Title: Love, the Mighty
Shipper: Joxer/Gabrielle...with a little Xena/Ares thrown in
Takes place: a little while after Chakram, when Joxer told Gabby he loved her. No Xena pregnancy, no 25 years on ice, and no Joxer death.
Plot: After Joxer's confession Gabrielle wonders about her feelings, just as Ares accidentally complicates matters.
Feedback: Please! This is my first fanfic EVER!
Disclaimer: I don't own 'em, yadda yadda yadda. If I did, I wouldn't be sitting here writing fanfiction :)
Ares, the god of War, was not happy. Sure, he had pretty much everything a studly god might want.....lots of skirmishes between the mortals, blood and mayhem, controversy and strife. Ares smiled.....lots of beautiful women striving to be his next warrior queen. His smile faded, however, as he reflected upon them. While the evil in their hearts might have been pure, they all lacked something. They lacked a fire, a passion for the fight that he'd so far only found in one woman. The one woman who'd spurned him; turned away from him. He watched her now, through his portal. A window into her world, where she fought some passing bandits. His blood quickened as she took them down mercilessly, that light burning in her eyes as she did what she did best. As she sliced and parried and gutted, Ares knew that she was perfection. She, and no one else, was a match for him.
His sensual lips curled into a sneer as her blonde friend came into view, fighting at Xena's back. Gabrielle was getting to be just as good as her dark friend in a fight, though Ares had found her just as reluctant to turn to the ways of war. If Gabrielle hadn't come along, Ares might have been able to win Xena back to his side.....but no. It was pointless to dwell upon now. Ares looked on with mild interest as two others entered the fight. He recognized them to be Amarice, the Amazon, and Joxer....the bumbler that occasionally followed Xena and Gabrielle on their journeys. Though Joxer fought badly, he did manage to stop a bandit from stabbing the bard in the back by tripping and falling into him. As they tumbled to the ground, Amarice jumped out of the way, felling two more bandits with two sharp thrusts of her sword. Ares quickly lost interest in her, looking again to Xena, who was like a whirlwind of death. With perfectly honed reflexes, she took out several of the bandits at once. They were no match for her. A waste of her talents. "You should be with me." Ares murmured to her. "What a war we could wage together"
"How long are you going to mope over her, anyway?" a melodic voice inquired. Ares turned to see his sister appear in a flash. Aphrodite stood with her hands on her hips - her filmy, translucent gown swirling around her as she waited for his answer.
Ares snarled at her, but without his usual malice. "I don't know what you're talking about."
"Oh come on," Aphrodite exclaimed, "do you think I just fell off the turnip wagon yesterday? Are you forgetting who I am? I'm the goddess of LOVE, brother dearest, and you can't hide your feelings from me."
Ares barely gave her a glance as he headed away from his portal, toward his throne. "I don't have any feelings to hide, sister dearest, so I still don't know what you're talking about." He plopped into his throne with a sigh of frustration. He really didn't want to talk about this with her.
Aphrodite, never one to go away just because she wasn't wanted - gods no - pursued him. "I'm talking about your fuzzy feelings for Xena, ya big dope! It's no secret that you've been in love with her for years. Also that she won't give you the time of day."
Ares snarled at her for real this time. "I'm NOT in love with her! The god of War has no need or want of love. That's your department. I want her on my side, yes. I may be a little obsessed with her, yes. But having "fuzzy feelings"? Never. And this whole "Way of the Greater Good" is a bunch of crap. She'll see the light sooner or later, and I have nothing but time."
Aphrodite stood silently for a moment, before walking up to her brother and resting a hand on his chest. Playing with his leather tunic, she spoke to him as if he were a child. "Ares, sweetie, you and I both know that this obsession for her is stemmed from your attraction to her. Sure, you think she's a great killing machine, yadda yadda yadda.....but you have to admit that you want her for more than that."
Ares said nothing - and, taking it as encouragement, Aphrodite continued. "You just plain 'want' her. Don't you?" She met his steely gaze and laughed when he still refused to commit himself to it by saying anything. "Okay, okay, I won't make you say it. But I know it's true. So why don't you go after her? Why do you just sit here watching her, and not GET her?"
"Do you think I haven't tried?" Ares shot back. He pushed himself restlessly from his throne and paced. "I've tried every trick in the book. I know she's tempted by what I offer her, but she somehow manages to resist. I know the passion and the fire within her, just waiting to get out and become the Destroyer of Nations again, but she refuses me when I try to fan that flame."
