Disclaimer: The characters belong to Renpics.
Summary: When two certain obstinate heroines have run out of love Aphrodite sends out her own favourite dork for putting things right again.
Sex and subtext: Even if this fic do includes two prostitutes, a brothel, the goddess of love, Joxer, two lesbians (well - according to one school of thought anyway) and a jug of marmalade, it doesn't actually include sex. It's rather about cuddling in front of the camp fire and whispering sweet words in each others ears (and the marmalade is strictly for eating purpose.) There is also some naughty language and silly dialects. If you are uncertain whether you should read it or not - ask your mother to read it first.
Aphrodite's little helper
The fire sparkled and caused friendly shadows to dance along the walls of the little room. A kettle was boiling, now and then sending small puffs of vapour into the thick air to mingle with smoke and the appealing smell of toast. Joxer sat next to the fireplace in a cosy armchair with his feet almost dangerously close to the flames. He had agreed to part from his armour and was now wearing a brown, comfortable linen tunic. Meg had even made him take off his deeply beloved helmet, even if she had had to let it stay in the room where he could keep an eye on it.
Meg herself sat in a chair next to him and was for the moment occupied with trying to save the toasts from a certain death in flames. The toasts in question stubbornly refused to leave their warm spot on the grid, and in her attempts to persuade them the only result Meg got was a burnt thumb. Joxer laughed heartily when she snatched the hand out from the fireplace, but he stopped abruptly when she turned an evil eye towards him.
'Ye thinks that's funny, me burning meself?' she accused him, waving her bruised hand like a weapon in his face. Joxer, sensing the seriousness of the situation gave her one of his patented goofy grin and took her hand.
'Not funny at all, my love' he answered in a voice dripping of butter. He looked her deep in the eyes and tried to remember a phrase he once had learned from Orpheus and then memorized just for situations like this.
'Each bruise on your slender body, oh you light of my life, is like a poisonous spear stabbing deep in my heart, leaving my body defenceless and easy pray for the scavengers of the night... here, let me kiss it better.' The last part was his own invention, but he rather liked it. Meg giggled helplessly when he lifted her not at all unwilling hand to his lips to place a smooth kiss on the finger he guessed had been in closest contact with the fire.
'Ye're just an old softie!' she sneered, gently withdrawing her hand. 'and right now yer toast is on fire.'
With a surprised roar Joxer leapt up from the chair and almost dived into the fireplace. He nearly knocked over the kettle in the process, but a little while later he and Meg were sharing the just a little overdone toast, covered with a generous amount of marmalade. And he was almost not hurt at all
'Not many customers at the brothel today' he remarked with his mouth filled with toast.
'Nah' Meg answered. 'There is not much going on this time of the year I sent the gels who wanted home to their families. The ones who stayed will be more than enough to handle it by themselves tonight. It is mostly villagers here anyway and they won't cause us no trouble.'
'I suppose so' Joxer agreed, not really interested by the subject anyway. He sipped thoughtfully on his tea and put the mug down on the arm of the chair. The mug rocked gently for a few moments and then tipped over and emptied its still almost boiling content in Joxer's lap. Surprised he jumped up with a yelp, sending the mug rolling over the floor. Meg laughed and picked it up. She patted her still cursing hero on his hand.
'Now I recognize ye, dear clumsy' she said tenderly. 'Ye've nearly cracked nothing in the whole evening. I was getting worried for ye' she added with a wry smile.
'Oh, you forget about that jug I dropped' Joxer answered smiling, taking her hand again. 'Not to mention the chair. But that wasn't my fault. It was wobbly to begin with. I only did you a favor disarming it before someone else got hurt.'
'Yeah, just like ye did with me necklace ye mean?' Meg mocked.
Joxer shrugged. 'I couldn't help it got stuck in my gauntlet. I just tried to help you get it off.'
'Ye always tries to help. That's was makes ye so special.' Meg announced with soft voice. 'And of course ye're funny.' she added to smooth over the romantic touch of her last words. She didn't like to show that particular part of her personality, even to someone she trusted as well as Joxer.
