flipped down the way, making progress on the young man. She did a final flip, landing on her feet squarely, ready to grab the rascal by the throat, but as she regained her bearings only villagers surrounded her. She glanced around her with flashing blue eyes, but he was gone.
Grumbling, Ares ran up to her, trying to catch his breath after the sprint.
"Now do you mind telling me what that was all about?"
Xena continued to scan the crowd.
"He was one of Mallecium's men, a spy no doubt. It was a mistake to come here, he knows I'm alone now. This village, and every other village along this road is at stake now," She cursed herself, "How could I have been so stupid?"
Ares chose to say nothing. Had he been a God he would have, but he valued his health more than anything at that certain point in time. He instead looked at Xena in surprise.
"Mallecium? Are you kidding? What are you worried about him for?"
Xena eyed him.
"He has an army you know!"
He shrugged his bronzed shoulders.
"So? Kill him, kill the movement, you know that!"
She pursed her lips.
"I would but- I have a bad feeling about it this time around - he knows me well, we've been in battles before," she sighed, "You chose an unfortunate time to become mortal, Ares. We better get back to Gabrielle and Joxer before Mallecium hears the news I'm on my own. Let's go."
Ares rolled his eyes painfully, squeezing his jaws together, his muscles in his face bulging with irritation.
Callisto knew this time it would be different.
Not like last time at all.
All that had ran through her mind was having the ambrosia in her hands and feeling its sickly sweet syrup burst into her mouth, her veins becoming steel, her body the stuff of stars. And now that she had it she also knew Godhood wasn't all it cracked up to be. In fact it sucked. Pallored emotions, only fleeting passions that wash away like old dreams one forgets, restless feelings not willing to stay and grow. Only one passion would stick, one feeling she could remember. Xena! This time, if she was going to be stuck as a God, and she would live forever, she was gonna make it worth her while.
Ahead of her, Artemis walked leisurely through the lair. She had unburied several memories of this Goddess of late, and with much disgust - or a wash of disgust since she didn't feel a lot - put them away again. True, Artemis was the only family she had left, days in the forest, running free with the girl of raven locks that ran like the night sky through the pale clouds, the satisfying thwack of the arrow sinking into the body of a fat juicy deer. Sandals, beating the ground carefully as the bear read their scents in the wind. A tear nearly let itself get caught in her eye. Not this time. The past would not tie her down again.
"Aah, here it is."
Callisto glanced up to Artemis who placed her hands triumphantly on a flashing cold sword, lying dead, not at all thrumming with it's usual power. The hunter grinned, and lifted her arms, gesturing for Callisto to take the prize. That she would, she thought, and a lot more!
Stepping forward like a hungry child she seized the weapon in her hands, thrusting it into the air.
"The Godhood of War is mine!"
The sword did nothing. It just sat in Callisto's hand like any other, steely and dark.
Callisto's power hungry leer slowly drained from her face, and she plopped it back onto the pillow at the altar that it laid at with pursed lips.
"He's left it somewhere else hasn't he?"
"His Godhood!" Callisto said, "He must have known..."
Artemis smirked and shook her head.
"No, he trusted me to look after it, apparently," she shrugged, "So much for family values!"
Callisto glared at her.
"Well, what are we supposed to do now?"
"Not sure, we have to grab him and find out..."
"Well if that's all it takes lets get to it!" Callisto grinned, "Should be fun hassling a human Ares!"
"Yeechh! It's so slippery - I can't keep a hold of it!"
"Just keep trying, Joxer. If you learn to do this you won't need all the bits and pieces you usually have to carry around with you, and you can do it yourself!"
"But every time I try to take a grip it slips away!"
Gabrielle rolled her eyes and gripped the bottom of the river with her toes, keeping the tide from washing her away with it. Joxer stood in front of her, peering into the water with a look of disgust, arms down, the water lapping around his pale but adequately toned shoulders.
"Naah I lost it!" he frowned, "Now what?"
"Wait for the next to come along, "Gabrielle said patiently, "Fishing is easier this way, and a lot quicker I promise you, especially good if you've forgotten your tackle!"
Joxer tried not to giggle and Gabby rolled her eyes.
"Joxer you can be so puerile sometimes," she grinned.
Once, Joxer would have felt his heart sink at these words, but he only gave a gawky chuckle at her now, knowing full well what it really meant. Gabby smiled and pointed her eyes down to the water.
"Keep as still as you can, and keep your eyes affixed to the water."
"Okay," he said, lowering his eyes with scarlet cheeks. He saw nothing in the water, only the rich green of the light filtering to the silty river bottom. She had explained to him why it was best they were stripped to their birthday suites whilst fishing, as the most skin was then exposed to the water, increasing sensitivity to the small currents a passing fish would make. Nevertheless he was still sure that this was one of the best times he had ever had, it was like one of those really good dreams he had after eating too many pomegranates.
Xena trudged through the underbrush, Ares in tow. It had taken them about half an hour to make their way back to their camp, and Ares was pretty quiet all the way. She knew what he was probably thinking. It wasn't pretty.
If you're gonna be a human you may as will live as a human! he grumbled in his head, My asse!
"We're here," she said, "Now tread carefully..."
Ares looked puzzled.
Xena cocked a lip, "Cause if you leave a guy and a gal alone with sweets and liquor, especially your kind of liquor you should know what to expect in the morning."
The blood drained from Ares' face.
"Okay, that is not the kind of mental picture a guy likes to have Xena, especially where Joxer is concerned!"
Xena put a hand at Ares chest to stop him, listening hard. She smirked, a happy smile starting to spread across her face.
"What's that look for?"
Peering through the scrub that divided them from the campsite Xena could see two figures in the water, a jet black haired man and a strawberry blonde woman up to their naked shoulders in the crisp crystal waters of the river that ran past them.
"I think she's teaching him to fish!" Xena chuckled, "That's really cute..."
"Yeah touching," Ares rolled his eyes, "I didn't want to spend my time watching other people having all the fun..."
"As I said Ares, you picked a rotten time to become a mortal for a day!"
Ares, sulking in the other direction, rose an eyebrow with a small smile. He turned, slipping his large hands around Xena's waist and grinned.
"We could make it a whole lot better-"
Xena pushed off his hands, "Not now Ares!"
A swift current ran past his leg.
He took an abrupt breath in, holding it, keeping deathly still.
He could feel the fish zip around his legs idly, he let his hands hang stretched out.
All in a second he clenched his hands shut, pulling the animal from the water with an amazed gasp.
Gabrielle squealed, then giggled happily.
"You did it Joxer!" she started, but as he held it in the air his fingers lost their grip, the wildly flailing aquatic creature trying to free itself from his hold.
"Oh wait - no!" Joxer pouted, his fingers finally slipping over the tail of the fish and it thrust itself into the air, coming down in the parabola and landing with an odd splatch on Gabrielle's chest and shoulders. She let out a surprised cry, the fish slithering off her and jumping back into the water.
Joxer pouted sadly as Gabrielle tried to catch the escapee in vain, but to no avail. She sighed, not at the loss of the food, but rather at Joxer's disappointed expression.
"It's okay Joxer," she smiled softly, "You're doing better than I did. You'll learn it in time, you just need the practice!"
"Mm-okay," he said doubtfully, Gabrielle giving a small smile, narrowing her eyes. Her smile waned.
"I wonder where Xena is?" Gabby said, glancing back at the shore.
He looked to where her eyes searched and he shrugged.
"I dunno, you'd think she'd be back by now huh?"
Gabrielle tightened her jaw nervously. "I hope she's okay..."
"Xena has stood up to Ares plenty of times before and anyway - you remember what Artemis said - she won't die by a God or Immortal's hands," he said.
The bard shot him a wary look.
"That doesn't mean a lot! Ares could get someone other than a God to kill her. No good."
He saw the deep anxiety in Gabby's eyes for her friend. He placed a tentative hand on her shoulder with a compassionate and equally as anxious pout.
"After we eat something we can go find her if you wan-"
He stopped. Gabrielle's eyes were wide open, affixed on the shore, her shocked and usually embarrassed tiny smile on her lips. She grabbed his shoulder and shook it, her own hands shuddering. He looked puzzled, then saw the shore.
He went silent.
Here was the real test. Xena stood on the river bank, seeming to gesture someone away. She was all right, but whether this fledgling union between he and Gabrielle would survive while Xena returned was questionable, in his mind at least. He gulped.
"OOPS!" called the tall brunette woman from the shore, "Sorry! You get back to your FISHING!! Me and ARES will leave you ALONE FOR A WHILE!"