"So maybe you shouldn't try to trick her," Aphrodite remarked. "Why don't you try being honest with her?"
"That would never work," he said, slumping back down into his throne. "And she wouldn't believe me anyway." Clenching his fist, he went on, "It's all her friends' fault. All of them, though Gabrielle's the worst. Distracting her with all of that noble 'way of love' business. If I could just get Gabrielle out of the way, I'm sure I could convince Xena to come to my side."
"Don't," Aphrodite interrupted, "do anything to Gabrielle." At Ares's look she explained. "Gabrielle means the world to Xena. You hurt her, and Xena would never forgive you, much less join you. Besides, I kind of like Gabrielle. No, what you need to do, brother, is tell the truth. Xena's tired of your lies, and games, and trickery. What's more, she's become entirely too accustomed to them, and used to resisting. Try being honest for once. It might throw her off guard."
"Hm," Ares said. "You might have a point about that. The last thing she'd expect from me is the truth."
"And it wouldn't hurt to do something nice for her, either." Aphrodite went on. She frowned, "though I don't know what you could do for her.....I don't think the usual poetry and gifts would do anything for her.....not that you'd ever be capable of writing her poetry, or giving her a gift that wasn't ripped out of some warlord's chest, but I digress. But you've got to do something spectacular. Something that will get her attention, something that will enrich her life somehow, some selfless act, and prove that you've changed."
"Who said I wanted to change?" Ares snapped.
"Nobody," Aphrodite acquiesced with a knowing smile. "But I think you have, even if you don't know it yet. If you were really the cold hearted bastard you pretend to be, you'd have gotten her by now. You'd have forced her to submit to you, or had me intervene and make her love you. But you don't want that, do you?" She smiled Ares as he stewed in silence. "You want her love, because you love her." Aphrodite walked back to the portal that looked in on Xena and gazed in. "Anyway, bro, I gotta split, but give what I said some thought. In any case, stop just sitting in here brooding and watching her, it's kinda pathetic, ya know?" With a backwards laughing glance at him, she vanished.
Ares rose from his throne and made his way to the portal, looking down at Xena as she wiped the blood from her sword in the grass. "I'm not brooding," he said to no one in particular.
With an uncharacteristic whine, Amarice complained "But why do I have to take them back?"
"Because I asked you to," Xena said, with considerably less patience than the first two times she'd said it. "It'll be easier that way. You don't really even want to go to the festival, so it makes sense for you to be the one to take these wanted bandits back to Phylon."
"But that was two day's journey back!" the amazon protested.
"And once you've done so, you can take the river and meet us just north of Kritea, after the festival" Xena said, in a tone that broached no argument. Grumbling to herself, Amarice gathered up the few men that had survived their attack upon Xena and the others the night before, and headed out.
"See ya in a few days!" Joxer shouted out, his cheer dampened not at all by her lack of a response. Turning around, Joxer was struck once again with amazement at seeing Gabrielle and Xena alive. Just standing there, packing like nothing had happened. Like they hadn't been crucified, and died on the cross. Like they hadn't been brought back to life by Eli. Like - "
"Joxer!" Gabrielle's voice cut into his thoughts like a knife. "Are you going to pack, or are you going to just stand there and gawk all day?" Her piercing blue eyes froze him in place for a moment, and he could say nothing as he was stunned by her beauty. He knew that there were more beautiful women than Gabrielle, but he also knew that she was the most beautiful to him. And she's alive.......
"Uh, yeah. I mean no. Yes, I'm packing." he stuttered, and stooped to grab his bedroll and pack. Packing his horse, he watched Gabrielle out of the corner of his eye as she packed her own things. He had never been more devastated in his life than when he'd gone to Rome to find Xena and Gabrielle dead. His heart broke with each awful detail he noticed, as they hung on their crosses. Xena, his friend, and Gabrielle - the woman he loved, gone. And for all that sorrow, he'd never been as amazed and overjoyed as he was when Eli somehow miraculously brought them back to life. Suddenly everything else seemed less important, including the worry that she wouldn't feel the same for him as he did for her. So he'd finally told her, before he could lose the chance again.
"I love you........I'm in love with you"
When she looked at him in complete shock, he realized that she had really never known. He'd thought that it would have had to be obvious, but she'd really not had a clue as to how he felt about her. Well, she does now, he thought. And things have been weird, since. But honestly, what did I expect? What could someone like her ever see in someone like me? Suddenly not in as good a mood anymore, Joxer finished his packing and swung up onto his horse, somehow managing to keep his balance after getting his foot caught in the stirrup. Xena and Gabrielle exchanged glances, and mounted their own horses with considerably less difficulty. They headed out.
