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By Rob Lent
VIOLENCE WARNING/DISCLAIMER: This story depicts scenes of violence and/or their aftermath. Readers who are disturbed by or sensitive to this type of depiction may wish to read something other than this story.
Disclaimer: The Characters appearing in this story are the property of MCA/Universal. No copyright infringment is intended. This story may be distributed freely, but may not be altered without my permission.
This is my first attempt at writing a Xena fanfic story. Thanks for reading it.
It was a beautiful spring day on the road to Attica, and Xena, Gabrielle and Joxer were in no great hurry. Xena said "We can take it easy the next couple days, we have plenty of time."
Gabrielle added "I'm glad we aren't rushed for a change. It's such a wonderful day, and everything is so alive." Gabrielle pointed ahead to Joxer who was several paces in front of the two women. For once, he wasn't behaving like Joxer the Mighty. He was examining a catepillar that he had found. Even Xena smiled. Peace was a rare commodity in all their lives, and Xena too often didn't take the time to enjoy the beauty of nature.
Joxer saw the two women looking at him, and he sheepishly put the catepillar back onto a leaf. He stood up straight and said "A warrior must know about all the creatures of the forest, you know." Xena replied "Yes, a warrior would never understand a butterfly if he did not understand the capetpillar." Gabrielle began to laugh, and Xena had difficulty holding back. Joxer did his best to look pained, but they were all feeling too good, and Joxer couldn't help but grin.
As Xena and Gabrielle walked ahead, Joxer said to himself "hmmmmm float like a butterfly, sting like a butterfly...."
That night, Xena caught a fish, while Joxer baked the fish with some honey that he had bought in the last village, and made biscuits, with which they used up the last of the honey. Gabrielle said "I'm stuffed. Joxer, I didn't know you could cook like that!" Joxer began to reply "Well, I'm a" when Xena and Gabrielle both echoed "man with many talents!" All three of them began to laugh. Xena said "We should turn in now. After that meal, we need our rest."
Gabrielle placed her bedroll next to Xena, while Joxer placed his across the fire from the two of them. Joxer began to sing "Joxer the Mighty", and Xena and Gabrielle both began throwing leaves at him. Xena said "Let's just get to sleep. Now." Joxer and Gabrielle both started giggling, and Xena turned away, and layed back down. She bit her lip to avoid giggling herself. The Warrior Princess does NOT giggle.
Soon Gabrielle and Joxer were sound asleep, and Xena lay looking up at the stars, and listened to the crickets and frogs. Appreciation of nature was another thing that she was learning from Gabrielle. Before she met her, she never had any reason to notice the stars except to navigate. It was too wonderful a night to get to sleep. Being careful not to wake Gabrielle, she stood up, and looked down at her two friends. She used to barely tolerate Joxer. He wasn't much of a warrior, but he had a heart as good as Hercules. Xena thought to herself that she should train with Joxer a bit, just go over a bit of the basics. He might never be much of a warrior, but she thought he could become competent, given enough time, and if the fates were kind. He was sort of like a kid brother, or at least a nephew.
Xena walked slowly, keeping an eye on the campsite, but enjoying the sounds and smells of the spring night. She felt like this could last forever, if the fates were kind. Just as she was walking back to the fire, there was a flash in front of her. "Ares." she said. "Come to spoil my evening again?" "And I'm glad to see you too Xena. What, no hug?" Ares held his arms wide and began to laugh. "Alright Ares, what do you want?" Xena said impatiently. Ares looked hurt and said "But I don't want anything at all. I'm only here to give you a choice."
Xena narrowed her eyes and said "What kind of choice? I don't have the patience for these kind of games." "Oh, it's no game. You see your two friends there?" Xena grabbed Ares by the front of his leather top and said "Whatever problems you have with me, leave them out of it. I don't want you hurting them to get to me!" Ares placed his hand on his heart and said "The God of War, always misunderstood! Everyone blames everything on me! Well, I will tell you this much Xena, it's not my doing."
"What isn't your doing, Ares?" Xena said suspiciously. "The Fates have ruled. Your two friends are to die." Xena tried her best to keep her composure and said "Why are you telling me this? Do you get some sick pleasure out of it?" "Xena, one god's pleasure is another man's sickness. But I said that I was willing to offer you a choice. Willing to listen?" Xena thought a moment, and reluctantly nodded her head. Ares continued "I made a deal with the Fates. I was able to talk them into sparing one of your friends lives." "Which one?" Xena countered. "That's the choice. You have to pick which one lives, and which one dies. Send away the one who you want to die. The one that stays with you will live."