"Ares?" Joxer muttered in a wondering tone. Xena trudged off with Argo and some of their things. She looked as if she was getting ready to pack up. He glanced to the woman next to him.
Gabrielle sank slowly in the water, dropping her head under the surface as her cheeks flushed a bright red. She was under the water for a long moment, Joxer watching her with a worried frown. After another moment, he pulled her back up, a stony look set in her dripping features.
"What's wrong?" he asked, till it occurred to him and he frowned, letting her go quickly.
"You're embarrassed of me?"
Gabby opened her mouth, ready to speak but Joxer turned his eyes to the shore, and began to wade towards it silently.
He didn't wait, he kept at the shore slowly, the water hampering his speed. He lifted his legs higher, trying to move faster, but his foot caught on something under the water and he was sent flying with a strangled yelp. Gabrielle now pulled him up from the water, and he sat down in the silt, the water lapping around his underarms. The bard sat next to him, putting a wet but deliciously warm arm around his goose-bumped shoulders. He pouted.
"Joxer, I'm sorry..."
He shook his head.
"It's not you're fault, you were right to do what you did. If I were you, I would have done the exactly the same thing!" he said, looking to her with one of his rare serious gazes. "I'm not good enough for you Gabby. I'm a nice guy and all but - You're the rightful Queen of the Amazons, sidekick to Xena, and I'm hardly the kind of guy you could possibly want to be seen with, let alone people would expect you to be seen with. I mean, if that's how you behave with Xena seeing you with me like that - how is it gonna be when we're around other people?!?"
Gabrielle pursed her lips.
"Joxer, we're in the water together, naked! It's just a little embarrassing that's all! Kinda like being caught with your hands in the cookie pot."
Joxer looked at her for a long moment. She squeezed his shoulders in assurance.
"I would have been just as embarrassed if Xena found me in the water with any other guy, probably even more so!"
He looked thoughtful for a moment.
"What about in public then?"
"What about it?"
"Would you be embarrassed to be seen with me?"
Gabrielle rolled her eyes.
"I'm seen with you anyway!!"
"But," he stopped, closing his eyes and frowning hard, "You know what I mean Gabrielle!"
She frowned. He was serious, he called her Gabrielle and meant it! She gulped.
"Joxer - I don't know..."
He pouted, forcing back tears, glad the drips of river water stuck to his face to hide the pain. He didn't want this, not if it meant she was ashamed of how she felt for him. It would be all or nothing. He felt gentle fingertips running down his jaw to his chin, turning his reddened face to hers slowly. A tear fell, well hidden, and the petite woman next to him kissed him softly, the hand on his chin running to the back of his head. As she pulled back from the kiss he gulped sadly, sniffling.
"I do know that," she said, "Of all the chaotic things that seem to happen, I know that."
Joxer said nothing.
He got up, the water splashing in his wake, and he dried himself, Gabrielle sitting in the water alone. Her heart sank within her. Now that she wasn't caught up in the moment and giddy feelings, and now that Joxer planted his awkward helmet on his head, the hormones had subsided and the situation was clear. He was right, this time he knew it, and her eyes stung as tears welled, her throat growing sore. Why did he have to be right? She remembered with affection the night before, she savoured the memory, it made her warm as the blanket and the pelt would protect her from the elements. It would be hard for both of them, she knew, she trying not to belittle him as often as she was used to (though now when she uttered them they seemed steeped in affection rather than distaste) and he making efforts to better himself. She only wanted him to change if he felt it were right. There was a high pitched holler and Ares bolted into the camp, hiding behind a rock.
Gabrielle dove into the water like a sea nymph, hiding her nakedness.
Ares shuddered. He crouched in the sand, cowering as close to the rock as possible, his long black curled locks ruffled from his frenzied run.
"What's wrong?" Gabby called from deeper water.
"Bandits!" he cried in return, "I don't wanna get killed!"
Joxer looked puzzled.
"You can't get killed you're a God!"
"How very perceptive," Ares looked up at him dryly, "But right at this moment I'm as human as you are, and will be for another 22 hours at least."
"Oh? Why's that?"
Ares clenched his jaw, feeling deep embarrassment, which he decided he really didn't like, and swallowed.
"Because... I lost my sword again!"
"Again? You really should look after it a little better Ares, I know cause this sword here," he pulled it from it's scabbard," Hand-pounded! My father got it crafted for me! Now, I'm sure if Hephaestus knew you were misplacing that important sword so carelessly I..."
He trailed off as Ares looked at him with contempt.
"Ahem! Uhh, well. You get what I mean!" Joxer nodded in assurance, "And uh - as far as the being afraid of getting killed - I know how you feel!"
The human God glanced up at him with distaste and he leered at him.
"You couldn't possibly know or understand the position I am in right now!"
Joxer cocked a lip, swaggering to him.
"Are you kidding?" he cried, "I'm Joxer the Mighty-"
"Yeah I know so you say all the time-" Ares interrupted but Joxer interrupted back.
"In my head! In my head I'm a God like you!"
Ares wrinkled his nose incredulously, "What does your 'head' have to do with me!"
"Well, in that wonderfully complicated realm that is my brain,"
Gabrielle bit her tongue.
"I'm as invincible as you are! No man can hurt me! But when it comes to practising what I dream..." he sank a little, "I'm constantly fearing for my life."
For the first time in his existence Ares understood what the dolt was saying. He actually felt for him, he understood.
"You too?" he exclaimed.
Joxer nodded, "Oh yeah!"
Gabrielle cocked her head slightly, watching the fool converse with the God. Somehow, he made sense and it worried her. When did he start making sense? she thought. Shaking her head she pulled herself out of the water, grabbing a blanket quickly and wrapping herself in it. She glanced up at Joxer, who quickly averted his eyes, she knew very well that for that second he drank in the sight of her shivering form diving for the blanket. Her heart felt heavy at his turned gaze, she ached for him to look upon her lovingly like he did this morning. She trod to him through the sand, looking at him softly.
"Can you hold this up as a sort - of - shield?"
Joxer nodded, taking the blanket as she held it to him. It was a position of trust, he knew she was trying to keep up the intimacy they had before. It was unnecessary really, if she knew him, and she did, she knew when he entrusted his loyalty to you it usually stayed that way. He could never not love her, he could never not care, but whether they could sustain something was - unknown to him.
Xena strolled back casually from the road, walking to the middle of the site. She turned her head, regarding the God of War curled up against the rock like a frightened child.
"You chicken!" she said drolly, "You would have made mince meat out of him!"
Ares looked up apologetically, rising to his feet.
"I know, I didn't wanna get hurt."
Joxer pursed his lips painfully, knowing Ares' fear.
"Are they gone?" Ares asked her.
Blackness engulfed the man's vision.
Not the best way to make a buck, but running into Xena was not a regular occurrence for a thief, so he had it happen to him, it was it. "Once you run into Xena it's not likely you'll run into her again." the saying went. Of course not!! he thought, if you get away you repent or you don't get away at all!!
He slowly writhed through the scrub, scrawling somewhere. In his agony, voices made themselves known, the only clarity he had.
"I told you I lost my sword!!" a voice repeated, "Isn't that right Xena?"
There was a long silence that seemed to have tension in it, then a sigh.
"Yeah, yeah that's right, Ares lost his sword... He has to get it back again!"
The man's eyes flung open through the searing pain.
Ares' sword!!! And that meant - his Godhood!!
The thief propped himself to his feet mechanically, the camp dwellers too lost in their own conversation to hear him lumber off toward Minoeta, to where a new fortune could be made.
"Well we have to get it back again!" said Gabrielle.
"Naah that's not necessary, "Xena winced. Gabrielle looked at her matter of factly. Sometimes she was sure Xena never got over the bout of madness she got from the Furies. Then again through all the many skills Xena was born with, it seemed 'communication' had been skipped over. She sighed.
Xena's mouth hung open as she racked her brain for an excuse-
"Hermes!" said Ares matter of factly.
"Yeah!" his dark eyes glinted, "See, I lost the sword, and I was really worried but because I'm human and vulnerable, Hermes said he would find it for me and then I can be a God again!"
Xena did a lopsided grin and nodded at Ares, winking at the same time.
Gabrielle looked between the two, frowning with doubt. She finished doing up her shoes and rose, looking up Joxer's form as she got to her feet. His brow was pressed down unhappily, a quiet brooding she had never really seen in him before.
Xena looked at him for a moment, hands planted on her hips.
"What's up with you?"
Joxer only shook his head, and he pulled his helmet down in self assurance.
"Nothing. So, are we leaving?"
"Yeah, we've got a long day ahead of us."
Ares' feet hurt. He had been walking aside an urgent Xena for some time now. Xena kept mumbling impatiently how much faster they would be if they all had horses, but the dinars that would take was more than a fancy thought.
