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|No Strings Attached|
Oct 27th, 1999
Joxer tried to settle into the leather covered booth and ended up making an embarrassing squeaking noise in the process, as a result of which he then froze and glanced to Gabrielle for an awkward moment. Luckily, Gabrielle hadn't seemed to notice, which wouldn't be surprising considering the din of the loud tavern. Either that or she had politely ignored it. Joxer finished shuffling in behind the round table and tried to relax.
Gabrielle was resting back against the soft leather, her eyes staring past the loud patrons into some other world, her fingers idly tapping on one sai.
Joxer surreptitiously peered up at her as he leaned forward onto the wooden table, wondering as he had been for days now what the bard was thinking.
Suddenly her eyes swept over him and he quickly looked away, pretending to be interested in the tapestry that hung beside their table. Yet, inevitably, he looked back, and again saw the expression that made his chest ache.
Joxer took a deep breath and settled down onto his crossed forearms, his gaze locked onto the large dining hall.
Gabrielle hesitated, but Joxer refused to look at her.
"I thought that you were going to stay on in Spamona for awhile."
Joxer steeled his features to nonchalance, even as his insides did flip-flops. "I decided to come with you guys after all. I just thought . . ." Joxer frowned. "Why? Did you want to be left alone?"
"No." Gabrielle squeezed Joxer's forearm as she smiled. "I was just wondering why you changed your mind."
Joxer sat up straight, slowly pulling his arm out from under Gabrielle's touch. He smiled briefly and then shrugged.
Gabrielle smiled ruefully back in response, turning away as she ran her fingers through her short hair.
"Actually . . ."
Joxer peered up expectantly at her.
"I don't want to be alone right now, what with Xena off to see the Oracle. This is all so . . ."
"What'll it be?"
Gabrielle started at the serving wench's interruption. She smiled up at the woman who stood leaning against their table, but upon recognizing the hurried expression, quickly turned to Joxer questioningly. "What are you going to have?"
"Wine. Bring me a jug."
Gabrielle raised her eyebrows at Joxer's order. That and his impassive monotone.
"And you, honey?"
Gabrielle thought for a moment. "Um, just one ale, please."
"Sure thing," the wench replied briskly, already pivoting away.
Gabrielle turned back to Joxer and chuckled uneasily. "A jug?"
"Why not?" Joxer answered, turning finally to her, his face oddly calm.
Gabrielle nodded. "Okay."
They sat in an awkward silence, each watching the boisterous antics of the other customers, laughing and drinking, and falling over each other. Both were thankful that they weren't in some quiet little place, where there wouldn't be any helpful distractions.
"Here you go."
The serving wench plunked down Gabrielle's tankard of ale, and Joxer's jug of wine with a goblet. Gabrielle thanked the woman before she strode away.
"Busy place," Gabrielle commented.
"I guess she really has to hussle," Gabrielle commented, looking back through the crowd to where the wench had sped away. She scanned the room as she cupped her ale in her hands, listening to Joxer fill his goblet, reluctant to turn back to the table. She wondered how much idle banter she was going to have to produce for the evening.
Still, it was better than dwelling on other things.
Gabrielle glanced at Joxer as he lifted his goblet, then watched in horror as he drained his wine in one long gulp.
"What?" he asked, almost irritated, wiping his chin with the back of his hand.
"What are you doing?"
Gabrielle gave an exasperated snort. "You're not going to drink like that all night are you?"
Joxer sighed, and pursed his lips. "Gabrielle, if I want to get drunk, I'll get drunk. I'm a grown man."
"You'll get sick," she admonished.
"I know. I have before," he answered flatly.
"Then why . . .?"
Gabrielle sat back in muted shock, Joxer taking his angry eyes off her to glare off into the distance.
She couldn't remember the last time he had used her full name.
"I'm sorry," she said gently. "You're right. I can't tell you what to do."
Joxer grimaced and put his head in his hands. "No," he mumbled into his hands. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have gotten angry. I've just been so . . ."
Gabrielle smiled sadly, reaching to put her hand on his shoulder. But she immediately regretted the movement, and withdrew her hand self-consciously. She stared worriedly down at the table as Joxer continued breathing through his hands.
