Title: Love, the Mighty, parts 4-6
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 :)
Written: 11/13/00





IV.






Back at camp, Gabrielle and Xena discussed their late-night visitor. "I don't know Xena," Gabrielle was saying as she skinned the rabbit her friend had caught, "he seemed kind of sincere to me."


"Gabrielle, Ares wouldn't know Sincere if it jumped up and bit him in the a ---- Oh, hi Joxer. We were wondering where you went."


At Xena's words, Gabrielle looked up to see Joxer settling down beside the fire. She scanned his face to see what he might be feeling, but could discern nothing from his expression. That was sort of surprising to her, as Joxer usually was so easy to read.


Apparently he's not, you idiot, she thought. If it was so easy to tell what he's thinking, don't you think you might have stumbled onto the fact that he was in love with you a long time ago? No, he's either a much better actor than you ever thought he could be, or else you, Gabrielle, are completely blind. "Joxer, are you okay?" she asked.


Joxer turned to her, and Gabrielle was taken aback at just how expressionless he really was. A moment later she almost wished for that non-expression back when he smiled chillingly at her. "Gabrielle," he said slowly, the word rolling smoothly off his tongue like ale. Gabrielle felt cold all of the sudden, and wondered why he was staring at her the way he was. She looked at Xena, and saw that she was watching Joxer curiously.


"Hey," Xena said to Joxer, "You feel alright?"


Joxer's head turned slowly to look at Xena, and he smiled again. "Never better," he said in that same, flat, eerie voice. Suddenly, however, an expression of unutterable sadness crossed his face. He opened his mouth as if to speak, and looked at Gabrielle.


"Joxer, what is it?" Gabrielle asked, rising to her feet at the look of absolute sorrow and horror on his face. "What's wrong?" But he didn't answer. Instead the icy veneer of impassion settled over his face again, and with a touch of anger he rose and stalked to his horse. Ignoring inquiries from both of the women, he approached the animal and attempted to mount it. It shied away from him, and with a savage jerk he brought it under his command, swinging himself on top of the horse in one, fluid motion. Broken and afraid, it followed his direction and headed away from the campsite, without Joxer ever once having looked back or explained himself. In complete bafflement, Gabrielle and Xena stared at each other across the fire.


* * * *


In the village of Kritea, the chanting of priests filled the temple.....rising in pitch and fervor until with a sudden wind the doors slammed open. Gusts of air flew in, snuffing the candles and overturning sacrifices left to the god Dahok. The priests looked to the doorway in fear and fascination as the living embodiment of Dahok entered the temple, smiling cruelly. "Come," he said in a voice that struck terror into the hearts of all the men who heard it, "we have much to prepare for."


* * * *




The next morning Gabrielle and Xena rode on toward Kritea.


"He just looked so, so, not-Joxer," Gabrielle continued, hunting for the right words. "I mean, he looked completely expressionless until the end there, and then he was actually kind of frightening!"


"I know," Xena agreed. "But I don't know how much we should worry about it. Maybe he just needed some time to be alone, and went on to the Festival ahead of us."


"I hope so," Gabrielle said. "But I'm still worried. I mean, first he tells me he loves me, then he gets all weird when he sees Ares and me together, and then he comes back to the camp looking like he's seen a ghost. He's acting so strangely."


"Well look at it from his perspective," Xena reasoned. "Everything's been really hard on him, too. First we die, then we're brought back to life, and now things are back to normal; it's got to be a lot for him to adjust to."


"Yeah, you're right." Gabrielle said. "I just hope he's okay." They rode that way in silence for a moment before Gabrielle realized Xena was looking at her strangely. "What?" she asked finally.


"Just wondering about the source of your worrying." Xena replied, resuming her watch of the trail in front of her.


"What's that supposed to mean?" Gabrielle demanded.


"I just mean that it's got to be strange to be told one day that someone you've known for years has been in love with you the whole time."


"Not the whole time," Gabrielle responded, "I got the impression that this was a recent thing."


"Well you were impressed incorrectly," Xena said with amusement. "he's loved you almost for as long as we've known him."


"No he hasn't!"


"Yes he has."


"Has not."


"Gabrielle.do you remember when Cupid's kid Bliss ran around zapping everyone with Cupid's arrows, and you fell in love with Joxer?"


Gabrielle regarded Xena warily, "yeah"


"That's the first time I can remember Joxer being in love with you." Xena answered.


Gabrielle was stunned. "That can't be true. Xena that was like, three years ago! Besides, I thought he was hit with one of the arrows too?"