Joxer took point, while Xena and Gabrielle trailed behind, conversing as they rode leisurely through the forest. "I don't know," Gabrielle continued to Xena, "he said that there were no strings attached. That he didn't expect anything, but obviously he does." Joxer, up ahead, risked a glance at Gabrielle far behind him and got whacked in the back of the head by a low branch his horse rode under. "Ow!" he yelped, rubbing his head where his helmet cut into him.
To Xena, Gabrielle exclaimed, "see!"
"Gabrielle," Xena ventured, "of course he expects something. Wouldn't you, if you told someone that you loved them? You expect them to tell you they feel the same way, or that they don't, but you don't just expect nothing. There has to be some kind of closure, one way or the other. Right now he's just wondering what's going on in your head. He's opened himself up to you, and revealed something very important and private to him, and naturally he wants to know how you feel about it."
"Oh sure, take his side," Gabrielle grumbled.
"This isn't about sides, Gabrielle. He was worried that we were going to die again back there. He wanted more than anything to at least have you know that he loved you first. That in itself," here she looked at Gabrielle meaningfully "is a good thing. It's always nice to know that someone cares about you. The problem now, though, is that we all lived. And now he's wondering how it will affect everything. Your relationship. He feels strange now, probably especially since you've hardly talked to him since."
Beside Argo, Gabrielle's horse breathed deeply, and Gabrielle mimicked it without realizing. "I know. I just don't know what to say to him. I mean, how can I tell him what I'm feeling when even I don't know what I'm feeling?"
Looking back to the trail, Xena said "Well, that's what you've got to figure out."
"Yeah," Gabrielle answered. "I guess so."
Having left Gabrielle and Joxer to set up camp, Xena hunted alone in the dark forest. Suddenly something seemed wrong, however. Something was off. She started to turn back to the camp to check on her friends, but stopped and whirled to face the night behind her. "Will you stop that!" she hissed.
With a smirk, Ares appeared in a flash of blue light. "I love how you do that," he said.
"Yeah well, I hate when you do that." she snapped back. "What do you want, Ares?"
"The same thing I always want," he replied suggestively, "you." At her automatic look of refusal he dropped the seduction act and hastened to add "but no tricks this time, Xena. No jokes, no ruses, no force involved. I'm here to be straight up and honest with you."
"That'd be a first" Xena growled.
"Which is proof, you see? Proof that I'm not the big bad evil god you think I am."
"Not evil?!" Xena started to exclaim in disbelief. "Not evil? Wait a minute, who was it that helped me turn to hate in the first place? Who was it who tried to turn my best friend into the next Destroyer of Nations? Who was it who -- "
"Yeah yeah yeah, I get the picture," Ares held up his hands in surrender. "Okay, so I'm a big bad evil god, already. But that doesn't mean I can't change."
"Oh sure," Xena said mockingly, "You're just harmless bunny rabbit, now."
Flashing a wicked smile, Ares replied "Harmless? Never. Trying to be sincere for once? Yes."
Turning to walk away, Xena said "I'll believe it when I see it."
"Which brings me directly to my point," Ares replied, stepping in front of her again. "What do you want?"
"What do you want?" he repeated, "What is one thing that I can give you, at no cost to you. No bargains, no deals, nothing wanted in return. What can I do for you?"
Xena snorted in disbelief. "You can go away".
Xena laughed. "No, no 'besides that'. You asked what I wanted, and that's what I want."
Ares let a glint of frustration show behind his seductive features. "Come on, Xena. I'm trying to perform a selfless act, here, to prove myself to you, and you're not even giving me a chance."
"'A selfless act?' " Xena mocked. "Where'd you get this from, Aphrodite?"
Ares sputtered. "What! Xena, look, I'm being serious here. I'm giving you the chance of a lifetime."
"And I'm taking it," Xena said empathically, "go away." She jumped in surprise, however, when he actually did, vanishing just as quickly as he'd intruded into her life. "Hmph," she said, and continued to hunt.
* * * *
Not far away, in the same woods, Gabrielle gathered firewood. A sudden flash of blue light startled her, however, and she dropped all of the wood she'd been carrying back to camp. She whirled to see Ares standing behind her with a gloating look in his eyes. "Sorry, Gabrielle, didn't mean to startle you."
"Yeah you did," Gabrielle muttered, as she bent to pick up the wood.
"I want to ask you a question, Gabrielle. About Xena."