Gabrielle marvelled at how difficult things had become.
"Maybe we should get drunk."
Joxer looked up in surprise, then laughed. "I cannot imagine you drunk."
"Oh, yeah? You should have seen me on henbane."
"Henbane? You took henbane?"
"I didn't mean to." Gabrielle laughed. "Haven't I ever told you that story?"
Joxer chuckled. "No."
"That was one of the first times that I realized . . ." Gabrielle stopped, suddenly remembering who it was she was talking to.
"What?" Joxer asked somewhat suspiciously, sensing that she had been about to reveal something.
"Uh," Gabrielle waved her hand dismissively. "That . . . I could truly be helpful to Xena. Not just be some tag-along."
Joxer nodded, looking unconvinced. He filled his goblet again and downed half of it, Gabrielle involuntarily wincing before she chastised herself. She finally took a few hesitant sips of her own ale, but upon realizing how pleasantly sweet it was, took a few more healthy gulps.
"You think I don't know, don't you?"
Gabrielle choked on a swallow, and coughed forcefully before being whacked on the back by Joxer.
"I'm fine," she wheezed. She wiped her face with her coat and coughed again, then finally turned to Joxer quizzically. "Know what?"
Joxer's face was unreadable. "About you and Xena."
Gabrielle froze. She blinked dumbly, then shook her head in confusion. "What do you mean?" she asked softly.
Joxer smiled ruefully and leaned forward. "You know exactly what I mean."
Gabrielle swallowed anxiously, biting her lip as her face flushed with blood. "Joxer . . ."
"Don't worry." He looked down at his hands, his face drawn. "I know you love her. And it's not hard to understand why. She's so perfect."
"Not as perfect as you think," Gabrielle muttered.
Joxer looked intensely at her. "I know, I meant . . ." He grimaced and shook his head. "When I saw her attack you that time."
Gabrielle cringed at the memory.
"I found it hard to understand why you . . . ," he gestured with his hands, "for awhile. But then I realized how much you two . . . . How you're meant to be . . . together." He sounded like he was about to choke around the words.
Joxer took an uneasy gulp of his wine, filling his goblet again. "The jug's almost empty."
"Joxer . . ." Gabrielle ignored Joxer's seeming preoccupation with his wine. "I'll always care about you."
"Then why didn't you tell me?" Joxer put the jug aside almost violently. "I never understood why you didn't tell me. I was supposed to be your friend. And then even after I told you. Do you know how hard that was?"
Gabrielle shrank back in embarrassment. The look on his face. The only other time she had seen the expression was after his realization that he had killed.
"Even then," he said sadly, taking his haunted eyes off of her. "You didn't tell me."
"I thought," Gabrielle put her hand to her mouth, afraid of her own voice. "I thought it would only hurt you more."
"More than you just rejecting me," he whispered bitterly.
"Joxer . . ."
Joxer raised his hand up to stop her. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have said that." He took a deep breath and took another swallow of his wine. He leaned back and seemed to collect himself. "I just wish that you had told me."
Gabrielle was stunned. Why had she been so arrogant to think that it was her own secret to keep? She nodded mournfully. "Yes, I should have told you. I'm sorry."
Joxer bent his head and stared into his cup, emotions obviously seething below the surface.
Gabrielle dared to reach out and caress his face, and when she touched the pale skin Joxer closed his eyes and didn't move away. She drew the back of her hand across his cheek and studied the odd features.
"I meant what I said, Joxer. I'll always care about you," Gabrielle breathed.
She felt his jaw tighten under her fingers, but he didn't speak.
After a strangely quiet moment, Gabrielle drew back with a deep exhalation, then took a greedy drink of her ale. After looking down at the amber fluid speculatively she finished off the tankard with a few noisy slurps.
Joxer giggled despite himself, and Gabrielle giggled in response.
"I've drank way more than you have."
"That's why I'm trying to catch up."
Joxer shook his head mockingly. "Yeah, right."
Gabrielle's eyes narrowed in response, and just then she saw the serving wench coming up, so she swiftly leaned out to snag her. The woman came to an ungainly halt and looked down at the arm Gabrielle held pointedly. Gabrielle released her with a bashful smirk.
