The Joining
by Kamouraskan

Part 5
 

Warning: My daughter, D.A. , requested a scene with Ares, as well as one with Joxer. Proof there is a balance in all things. A small scene with Joxer occurs in this segment. He is not disemboweled or otherwise killed. Heís dealt with sympathetically. Sorry.
 
 

"We ARE going to talk with them." The Queen repeated.

Xena buried her nose in the Bards hair. "We? Not my department, love."

"This is about the two of them, so itís about the two of us. Robin has got to know about the Bond, what the separation can mean. And James has got to be shown that the risk is worth it."

Xena sighed and moved her hand to grasp her nose with her thumb and forefinger. "Youíve figured out why she lost her memory? Howzit gonna help if they talk now; if she doesnít remember anything after they get back?"

Xena shook her head knowing there would be that familiar optimistic gleam in her bards eye. "Thereís always a way around a curse, right? And Iím thinking that maybe working out their feelings is part of the answer. So..." "I hate sensitive chats." The warrior muttered half-heartedly. "But youíre so good at them," and Gabrielle turned about and into her kiss. It began as a sweetness, and was beginning to turn to something else when Xena stiffened. "Ephiny... about three trees back, trying to figure how to get over here..." "Oh, poop," said the Queen of the Amazons as she began to rearrange her clothing. There was a movement on the branch above them as weight was added, and then the Regent was in front of them, arms crossed. "Hi Ephiny!" Gabrielle said brightly.

"Uh, huh....." Said the Regent.

"Donít look at me like that, I mean! Really! This branch is hardly a handswidth. Itís not like we could DO anything..." Gabrielleís attempt at outrage only got another "Uh huh." "Anyways, we were just coming to see you..."

"Uh huh..."

The banquet that was thrown together was held at Cyreneís, though no one would use that name in earshot of Xenaís mother. The open air bar was strictly Salmoneousí creation, she was assuring all and sundry, especially after she saw the price list.

James, still avoiding Robin, had moved to a seat at the head table, and sat listening to Gabrielle and Ephiny having their usual argument.

"You canít seriously still call what you do as Ďplaying at being the Queení Gabrielle, not after your performance at the trial." Ephiny was yelling over the din.

"But thatís what it was, a performance. Youíre the leader, Eph, my life is with Xena on the road..."

"I know, I know, Iíve heard it a thousand times, but have you considered that..." At this point, Ephiny reached over and grabbed a surprised James by his collar and pulled him across, nearly spilling his drink. "James and I have been talking..."

"Ah huh?...." Gabrielle looked to James accusingly.

"....Yes, and we think that youíve been somewhat selfish, as far as your adventures on the road..." James hastily corrected, "Not selfish, just concerned with the lives of your Amazons..."

Ephiny disagreed, "Selfish. If she would allow us to make our own choices..."

James tried to move away from the argument, "Actually, I thought of this as a way of ending the tension between the warriors and the peacemakers. I mean, how many challenges will it take? Do you really want to spend all your time and maybe your life defending your beliefs AND the mask? You have to give them something to do, Gabrielle, Valasca was right, if only that these ARE warriors...."

Several people noticed the discussion become more heated and Autolycus was hauled over and questioned by the bard.

"Donít tell me you are helping them with this squad?"

"Well, lets see the disadvantages," Autolycus mused. "I must work with and train several young , even attractive women, at times of my choosing. Which would virtually eliminate you and Xena calling on me at, shall we say, awkward moments. Gee Gabrielle, I canít see why I would agree."

Gabrielle, looked at him with distaste and turned to Ephiny. Ď"What does Xena say?" Ephiny now played her trump card. "Oh, she said it made sense, but she that you would never agree to it..."

The thief, James and Ephiny maintained straight faces as Gabrielleís eyes blazed, and then she stood. Banging her staff on the table, until quiet was achieved, she called out.

"Amazons! I have an announcement!"

The celebrations ceased instantly. "It has been brought to my attention, that there have been several instances when Xena and I in our travels have needed the help of our Sisters, and I was hesitant to call upon them because I felt it was not my place to risk more lives in our pursuit of the Greater Good. I have been advised that some of you might have gladly volunteered for such adventures, and that I might have been ..."she choked on the word slightly, "selfish in not offering this...ah, chance."