"My feet are killing me!" grumbled Ares, "How long is it gonna be before we get there?"
"Not long," Xena said, "Besides, we'll probably run into them on their way to Minoeta..."
Joxer looked thoughtful a moment, his pout hanging in a frown.
"What is it Joxer?" asked Gabrielle.
Joxer looked at her only briefly, and then up to Xena.
"They wouldn't head for Minoeta!"
"Oh yeah, what makes you say that?" she said, looking ahead of her in a stony gaze.
"Well, Ares destroyed it right?"
The group stayed in silence.
"Well - word would have gotten out that it was destroyed - why would he go to a place that was already ruined?"
He had a point. Xena pursed her lips, then lifted a finger.
"But he might go back for loot if he thinks Ares only destroyed it to make a point..."
Joxer shook his head with a clank.
"He'd only send some minion in for that menial task!"
Ares glanced at them both with aggravation.
"Will you stop talking about me like I'm not here?!?"
"Sorry," Xena and Joxer said in unison. Gabrielle looked at them both in shock, then pursed her lips angrily, walking ahead with defiant strides.
"But then again," Joxer muttered, looking up at Xena, "If he has all those spies then he probably knows that it's not destroyed anymore. You were right in the first place!"
He rolled his eyes at himself disappointedly, but Xena was just smiling.
"You see I didn't have to explain why we're heading there to you, you figured it out yourself!"
Joxer glanced up at her with wide eyes.
"You mean you already thought of that?"
Xena's brows twitched down slightly with a smile.
Joxer rolled his eyes again and clanked on, a little behind Gabrielle.
The before mentioned bard scowled.
Xena was teaching *him* stuff. Not only that, Joxer was getting all close with her. Gabrielle nearly jumped out of her skin at the revelation before her. She was jealous, of Xena, over JOXER! And Joxer of Xena at the same time, Xena being her hero to her as the sidekick.
As her mind moved over the previous night's happenings she burned inside, remembering full well why she was getting jealous. Now she understood where the 'Mighty' part came from!! He was the most considerate love maker she had ever had, seeing as the last one was Perdicas, a farm boy and a soldier, she really had only him to compare to, but from the rare girlie talks she managed to have with Xena she figured men took what they wanted and left it at that. Perdicas was tender, but not a lot different. He wanted a lot from it she guessed, where as Joxer, as much pleasure as he gained, was totally selfless. He seemed to find joy in bringing her joy... She had fallen asleep in shock and wonderment. She looked to him again briefly. He was deep in thought, about what she didn't know. Probably thinking of warlords and strategies... and she sighed sadly, wishing he would stumble or trip, at least flash a goofy grin. He kept looking ahead with a long pout, his eyes squinting at the bright day ahead.
Joxer, the Mighty, thought about sitting by a campfire, eating sweets, curled up with a beautiful strawberry blonde bard, singing old tunes to the even older stars... and he missed her terribly.
Mallecium sat at the makeshift throne in the tent, fondling a long sleek dagger as he turned dark thoughts over an over in his mind with a menacing leer he took great pride in. His orange maddening knotted locks flailed down his ragged features, his crazy near white blue eyes the icy shallow of hail in the winter. Every now and again he would release a manic cackle, any sanity that the man once had in a distant childhood now decimated to the four winds as he grinned like a Kindly Ones' victim on a good day, his thoughts now that of a man possessed for one goal, one outcome, one end.
A soldier burst in with an unkempt salute, armour hanging off him awkwardly.
"What is it?" Mallecium asked, his eyes on the dagger, turning it over and over.
"The Warrior Princess is alone! There is no sign of the Athenian army for miles and if they were helping Xena they would be here by now!"
Mallecium rolled his eyes doggedly.
"That means nothing! The Athenian army aren't idiots, they wouldn't make their approach noticeable!!"
The soldier nodded slowly in agreement.
"And one of our spies reported back from Minoeta."
"Minoeta?!! I thought that place was gutted by Ares in one of his hissy fits!!"
The soldier bowed his head stiffly.
"This is true, but word is he restored it."
Mallecium raised an eyebrow.
"Aaah! To think I was gonna pass that little gem by!! Well! Is that it?"
"No sir, I also report that a thief was attacked by Xena-"
"Nothing new there!"
The soldier continued...
"And an unknown man Xena called Ares, fitting the description of the human God on the ship to Sisyphus' island, is accompanying her it seems."
Mallecium narrowed an eye.
"Are you telling me - Ares is mortal again?"
The soldier smirked.
"Better than that - he lost his Godhood when he lost his sword! The thief said finders keepers!"
Mallecium growled, then suddenly his voice roared up into a wild hoot, jumping to his feet.
"He ha ha HA!! I shall be God of War!! Xena crushed, and oh!!! What a day it will be!!"
"Yes my Lord," the soldier bent his head.
"Even the likes of Caesar would know to pay homage to me at the very sound of my terrifying name!! Hahaha HA!!!"
The soldier smiled amicably and bowed his head once more.
"My lord, what is the plan?"
Mallecium chuckled, "Same old, same old!! Xena will try to best me!! I know her style, and I know just what to expect!!"
Mallecium glared at the soldier, "She will not try to take on our whole army!! She was a warlord herself once and she knows how the system works. She will most likely try to take me out and turn you all against me"
The soldier looked uncomfortable a moment.
"No, I will let her lead herself into her own trap. We shall take Minoeta! It's a juicy little town, ripe and ready for picking! If she is any hero, she will try to stop us."
"What about Ares' sword?"
The ragged warlord nodded, scratching his fibrous beard.
"I will kill Ares, and I shall find the sword of the Godhood of War, after Xena is defeated."
The soldier bowed his head.
"Yes my lord..."
The soldier clankered from the tent, his sword wavering in the air behind him.
Mallecium grinned a dirty-toothed grin, chuckling and fondling his dagger once more.
Why stop at Godhood? When you could rule Olympus?
A voice slipped through from nowhere, female, crisp and harsh.
Mallecium's eyes darted back and forth, scanning the room for company.
"Who said that!?! Show yourself!!"
Suddenly the room grew cold and with a sudden harsh mist the steely presence grew into form, long blonde locks straggling down a pert deadly body. Callisto grinned.
"Hello Mallecium, I see you're meagre existence has been somewhat valued by the virtue of a small army you've roused together. How'd ya manage that?"
Mallecium shook uncontrollably, the last he had heard she was dead. Was she some terrible dream or apparition? He wildly stuttered out an answer.
"I-d-dah-dah Iyy-ah I m-murdered a khaa-" he coughed and out came a strangled, "warlord."
Callisto rose her eyebrows with some doubt.
The fiery headed man, his thinly lined brow beaded with sweat, let out a sigh.
"Okay okay, When Draco's army abandoned him when he turned good - I convinced them to follow me... and I've been making fabulous progress!!"
Callisto unsheathed her sword, looking up and down it's shaft lovingly.
"Yes, yes I can see that, "Her icy shoal eyes turned to his, "You know, I've been watching you and I like what I see..."
The young warlord's jaw fell open as Callisto planted an armoured knee between his thighs, leaning on the throne at which he sat. She dropped the sword at his shoulder, running it across them idly.
"Yes it reminds me of my own progress when I was taking over the world..."
With an abrupt strangled gasp Mallecium felt the blade of the sword press against his neck, not right along the edge so it sank into his flesh, but at an angle so it painfully seared his flesh, making a messy rough graze, taking off wide layers of flesh with his every move. It was no surprise that after a moment he kept deathly still.
"I want you listen Mallecium, listen very carefully because right now your life is worth as much as the boar you ate for breakfast."
He nodded maniacally.
"There is a man, a woman, and a horse that I want. While you're at it get her two little friends."
Mallecium's eyes moved to her tightening grip of the sword.
Callisto leered, taking every bit of pleasure in her evil existence.
"You have to ask?"
Mallecium nodded, eyes fluttering closed tiredly, the ridiculous amounts of adrenaline in his veins making him feel sick, his muscles shuddering.
"You want Xena... Why?"
The grip tightened again and he gasped for air again.
"Don't play stupid, you know exactly what I want her for - and her companion!"
"The... sword... of... A-ares!!"
Callisto blinked and looked down at him with wide eyes, and she chuckled.
"That's exactly what I want her for!" she said, "I want you to find her, capture her and her friends! Don't kill her. That's my job!"
With a rough shove she pushed Mallecium from the chair, he tumbled onto the floor, gasping and scrawling for air. Cradling the hilt of the sword Callisto took her place in the throne, the former lord on the floor, hand clasped to a bleeding rather mildly cut throat. Callisto raised an eyebrow.