Joxer just regarded her in silence, his eyes filled with mist and devotion. As a response he lent forward and gently kissed her. Meg grinned back, happiness radiating from her eyes. Normally anyone trying to kiss her (at least, anyone who wasn't paying enough) would have found her fist in his face as thanks for the attempt. With Joxer however this wasn't work. It was pleasure.
A respectful knock of the door interrupted their tete-a'-tete before it got any more interesting.
'Yeah, what?' Meg shouted, refusing to take her eyes of Joxer. The door opened and Direnie, one of the girls who had been longest at the brothel, entered.
'I hope I'm not interrupting anything' she said with a voice full of glee. Just wanted to tell that we're finished for the night now. There's some rumours that the traders will come this way tomorrow, so we thought we would as well get some sleep tonight when we still can.'
'That's good thinkin' of ye' Meg announced. 'Ye want to be rested tomorrow, that's for sure. Have ye girls singsonged tonight?'
'Sure we have' Direnie answered happily. 'Senda taught us a new one. It's about bunnies.'
'I'm sure I will like it' Meg said and caught Joxer's puzzled glance. 'Oh, it's just a habit we got from Leah up at the temple' she explained. 'A little singsong now and then makes everyone feel a bit more happy so we usually gather for a few oldies-but-goodies in the end of the day'
'Makes you relax after a hard days work' Direnie agreed. 'Well, if that's all I'll go to bed now.' She turned and headed for the door, but in the doorway she hesitated and spoke again. 'Oh, I almost forgot. There is a lady who wants to see the hero of yours.'
'Well, ye can tell that "lady" to get lost' Meg sneered. 'Joxer's busy tonight.'
'She isn't really the kind of lady just ask to get lost' Direnie softly answered as a pink avalanche invaded the room.
'Joxer darling' the scarily dressed newcomer said. 'How I have looked for you. Can you save him a moment sweetie?' she added, turning to Meg. 'He has got work to do.'
'Hi Dite' Joxer said sheepishly, trying to avoid Meg's eyes. 'Why don't you join us for a cup of tea?'
The goddess took a dancing step across the room with her pink dress (in lack of better words) flowing behind her and curiously sniffed the content in Meg's mug. She frowned.
'Yuck! You mortals really drink this? It's SO disgusting! Anyway, I don't have time to stay and chat. Duty calls you know. This love business can be so demanding.'
She interrupted her monologue and stopped in front of Meg, giving her that kind of down-the-nose look you save for cute kittens that are suspected for have done something foul on the carpet. Meg returned her gaze with the kind of look the kitten in question would have given if it thought it was a tiger.
'Oh, you must be that tramp my boy Joxer hangs around with. How nice to meet you love. Won't mind I borrow him, I take it.'
'Eh... Meg, this is Aphrodite, goddess of love' Joxer blurted out in a weak attempt to save the situation. Meg swallowed the repartee she had prepared and gave him a sceptical look.
'This slut should be Aphrodite? Have ye lost the little sense ye had?'
'That's SO out of order!' the goddess stated indigent. 'Meg darling, you practically work for me. You even got a statue of me up in that posh bedroom for those who pays well, and then you say you don't recognize me. Joxie, I am disappointed with you for not telling her.'
Meg didn't even bother to look embarrassed about the goddess' knowledge in her establishment. She glanced grumpily at the pouting divine one for a few moments and gave up.
'Sure, I recognize ye' she muttered. 'Don't think I don't know that ye drop in now and then, the gels have seen ye, ye know.' If she had hoped for some kind of reaction she was disappointed. Aphrodite simply looked curious.
'So, what is it this time?' Joxer asked in a smoothing voice, releasing the tension in the room. Aphrodite turned her attention to him again.
'Oh, just the usual, sweetie. Things working quite fine, not much really happening, but the little darlings feel a bit down. Need a little push in the right direction you know. So I just thought - hey, why don't drop in to my boy Joxer when I'm passing by, and Thah, here I am. Happy to see you too thanks for saying.'