"Maybe you should go to Xena, and ask her." Gabrielle replied crossly.
"I just did," Ares said ruefully, "she's not talking to me."
"Good for her."
Ares adopted a different tactic, speaking to Gabrielle in what he hoped was a friendly manner. "Look Gabrielle, I know that you and I got off on the wrong foot."
"Wrong foot!" Gabrielle interrupted incredulously. "Is that what you call it when you form an alliance with Dahok and impregnate my half demon daughter?"
Ares spread his hands in a gesture of compliance. "All bad things, true. But there was some heavy stuff going down, and I just wanted to make sure I came out on top, I'm sure you can understand." At Gabrielle's disgusted look, he went on. "But look, my point is, I want to change."
Gabrielle stifled a laugh "yeah right"
"I mean it. That's why I'm here. I want to do something to prove to Xena how I've changed. That I don't want to hurt her anymore, and that I lo--, that I care for her. Look, would you quit laughing? I'm serious."
Gabrielle managed to stop laughing, and asked "so what do you want from me?"
Ares paced. "Well, she won't talk to me. She won't tell me what she wants. How am I supposed to prove anything to her if she won't let me?"
Gabrielle thought. "Well, the first thing I'd say is that if she really doesn't want anything from you, you should respect that. In a way, that will prove something to her. That you respect her wishes."
"But that's not enough," Ares said. "I don't want to just sit there while she's thinking 'Okay, well he didn't do anything, maybe he's not such a bad guy after all'.... It's not gonna happen." In a moment of what seemed to be candor, amazingly to Gabrielle, he said "I've done a lot to hurt her. I need to do something proactive to win back her trust."
Struck by his honesty, Gabrielle responded in kind. "If you're serious, then maybe you should think about helping other people. I mean, don't forget that that's what Xena's devoted to, now. Perhaps you can show her how you feel by helping others."
"Hm," Ares murmured. "Not a bad idea." He looked at Gabrielle. "So, what do you want?"
"Oh no!" Gabrielle backed away quickly, almost dropping her firewood again. "Not me! I don't trust you, I don't like you, and I don't want anything from you."
Ares smiled at her, grasping her shoulder. "Well, some things never change, right Gabrielle?" Just then, Joxer stumbled through the foliage.
"Gabby, the camp's all ready, do you need any help with the woo---" Stopping in shock, Joxer took in Gabrielle's guilty expression, Ares's smile, and his hand on her shoulder. "Oh." Backtracking quickly, Joxer mumbled "sorry," and disappeared through the bushes.
"Joxer wait! I.... " Gabrielle called out after him, then stopped. That was useless. What could she say to him? Oh Joxer, it wasn't what it looked like. Ares was just telling me what a good guy he is now, and how he wants to change, and help people, because he's in love with Xena. Yeah, like he'd believe that! Suddenly, she stopped and thought wait a minute, why do I care, anyway?
Looking back to Ares, she found that he had disappeared. Typical.
* * * *
Stumbling off away from the camp, Joxer grappled with what he had just seen. HIS Gabrielle, practically in the arms of that ....that.....God. Waves of jealousy arced through him, followed quickly by despair. Of course she'd rather be with someone like him than me, he thought. He's strong, and powerful, and good looking, and I'm weak, and I can't even fight very well, much less command legions!
In his haze, he tripped over a log and tumbled to the ground. Stupid! he thought, as he picked himself up and sat on a stump nearby. Stupid to tell her how you felt! How could you even think you might have a chance with her?! She probably thinks you're an idiot!
He sat there morosely for awhile, before realizing that he was being watched. He looked up to find Ares watching him from across the trail. "Boy you've got it bad, don't you?" he said to Joxer with amusement.
"Go away," Joxer said hollowly. "you got what you came for; leave me alone."
"On the contrary," Ares said, swaggering closer to Joxer, "I don't have what I want at all. But I have an idea that might help me get it."
Joxer got as close to growling as he could ever come, saying "Well you can take your idea elsewhere, because I am sure not gonna help you get Gabrielle."
"Gabrielle!?!" Ares exploded in astonishment. "I don't want Gabrielle!"
Joxer looked up again in sudden hope. "You ..... you don't?"
"Gods, no" Ares replied with a genuine laugh. "I like my women with a streak of viciousness in them!"
Joxer breathed a sigh of relief before realizing that this didn't really change his relationship with Gabrielle, at all, and sighed again. Ares picked up on it and continued, "You know Joxer, you and I have something in common." At the would-be warrior's doubtful look, Ares hastened to finish. "Not much, naturally, but something in common nonetheless. You see, we both desire the affections of women who don't want to have anything to do with us."