"Is there something you wanted?"
Mallecium shook his head through strangled gasps.
"Then leave me - go get what I asked you to get before I get impatient."
She eyed him, and he scuttered out the door. The straggly locked Goddess leant back in the chair with an uncomfortable wince, and with that she flicked her hand, transforming it into something a little grander and suited to her tastes. Leather, blackened wood and metal rests with gleaming curves formed under her and she leered.
"Hmm he was easier to boss around than I expected..."
An amorphous cloud behind her congealed to a shapely woman, the raven curls framing her face.
Artemis rose an eyebrow.
"Don't get too complacent," she said, "Mortals are tricky. Very clever at times, well, clever for them."
Callisto's eyes glinted. With an abrupt inward breath Artemis bounced around the chair, grinning.
"Oh now it will only be a matter of time!!"
She whirled around to Callisto, placing her hands on the arm-rests leaning in.
"You gave him the speech then?"
Callisto pursed her lips with a wry risen brow.
"Of course I did and he fell for it!" she ran a finger up the edge of the chair near her face, "Don't you trust me Artemis?"
Artemis rose an eyebrow, her full pink lips taught.
"He fell for the Olympus rouse?"
Artemis lent in close, examining her old friend's features. Callisto sighed inwardly. She didn't want to have to shag another God into submission, as she had Ares...
Artemis ran a finger down the scar on the younger woman's right cheek, letting her risen eyebrow fall.
"Hercules will pay for that one too!"
With a huff she pushed herself from the throne and whirled around, disappearing into nothing.
Callisto let out a sigh of relief.
Argo puffed and snorted on her own in the town of Minoeta, eating the second-rate oats the keeper had given her. She whinnied with dissatisfaction, she wanted her friend, not this unfamiliar ugly thing that fed her crud. She heard Xena's footsteps grow quieter, till all she heard was the playing children outside the barn, the inane twittering and chirping of the swallows in the rafters and the clanging of the nearby blacksmith.
Gabrielle's felt the gravely sand scrape away at her kneecaps, and as the flesh reddened and grew dry with dust, she began to wish she had higher boots like Xena, or pants like Ares and Joxer.
The bushes surrounded them, the grey dry dead scrub lining new green foliage, the untrodden ground thick with twigs and underbrush. She crawled painfully, trying to keep as quiet as possible. She was past aggravated and was verging on depressed. Joxer was not talking to her. Xena was too busy with Ares and his Godhood to notice, and now she was bringing up the rear in thick never before travelled forest floor.
"Can't we just go along a track?" she had asked.
"No," Xena had replied, "We have to me seamless in our approach."
To rub salt in the wounds, she was immediately behind Joxer for some absurd reason, Xena muttered something about Gabrielle being the only one that could defend in a rear attack. Ares followed Xena, too busy watching her ample rear in his face to feel or worry about the supposed pain his hands should have been in from the unforgiving forest floor. Gabrielle had a similar problem, the man's rear in front of her frustrating her so she wasn't sure if she wanted to bite it or stick the furry end of her staff up his orifice. She sighed sadly at the thought, a thought that led to other thoughts she really didn't want to be thinking at that point in time, and kept on, instead concentrating on the searing pain in her palms.
"Ares I can see that hand," Xena growled quietly.
Dark moody grumbles came from the pseudo God's crouched form.
Xena looked towards the encampment, coming to a halt.
"About twenty men guard the camp - two for the warlord tent, two for armament, only one for every other tent. They also patrol the border... Mallecium should be in the tent over there." She pointed through a thatch, "See?"
The two men nodded, Gabrielle following where they were looking. Something felt wrong. She could feel it in the pit of her stomach, and it churned with a sickly growl.
"Xena, we can't go in there..."
Xena looked at Gabrielle with a frown.
"Why not Gabrielle?"
She looked toward the tented camp, and a shudder ran down her spine.
"I don't know why, something tells me we shouldn't go in there..." Her eyes fell down to Xena's, "What are we gonna do?"
Xena pursed her lips hard, looking at the camp with a worried glare.
"Gabrielle - you go to Minoeta on Argo and hurry, here," Xena stopped and pulled out her pouch of dinars, "I want you to find Centris - she should help you get some clay pitchers and some oil and thick twine - tell her I sent you," Xena turned in the crouch to Joxer, "Joxer, I want you to do something for me..."
Mallecium stuck his head in the tent.
The throne, now black and gleaming rather than a warm redwood, sat empty.
With a grin he crept across the room and sank into the throne, though uncomfortable the power cushioned him well enough!! He growled to himself.
Callisto had all but taken over his wonderful campaign, and he did little now but run errands for her. Nevertheless, it wouldn't last long. He had his plans, and he knew a thing or two about taming Gods. For now he would milk her for what she was worth, her expertise and ruthlessness a definite plus. There was a clanking at the door and a guard stuck his head in the entrance.
"My Lord, a representative of Xena the Warrior Princess is here to see you!"
Mallecium raised a fascinated brow.
"Bring him in!"
With more clanking, a lanky, strangely clad young man, with purposefully pursed lips, strode into the tent, stopping before Mallecium and bowing his head promptly.
"What do you want?" the warlord growled.
"Xena wants you to stop attacking the villages, and return their possessions..."
Mallecium, with raised waywardly long eyebrows, burst into laughter.
"Are you serious?" he gasped for air, "You can tell Xena I have no intention of returning anything, and as far as those lovely little villages are concerned - she will have to stop me herself!! HAhaha!"
Joxer shook his head and shrugged.
"I dunno, the Athenian Army won't be too happy about this you know..."
The warlord looked at Joxer through the cackle a moment and chuckled again, pointing at Joxer with a confident growl.
"Aaah, that's the oldest trick in the scrolls, HAhahaha, Athenian Army my old MOTHER! HAHAHAhahaha!!!!!"
"Well, I warned ya! You know I think Xena will be really disappointed in you Mallecium," Joxer cocked his hip and pointed at him with expressive gestures, "I think she thought you were better than most of the other warlords, perhaps even Draco as far as, you know, tactics and stuff goes..."
Mallecium glared at the fool incredulously.
"Anywho!" Joxer continued, "I'll be seeing ya!"
He whirled around and strode back out the leather flap of the entrance, Mallecium still bewildered in his throne.
As the flap fell back behind him, Joxer continued his confident gait past the guards and the garrison, keeping his eyes toward the forest. He shuddered nervously, remembering his instructions carefully, whistling loudly and noticeably. He swaggered past a few guards sitting haphazardly around a wine keg table under a canvas canopy, raising his eyebrows at them as he passed, swinging his legs high in his stride.
"Righting wrongs and siiiiiiiinging songs! Being MIGHTY aaaaall day LOOOOOONG!" he sang loudly and off key, "He's JOXer! He's JOXER the MIGHTY!!! OHHHHHHH! He's JOXER the MIGHty, He's really TIdy..."
The guards turned their heads to the loud blustering merry-andrew] wearing the wayward conical hat, incredulity read in their bewildered features.
"Who're you singing about?" one guard asked with a rusty voice.
Joxer rose a dark eyebrow.
"Don't you know?" he asked with great distaste.
The guard shook his head, fascinated.
"The one and only Joxer the Mighty!" he answered, flinging his lax pale hands in his own direction.
"And that be you?" another guard chuckled.
"Of course," he said, "Are you telling me you fools haven't heard of me?"
Most of them shook their heads.
"Where have you been?" he exclaimed, "I'm the greatest warrior since Hercules! I even travel with Xena!!"
"You travel with the great Warrior Princess?" chuckled the first guard with disbelief, and Joxer nodded. As he did uproarious laughter burst from the group.
Gabrielle glanced up at the laughter and her heart rate increased tenfold. She looked to Xena next to her set out the pots she gathered, with the small openings like she had asked, and she now knew what Xena had in mind. It was a similar plan to when Callisto was in a cave near Amphipolis, and they had used the same equipment to scare the men out. Xena also had heard the laughter, and she stood slowly and smiled a thin smile.
"Xena, what is he doing? He is going to get himself killed!"
She swore to herself. Damned fool! He was a damned fool! Why the hell she gave a harpies tooth about the guy escaped her, at this moment she would have rather thrown him off the nearest cliff. Just when she had thought something had changed in him, he goes and completely proves her wrong!! And Xena must have been soft in the head to sit by and leer as Joxer got himself in deeper and deeper-
Gabrielle glared at Xena.
"Is this a part of the plan?" she gasped, thrusting a finger in Joxer's direction.
Xena smirked and filled another clay pot with oil.