Xena spat on the ground and yelled "I can't do that!" Ares shook his finger at Xena and said "keep it down. You really DON'T want them to hear you. Because if you tell either of them, they both die. The Fates had to go to a great deal of work to allow this choice. It's the only way. And make up your mind by morning, it's a limited time offer." Xena said "Wait, how do I know you are telling the truth?" Ares said "Have I ever lied to you before?" At the look that Xena gave him Ares continued "Ok. This time I'm telling the truth. So I swear upon Zeus, king of the gods. Remember - by morning." With that, Ares vanished. Xena returned to the fire, and sat down. Even if she could have slept, she owed it to whoever she chose that she would spend this last night watching over them.
Back in his temple, Ares laughed. He had told the exact truth. But it was no favor. True, the Fates had decreed that both Gabrielle and Joxer were to die. And he had made a deal with the fates. The reason that the past few days were so peaceful was the price that he had to pay to strike this bargain with the Fates. A week of peace. But, whatever decision that Xena made, it would darken her soul and bring her one step closer to giving up this path of hers, and bringing her around to his way of thinking. Ares laughter rang throug the halls.
As the sun came up, Xena knew there was really no choice. In her own way she loved Joxer like a nephew. No, at this moment, she had to be totally honest with herself. Joxer was like a brother to her. But as close as she was to Joxer, she was so much closer to Gabrielle. Gabrielle had to be her choice. Before she had changed the path of her life, she had chosen who lived and who died many times before. It was part of the darkness on her soul that she was trying to hard to make up for. This time she had to make this choice. She wondered to herself what pit in Tartarus was going to be her fate on the other side.
The sun was up, and she had to choose now, and be damned. Xena was not one to give up before every chance was tried, no matter how desperate. She hastily wrote out a note, and sealed it with candlewax. She look one last look at her two friends. One would die, and the other would never forgive her. She hastily woke up Joxer. She left Gabrielle asleep because she did not want to have to explain this to her yet. Sometime, she would have to, but not now. Gabrielle would never understand, and would try to find another solution. But there was no other solution. She had Joxer hastily pack his things. When Joxer was ready, she told him to get on Argo, and gave him the note. "I need you to go to Athens, and give this note to Hercules. Do NOT, under ANY circumstances, open this note, do not read it yourself, or give it to anyone but Hercules. And do not ask him what it is." Joxer took a deep breath and said "Uh, ok Xena, I got it. You can count on me. This is important, right? Xena took a deep breath and said "Yes. It's a matter of life and death. I can't tell you any more. Just take Argo to Athens as fast as you can. Get going." Joxer could see the urgency in her eyes, and his face filled with pride at the trust that Xena had placed in him. Argo galloped off down the road to Athens, taking Joxer with him.
Xena closed her eyes. She would forever remember seeing the pride in Joxer's face. She would forever remember the trust that was there too. The trust that she had violated.
Gabrielle woke up in time to see Joxer riding in the distance atop Argo and asked what he was doing. Xena responded "I sent him back to Athens to deliver a message to Hercules." Gabrielle looked at Xena with concern. "Everything was going so well. Did something happen during the night?" Xena took a deep breath, and said "I can't tell you right now." At the look that she got from Gabrielle, Xena said "I know. We are supposed to be able to tell each other everything. I promise. When we get to Attica, I will tell you everything. I promise." Xena had a pleading look on her face. "Alright, if it is that important. I trust you." Gabrielle was now very worried. The pain and anguish on Xena's face told her that there was going to be a long story.
Joxer sped along the path atop Argo. He knew that this must have been important for Xena to have had him ride Argo. He was tempted to read the note, but he would not violate the trust the Xena had placed in him. Besides, he had a strange feeling that more was at stake than he knew. As he passed by a farm near Athens, he saw smoke coming from a small house. He knew his mission was important, but he felt that Xena would stop and help, mission or not.
He stopped Argo behind a small grove of trees, and walked toward the house. He saw two warriors shaking down a farmer and his children. He looked again. They were no warriors merely common thugs with swords. He knew he had to do something. He learned enough from Xena that rushing right in wasn't always the best solution. "Divide and conquer," he thought to himself. He sent Argo down back to the road. As Argo trotted town the path, Joxer threw a stone into the woods along the path. The thugs turned to look, saw Argo, and one of them began to chase after Argo. Argo was taught this trick from Xena, and kept the thug from catching him while Joxer worked at his end.
Joxer crept towards the house, grabbing a wooden pole along the way. He tossed it to the farmer, and then yelled to the thug "Ha-HA! Cower in fear of Joxer the mighty!" while Joxer and the thug stood facing each other, with their swords drawn, the farmer clubbed the thug from behind. The thug collpsed on the ground. "One down, one to go," Joxer thought. He thought for a moment and stripped the thug of his armor, removed his own, and put on the thug's armor. He hid the unconscious thug in the weeds.