Xena shook her head ruefully. "You, not him. He was crushed when you laughed about it afterwards."


Guilt and sorrow rushed in on Gabrielle. "Oh Gods, that must have hurt him terribly! Why didn't you tell me?"


"It wasn't my secret to tell." Xena replied. She then looked at her blonde companion, "So, now that you know.what are you gonna do about it?"


Gabrielle sighed, at a loss. " I don't know, Xena. I mean, I've always looked at Joxer as a goofy older brother-type. I never even thought about him romantically, other than the time I was under that spell. Well, and the time HE was under APHRODITE's spell. But those times don't count. But......."


At her friend's silence, Xena looked over to see Gabrielle lost in thought. "But what?" she prodded.


Gabrielle snapped into focus. "I don't know. I mean, I have to admit that there's something in this situation that appeals to the Bard in me. You know, the would-be warrior in love with the farm-girl. And, and I mean there really isn't anybody else like Joxer in the world, you know that!" she laughed. "And he does have his moments. He may be clumsy, and not really cut out for this kind of life, but I can't even tell you how many times he's impressed me with his bravery. Remember that time he put himself on the line to defend Argo from you when you were in Callisto's body? Facing what he thought was certain death, he still wouldn't abandon your horse. That takes heart, Xena."


"Yes it does," Xena agreed with a smile. "yes it does. But do YOU have the heart?"


Gabrielle met her companion's eyes. "I don't know," she answered honestly. "A few days ago I would have said no, beyond a doubt. But now.......I'm not so sure. And I can't figure out what's changed."


"Maybe nothing's changed," Xena answered. "Maybe all you needed was to see."


* * * *
The village of Kritea was damned, the people there just didn't know it yet. The dark god Dahok looked out over the village through his newly acquired human eyes, and smiled. They were all his sacrifices, though they were as yet unaware. By nightfall, however, they would learn. A disturbance in the energy behind him made him aware of the approach of one of his priests. He turned to meet him, and recognized him. The fool's name was Marcus. He was a sniveling excuse for a minion of Dahok, and was not a true believer. Dahok could sense it in him, even as the idiot opened his mouth. "Lord Dahok," he said, but the reverence was not there in his voice, where it should have been. "Lord Dahok, I'm not sure that this is the best idea." He stammered a bit when the god looked at him, but his own pride and wilfillness bolstered him and he continued. "Some of the villagers will resist. They do not believe."


Dahok felt a swell of anger rise up within him, aching to be released. He took the priest by the throat and squeezed, feeling how easy it would be to kill the man in this manner. But no........perhaps a demonstration for any other misbelievers. Almost gently he released the priest, and the mortal slumped to the floor, gasping for air. With the utmost care, Dahok helped the man to rise, and took his hand. "Forgive me, faithful servant," he said in sarcasm, "I don't know my own strength when I am angered." Using only the touch of their hands, Dahok sent a surge of power and energy through the man. To the other priests, it appeared as though their fellow was cooking alive where he stood. Indeed, this was not far from the truth. When all the life had been wrung from his prey, Dahok dropped the corpse to the floor where it was quickly removed by his comrades. Looking up, the god spoke to the rest of the mortals. "I WILL have my sacrifices. The village WILL be prepared. You know my will. Should anyone question me further, he will suffer a hundredfold what this man did."


The priests said nothing, but bowed low in their acceptence of his will. They backed away to continue their preperations, and Dahok turned again to gaze out over the village.


* * * *


The moon was full in the night sky by the time Xena and Gabrielle reached Kritea. On the outskirts of the village, they saw peasants scurrying to and fro with last minute supplies for the festival. Dismounting, the women led the horses to the water trough in front of the pub and then headed toward the heart of the village. They could hear festive music as they got closer, and the sounds of many people talking all at once. Just as the dais set up in the clearing at the center of the village came into view, however, Xena stopped in her tracks, tense. "We're not alone," she said.


On cue, Ares flashed into existence next to them. "I wouldn't advise attending the festival tonight, ladies."


Xena's lip curled. "I guess it's a good thing nobody asked you, then."


Ares adopted none of his usual bantering mannerisms as he spoke, "This is serious, Xena. You don't want to be here. Go back, get your horses, and leave........before it's too late."


Gabrielle, perhaps alerted by his urgent manner, asked, "Too late for what? What's going on?"


"More than YOU want to deal with, especially." Ares answered vaguely, and made as if to usher them back the way they came.