"Keep your eye on him, we may need to bail him out, but not yet!"
The bard shook her head, a warm sickly pain trickling into her insides as she crouched down into the undergrowth and loaded the hand-held slingshot as Xena filled the last pot.
"This is a part of the plan?"
"I can't believe you didn't tell me the plan..."
"You were in Minoeta when we implemented it!!" Xena exclaimed in a hoarse whisper, "It was a matter of time okay?"
Gabrielle gazed at Xena a long moment, her friends cool eyes assuring. With a quick smile Xena glanced to the dark man behind her.
"Now, Ares, is that backpack fitting right?"
Ares crouched next to her with a baggy empty sack on his back, the straps sitting firmly on his ample shoulders.
"I feel like a dork."
Xena looked at him squarely.
"Shut up and do as I say," she admonished with a hint of jocularity, "I told you what to do and I want you to do it quickly okay?"
"I'm no child Xena, I understood what you said!"
Gabrielle stood, aiming the slingshot carefully at the nearby tent.
"Why are we using the slingshot and not the chakram?" she asked.
"Because, the chakram is larger than a small rock and far more noticeable..."
Gabby looked down at Xena blankly and nodded, "I knew that, I really did."
She raised the sling over her head, and slowly began to twirl it, gaining speed steadily, till the sling whistled a low note above her head. Xena crouched, her own pack loaded with the oil filled pots, Ares next to her also ready. One pot sat next to the bard, also filled with oil, reed twine packed in the nozzle. Xena glanced at the sling, excitement and determining in her eyes.
With a swift whoosh the rock hurled from the length of leather in the bard's hand, and flew its way towards the nearby tent.
The guard at the armament tent looked at the gentle fine day around him contentedly. His fellow guard leered at him stupidly in camaraderie.
There was an odd whoosh.
Before he could look up to see what it was, he felt an earth shattering clod.
The other guard was astounded as his friend fell unconscious to the floor. He stepped forward to examine his friend but he didn't get very far when a clod soon shattered his brain as well.
Blackness engulfed the both of them.
"Go!" Xena hissed.
She sprang from the bushes in a low crouch, sprinting to the armament tent, keeping an eye on everything around her. Behind her Ares mimicked her movements, doing his best to be graceful, it was somehow more challenging in a human body, little things like twitches and spasms sometimes throwing his balance. They didn't have to run far, and they dove into the tent, pulling their backpacks off simultaneously.
Xena pulled the pots, all filled with oil and reed twine jammed in their nozzles to stop leakage and to act as a crude fuse, into a pile in the centre of the space. The sizeable pots of oil were nestled to spear racks, arrow supplies, bows and maces, menacing weapons all conveniently lined and made of wood. Ares pulled out his oil pots, placing them down, Xena continually moving and quiet.
There was a rustle behind them, Ares jumping. Xena glanced at him with a wry grin.
"It's only me!" Gabrielle pulled a backpack off, "Where do these go?"
She pulled out more pots, and Xena smiled.
"All around here, just put them where I tell you!"
Ares watched Xena as he placed down his pots, smiling slightly as he took in her serious expression.
"I can still see the love of war in your eyes," he said softly, roughly, "It's good to know I still have a place in your heart."
Xena pursed her lips in a stony pout, not looking at him, tending to her duty.
"I'm doing what I have to do," she said.
Ares nodded, "I never questioned that Xena, I'm just saying as much as you act like you despise me, you need me. Without me, you wouldn't be here right now."
Xena slammed down a pot and glared at him,
He calmly gazed at her blazing eyes, the fire of anger burning in them, the blue so hot with rage he felt a wonderful shudder down his spine. He liked how it felt, it was so much stronger in this body...
Xena lowered her eyes back to the pots, taking out the last of them from the sack.
"One thing you might never learn Ares, is that there is more nobility in throwing your sword to the dirt than in slicing it through your foe. I know I owe my life to mercy. As do you."
With a push she jumped to her feet, grabbing Gabrielle and racing out of the tent silently. All the pots were set. Ares scampered after them.
"You enjoy it, "he said, diving into the bushes after the two women, finding his feet again.
Xena said nothing.
"The planning, the setting of traps," he slowed his speech in a seductive tone, "The conquering..."
She breathed through her nose, the rage inside her bubbling and brewing like a bad wine, like magma that is at the completely wrong temperature and had to explode. She ground her teeth together, and did the only thing she could. With a soft grunt she wrapped her hand around Ares' muscular neck, squeezing tight and with lethal force.
"Now you listen to me you son of a bitch," she rasped with rage, "You either keep quiet and do as I say or you get this" she pulled out her chakram, "In the leg, got it?" Xena suddenly leered with gleaming eyes, "Won't kill ya but you'll know what REAL pain feels like!!"
Ares, being a man of Godhood, didn't flinch, he held her glare as best he could, even though he could barely breathe. Xena lowered her eyes and let him go with contempt.
"Are we ready to fire the last oil pot?" Xena asked Gabrielle. Gabrielle nodded, lighting a torch patiently.
Xena took it, touching the fire to the reed, the fire catching on the twine.
With a powerful swing she sent the pot hurtling towards the armament tent...
Joxer wheezed as the guard tightened his grip of the lanky warrior's pale neck, blood dripping from his nose.
The other guards surrounded him, leers pasted all over their ugly dirty faces. He felt his toes tingle from the lack of blood, his vision hazing up with colourful patterns.
"So, you're Mighty are you? HAhahaha, let's see how mighty you are with your guts on the floor!"
The group of officers burst into laughter.
Joxer prayed to Zeus Xena was on schedule.
The guard dropped Joxer on his rear, whirling about with wild eyes.
"The armaments!!!" He spun around to Joxer, sending his arm flying to smash the man in the face.
The guard's fist swiped thin air and he growled. The rest of the officers had raced to the armament tent to stop it from burning to the ground. Joxer got to his feet shakily, the guard lunging him with another fist. With all his strength he stepped back, trying to keep his balance, and the guard again only hit air. The guard was now very very angry. There was a strange holler in the distance, high pitched, maddening, and the roar of attacking men, the guard's stomach churned as he knew they were largely weaponless, and they had little hope of standing up against the Warrior Princess. He turned his eyes back to Joxer, who stood there motionless, regarding his own wounds... He would kill this cowering fool.
He raised his sword high in the air...
Mallecium heard the explosion from his command tent and he sprung to his feet, grabbing his weapon and standing to bound out the door. The warlord, young yet seasoned, readied himself for a long tiresome yet victorious battle! As he got to the leather flap an invisible force stopped him.
"Oh no you don't Mallecium..."
He spun around, the ragged blonde locked Callisto smiling icily.
"What are you doing?" he howled.
"Xena's mine to kill..."
Flicking a wrist in his direction, Callisto watched fire engulf the man, he roared in agony as it ate away at him slowly, the smell of his own burning flesh filling his lungs. Callisto laughed long and maniacally.
Xena swung her elbow hard and it jarred into the ribs of the heavy body sailing towards her.
With a rough yell it fell to the ground. She swung around.
Ares was nowhere to be seen.
"Son of a Bacchae!!" she growled. A man flung himself at Xena and she send a scissor kick into his guts. He howled in agony. "ARES!!! GET OUT HERE IN THE NAME OF ZEUS! WE NEED YOU!!"
Xena was soon distracted by a burly man fortunate enough to have a sword to wield. She deflected his blows with ease, his strength his only advantage as his creativity with the sword was minimal, a sign of his stupidity. Smoke billowed from the blazing tent, the fierce crack and whistle of wood splintering, shrinking and blackening, the metal spear tips and swords growing ashen and scorched in the searing inferno.
Gabrielle swung her staff and knocked a large man over with a swift whack to his shins. Another man ran at her and a quick jab to his guts disabled him. From the corner of her eye she could see Ares tentatively creep out from the bushes, grabbing a wayward sword on the ground. He glanced up at the flying bodies and chaotic struggle, and crept back into the bushes somewhat.
Ares shuddered. He felt the adrenaline make his stomach growl uncomfortably, he wanted to run. The blood running from the limbs of the wounded made him feel ill for some reason, it never did before, but somehow the possibility of that pain, that vulnerability happening to him frightened him to death. He watched Xena deflect blow after blow, disabling the largest warrior with a well placed kick and parry. He still felt exhilaration as he watched her fight, she must have been so brave to put herself at risk like that. What motivated her to risk so much for other people? Why couldn't he find that in himself - he stopped. Xena brought her sword up, knocking back a downward sword, another man threw a blow in her direction, and she deflected it easily. As the two men she fought occupied her frontal defences, a wounded soldier crawled up from the ground behind her, and as he rose to his feet, dagger in hand, it could be seen he was not wounded at all...