"You wanted something?" the wench asked.
"Yeah," Gabrielle interjected before Joxer had the chance. "Another jug of wine and a jug of ale. Oh! And some humus and pita bread."
"And some dolmades," Joxer added with a hungry smile.
"Mmmm," Gabrielle agreed. "And some olives!"
"Anything else?" the wench asked sardonically.
"No, I think that will be everything," Gabrielle said sweetly. "For now."
Joxer snorted into his goblet, and they both giggled as she left.
"I think she hates us."
"I think she hates everyone," Joxer countered.
Gabrielle grinned. "I think you're right."
They settled back comfortably into the booth in unison, both relieved to have finally cleared the air between them.
"I wonder what Amarice and Arman are doing right now?" Gabrielle mused aloud.
Joxer looked stupefied. "What do you think?!"
Gabrielle arched an eyebrow and smiled crookedly. "Okay, okay, you're right."
"Jeez, Gabby." Joxer shook his head in feigned disgust.
"Oh, shut up," she joked back. A thought came into Gabrielle's head, and she smirked at Joxer. "I wonder if Amarice has ever been with a man before."
"I doubt it," Joxer remarked as he finished off the last of his wine.
"Hey, slow down. How am I supposed to catch up?"
"That's your problem, sister."
Gabrielle laughed at him. "You're already goofy."
"I am not," Joxer said in sloppy indignation.
Gabrielle cackled. "You're drunk."
Joxer snorted and waved his hand in denial. "I can drink way more before I get drunk."
The wench appeared with the two jugs and the plate of bread, dip and olives. "The dolmades will be another few candlemarks," she told them.
"Alright!" Joxer exclaimed a little too loudly as the food was placed before them.
Gabrielle snickered, and the wench looked back and forth between her and Joxer. "You two better start eating."
"Why?" Joxer asked vehemently as the woman disappeared.
"Oh, this looks good. I am so hungry," Gabrielle cooed.
"Yummy. Me too."
They both began to devour the food, while simultaneously filling their cups and bellies with drink. After finishing off half of his next jug - Gabrielle still only two thirds through her first - Joxer began playing out a little drama in the humus with the olives, pretending that the dip was quicksand.
"No, no, I'm sinking. Help me, father. Oh, no. Son, I'm sinking too now. Ahhhhhh!"
Gabrielle sprayed humus over the entire table, then spilled the contents off her tankard as a result of her reaching to clean up the bits of dip. Thankfully, the tankard was next to empty, and they managed to mop up the mess with the help of the less-than-impressed wench who had arrived with the dolmades.
"Sorry," Gabrielle apologized for the tenth time, handing the wet rags back to the wench. "We'll pay for that," she added as the woman rushed off in a hissy.
"I loooovve dolmades," Joxer slurred, completely oblivious to the attention they had drawn.
"Oh, I know!" Gabrielle espoused. "They are sooo good." She punctuated the declaration by placing one in her mouth and moaning in pleasure. "Mmmmmm."
"Mmmmm," Joxer replied as he too let one melt in his mouth. "Ish so ghood," he said with his mouth full.
Gabrielle hiccuped, choking a bit on her food again.
"Here, drink this," Joxer offered in drunken chivalry, pushing her newly re-filled tankard toward her.
Gabrielle swallowed the sweet elixir thankfully, then sat back and let out a loud content belch.
Joxer's armor clanged as he wheezed grotesquely, laughing in great convulsive bursts. Gabrielle sniggered at Joxer, then turned to the staring patrons with satisfaction.
"What?" she asked them in mock earnestness.
Joxer tried to catch his breath after his fit of laughter, and quickly shoveled more food in his mouth. "You schnow sthat Schenna iz gonna skill uz."
"I have no idea what you just said, Joxer."
Joxer quickly chewed and forcefully swallowed his food, then clutched at his chest. "Ow. That hurt."
Gabrielle swatted at Joxer in impatience. "Joxer!"
"Ow!" Joxer held onto his arm.
"What did you say?"
"Xena is going to kill us," he said piteously, holding his injured arm.
"Or kill me," he corrected with some trepidation.