"Wait a minute," Gabrielle protested, "what does THAT mean, more than I want to deal with? Wait- we can't leave anyway, we've got to find Joxer."


Suddenly a scream rent the air behind them, and they all three whirled toward the dais. "I don't think he's going to be hard to find," Ares breathed, and Gabrielle gasped at what they saw. On and around the dais was a circle of priests dressed in long red and black robes. They had arranged an alter on the stage, and upon it was a child, struggling feebly at the bonds that held it there. To one side of the dais there was a large group of children being held in a cage by more of the men in robes. The scream had come from the first villager to see the scene, and now more voices rose in fear and protest. In front of the child on the altar was another person in a pure black robe, and the identity of that person was chillingly clear.


"Joxer?" Xena said incredulously. She spun on Ares, "What did you do to him?" she demanded.


"Nothing he didn't want," Ares replied. "He wanted to be stronger, smarter, more powerful. I made him all of those things."


"He's going to sacrifice those children!" Gabrielle whispered, horrified. "That's not Joxer. Whatever you did to him, that's not Joxer!"


"You're half right," Ares said. "He's there, but as the weaker personality he's subdued. He probably knows what's going on, but has no control over it. The demon within him has dominance."


"Demon within him?" Xena demanded. "What demon? What exactly did you do?"


Ares squirmed as much as a god could squirm without moving a muscle. "He basically needed a new personality. I mean, let's face it, the guy's got some problems." At Xena's impatient look, he got to the point. "I opened him to the ether. I made him receptive to the plane that gods and demons exist on, and one was drawn to him. It made him what he is now. Only........."


"Only what?" Xena insisted.


Ares looked grave, and watched Gabrielle as he spoke. "Only I didn't know which entity would be drawn to him. I didn't know it would be........Dahok."


A strangled cry came from Gabrielle's throat, and Xena reached out to steady her friend as she seemed to sway. Ares seemed to be genuinely apologetic when he spoke to her. "Gabrielle, I swear I didn't know. But I think it makes sense now.......Dahok must have been drawn to Joxer because he could sense you through him. I'm sorry, I......."


"Save your apology," Xena spat out. "Why don't you try un-doing it?"


"I can't," Ares said. "Dahok's too powerful for that. There's nothing I can do."


Gabrielle managed to regain control, but her tone conveyed contempt as she spoke, "I swear by all the gods, if Joxer dies, I'll find some way to make you pay for it, Ares."


Suddenly cries rose in the night, and the trio watched as Dahok manipulated Joxer's body to raise a ceremonial dagger high above the child, ready for the plunge.


"Xena!" Gabrielle cried.


Xena had reached for her chakram and thrown it at the dais before the thought had consciously even reached her mind. It spun through the air at speed and struck the dagger from Joxer's fist, returning to Xena's upraised hand within sheer moments. Joxer's dead eyes followed the chakram's path back to its owner, and he smiled an evil smile when he saw the blonde woman standing next to her. "Gabrielle," he said with pleasure.










V.










Gabrielle's blood froze when he looked at her. Though she was too far away to hear him, she saw his lips form her name through the arrogant smirk on his face. To see that expression on Joxer's face was horrifying. In her shock, it was a full moment before she realized that the priests from the dais were rushing toward her. Xena took up a fighting stance next to her, and yelled for Gabrielle to get ready to fight. But all Gabrielle could do was focus on Joxer, and the child on the dais with him, that Dahok was set upon killing. As Xena let out her bloodcurdling warrior's cry, Gabrielle took off at a sprint for the dais.


Xena screamed Gabrielle's name as she saw her friend disappear into the onrushing slew of armed priests, but could spare no further thought as the madness was suddenly upon her. Xena fought, cutting and parrying, and realized.......with no small amount of surprise.......that Ares was fighting alongside her, protecting her flank. Robed men fought, and died, and went down........and still they came.


Gabrielle ran toward the dais. She pushed past screaming villagers, and running priests in her thoughtless storm on the stage. A snarling priest thought to stop her, but was sorely disappointed when Gabrielle without a second's thought took his staff from him, knocked him out, and kept running. Nearing the rise, she used the priest's staff as a pole vault, leaping onto the dais. Heaving, she faced the evil demon within Joxer. Terrified of this particular god, she nonetheless had to try to save her friend. "Joxer," she said.


"Not Joxer," Dahok replied, and lashed out at her. They fought, and Gabrielle tried to draw him away from the child on the altar. She spoke to try to distract him.


"Joxer, it's me, Gabrielle. I know you're still in there somewhere. You've got to try to fight, Joxer. You've got to stop this."