Something in Ares turned to fire. Before he could think his thighs pushed at the ground and he sprang to his feet, pounding the earth, racing forwards, mucky bloody blade glinting in the sunlight. Xena knocked back the two men in front of her and another came at her, the man behind her taking his time to place the stab effectively... Ares bolted, raising his sword high, and with an enraged grunt brought the sword down into the man's shoulder, slicing into his dorsal muscle and clavicle bones. The blow made a terrible sickening crunch. With a half hearted swipe Xena downed too more men, and she whirled around to see what was going on behind her. Ares pulled himself up, glancing at Xena, there was a wild rush behind him..
"ARES!!" Xena tried to jump forward, push Ares aside, but a body came flying at her, blade sharp and lethal, she dove and weaved, knocking the man off his feet. She was suddenly knocked to the ground, blades clanging over her head, a heavy body lay on top of her and she could see little. Her eyes searched for Ares, her heart thumped in her chest as she saw no sign of him anywhere, till suddenly the body on top of her pulled her up to it and held her tight only for a moment. It set her to her feet and as her eyes focused in the din the raven framed face in front of her became clear.
"Ares..." she rasped, sword being shoved in her hand by the once God. She never thought he'd - he was actually - Before she could think much more three more men came forward with swords blazing.
Xena deflected more blows, not far off she could hear Gabrielle shouting - she stepped through the fight to take a look at her friend.
Gabby's strawberry blonde hair billowed behind her as she sent men flying with a thwack to the legs and guts, running towards the centre of the encampment, smoke pending the visibility was awful.
She'll be all right, Xena thought, the strong back of Ares warm behind her, the both of them fending off attack, She's off to find Joxer...
"Xena," Ares said through the attack, "Soon thing's will be okay, the 24 hours are nearly up, I'll be a God once more!!"
Xena nodded at him through the fight, half relieved, half disappointed...
Joxer saw the man's arms raised, sword up high, and his legs grew shaky at the sight of the enraged man.
Without a thought he charged the officer, butting him in the guts with the point of his helmet.
The soldier howled in agony, rolling to the ground a moment, coughing and spluttering trying to find his feet. Joxer kicked the sword away, it slid across the dusty ground. He stepped back.
Uh oh, he thought, I'm in trouble...
The large burly man breathed deeply, rage coursing through his veins that bulged from his dirty muscular forearms. He got to his feet, fists in balls.
"Little man," he growled, "You are going to know what it is to die a slow horrible death!!"
The officer sent a blow to Joxer's head, bowling the young man to the ground. He drew his boot dagger and stabbed at Joxer's gut, before the blade reached its target however Joxer rolled, painfully slow. The blade sliced into his skin, blood gushing in the superficial wound. The man dropped the dagger, scrambling for the sword, and grabbing it he pinned Joxer down, gripping his creamy white face in his large dirty hands, blood smeared all over them...
He placed the blade of the sword against Joxer's face.
"I'm gonna slice your face open..." the brute chuckled, "And I'm gonna skin you alive, my my I'll make sure you die in agony you little shit..."
Joxer edged his hand closer to the small blade, he could feel the cold steel near his hands.
The edge of the sword broke his skin on his cheek, with a sickening release he felt it slide through his flesh.
With all his strength he grabbed the dagger, ready to plunge it into his attacker's chest-
With pounding steps a staff came from nowhere, knocking the man in the head hard he fell on top of Joxer with a dull thud.
The body on top of him lifted, he could finally breath. His face was searing heat, past pain, the blood spilling down his face and neck. Gabrielle pulled him to her, settling him into her lap and gently holding the sizeable cut on his face together.
"Oh Joxer," she sniffled, "Look what he did to you!"
"Gah-ugh-" Blood spilled into his mouth as he tried to talk.
"Shhh, keep still," she said, her eyes searching for some cloth. She tore some from the barrel table behind her, ripping it deftly with a tug. She dipped it in water from the table, adding some wine, and pressed it against Joxer's wound.
"My... my back, "he rasped. Rolling him on his side she lifted the blood-soaked shirt, and winced.
"That's quite a wound... I'm just gonna lay you on the ground while I prepare a dressing..."
Gently laying him down, she rose, pulling the rest of the cloth from the table behind her, readying it as a bandage. She heard the fighting in the distance, the dank smell of burnt wood and flesh hung in the air. Her heart beat hard in her chest, fighting back tears. Anger filled her, but she tried to keep it subdued, the man it was directed at was out cold. She directed her attentions to healing Joxer, and tried to block out the surrounding hell.
Joxer lay still, the pain overwhelming him, what was once shock passed into searing fire, even the blood not relieving his pain. Gabby's firm precise blow still in his mind he wished he could have smiled, more-over he wished he could have done the same in return to the man's assaults, but he knew he wasn't capable. He heard a rustle next to him, he thought it was Gabrielle, till the sword he saw raising again came down on him.
"By the Gods, NO!!!"
Before she could deflect the blade the sword made a sickening splotch, sinking deep into Joxer's abdomen, blood spurting up the sword, staining it a vital crimson.
"Joxer! No!! Joxer!!"
It was more than rage that coursed through Gabrielle, spinning around she glared at the man, who rose to his feet shakily. She grabbed her staff, rising to meet his frightened glare, and before she could move the man bolted. Luckily, she thought, he's running towards the battle.
"Joxer!!" she fell to her knees next to him, "Hang in there Joxer, please... Xena will be here soon, she can save you!"
Joxer's pain glazed eyes turned to hers, a soft smile playing on his blood stained lips.
"I'm suh- sor-ry," he coughed, blood gurgling inside his throat, "I was- -kaah- angry w-with you... It's not you're fault -kaaah KAH- I'm so embah- r- hs-ing."
Gabrielle held back a sob, she sniffled, cradling his face.
"You know how we were caught together in the water and I hid and you said you would have done the same thing if you were me?"
He nodded a tiny bit through the pain.
"I know for a fact Joxer you would never do anything like that ... and If I were there now maybe things would have been different..."
The corner of his mouth lifted fractionally in a smile, his eyes were becoming more distant by the second, she knew he had little time left.
Gabrielle lifted her head.
Amongst the smoke and groans of the wounded, no sound of clashing blades ensued.
She gripped at Joxer's shoulders.
"Shh, Xena should be here-"
There was a pounding of earth, and in a rush of stirred dust, Xena and Ares skidded to a halt in the doorway. Ares watched Xena as her face fell in grief, she stepped to the fallen man in her friends arms slowly, sinking to the floor.
"Oh, oh - no," she shook her head, her fingers clambering to find her friend's hand. She gripped it, tears welling in her eyes. "You did good Joxer, you did good, now do more good for me and hang in there!"
She took the cloth in Gabrielle's lax hands, her hands diving in around Joxer's waist and tightening the cloth that followed them. Ares watched her fight a different battle, the tears raging in the woman's eyes no clear indication of her control. She was doing everything she could to stop the waning of life in the young man before her. Gabrielle only sat in shock, blood dripping from her hands.
Around his neck the amulet thrummed, and he looked down at his mortal body.
He had no serious wounds, a few nicks, cuts but he was largely unhurt.
Soon, soon they would disappear, he could feel it in the metal that burned at his chest.
He looked down to the sobbing women, and the limp body between them.
The pain and grief in Xena's eyes was fire as she tried to save her friend... he couldn't cope, a new feeling was growing and aching inside him - he could not stop himself, he growled with disgust.
"Here!!!" he cried, lifting the amulet off his chest and stomping to Joxer, "Put this on him now!"
Xena gazed up at him with reddened eyes, "Your amulet..."
"Xena, what does now mean to you?" he said with some urgency.
There was a piercing explosion, the ground in front of the tent rumbled and the tent blew away like a leaf. A clearing surrounded them, tent pickets sticking up like stripped saplings.
Two figures stood in the blinding light, and as it receded they became clear.
"Get that thing away from him now!!"
Gabrielle squirmed underneath Joxer as the two glowing angry forces stormed towards them. The light receded, the long raven locks of Artemis billowed about her face, the blonde slender form beside her tense in urgency. Ares grabbed the amulet from Xena, lunging forward to put it around Joxer's neck.
"NO!!" came a booming molecule shuddering cry.
Ares felt a blast at his chest and he flew backwards, the amulet slipping from his fingers and dropped into the soft sand near Gabrielle.
Callisto chuckled, pulling out her sword.
"Hmm, I'm going to enjoy skinning you Ares," she smirked, strolling casually towards the amulet, "After I am the Goddess of War..."