"Because I let you get drunk," he said indignantly, plunking his goblet down to emphasize the point.
Gabrielle looked aghast, then pointed an accusing finger at Joxer. "Let me tell you something, mister. I can do whatever I want. Just like you, I am a grown woman."
Joxer screwed up his face. "I'm a grown woman?"
Gabrielle frowned as she tried to remember what she had just said. "Well, you know what I mean. I can do what I want. I don't need Xena's permission."
Joxer leaned forward, trying to look sage, which was funny considering how wasted he was. "Yes, but Xena might think differently."
Gabrielle snorted angrily. "Who cares what she thinks. She obviously does what she wants without asking my permission." Gabrielle grumbled nonsensically. "She got pregnant without asking for my permission."
Joxer sat back and crossed his arms. "Ahhh, now the truth comes out."
Gabrielle looked to Joxer in annoyance. "Joxer . . ."
"No wait." He hesitated with his hand raised, then looked off in bewilderment. "What was I going to say?" Gabrielle began to speak and he waved his hands in a frenzy. "No, no, no. I remember. Xena doesn't even know who the father is. It wasn't her choice. That's the whole reason why she's off seeing the Oracle." He paused, looking faintly awed at his own ability to make his point. "Right?"
"Yes," Gabrielle grudgingly admitted. "But that still doesn't mean that I can't be pissed off. Who knows what really happened. Just cause she doesn't remember doesn't mean that she didn't make a choice."
"See, now you're just being silly," Joxer said in inebriated condescension.
Gabrielle looked briefly angry, but then settled into an indulgent pout. "This kinda crap is always happening to us. It's not fair."
"A lot of things are not fair," Joxer offered less cheerily.
Gabrielle looked abashed. "I'm sorry." She shook her head in disgust. "I'm so selfish."
"You are not." Joxer said generously. "You're just . . ."
Gabrielle looked up in anticipation, interested to know what quality it was of hers that kept sabotaging her happiness.
Joxer was squinting into the distance thoughtfully, his mouth tight. "Stupid," he finally offered evenly, turning to her with a straight face.
Gabrielle stared at him blankly, her mouth hanging open.
No longer able to keep it in, Joxer began laughing hysterically, slamming the table with his fists. "Your face, bwaa haaaa haaa."
Gabrielle smirked wryly and filled her tankard with the last of her ale. "And I said that I didn't want to be alone."
Joxer suddenly sat up straight, looking drunkenly serious. "I wonder who the father could be."
Gabrielle scowled. "I mentioned a couple ideas to Xena, but she didn't want to hear it."
"Who?" Joxer asked with glee.
"Ares. Considering how I got pregnant, who knows what's possible. Then I wondered about Herc, but I don't think that they've seen each other in ages."
"What about Caesar?"
"Or maybe Brutus."
Gabrielle actually thought about that one for a moment. "Nahh."
"Maybe it was me."
This time Joxer had been unable to keep a straight face, and the two of them giggled together.
"Yeah, or maybe it was Autolycus," she added.
"No, it was Salmoneus!" Gabrielle laughed so hard she started coughing.
Gabrielle stopped. "You've never met him?"
"Don't think so."
Gabrielle chuckled. "Well, if you did . . . . Actually, I heard that he went to prison for tax fraud."
Joxer frowned in confusion, but quickly recovered his intoxicated vigor. He finished off the rest of his wine, and sat back with a dolmades in hand. "I better stop drinking," he said lightly, as if he were actually considering the idea.
"You should've stopped drinking a long time ago."
Ignoring Gabrielle's comment, Joxer sat forward again, grinning lopsidedly. "Xena sure has slept with a lot of people."
"What? I'm not saying that's bad. If anything, I'm envious."
Gabrielle looked less impressed. "She didn't sleep with Brutus. Or Salmoneus. I hope," she quickly added. Gabrielle picked at the last dolmades on the plate. "I have a feeling that I haven't even heard about half of them."
"You mean you haven't asked?"
Joxer thought about it. "Probably not."
Joxer watched as Gabrielle started some serious sulking.
An impish grin curled up over Joxer's face. "How many people have you been with?"
"That's none of your business," Gabrielle answered in agitation. "But you can be sure that it's a lot less than Xena."