Dahok laughed as he blocked her attack. "That mortal is gone. He can do nothing to stop this. You cannot reach him."


"I don't believe you," Gabrielle replied.


"He was not nearly strong enough to keep me out. He was weak."


"He's strong enough to stop YOU!" Gabrielle asserted, "I know you're in there, Joxer. I need your help."


"You know this is perfect," Dahok said with malice, continuing his barrage, "with you being my victim again. The first sacrifice of a hundred that I will have this night, opening the portal to my dimension." With an evil leer, he said "I've missed you so, Gabrielle!" Grunting with the effort of resisting Dahok's blows, Gabrielle fell back.


Several hundred feet away, Xena shouted to Ares amidst the fighting. "She needs help! She can't handle Dahok on her own!"


"I can't leave you, there are too many of them!" Ares shouted back, zapping priests left and right. "Let me get you out of here!"


"No!" Xena yelled. "If you really want to do something to help, why don't you get those children out!"


Ares looked at the cage the children were being held in next to the dais, and zapped the lock with his powers, bursting the door open. Children started running out, screaming.


On the dais, Gabrielle saw the children escaping, and was distracted for a moment. A moment was all Dahok needed. Gabrielle barely saw the fireball coming, and jumped out of the way only at the last moment. It exploded while she was still in motion, and she landed with a thud on wooden planks of the dais. She looked back at Dahok. As she stared at the hatred and malice in Joxer's face, she realized how blind she had been all this time. In that moment, everything became crystal clear. The evil in Joxer's eyes completely replaced the love that Gabrielle now knew had been there for her before. In that moment, Gabrielle knew what she might very well have lost. In that moment, she knew she loved Joxer. As he raised his hand to point at her, Gabrielle knew he was about to kill her. She also knew she had no way to get away from the blast that would be coming. She called up all of her newfound realizations, and love she felt for her gentle friend, and called his name, "Joxer!"


Mere feet away, Dahok stopped. He seemed almost confused for a moment, and then the confusion on his face was replaced by fear and concern, and great concentration. Gabrielle suddenly knew that it was Joxer's true face she was seeing. "Gabrielle!" he said haltingly, but with urgency, "Gabby I can't stop him, run........please!"


"Joxer," Gabrielle breathed, pushing herself up off the floor. "Joxer, yes you can. You can do it. I'm here, I'm right here. Just focus on me and you can fight it." She held out her hand, and Joxer started to reach for it. Suddenly all of the expression in his face melted away, and was replaced by that cold hate again, and Gabrielle yanked her hand back. She watched as Dahok seemed to struggle with himself.......no, she thought, he's struggling with Joxer.......before regaining control. Using the distraction, Gabrielle found the dagger that had been knocked to the floor earlier. Turning quickly to the altar, she cut the bonds that held the child tied there. It bolted from the dais, and then it was just the two of them. The god and his victim. "I know you can do this Joxer. You can fight him because you have to. You have to come back to me, I care about you," Gabrielle tried again.


"Lies," Dahok spat. "I know his mind, I can see clearly what you are to him. Who you are to him. For all of your posturing, you're nothing more than a spineless, selfish woman who cares nothing for this mortal. You are cruel to him, and must confess that you care nothing about whether he lives or dies."


"That's not true," Gabrielle whispered. "That's not what he thinks."


"Isn't it?" the god sneered. And with that he attacked her anew. Falling back under his rain of blows, Gabrielle was astounded at how strong he was. Obviously Dahok had more control of Joxer than just his mind. In one swift move, Dahok grabbed her wrist and broke it, twisting it back until she heard it snap. In pain, she dropped the dagger she'd used to free the child, and Dahok scooped it up. The next thing Gabrielle knew she was pushed back against the altar; her feet still on the floor, but she was bent backward on its flat surface. Dahok stood against her, holding the dagger high against the night sky behind him. "You know Gabrielle, this really is an honor. You will be the first. Your death will herald my coming on this earth. Your demise will mark the slaughter of millions." With that the arm holding the dagger poised to strike.


"Joxer, I love you!" Gabrielle cried. The plea contained all of her love, all of her anguish, and all of her woe in one voice, and it stopped the dagger in mid-plunge. Gabrielle watched the horrible play of emotions cross Joxer's face: anger, consternation, fear, concern, struggle for control. Finally, Joxer. He opened his mouth, but nothing came out. He looked down at her with tortured eyes, but seemed unable to drop the dagger, or step away from her. The dagger moved, seemingly of its own volition, toward Gabrielle's throat, as Joxer managed to make a few sounds. "Gabri.......Gabrielle." the word was torn from Joxer's throat, and his expression reflected his fear for her. "Gabrielle run!"