Joxer lost track about half way in the sentence, but he heard enough for getting a clue of what is was all about. He stared at Aphrodite in disbelief.
'Don't tell me they are messing it up AGAIN?'
'Duh, you don't say. Stiff as a pair of old boots, aren't they?' she exclaimed shaking her heads and letting the blond locks flying a bit faster than they really should have done if it had been mortal locks on a mortal head. 'Anyway it's a bit hard for me to interfere, with Xena having that thing against gods and all. So you just be a dear and go there and help things on track, will you?'
Joxer sighed wearily. 'Listen Dite, can't it wait till tomorrow or something, I mean I had just settled in and I and Meg were...'
'Oh, don't want to interrupt THAT!' the goddess answered happily. 'Got my reputation after all. So you just be a god boy and go there now and you will be back in no time to keep on where you finished.'
Joxer gave up. He knew perfectly well how little use it was to argue with the goddess of love.
'You can at least send me there so I don't have to spend the night walking' he wined.
'Oh, of course lover boy' Aphrodite said and waved distracted with her hand in the air. Joxer disappeared. A moment later also his helmet vanished. Meg couldn't help a surprised cry.
'No panic sweetie' Aphrodite assured. 'It will be no time till that hunk of yours is back for you again. You can use the spare time to...' the goddess chatter slowed down and got a more uncertain tone '...to dip yourself in water or sit over a barrel of poo or whatever you mortal types like to do with your pastime.'
She slipped down in the armchair with a relaxed smile, no doubt pondering over the endless pleasure of not being one of those "mortal types". She yawned and looked at Meg with a little smile.
'Now love, tell me about business. I'm sure I have job to do around here somewhere.'
The fire sparkled and sent shadows dancing around the little glade. Gabrielle was sitting on a log and staring into the flames, radiating an air of gloom clearly detectable several yards away. Xena sat on the other side of the fire, as far from her companion as possible, sharpening her sword and very carefully not taking any notice of Gabrielle. A soft rain was drizzling from the sky, making everything damp and uncomfortable.
Gabrielle sighed. Xena sharpened her sword, not responding.
Gabrielle sighed again. Xena kept not responding. Louder this time.
The third time she put down her sword with unnecessary caution and even managed a little metallic "plink" (which wasn't very easy, given that the glade was covered in soft grass) when it hit the ground. First when her body language had made it perfectly clear that she had better things to do she turned to Gabrielle with an expression of total indifference.
'How do you feel Gabrielle?' she asked with a voice clearly suggesting that she wasn't at all interested in the answer to that question. 'Are you cold? Do you want something to eat?'
Gabrielle gave her a look telling more clear than any word that whatever was the problem, Xena alone was to blame for it.
'No thank you, I'm fine' she answered with a voice telling the opposite.
'Good' Xena answered, picking up the sword again and disappearing into her own world. Gabrielle went on sighing. She regarded her companion in the corner of her eye, feeling not so little hurt by the coldness radiating from the warrior princess. That she herself made her best to achieve the same expression didn't really count.
She couldn't remember right now how the row had started. Probably one or the other of them had just felt a little grumpy and made a sharp reply at the wrong time, making the other one feel hurt - and after that things had just got worse. They had spent most of the evening not talking to each other, and everything was pointing at a night no better.
Why must Xena be so cold against her? And had she really to be so sensitive about things that didn't matter? OK, Gabrielle had maybe been singing a bit too loud earlier that day, spoiling the ambush they had set. So what? It wasn't like Xena couldn't handle the warriors attacking from every direction, was it? And she was so SELFISH. It was never a question of what Gabrielle wanted to do, oh no. It was always this man eating lion or that warlord or that crazy god wrecking havoc. But if Gabrielle wanted to stay at the theatre when they passed a town Xena immediately found someone else to fight. Preferably far away. And now she just sat there as if Gabrielle didn't mean anything at all to her. It was all so unfair.