"Perdicas and Xena I know about. Anyone else?"
Gabrielle didn't reply, but only glared across the table.
"What? Xena gets to sleep with all these people but you don't?"
Now Gabrielle was truly angry. "It's different and you know it. Xena has been monogamous since me. I think."
"Yeah, but it's not really fair is it? Especially now."
Gabrielle gave an incensed sigh. "Joxer, I thought that you were trying to be helpful."
Joxer started to talk, then hesitated. "Ahh, I don't think I've been thinking with my . . . head."
"Oh, it's okay. You're only saying what I'm thinking anyway."
"Yeah, but it doesn't help having someone repeat it back to you."
Gabrielle smiled sadly. For a drunk he was pretty perceptive.
"I'm sorry, Gabby."
"Why do we keep saying sorry to each other?" Gabrielle asked in bemused irritation.
"Because," Joxer replied while tossing the last dolmades that Gabrielle had been fingering into his mouth. "We're both stupid."
Gabrielle chuckled. "Thank Zeus Xena is around to guide us through the treacherous world."
"Oh, yes," Joxer added heartily. "Lest we become lost."
Gabrielle threw her arm up to her forehead dramatically. "I don't know how I would go on."
"All would be darkness!" Joxer bellowed theatrically.
"Would you two shut up!"
Gabrielle and Joxer swung their heads around to the fat man who sat across from them, his greasy lip curled back in a sneer.
"I'm trying to drink in peace," he hollered.
"Oh, blow it out your ass!"
Joxer's jaw dropped to the table as he gaped at Gabrielle.
The greasy man was just as stunned. However, after surveying Gabrielle's muscular body and sharp sais - and not to mention her fierce expression - the fat man decided that the best course of action would be to let the matter drop.
"Gabrielle?" Joxer gushed.
"Everybody else is loud in here. Why can't we be noisy?" Gabrielle asked in self-satisfied bravada.
Joxer was still gawking at her when she finally bust out laughing. "I can't believe I said that," she whispered across the table to Joxer. "Xena would kill me."
They fell into a fit of hysterics again.
"Oh, Gab, you're a very fun drunk."
"I could say the same to you, Jox."
"Even if you do end up getting us killed."
"It would be worth it."
Gabrielle raised her tankard. "To getting killed."
Joxer looked around the table. "I don't have any wine left . . . wait." He scooped up her jug, it still containing a few slurps of ale, and raised it to her cup. "To getting killed."
They both gulped down the remnants of their drink, then both sat back and clasped onto their guts.
"Too much," Gabrielle moaned, letting out another little burp.
"Yes," Joxer agreed queasily. "We should go to bed."
"No," Gabrielle whined. "I don't want to go yet. Besides, then we'd just feel crappy in bed."
"That's true." Joxer thought for a moment, and then looked questioningly at her. "Hey, how do you know that?"
Gabrielle smirked devilishly. "I never said that I hadn't been drunk before."
Joxer tsked at her. "Devious little thing." Joxer shifted carefully, then sighed. "Okay, so what should we do?"
Gabrielle made squishing noises with her mouth, then shrugged. "I don't know."
"You're supposed to be the creative one."
"You mean I'm supposed to whore my muse for your petty entertainment?"
Joxer rolled her eyes.
They sat in silence.
"What?" Gabrielle asked suspiciously, wondering at the glint in Joxer's eye.
"Well," Joxer grinned. "I know that you can never actually do it, but . . ."
Joxer grinned lasciviously. "If you could . . . who would you have sex with?"
Gabrielle scrunched up her face. "I don't know . . ."
"C'mon," Joxer encouraged. "It's just a game. No harm in it."
Gabrielle smirked back and Joxer nodded eagerly.
"Okay, okay." Gabrielle let out a deep breath. "Do you mean in general?
Or like, in this room?"
Joxer's eyebrow shot up at the question. "I don't know, which is better?"
"I think that I better stick to this room."
"Alright." Joxer began to bounce up and down in excitement.
"Stop that," Gabrielle growled playfully. "Okay." Gabrielle sighed and began to scan the room, trying not to look at Joxer in her peripheral vision.
"Giving me that lewd expression."