As if on cue, Argo came trotting back to the house. Joxer had his back turned to the new arrival. This family is playing along well, this could work. The thug walked up to him and said "Arcales, did they show you where they kept their money?" Joxer turned slowly, but instead of repying, he threw a bunch to the thug's midsection, and when the thug bent down more in surprise than pain. Joxer follwed up with an uppercut to his face. The thug fell to his knees, but recovered enough to drive his sword into Joxer's abdomen. As Joxer fell to ground, the farmer wasted no time in beating the thug with his stick.
The farmer ran to Joxer's side. Joxer gasped for breath. "What is your name?" he asked the farmer. "My name is Magelis," he replied. "My name is Joxer. I ride with Xena. This note has to be delivered to Hercules in Athens." With that, Joxer lost consciousness. Megelis took the note and said "thank you Joxer. I will honor this request." Since he had no horse of his own, he placed his oldest daughter on Argo, and sent her to Athens to deliver the message.
Gabrielle walked alongside her friend. Xena was tight and pale. Something was very wrong. Xena did not act angry, just as if something heavy was weighing on her shoulders. "Xena, I know something is wrong. Can't you tell me about it?" "I told you before. I can't talk about it right now. You've just got to trust me on this." "Can't or won't?" Xena took a deep breath and replied "I mean I can't tell you. I would if I could, but the time isn't right. We will be in Attica in a few hours. Please don't ask me any more until then." "Ok, Xena. I'm your friend. If it is that important, it can wait." Xena only nodded, wondering if she would still be her friend when I tell you?
Hercules was finished with his business in Athens, and was strolling through the market when a young woman walked by asking if anyone knew where she could find Hercules. Hercules raised his hand and said "Over here, I'm Hercules." She said "Thank the Gods that I found you. My name is Aglaine, and I have a message for you." She handed the note to Hercules. He opened the note and read it. He cursed under his breath. "Joxer was supposed to deliver this note. Do you know where he is?" "He was wounded saving my family from two thugs. It didn't look good. I can take you there, if you like." "Yes, we need to leave immediately."
They both mounted Argo, and left for Aglaine's farm. Hercules didn't have a lot of hope. Xena made a choice that was forced up her. In a last desperate move, she had written this not to Hercules in the hopes that he could do something. He would do what he could, of course, but untangling a scheme like this was nearly impossible. Near the edge of town, he stopped at a healer. "I don't do calls outside of the city limits of Athens," the healer stated. When he saw that it was Hercules, he said nothing, but simply grabbed his equipment, and got on his horse.
They rode swiftly toward the farm. The healer knelt beside Joxer and said "this is bad. He likely won't last until midnight. His only chance is if I can get him back to Athens." Hercules shook his head and said "No. He has to get to Attica." "Attica! The facilities in Attica are nowhere near as good as they are in Athens, and it is much farther to Attica!" Hercules held the healer gently but firmly by the shoulders, and said "It has to be Attica. Just do what you can for him here, and I will take him myself." The healer began to protest, but at the frim look that he got from Hercules, he shrugged and said "You're the God." The healer then began to work. When he finished, he stood and said "I've done all I can. If you don't give him too many bumps, he might make it to Attica, although I don't think that he will survive long after you ger there. I hope you know what you are doing." As the healer rode away, Hercules said "I hope so too."
Hercules made a litter and harnessed it to Argo. He placed Joxer aboard the litter, and then mounted Argo, and began the ride to Attica. He made the ride as gentle as possible, but he could not go slowly. To have even a chance, he had to get Joxer back to Xena and Gabrielle soon.
Xena and Gabrielle stopped at the first inn they came to in Attica. Gabrielle wondered why Xena chose this inn. Usually she did not stop in this inn, because the food isn't as good as the others. The only thing it had doing for it was it was close to the edge of town, as if Xena is waiting for something.
"Well, Xena? We are here. Now will you tell me what is going on?" Xena took a sip on her drink. She hadn't touched any of her food, which was unsusual after a trip on foot. "Yes. I will tell you now. But you are not going to like it. Or me, for that matter, Xena thought.
Xena took a deep breath, and told Gabrielle everything. She saw the look of horror and dismay on Gabrielle's face. After she finished she sat back in her chair impassively. She had accepted what was to come. Gabrielle stood up, and turned away for a moment. Just when she thought that Gabrielle was going to walk out the door and out of her life forever, she turned back towards Xena. Gabrielle started to speak, but Xena stopped her. "Gabrielle, you don't have to say anything. You don't need to explain anything. Just walk out that door, and don't look back. I know how you feel about me now."