She looked across to Xena, who was staring at her opened mouthed. This seemed to remotivate her. "I now believe, that a select group of Amazons, with specialized training, including ", looking to Autolycus now, "Lock picking,..."

Ephiny broke in. "Dungeon and prison rescues, castle storming..." Now the crowd was really listening "...teaching villagers basic defensive techniques.." Gabrielle tried to continue.

"Specialized combat training by a certain warrior princess..."

Gabrielle glared at Ephiny until she meekly sat down.

"If there are any that would be interested in such a force, Eponin will take your names and..."

The rest was lost in the sound of one hundred Amazons leaping to their feet and charging the unprepared Weaponís Master, who failed to move from her stunned stupor before being swamped by the stampede.

23

Iolaus caught up to James and stopped as they watched with amusement as Eponin cowed and threatened the eager volunteers into orderly lines. "Of course you realize that you guys have just given the former Destroyer of Nations her own elite strike force, donít you?"

James took a sip of his ale and said "Hades, with Xenaís charisma, she could sign on as a cook in someoneís army and within a week sheíd have the sworn loyalty of every man if she wanted. But this army will be under Gabrielle, with Xena as the commander. So, nope, Iím not worried."

He noticed that Iolaus was staring at a point above his shoulder, and wasnít surprised when a silky voice spoke from behind him.

"Perhaps heís more worried about his talk with Joxer?"

"What talk with Joxer?" said Solari joining them.

That damn bet. Of course she would remember it. "Youíre going to hold me to that? I donít even remember what it was I lost at."

"There was a bet?" Solari inquired.

Xena leaned over to Solariís ear and began explaining something. Solariís eyes grew large, and she sputtered, "And He Lost?" She turned to evaluate James again with a now critical eye. "No wonder heís avoiding Robin..." "What the hell?" James turned to face Xena. `"Look, I still donít know what this bet was, but Iím damn well not going to counsel poor Joxer if he finds out that Iím only doing it because I lost some stupid drinking contest. How do you think he would feel?" The group fell silent.

"Wow," said Iolaus noticing Xenaís expression. "Xena is embarrassed. And about hurting Joxer!"

"Xena likes Joxer, Xena likes Joxer," Solari started chanting drunkenly, before she was picked up by an angry warrior princess and swiftly carried from the bar. Eponin called out from her registering duties, "Twenty dinars says we can hear the splash from here!" James left to look for his new client while Iolous began to calculate the distance to the nearest stream.

*************************

Joxer was sitting alone, staring at an empty pitcher in front of him. James sat down beside him. Joxer looked up and grimaced.

"Itís OK, I heard about the bet. Iíll tell Xena we talked." he turned back to look at the pitcher. James could only curse himself, and sit down beside him. "Look, Joxer,..."

"Go away. Please."

"Xena cares about you..."

Off in the distance there was a cry and then a slight splash, and Eponin calling out "Yes!"

"...though she has strange ways of showing it, sometimes..." He sighed and continued.

"Xena couldnít do the sensitive chat, so she sent me, who you donít even know, almost like Gabrielle doesnít know you."

That got his attention. "What do you mean Gabby doesnít know me?"

"Joxer, you think youíre the king of rejection? I got you beat all over. Chances are a week from today, the woman I love will be calling the police if I show up at her door. And thatís where the real pain is. When youíve got unrequited love. You let your heart and your soul hang out there for this person to see, and youíre so open, a breeze hurts. Because youíre showing them everything, ... and then they say ĎNo`."

They sat in silence for a moment. "Thatís pain." James continued. "They seem to be saying ĎI reject YOU,í and you think theyíve seen and judged your core, everything you are. But Gabrielle, she never saw that. She was only looking at Xena the whole time. She never really knew you, Joxer, she never did. Your heart is still a secret from her, and she never knew what beautiful things you might have offered her. She missed all that. For whatever itís worth, she hasnít rejected you.