"No," Gabrielle said, and she stood facing him, "No I won't leave you. Fight him Joxer. You can do it, I know you can."


Despite her pleas, Joxer appeared to start losing control. Begging Gabrielle to run away, he stumbled back from her, trying to get as far away from her as he could........but she followed him. Desperate not to lose control and hurt her, Joxer turned the dagger toward himself.


"No!" Gabrielle cried, and rushed to him, knocking the dagger out of his grasp. It flew across the dais and dropped off the edge. Taking one last step, Gabrielle leaned into Joxer and brought her good hand up around the back of his head. Pulling his face down to her, she kissed him........feeling him tremble beneath her touch. The trembling grew more pronounced until he suddenly threw her away, and fell to the floor with a cry. A brilliant light surrounded him, and Gabrielle had to shield her eyes from the glare. A wind sprang up out of nowhere, and blew through their hair and clothes wildly as the sound of the wind deafened them. In the middle of the maelstrom, Joxer howled as the struggle for his soul went on inside him.


Xena braced for another onslaught that never came. The priests who were still standing had stopped attacking, and were watching the dais. Not coming out of her defensive posture, she looked to the dais and saw Joxer enveloped in a blinding light on the floor.......Gabrielle in a similar position not far away from him. Suddenly the light convalesced, swirling into a red sphere above the dais. It hovered there for a moment, then shot up into the sky, leaving the clearing lit only by the moonlight and candles once more. The priest immediately in front of Xena turned back to her, and Xena prepared to resume fighting. Suddenly the priest whirled around, however, and ran the other way, out of town. His fellows following suit, Xena found herself with no one left to fight. Sheathing her sword, she turned to Ares. Just as she opened her mouth, he looked at her with an innocent expression, and vanished. Xena looked back toward the dais.


On the floor, Gabrielle crawled over to where Joxer lay slumped in a heap. She cradled his head in her lap, and made sure he was still alive. Groaning weakly, his eyes fluttered open. "Gabrielle?" he asked.


"I'm here, Joxer," Gabrielle said softly. "I'm right here."












VI.








After Xena bandaged the bard's broken wrist, Gabrielle took the first watch over Joxer that night. After his semi-consciousness on the dais, he had slipped back into a deep sleep that he couldn't be wakened from, and they rented two rooms at the local inn to stay in for the night. Xena headed off to her room, and Gabrielle stayed with Joxer. While she sat with him she kept wondering how things would be, and she felt afraid that it was too late. That Dahok was right, that Joxer had finally wised up and realized just how selfish she really was. Gabrielle couldn't believe that this whole time he'd loved her so much.....so much that he would try to take his own life rather than let Dahok hurt herand she hadn't even known, much less cared. Sitting at his bedside, holding his hand, Gabrielle whispered "You're too good for me.."


When the time came, Gabrielle changed places with Xena, and went to lie down in the other bedroom. Tossing and turning; unable to sleep, she left the bed early and opened the door to Joxer's room. Xena looked up, and shook her head at Gabrielle's expression. No change yet. Grabbing her pack and heading downstairs, Gabrielle decided that since she couldn't sleep she might as well go out and get some breakfast and supplies. The villagers were all out and about already as well, acting as if their children hadn't almost been massacred by a crazed god the night before. They bartered and sold and bought and shopped, and Gabrielle took a deep breath of the normalcy. She'd gotten everything they needed, and was almost back to the inn when voice cried out ahead of her.


"Gabby!"


Looking up, Gabrielle saw Joxer standing in front of the inn he'd just run from. He started toward her, and Gabrielle dropped everything as she ran to him. They met in a fierce hug, and Gabrielle breathed his name into his shirt. Pulling back a little, she looked into his eyes and asked "Joxer, are you alright?" even as she saw that he was. His brown eyes were soft, and shone with his own unique spirit. He was okay.


Joxer grinned momentarily. "Yeah, I've just got one heluva hangover!" Taking in her bandaged wrist, his smile faded immediately. "I did that," he said in a pained voice. "I broke your wrist."


"No Joxer," Gabrielle said as he gingerly enveloped her hurt hand in his two. "It wasn't you, it was Dahok. You saved me. He tried to kill me, but you stopped him."


Joxer's distressed eyes rose from her wrist and met hers again. "But........"