A muscular leg stood on the amulet, high booted brown skin flexed as Xena picked it up, dangling it in her fingers. She narrowed her eyes at Callisto.
"Not yet you're not. Ya want it huh? Well why don't you just come and GET IT!!"
With an insane scream Xena flipped in the air, Callisto flipping after. Mid jump Xena flung the amulet to Gabrielle, the bard catching it deftly. Xena could see in Callisto's eyes that she didn't care about the amulet that moment, all she wanted was to see Xena dead. With a rough scream Callisto crashed her sword against Xena's, pulling it down and giving it a twist, and it flew away from the warrior, sliding along the ground as it landed. Xena glared at her sword all those feet away, even all her strength could not deflect that blow!! Dread built up inside her and she glanced back to Callisto, the blonde locked woman had her sword up high ready to sink it into Xena's insides. The sword wavered high as Artemis knocked it from her hands.
Callisto closed her eyes in frustration.
"WHAT are you doing Artemis?"
Gabrielle had placed the amulet on the thin leather rope around Joxer's pale neck. It sat there and hummed through the fight, and while the people around him bickered over power and other such irrelevant matters the amulet was glowing. The glowing spread, each wound on the sickly crumpled form flushing an ethereal blue. The glowing matter flowed over the blood, over the bruises and broken bones, and the deep red stains shrank away, his once square jaw straightened, as he inhaled he seemed to absorb the energies around him, becoming himself and somehow becoming more.
"Gabrielle..." he breathed, "What's happening to me?"
She couldn't say anything, she didn't know, she gazed at his dark eyes helplessly as they glinted with fear, as she gripped him tightly they even glowed with love as the amulet did its work. Suddenly it all drained away - the eyes were empty and he then blinked with utter utter horror. All the feelings he had were gone.
Gabrielle shook him slightly
"Joxer... are you all right?"
He wanted to cry, some wash of some distant emotion wanted to enrage his heart but all he felt was the billowing heat of battles in distant countries he suddenly knew everything about. He was suddenly something he never was before, something had taken him and he knew nothing of it.
Callisto screeched at Artemis suddenly, breaking Joxer's line of thought.
"WHAT are you doing Artemis?" she cried, "Are you crazy I could have finished her right now!!"
Artemis glared at her coldly.
"No Callisto, that is not how we conduct ourselves, Godling or no, we are Gods. And being Gods we adhere to certain unspoken rules. Number one, when one of us promises something to a mortal, it is done. That is that and the Furies will weave our words." Artemis gestured calmly towards Xena and company, "I told Xena's bard that no harm would come to her friend from the hands of a God, and that is how it will be. Only some other means of death will become her."
Callisto turned and approached the Goddess darkly.
"Artemis what were you thinking then when you made that decision?"
Artemis threw a glance at Xena and Gabrielle.
"As badly as they have fulfilled my expectations, I had already chosen their destinies long before now. They are my children Callisto, like you, like the Amazons and the women of Lesbos, and at their births I wished them to have the protection of the Gods. Since their growth and rather," she cleared her throat uncomfortably, "Debaucherous activities, they have grown out of favour with me. I had a hand in their creation, Gabrielle could have been the greatest Amazonian Queen that ever ruled, and Xena could have been even more. But you chose the path of lust, war, all these things that my stupid brother holds dear," She growled at Ares, who only sat on the ground with a resigned smirk.
"Expect this from her Callisto, Artemis is a traditionalist! Always being the good little Greek Goddess," he said matter of factly, "Decides to play with an old friend and doesn't realize that she's turned into a murderous warlord and wants to rule the world."
Artemis scowled at him.
"Oh I knew all right," she said, "It was just that a world ruled by a woman didn't seem so bad to me at the time..."
"So that's what this is all about," Xena said, pulling herself up off the ground, "A bit of anger between siblings that has gotten us mortals involved! Well we aren't gonna let you play with us this time!"
There was a sudden growl and Callisto dove for Ares, grabbing him by the throat. Gabrielle glanced at Xena spring on her feet, and before either of them could move an inch more, a white pulse blasted from Callisto's hands, and they felt their bodies seize, muscles turning to lead, and then cold cold stone.
They stood motionless like Roman painted sculptures.
"I've had enough of the squabbling!" Callisto pulled a dagger from the ground, "I've followed you around for long enough Artemis and I've come to the conclusion you have no idea what you're doing. I know what I want to do!"
Ares felt the grip tighten around his neck, the cold blade against his windpipe. Ares had feared for his life before in his times as a mortal but now he was truly terrified. But as the blade threatened to break the skin an electric blue bolt blasted Callisto backwards, sending her sliding across the sand stopping in a heap.
Joxer lowered his hand, the plasma that writhed and snaked from it making it's way back into it. He gazed at it in shock only for a moment, then looked to Callisto, getting to her feet mechanically. Artemis had froze in fear, gazing at her brother laid out on the ground. Without a thought she bound to Callisto, grabbing her by the shoulders.
"I love you! I taught you everything I knew, I cared for you enough to bring you from the ground and give you another chance!! Now you betray me this way and try to murder my brother!!"
Callisto cocked her head with a wry smile, brown eyes gleaming.
"Artemis, you're a fine hunter but as a strategist you leave much to be desired," she pulled out her sword, wavering it in the air as the breeze whipped her icy blonde locks. "Trying to capture Ares' Godhood, great move. Making him human, even better, but then what - you push him around a bit, cause him discomfort. At worst you were going to leave him as a human! What a painful existence."
"What would you have me do, kill my own brother?" she cried.
Callisto smirked confidently.
"Why not, you would have him mortal, that's as good as killing him..."
Ares could barely move from the blast. He was touched by Artemis' sudden concern for his life, but he knew that as a good Greek God, she would have no real harm done to him, not he the spawn of Zeus. He glanced at Joxer, who stood motionless, the complete lack of strong emotions obviously a terrible shock to the young soul.
"Pssst!!" he hissed.
Artemis and Callisto continued to argue.
"Joxer over here...."
The jet-black crowned young man turned his head slowly to Ares, the power in his movements somehow misplaced and dangerous. This guy was a walking cyclone, he knew it. The power of War in such unkempt hands was a terrifying concept.
"Take the amulet off - give it to me!!" he whispered.
Ares gestured him over. Joxer did not move.
"The power of Godhood is contained to the amulet!! When you take it off your mortality will be restored!!"
His eyes sparkled a moment, then waned.
"But if I take it off - I'll die..."
Ares looked pained a moment.
"You might. As long as the amulet of the War God is around your neck, it can be stolen, and with it your Godhood. Only around my neck can the Godhood of War be restored from the amulet."
Joxer glanced down at the thin amulet a moment, it thrummed at his chest.
"Why did you put it on me when you were gonna take it back anyway - why let me live then have me die?"
"It gave you a chance to live. Before, it was a certainty, with the amulet you now have a chance."
Joxer watched Callisto smirk nonchalantly at Artemis who seethed with rage, being betrayed and used by this Godling. He lifted the amulet from around his neck, reaching towards Ares as it dangled in his fingers...
Artemis felt tears sting her eyes.
"You were like a daughter to me Callisto, one I could never have!"
Callisto smothered a wince, her words touched a terribly vicious nerve.
"My mother is dead."
Something glinted in the corner of her eyes.
She spun around, Joxer's fingers releasing the thin leather necklace that was attached to the amulet, and it dropped around the once God's neck.
As the amulet touched Ares light burst from him radiating brightly, and oscillating a moment the glow receded back to him, his movements and existence having the power of the cosmos once more. With a thrust of a muscled arm Xena and Gabrielle dropped the the floor, rage in the Warrior Princess' eyes.
"Thank you Joxer," he said arrogantly, "Now, to deal with you..."
He grabbed Callisto.
"My my, you have misbehaved. No matter."
Glancing at him, Callisto grinned maniacally with resignation.
With a shower of sparkles they disappeared.
Silence engulfed the clearing. It lasted only a moment, Gabrielle's anxious huffs filling the air.
She pushed at the ground, trying to get to her feet and a hand, shaking only slightly, reached out for her.
With a soft moan she grabbed it, letting it pull her to her feet and she pulled the body to her tightly.
Joxer held her, relief filling him as he stood, unharmed.
"Joxer," she sniffled, joyous tears welling in her eyes, "You're okay!! You're not a God?"
He pouted for a moment.
"Well, some would say so..."
Gabrielle grabbed his nose gently and twisted it a little, a mischievousness smile in her features.
"Aow!!" he complained jokingly, releasing a little laugh, till she pulled him by the nose closer and releasing it she kissed him softly. He lent into the caress, holding her gently, the full passion of the moment filling his mortal body again.