"But knowing that isnít enough. But now, you have to be strong. You have to be immensely tough, to try to remind yourself, biting back the pain, that these two people are your friends, and somewhere whatís best in you is happy for them. Time wonít heal this wound. Strength of character is what youíve got to find, anything else will destroy you, and your relationship with them." Joxer lifted his red eyes and looked mournfully to the dais at Gabrielle.

"They are your friends." James continued, "They have needed you before, and they will again. And if you donít bite back the pain, and donít let this twist you, you wonít be there for them."

"Might serve them right..." he mumbled. "Iíve read Gabrielleís scrolls, Joxer. I know the one thing you are not, is a coward. So, let me buy you a drink, and letís try to toast true love, even if it kills us, OK?"

"You mean that about the girl calling the cops on you?"

"If you had a choice, do you really want to listen to my problems? Or do you want to get your lute, I get my guitar, and we get into some music after we finish these drinks."

"Yeah," his hound dog face grinned crookedly," we could do that."

Robin moved away from the table behind them, and slipped away unnoticed.

24

He had taken Joxer`s arm, when James felt an a strange crawling sensation on the back of his neck, and he saw Gabrielleís head snap around to stare at him from across the tavern. "Godís, "he thought. He saw his anxiety mirrored on the Queenís face when he put up his hands.

She turned and began speaking urgently to Ephiny who nodded and ran off. He spoke to Joxer.

"Weíll have to put off that session for a moment, we have a real emergency. Joxer, We need to find Robin, right away. Grab everyone you have to, to help, but find her! OK?"

"Sure," Joxer said confused. "That shouldnít be too hard, she was sitting right there a minute ago..." and he pointed to the seats behind them.

James blanched, and shook himself. Ď No time for that now.í he thought. Gabrielle ran up to him, calling "Lycea`s missing! Sheís gone! Ephinyís gone to the Temple of Artemis. Whereís Xena?"

"She just took Solari for a swim, she must have gone without thinking." he grasped the hands of the frantic Bard.

"She just walked off site without thinking? Iím going to kill her!" She stormed. "Whereís Robin?"

"Joxer is in charge of finding her." She nodded and touched Joxerís arm. She spotted Iolous and Eponin and called out to them.

"Pony, weíre on! Get the clothes and the wig, and Iolaus, talk to Joxer, we have to have Robin ready. Now!"
 


James and the little Queen looked at each other, and she said, grim faced, "This had better work, because we only get one chance."

*****************


 




Standing in the moonlight, Xena had been enjoying herself watching Solari swimming to the opposite bank, making note of some of her newest obscenities, when she felt a familiar prickle on the back of her neck. Cursing her stupidity, she spun around, her sword already drawn.

"Hello, Ares." The God of War was hardly visible in the pre-dawn light, but Xena knew there would be a confident smirk on his face.

"Xena." He purred. " Here I was worried that we might not have a chance to chat before the big event...Ah Ah!..." he cautioned as she moved towards him, Lycea materializing in his arms.

Xena froze, murder in her eyes. "How....?" she hesitated. "Oh, those caterers that Salmoneous hired, and Falafel, was it? Very eager to help, and oh, so easily terrorized..." He looked over at the grim face and smiled.

"Oh, donít worry. I already took care of them for you. We couldnít let people who could so easily betray my Chosen, live. Could we? And one of your Amazon Guards was a bit...damaged as well, Iím afraid. " He leaned over to kiss the childís forehead.

Xena restrained herself with an effort.

"She is NOT, and never will be your Chosen, Ares. Put my daughter down."

"Oh, but Xena, you knew that I would be, how did your friend James put it, creaming in my leathers, over her? Such an ugly phrase, by the way. And yet, you were hardly watching her at all." He circled behind her, his whispers brushing the taut muscles of her neck. "But you neednít worry, Iím leaving her with you until her Time. I wouldnít want her to lose all the advantages of her home and family. Iím just here to make my claim, just the Touch, and then Iíll be off...for a while."

"No offer of a deal, Ares?"

"Her, in exchange for you? Oh no, princess. Iím afraid that youíve become rather set in your ways, old news really. " He raised the child and stared into her eyes. "Thereís a new player in town, and sheís going to be all mine."

Part 6


Taiko's Scrolls of the Xenaverse