Gabrielle looked into Xena's eyes and said "Do you? Do you know how I feel?" She sat on the stool next to Xena. "You didn't have any choice. It was just another of Ares' sick games. You did everthing you could. Besides, for all we know, Hercules could come in that door at any minute, and -" Gabrielle was interrupted as Hercules stepped though the door. Gabrielle started to say "See Xena, -" when she noticed the look on Hercules' face. Gabrielle sank back into her chair. Xena stood up gravely. "Hercules, is Joxer -" "Xena, he is alive, but barely. He won't last long." Xena clenched her fists, and lowered her head. Hercules said "You did what you had to do." He hugged Xena and whispered in her ear very quietly "just go along with this." Xena wondered what he is up to, but knew enough to keep her cool.
Just then Joxer burst through the door, saying "Hey, everyone, did you miss me?" He began to sing the "Joxer the Mighty" song, and embraced Xena and Gabrielle in a big hug. At that moment, Ares flashed into the room. He was furious, even by Ares' standards. "Atropos!" he cried out. "Get down here!" The goddess Atropos, the aspect of fate who cut the threads of life, appeared in the tavern. "Yes, Ares? What can I do for you?" Ares screamed "We had a deal! You allow me to make Xena choose one of her friends to die, and I granted one week of... peace!" He made the word sound like the foulest insult imaginable. "Do you have any idea what it means for me to grant peace! Zeus will hear about this!" With that, Ares flashed out and left. Xena and Gabrielle both began asking questions, but Atropos simply raised her hand. She counted out "five, four, three, two, one. There. Ares has broken his end of the deal."
Xena asked "But I thought that you had broken the deal - unless..." At that moment, Joxer began to melt, and in his place stood Morpheus. Hercules explained "I did a little digging. As for have heard, Ares promised a week of peace to make this deal. If he broke his end of the bargain, Atropos was free of her end of it. Morpheus owed me a favor, and agreed to impersonate Joxer. I had to teach him the Joxer the Mighty Song to make it look real."
Xena jumped in "And when Ares thought that the deal was broken, he went right out and ended the week of peace." Atropos said "The week ended at midnight. Ares broke the deal only moments before the end." Atropos paused and continued. "I couldn't pass up a week of peace. I hope you understand. I am glad that everything worked out." With that, Atropos faded out into the mist. Morpheus simply smiled, nodded and vanished.
The door opened, and Joxer slowly entered the room. Everyone ran toward him and helped him to a bench. Xena opened his vest to reveal a perfectly healed scar on his abdomen. "I had a really wierd dream," Joxer said. No one knew what to say, and when Joxer said "I'm hungry," everyone began to laugh, and they all sat down and ordered the best ale in the house. It was late, but the dinars were flowing, so the innkeeper kept the inn open as long as the honored guests wanted.
Xena stood in the morning sun with Hercules. "Hercules, thank you for everything you have done. For Joxer and for myself." "Don't mention it. What are friends for. Besides, your hands were tied. If you would have been free to act, you could have pulled it off yourself. I have to get back to Athens. I didn't have time to tell Iolaus where I was going." Xena and Hercules hugged for a long time, and then Hercules turned toward Athens.
Xena sat down with Joxer beneath an apple tree. Gabrielle had forgiven her, and she hoped that Joxer would too. She took a deep breath and said "Joxer, I am sorry for what I did, I-" when Joxer interrupted. "I understand. You did what you have to do. You can't cheat fate." But fate can be kind sometimes, Xena thought. Joxer continued "You couldn't tell me, I know that. But you know as well as I do that if you could have asked me, I would have volunteered to go in Gabrielle's place." They looked in each other's eyes, and Xena knew it was true. Joxer loved Gabrielle, and it didn't matter if she loved her back. Xena said "I heard about what you did at that farmhouse. That was pretty good work. Joxer looked for a moment as if he were about to go to the Joxer the Mighty routine, but instead he just said "You've taught me a lot. I had to work with what I had. Mostly, I distracted them, and helped them help themselves. Argo was a big help too." Xena nodded and said "Being a warrior is using what you have at hand, and using your head." Xena hugged Joxer, and left him to rest.
Ares sat in his temple and fumed. One might say he was pouting, if one was unwise. The God of War does NOT pout. "Hercules," he spat. "I was only moments away!" He thought about zapping Joxer out of spite. However, he thought better of it. Joxer wasn't his enemy, just a tool to use to manipulate Xena. Someday, he might be useful to his plans. The next time, he would be more patient. He sat coldly on his throne and did NOT pout.
Gabrielle was packing the rest of the supplies when Xena approached her. "Gabrielle. Sit down. I want to thank you for standing by me." Gabrielle sat down next to Xena and said "I stood by you because you are my friend, and Ares games are not going to change that. I know you Xena. I trust you. And I love you." Gabrielle hugged Xena tightly. Nothing more needed to be said.
Xena held Argo's reins and let Gabrielle and Joxer walk a little bit ahead. Last night, she thought that she was going to be damned for what she had to do. Ares' week of peace was over. Yet the morning seemed sweeter and brighter than the morning before. As long as you love and are loved, there is redemption.
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