Looking at Joxer's pieced-together armor, and naturally confused expression, Ares explained: "See, my problem is that I'm too much for Xena. Too overbearing. I want too much, and she can't give it because.......well, basically because she doesn't like me. You, on the other hand, have just the opposite problem. You're awkward, bumbling, and clumsy. You're a joke of a romantic interest, and that's why Gabrielle can't see you that way."
Joxer slumped even more than he already was. "And this is supposed to make me feel better how?" he muttered.
"In this," Ares proclaimed, in the manner of someone who has just discovered a great secret. "I can solve both our problems at once."
Joxer looked up at him halfheartedly. "How?"
Ares sneered at Joxer. "Perhaps you have forgotten that I'm related to none other than the Goddess of Love herself? One little favor for me, and Gabrielle's in love with you."
"No," Joxer interrupted, shaking his head. "No spells. I don't want Gabrielle like that. I don't want her to love me because someone clouded her judgment, I want her to love me. Besides," he went on with what might have been a touch of amusement, "Aphrodite's spells and me don't mix very well."
"Well then," Ares thought furiously, "there must be some other way I can improve your situation."
"Why are you trying to help me, anyway?" Joxer asked tentatively.
"Because, my dimwitted friend, if I help you with your little problem, and I gain nothing from it, Xena will see that I'm not entirely evil, and will stop being so difficult to reason with. So......what do you want? What do you think would make things better?"
Looking as if he thought this was all a big joke that Ares and the rest of the gods were pulling on him, Joxer thought about it. The reason Gabrielle doesn't love me is because I'm a dolt. I'm incapable, incompetent, and in general a big klutz. She can't even see me in any light but that. I need to change the way she sees me.
"I need to change the way she sees me," he said aloud. "I need to somehow show her that I can do amazing things, too, and win her respect."
"But the way you are, you can't." Ares stated. "So it sounds like what you need is a total overhaul on what makes you you."
"I guess so," Joxer said, bowing his head in defeat.
"Okay," Ares clapped his hands together loudly, "all is not lost. You just need an incentive. You need some spirit. You need a spirit. And I can get one for you."
Joxer looked confused. "What do you mean?"
"Alright, look. You're pretty much a washout the way you are. You can't fight, you're clumsy as all Tartarus, and you're not exactly what I would call powerful. So you need something that makes you be able to have all of that."
"What do you think I should do?" Joxer asked, with a twinge of hope.
"I think what you should let me do, is give you some spirit." Ares answered, and stepped back from Joxer.
"Um, wait a minute," Joxer started as the wind picked up around him. "Uh, what are you gonna do?"
Ares didn't answer as lightening began to flash, and the wind suddenly beat at them from all sides. The leaves of the trees above them swished madly, and small creatures ran from the onslaught of whipping branches and falling trees. Joxer cringed into himself as a red light built up in between him and the god of War, and yelled out once more "Ares!"
Suddenly the light swirled into a sphere, and headed right for Joxer. He yelled out, but it never slowed and slammed into his chest, being absorbed by his body. The wind died down almost immediately, and the night returned to normal as Joxer looked up at Ares in bewilderment. He felt sick. "What did you do?" he whispered.
Ares grinned. "I opened your mind to the ether and summoned the most powerful personality I touched upon. It will make you stronger, faster, and smarter. It will make you what you're not."
As the personality that Ares had summoned started to take over Joxer's mind, he recognized it. "Oh no," he breathed, falling off of the log he was sitting on, "Gabri-.... Gab-!"
Startled by Joxer's sudden change, Ares watched him lose consciousness and slide to the ground. "Well," he remarked to himself, "must have been one hell of a spirit!" He watched as Joxer regained consciousness, and stood. He could tell that it wasn't exactly Joxer in there anymore when he spoke.
"Ares," the thing that was not Joxer said. Even though it spoke using Joxer's voice, there was something deadly and menacing about it, which the god of war recognized.
"Who are you?" he asked.
Joxer's face smiled, but his eyes remained dead. "You know me," it said, and Ares was suddenly assailed by visions of himself communing with Hope, with Callisto, with ..
The evil presence now within Joxer smiled again, and turned to leave, giving Ares not a second glance. He stood there alone on the trail, and thought. "Well that didn't turn out exactly as I'd planned it," he said to himself. He then shrugged and turned away, vanishing.
To be continued................