"I'm sorry. I'll be an adult." Joxer sucked in his cheeks to stop from laughing.
"That's worse, Joxer."
"Alright, I'm sorry." He giggled, then took in a deep breath, and gave a very good impression of a constipated judge.
"Okay," Gabrielle conceded. Now she just had to keep herself from laughing.
"That guy there."
Joxer looked off to where Gabrielle had motioned with her head. "The guy in the sheepskin?"
"No, the guy behind him. Don't stare!"
Joxer ducked down behind his shoulder. "He's kinda scruffy."
"Yeah, look at him. When was the last time he had a bath?"
"He's tough," Gabrielle corrected in annoyance. "He doesn't have time to waste on silly luxuries."
"Son of a Bacchae, just like Xena. Always badboys."
Gabrielle looked offended. "Perdicas wasn't a badboy."
"Yeah, that's true," Joxer conceded.
Gabrielle sat back, appeased. "Anyway, he's hot."
"Yeah, he's alright."
Gabrielle poked Joxer in the shoulder. "So, I did it. Now you."
Joxer looked uneasily at Gabrielle, then blushed. "Well, you already know who number one would be."
Gabrielle smiled uncomfortably.
"But as for others . . ." Joxer looked speculatively across the room. "Her."
"The one with the red hair?"
"She is cute."
"But . . ."
"A little on the dumb side."
"How in Tartarus would you know?"
"Look at her, boobs hanging out, stupid blank look on her face." Gabrielle made the sound of a silly girl-like twitter.
"I think that you're just falling for the act."
Gabrielle turned to Joxer in consternation, not especially pleased with the implication that she couldn't see through some facade. "What act? Are you saying that she's pretending to be dumb?"
Joxer scrutinized the woman from across the room. "Yes."
"Joxer, let me explain something to you. Any woman who pretends to be dumb, in order to get what she wants, is genuinely dumb. Because she debases herself and all other women by doing it."
Joxer cocked his head, then turned to Gabrielle with an impressed expression. "You're right. Let's move on."
"Another one? Joxer . . . ," Gabrielle whined.
"You're saying that he's the only one?"
Gabrielle sighed resentfully, but then began looking around again. Finally her gaze stopped, and Joxer followed it to the woman that held it.
Gabrielle just sighed.
"Pretty butch. Very hot, yes, but I think that she would eat you alive."
"That's the idea," Gabrielle quipped.
Joxer laughed, and looked almost embarrassed.
"Besides, what kind of wimp do you think I am? Do you think that anyone in this room has been in as many fights as I have?"
"And ah, hello Joxer. Xena?"
"Oh, yeah. Good point."
Joxer turned back to look at the woman again. "Still, that is one dangerous package."
"I know," Gabrielle said appreciatively.
"Her eyes are so dark, almost black. Very unlike Xena. But the long dark hair is the same." Joxer continued examining her. "And the attitude. She's the 'tie you up, fuck your brains out, and leave you for dead' type. I mean, just look at that sword. Talk about penis envy."
Suddenly Gabrielle starting slapping herself while Joxer looked on from a safe distance.
"I was just getting a little carried away there."
Joxer laughed nervously. "Technically . . . I've already given you two people. So . . ."
"Joxer." Gabrielle stroked the sai that still sat beneath her right hand. "Don't make me hurt you."
Joxer had a strange expression on his face, and Gabrielle raised her hands up.
"You might be a little surprised, Gabby."
Gabrielle smiled encouragingly. "Tell me."
Joxer swallowed and raised his head to gesture at someone behind Gabrielle. Gabrielle hurriedly swivelled around and looked about. "Who? The woman at the bar?"
When Joxer didn't answer she turned back toward him in impatience.
Joxer slowly shook his head.
Joxer pursed his lips.
"Joxer," Gabrielle growled.
"The guy sitting alone with the black leather."
Gabrielle's eyes grew wide and she swung back to look for the man, an ecstatic grin pulling up over her face as she found the dark prince.
"And Xena and I are into badboys, huh Jox?" Gabrielle had on a shit-eating grin as she turned back toward him and crossed her arms.
"Hey," Joxer mimicked Gabrielle's earlier admission. "I never said that I didn't like badboys."