"No," Gabrielle interrupted. "You saved my life, Joxer." Seeing his discomfort ease a little, she attempted to change the subject. "So how much do you remember, anyway?"


"Everything," he answered, the disgust evident on his face. "From the moment he took me over I had no control. It was like, I could still see and hear and feel, but couldn't stop what he was doing. I could even feel what he was feeling. He was glad when you showed up at the festival. He wanted.......he wanted" Joxer broke off, unable to continue.


Gabrielle touched his face with her good hand. "It's okay," she said to him.


Joxer continued. "I remember fighting you, and almost killing you. And then I remember you saying.......you said that you loved me."


Gabrielle smiled. "Yes," she said. Good, he remembered. Her smile faded as Joxer continued speaking, however.


"And I know that you said that because you knew it was maybe the only thing that would stop Dahok, and that's okay. That's okay because you were right. It gave me the strength I needed to stop him. I know you don't really........I mean, I know you don't love, uh...........I know you don't feel that way."


Gabrielle looked up at him earnestly and said "But I do". At his startled look, she smiled again. A big, beautiful smile full of realization and happiness. " I do, Joxer. I love you."


He stared at her, stunned, until she tried to kiss him. Snapped out of his wonder, he stuttered "A spell! You're under a spell again! Like when Bliss shot you with that arrow! And you only THINK you're in love with me!" As Gabrielle tried to interrupt, Joxer continued, almost to himself. "It's okay Gabby, don't worry. We'll just go get Xena, and we'll figure out what's gotten into you, and we'll fix it." He took her good arm and began to lead her back to the inn.


"Joxer, will you stop!" Gabrielle yelled, disengaging herself from his grip and facing him again. "I'm not under any spell, I haven't been shot with any arrows, and I've been an idiot for the past three years!" Gabrielle enunciated her point by grabbing hold of him and pressing her lips against his, kissing him firmly.


After she let go of him, Joxer stared at her, stunned again, and it was several moments before gather his wits enough to speak properly. "But, but Gabrielle.........that's not possible. What could someone.......someone like you possibly see in someone like me? I'm clumsy, I can't fight very well, I'm not as smart as you........"


Gabrielle interrupted him again. "And you're sweet, and kind, and funny, and a loyal friend to a fault, Joxer."


"But I'm nobody," Joxer said. "When people look at me they see a bumbling fool."


Gabrielle smiled again. "Joxer when I look at you do you want to know what I see? I see someone who has been there for me every time I've ever needed a friend. Who has been there to try and comfort and console me as best he could. I see someone who has shown his bravery and loyalty to me countless times. Joxer, this is what I mean when I say I've been an idiot. From the very first time we met, you've done nothing but show me what a good person you are. When Callisto ordered you to kill me, you defied her, even knowing that she was going to order you killed for it."


Joxer started to interrupt, but Gabrielle continued empathetically. "When Xena came after me when I was in the purification hut, it was you who tried to save me. You tried to carry me away from her, even knowing how badly Xena would hurt you if you got in her way. You stood up to her for me."


Joxer held up his index finger. "The operative word there was 'tried'. I couldn't save you, Xena got to you."


Gabrielle took his hand, holding it in her own. "It was YOU who saved me last night when Dahok tried to kill me. Against unbelievable odds, you beat him, and kept him from killing me."


Joxer looked at Gabrielle silently, not quite daring to hope. He trembled a little as she touched his face lightly with her broken hand and gazed into his eyes, but resisted not at all as she tilted her face up to his and kissed him again. Hesitant at first, Joxer gradually warmed to her kiss as his disbelief faded, and his arms encircled her as she leaned into him. When she broke the kiss, his eyes were wide with wonder and joy. "Gabrielle," he said, "I love you."


Gabrielle gazed back up at him, and smiled as she said "I love you, Joxer."


In front of the inn, Xena crossed her arms and leaned against the building with a smile. "Not even your presence could get me down right now, Ares." she said to the air next to her. Ares flashed in with a grin.


"Wanna bet?" he said. "Look," he started.


"No you look," Xena interrupted. "I don't know why you did what you did, but for once it turned out okay, so let's not even go into explanations." Xena stared him down until his mouth shut, and she continued. "Also, I wanted to say thank you, for sticking by me in battle, and for releasing those kids. I can't help but feel that you had some sort of agenda here, but for whatever reason everything worked out for a change. So thank you." Xena looked back at her two friends embracing in the street, and said out of the corner of her mouth "Now go away, you're bothering me." She heard a flash, and smiled again.






-end-