Xena regarded Gabrielle from the corner of her eye. She had at least made an effort to talk, but the bard had just sneered at her. Why must she always be so difficult? Sometimes Xena felt like she spent all day trying to please her companion. It was salmon in the wrong season. It was traveling all over Greece in walking tempo, just because it didn't suit precious Gabrielle to ride a horse. It was spending ages finding the right camping spot, not to mention all those ridiculous theatre plays the bard kept dragging her to. And what about those endless miles listening to Gabrielle's chatter... Xena hesitated. She had to admit to herself that she was rather fond of just that particular habit of her companion.
There was never any gratitude, that was the problem. Look at her now, for example. Gabrielle sitting there sighing and looking like all sorrows in the world were on her shoulders. It didn't matter how much Xena tried, it was simply never enough. OK, she had to admit it maybe had been a bit tactless of her starting a fight in that tavern in the middle of Gabrielle's story. But it was a warlord sitting there for Hades sake, he was plotting to raid the very same village. Of course he had to be stopped. But try to explain that to Gabrielle. Oh no, not a chance. All she could think of was her stupid story. And now she just sat there as if Xena didn't mean anything at all to her. It was all so unfair.
Their silence was suddenly interrupted by a noise as if someone was dropping a box of metal junk on a stone floor. It was followed by a curse and the sound of someone painfully dragging himself to his feet. Xena and Gabrielle looked at the stumbling warrior emerging from the forest. Gabrielle rolled her eyes. Just when you thought things couldn't get worse...
'Hi Joxer' she said as he joined them at the fire.
'Hi Gabby' he answered with his normal tone of voice, radiating bad self-esteem and an overwhelming urge to compensate for it. 'Hi Xena' he added and sat down on a log between the two heroines. Xena didn't answer. She kept on sharpening her sword.
'So, what are you guys up to?' Joxer asked cheerfully, turning his head around like an owl in his attempt to speak to them both at the same time. He wasn't really surprised when he didn't get an answer.
'Well, for myself I have been hanging around at Meg's for a while. You know, old friends getting together.. Haha' he babbled. Since there was no interruption, he went on. 'And I fought this giant back in... Arusia. He was massive! Big as a... as a giant. But a big giant, that is. And he had captured all of the people in the village and put them in a big cauldron to cook for his dinner. But when I came he...'
'Joxer' Xena interrupted in her usual "shut up"-tone of voice. 'There is no village named Arusia.'
'Oh, of course not' he replied, not loosing a single moment. 'Because the giant destroyed it. However, when I got there and saw what was going on, I went straight to him and I said...'
'THANK you Joxer. That was interesting to hear.' Gabrielle stated. If you ever want to tell us any other adventures...' She realized too late that she played him right in his hands.
'Why, of course. Say, have I ever told you about the time I met the hydra. It was a long time ago, I was nothing but a young hero back then and I...'
'Joxer, shut up.'
'Oh... sorry Xena. Shutting up.'
She hadn't actually threatened him. She didn't need to. Joxer fell into silence together with the two heroines. He started into the fire, now and then glancing at Xena or Gabrielle. They sat in much the same mood as when he had arrived, even if he thought he could see a glint of gratitude for making him silent in Gabrielle's expression when Xena didn't look. It wasn't much, but it was always a beginning. He decided to try again.
'I heard this warlord back in Tarmensia was put to jail. Your doing Xena?'
'Pretty neat job, they said. All of his gang struck down and tied up. Learned a bit to late not getting in the wrong end of your little stick, isn't that true, Gabby? Haha. With heroes like the three of us around there is no chance for thugs like them, I say.' He waited a few moments until he added the punch line.
'Or rather I should say, with heroes like the two of you. This teamwork thing you have is amazing. You should feel proud about each other. But I don't suppose I have to tell you that.'
"I wish" he thought for himself, eagerly watching their faces for result.
Xena had stopped sharpening her sword and now stared unemotional into the fire with a face made of stone. Gabrielle had got a softer expression, soon followed by an angry one as she fought her inner battles. Still, none of them spoke. They simply didn't want to forgive each other. Not without suffering a bit more first.