Gabrielle continued grinning. "Well, well. Should I be jealous?"
Joxer sighed and rolled his eyes. "Be whatever you want to be."
Gabrielle looked back again and let out a low whistle. "He is pretty tasty. And talk about being eaten alive."
"That's the idea."
"He kinda reminds me of Ares, though not quite as big."
Gabrielle heard a slow exhalation and she turned back around to look at Joxer. He was sitting there grinning dreamily.
"In a big way," Joxer admitted. "But hey, you said in the room."
Gabrielle squirmed around again, leaning her head on the smooth leather of the booth as she eyed the badboy. The cold expression on his face as he surveyed the bar reminded her even more of Ares. "Maybe you could introduce yourself."
Joxer looked past her toward the tight leather-clad warrior. "Sweet Dionysus, I'd like him to spank me."
Gabrielle turned back to Joxer in delighted shock. "What?!"
Joxer snickered. "Don't you want yours to spank you?"
Gabrielle looked back to the tough woman she had chosen. "Mmm. Maybe. But what I'd really like to do . . . is drive her crazy." Gabrielle drew a hand lazily down her throat.
"Yeah," Joxer said dreamily, his tongue coming out to wet his lips. "Make him lose his cool."
"Make her scream," Gabrielle purred.
"Beg for more," Joxer whispered.
Gabrielle blinked blearily at the darkening tavern, their candle having burnt out on the table, and on many of the others as well. "Joxer, I can't do this anymore. This is making me really horny."
"Let's do it."
Gabrielle paused with her hand still on her throat. "Do what?" she asked anxiously.
Joxer tore his eyes off of the hunk to gaze seriously at Gabrielle. "Seduce them."
"Are you nuts? I mean, yeah, you can try and seduce your guy, go for it, but I can't . . ."
Gabrielle looked plaintively at Joxer, to which Joxer then raised his hands up in supplication.
"I know. But . . . shouldn't you get at least one other person? Just one night? It doesn't mean you don't love her. It's just one ethereal night that will be swallowed up in time."
"Joxer, you're not a poet."
"C'mon. You deserve it. Shouldn't you get your chance to sow your wild oats just once?"
"You're not being a very good influence."
"Blame it on the alcohol."
And Gabrielle understood the double meaning.
"It still wouldn't be right," she pleaded, half to herself.
"Just once, we can share something together."
"Why can't you just seduce that guy on your own?"
Joxer sighed heavily. "I don't know. I just want us to do this together."
Gabrielle bit her lip and looked past him to the woman, and was surprised to see that the woman was looking back. Gabrielle turned her head aside self-consciously.
"How do you even know that they'll be interested?" she asked more quietly.
"I don't. Although, you'll have a damn good chance. I don't know about me."
"Joxer, don't sell yourself short."
"Then don't sell yourself short either."
Gabrielle kept biting at her lip.
"Okay, but you have to do it first." Joxer looked as if he were about to protest. "And you better do it fast before I change my mind."
Joxer looked past her, grimaced nervously, then finally nodded at her. "Okay. But you have to promise that you'll do it."
"Okay." Gabrielle dared a quick glance at the woman again, who was busy speaking to the serving wench. "Okay, I promise."
Joxer took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. Gabrielle smiled at him anxiously and he rolled his eyes.
"You only live once, right?"
"Right." Gabrielle squeezed his arm. "No strings attached, Joxer."
His face softened at the phrase. "Right. No strings attached."
And with a determined expression, Joxer stood and pushed his way through the chairs to his goal.
Gabrielle was surprised to feel her stomach fill with butterflies as she watched Joxer approach the man. She wasn't supposed to feel like this until it was her turn. Peering over the edge of the booth, Gabrielle watched as Joxer sat down at the surprised man's table, then hesitantly leaned forward to speak to him.
Gabrielle turned away. She couldn't watch. The serving wench came up to ask if they wanted anything else, and Gabrielle shook her head dumbly. She managed to stammer out a request for the bill before the woman departed.
The tough woman across the bar was watching her again, a tiny smile curving up the sides of her handsome face. Gabrielle turned away in a befuddled movement, looking back over her seat to Joxer.