Artemis stood with the mortals, the charred remains of the encampment quivering in the now whipping gale. Xena walked towards her sedately, cocking an eyebrow with slightly pursed lips.
"All I want to know is why."
The Goddess frowned, her lips thinning bitterly.
"Believe it or not I loved Callisto dearly, and I thought that maybe with me she would change, remember the days of old when she was a child..."
"You can't change people, "Xena began.
"Oh you can, "Artemis said, "But they have to want to be changed first."
Artemis turned and approached Gabrielle who stood in Joxer's arms while holding his helmet in a lax hand. She turned to the Goddess, stepping back from the hold.
"You were going to let her kill Xena," she said, "Maybe even me."
Artemis pursed her lips into a little smile.
"Callisto was also a chosen one Gabrielle. She was to be the next princess of peace formed by my will," her dark eyes grew sad, "Xena destroyed all my hopes for her in her rage and anger that my brother had a hand in. Ares began this. It was him I wanted to see broken and tortured, not you."
Gabrielle nodded slightly, her eyes a little red from new tears.
"You lied to me..."
"I didn't lie to you Gabrielle, I was pleased about all the wonderful things you've done for woman-kind. It was a pity your purity had to be taken before you evolved. As a Virgin Goddess I find it hard to love those that are tainted by carnal desires, but, it is my nature. Gods are creatures of habit, this you should know."
Gabrielle smiled a little with an awkward giggle.
"The carnal desires are fun though, you should try giving into them sometime!"
Artemis glared at her a moment, then blinked slowly.
"I'll pretend I didn't hear that. Watch for my Amazons, keep them well Queen."
"I will," Gabrielle said.
She smiled, and walked into nothingness with a shower of sparkles.
It was a fitting place to hold the explosive Goddess, the lava that ran below him would carry her along, under the forests where the Centaurs frolicked, a place similar to one the young woman hunted in with the Goddess of all that resided within the green leafy domain of the forest.
Ares let her fall endlessly, down and down till she sank into the red hot running rock with a piercing screech, not of fury at defeat, but in pure frustration. The river ran along like before, regardless of the God within.
"How many times do we have to bury her?" a booming voice asked him.
"Hopefully this is the last time Father," Ares replied, "That is one psychopath this world could do without. Great warrioress, priorities are completely wrong."
Zeus nodded, gazing into the river with an old smile.
The two stood in silence, gazing down at the lava broiling, sharing the aural void with each other. Zeus stood resplendent in a soft white tunic with golden weave and a comfortable looking pair of golden togs with high boots. His grey short curled hair sat on top of his head, his dark lined eyes examining the lava with a wise frown.
Finally, Zeus spoke.
Ares glanced him a sideward look.
Zeus only looked at him with a penetrating stare.
His father kept at it and he growled.
"Son, you uh," he pressed his jaw down briefly, "Love this Xena woman don't you..."
Ares warm dark eyes shot up a moment and he took a long breath in through flaring nostrils.
"Love is a strong word, I respect her. She is a fine warrior."
Zeus chuckled and raised his eyebrows.
"Oh! Respect!" he laughed, "Aaah you can't deceive your old man. I know you, I been watching out for you for millennia! You haven't been this stuck on a mortal ever! You surprise me this time!"
Ares sighed doggedly.
"Xena is one of a kind."
"She'd have to be that's two of my sons that woman has had smitten! Those Furies know how to weave a girl!"
His son nodded with an agreeing purse of his lips.
There was silence again, the two of them regarding the lava.
"Oh well!" Zeus roared with a smile, whacking Ares' shoulder roughly, "Your persistence is certainly not in vain! I'll seeya round!"
As his father disappeared in a flash of white light he sighed softly, sitting down at the edge of a precipice, crossing his arms and resting his head in them. In all the war that raged in the back of his mind, the scuffle in a bar that was started with a soft sniffle of his nose, he still felt the the raging hotness he felt with her hand at his face only softer, gentler, paler. Sadly, it hung at him like a dream.
Xena ran the stone along the round edge of her chakram, it making a pleasant ring as it lifted off the blade. She shivered a little, the new wind whipping her legs and shoulders and she had no fire to keep her warm in the small clearing in the forest that surrounded her. She heard soft laughter nearby, and smirked. She had given Joxer and Gabrielle a little time together to mend their rift from before, though it didn't seem as though they needed her help much. She felt a presence, not as oppressive as she had thought it would have been, but there nonetheless.
"What is it?"
A soft pulse of sparkles fell in his shape and he stepped forward, a soft smirk on his lips.
"Relax Xena, I'm here to thank you for saving my life more than once. I'm surprised I survived that day, I'm even more surprised I let myself be at risk like that."
Xena now smirked.
"Godhood is lonely isn't it Ares?"
He was taken aback slightly by her question, he nodded.
"Yes, yes it is."
She smiled and Ares continued.
"Thanks for humouring me on that count. Only the Fates know what I was thinking."
She looked at him a moment, perched on the log next to her gazing at the ground sadly. Placing down her chakram, she slid a hand up his jaw and to the back of his neck, her fingers diving into his waved jet-black hair, and she kissed him passionately but briefly. As she released him he cocked an eyebrow with a little nod.
"Okay, what was that for?"
She smiled awkwardly, giving a thin purse of her lips.
"Saving my life, and Joxer's."
He nodded, "No problem, just don't ever mention it again."
Xena grabbed her chakram for the ground and continued to sharpen it.
"It was very good of you, that you took a risk, not once but twice," she shot a grin at him as he buried his eyes under his brow in an embarrassed smoulder, "Being human suits you."
He jumped to his feet, stretching his arms a bit.
"I'm glad you enjoyed it, it's not likely that it will happen again!"
"Whatever," Xena grinned.
With a cock of his brow Ares crossed his arms, letting the sparkles fall over him once more. He disappeared in a shimmer. With a small sigh Xena continued on her chakram.
"And who is the Mightiest Warrior of all?" Joxer asked in jest.
"Ummmm," Gabrielle narrowed her eyes, "Xena."
He rolled his eyes and she chuckled. She pulled him close on the furry pelts laid out next to the campfire, the fire crackling hungrily. Laying her head on his shoulder, she sighed.
"I'm really proud of you for standing up to that guard the way you did, you were very brave."
"I wish I could have stood up against him longer, I knew how to defend against him, I just didn't have the strength," he lifted a silky white arm and shook it, "See? Not a lot of muscle there."
Gabrielle took the arm by the wrist, bringing it down around her.
"The point is you stood up to him!"
"And still got to act like a jerk!" he added, "Where would Xena be without a fall-guy like me?"
Her hand dove into his tunic and she pinched a bit of skin with a twist, Joxer half yelping, half giggling.
"Ha-ha, aow! Okay," he winced, "I'll keep the ego in check."
"Good," Gabrielle smiled.
Their chuckles fell to silence, Gabrielle running her hands over his chest and neck softly, looking deep into his obsidian eyes with tenderness. There was something unique about this man she had refused to see for so long, like a new food she was afraid to try. She had to admit opening her eyes and actually sampling it took a lot of courage, but so was Joxer for sticking with her for so long, despite everything. Gripping his shirt and pulling herself closer in the embrace, she smiled.
"What was it like, being a God?"
Joxer let his eyes feast on her, her full lips, bright blue eyes and dainty nose, the whole beautiful package framed in long shooting locks of golden red hair. He felt her make his heart beat faster and rise in his chest, and his face blush, his skin tingling where her fingers roamed in his shirt. Taking her hand he squeezed her briefly, enjoying the feeling of her body against his.
"It was very lonely," he said, "And frightening."
Gabrielle nodded with a soft smile.
"I wrote a poem the other day, do you want to hear it?"
Joxer smiled and nodded.
"Yes, yes I do."
What is a hero?
Is it muscle?
Is it lack of fear of hate of weakness?
Is it how many you kill,
how many kings you fight for,
how many you'll save?
Is it legends and stories
people refuse to forget?
Is it the shine in the eyes
of an adoring youth,
ready to follow,
ready to aim?
I know a man who is known by no one,
Or at most a few.
His presence is peals of boast and
And when they see him fall
But when no one expects,
He does what he should,
His actions are stardust and silver,
And no one is told.
Only he knows.
Continue on to the sequel Brother & Brother & Brother
*chiton: an old style of dress that Greek people wore - rarely seen on Xena: WP. Think two sheets pinned together at the top hanging down over the body tied at the waist with some pretty rope or chain.
*oinichoe: a vessel used by ancient Greek people to hold wine and water which they would mix. (for the purpose of this story it ain't mixed.)
*kantharos: longish cups they would drink the wine from.