Joxer had no idea what they were grumpy over this time, nor did he think for a second that knowing it would make things easier. But whatever it was, they were both very keen on not forgetting it - or forgiving each other for it. He also had no idea why Xena and Gabrielle kept doing this to themselves. They loved each other - no one within an area of fifteen miles could miss that. They ate, slept and spend as much of their daily life as ever possible together and had both at several occasions promised each other to keep sticking to each other, whatever should happen. But then one of them felt a bit neglected and did something that hurt the other one, who in her turn did something to hurt the first one... it was like they found some strange pleasure in punishing themselves, if only so they could have a tear filled reunion. If only they could come to that part a bit quicker. But they were both so damned stubborn.
Sometimes Joxer felt like just leaving them alone and let them sort it out by themselves. But the memory of Meg's cosy kitchen kept him going. He had after all one last card to play. It was not totally without risks... not with the warrior princess around. But after all, taking risks was what the hero business was all about - that didn't change with working for the goddess of love. He cleared his throat.
'Oh, by the way. I heard them talking about some of your adventures back in the last village. You were telling stories in the tavern again, I take it?'
'I tried.' Gabrielle muttered.
'Well, they had heard of that time when you and me helped princess Ileandra and prince Sarpedon get together. You know, back when Aphrodite put that ring-the-bell-spell on me. You remember when I was to be beheaded but broke lose and heroically fought the guards. On the square where you and me kissed and you seemed to feel...'
'THANK YOU Joxer' Gabrielle shouted. 'Thanks for reminding us. I'm sure Xena isn't interested in hearing any more of it right now.' she added with a pleading glance at her companion.
'Not one of mine favourite stories.' Xena agreed.
'Of course not. You are not in it.'
'Well, that only means I'm not the one made fool of for once.'
"Bickering, good. That at least breaks the ice" Joxer thought before adding the final fuel to the fire.
'Anyway, they asked me a bit about that and - I know it sounds crazy - they asked if you were in love with me or why you else choose to travel so much in my company. After all, it seems a bit strange a young, attractive girl like yourself travelling alone without any man to... AAAARRRG!'
'Joxer' Gabrielle said in a tone of voice just slightly friendlier than boiling tar.' I am NOT in love with you, and I'm NOT travelling alone. I'm travelling with Xena.'
'Unberstoob' he winced, trying to free his nose. 'I was just telling what they said.'
'Well, you should know better than to listen to that kind of rumours' Gabrielle said, letting go of his nose. 'Just because we don't constantly have a bunch of men around doesn't mean we fall in love with any bloke we find along the road'
'Of course I understand.' he answered, noting the "we". 'I mean, everyone knows that since Perdi...'
He was a bit afraid he had gone too far. It was something in Xena's eyes that told him that any more sound coming from him would grant him an immediate and unpleasant death. Anyway, he was impressed by the way she suddenly appeared in a protective pose next to Gabrielle, obviously without bothering with actually moving there. He closed his mouth with a snap.
'Thank you for dropping by Joxer' Xena said with a voice once successfully used for making armies turn and flee. 'However, I am sure you have more important things to do somewhere else. Right now. So we won't keep you here any more.'
She put her arm around Gabrielle's shoulder - Gabrielle had already put her own arm around Xena's waist. They both gave Joxer a look that meant "bugger off". He was only too happy to do so.
When he reached the trees he turned and looked back. Xena and Gabrielle were sitting very, very close together on a log, holding each other and talking in soft voices. Joxer regarded them for a little time with a warm expression in his face. Sometimes it looked quite bad when they had a row, but even at their worst moments they only needed a tiny little push to fall back in each others arms. Something to remind them how much they loved each other. Jealousy was good enough. Still smiling, Joxer started to walk. None of the heroines turned to see him disappear in the forest, but that didn't matter. Joxer didn't mind being the one that gave them the necessary push. As long as they were happy, he was happy.
The rain had stopped by now and the forest smelled funny. After a few steps Joxer started to whistle the hero song he was constantly rewriting. He would probably have time for another verse tonight while walking back to Meg's brothel. If he knew Aphrodite right she had already forgot all about him by now. Until next time she needed his help with two certain wrenching heroines, of course.