The two men were speaking closely to each other, their heads parallel so that they could speak into each other's ears. Joxer looked surprisingly relaxed, Gabrielle realized. As did the other man, whose hand under the table was just now starting to slip up over Joxer's knee to his thigh.
Gabrielle's heart skipped a beat. She turned back to her table in a fluster, not exactly sure of where she should be looking anymore.
She couldn't believe it. It was actually going to happen.
Gabrielle looked up, and realized that the tough woman - who was supposed to be across the room! - was now standing directly in front of her, and she just about swallowed her own tongue.
"Whoa, whoa, relax. I won't bite."
The woman sat down across from her, smiling warmly.
"Hi," Gabrielle squeaked.
The woman drew a long finger down the edge of one of Gabrielle's sais. "Pretty nice weapon. Are you good with it?"
Gabrielle nodded fearfully, pressing the palm of her hand down across her chest in hope of slowing down her thundering heart.
The woman scrutinized her. "Am I making you nervous?"
Gabrielle let out an awkward laugh. "Yes."
The woman smiled apologetically. "Look, if I've made a mistake . . ."
"No," Gabrielle said breathlessly. "I just . . ."
"Ah, you've already got yours too."
Gabrielle's eyes nearly bugged out of her head as she looked up to a grinning Joxer, the leather-clad badboy standing behind him.
The tough woman's eyebrow arched up.
"What?" Joxer asked after reading Gabrielle's expression.
"Yes," the tough woman said, reaching across the table to clasp Gabrielle's sweaty hand. "She's got hers too."
* * * * *
"Joxer," Gabrielle growled in a hoarse whisper, wrenching him back before he was able to follow the two strangers into the rented room.
"What are we doing?"
Joxer frowned patronizingly at her. "What do you think we're doing?"
"Keep your voice down," she hissed.
"I'm sorry," Joxer whispered. "C'mon Gabby, we've already gone over this."
"I don't want to do it," she pleaded.
Gabrielle shook Joxer in admonishment. "Okay, I want to do it. But I'm scared."
"You're hurting my arm."
"Aren't you scared?"
"Of course I'm scared." Joxer pulled Gabrielle farther down the hallway of the inn with him, looking back to ensure they were far enough away. "I've never been with a man before. At least you've been with a woman before."
"Yeah, but, we were friends for so long and . . ."
Gabrielle froze as she saw the tough woman stick her head out into the hallway.
"There you two are. We were beginning to worry that you had split on us."
Both Joxer and Gabrielle laughed nervously.
"We wouldn't do that," Gabrielle said, digging her nails into Joxer's arm.
"Shut up," she hissed to him. "Ah, we'll be right there," Gabrielle sing-songed to the woman.
The woman smiled knowingly. "We'll be waiting."
Gabrielle pulled at Joxer's arm frantically. "Bloody Zeus, what in Tartarus are we doing?"
Joxer rubbed at Gabrielle's arms reassuringly. "We can do it, Gabby. We can do it."
"Okay. We can do it." She clutched at Joxer's arm again. "Are you sure you want to?"
Joxer smiled squeamishly. "I don't know anymore."
"We can escape," Gabrielle whispered frantically. "I know it's not nice but . . . no harm done. We'll just tip toe out the back."
Joxer looked back toward the room, then nodded with a relieved smile. "Okay. I think the alcohol has worn off."
"Yeah, me too." Gabrielle held onto Joxer absentmindedly while examining the hallway. "Ah, Joxer."
"The only way out is past the room."
Joxer grimaced. "Shit."
They hugged at each other in desperation.
"Let's make a run for it."
"But they'll see us, Joxer."
"Oh, well. We can just never come back to Delphi," he offered hopefully.
Gabrielle held her breath as she thought it out. "Agreed, let's go."
"What are you two doing out here anyway?"
Gabrielle screamed when she saw the tough woman. "Oh, my. I'm sorry. You startled me." She clutched at her chest and tried to suppress a manic burst of laughter. "Um, we were just . . . ah . . ." Gabrielle looked to Joxer imploringly. "We . . ."
"Uh," Joxer gestured wildly, stuttering feebly. "Looking at the . . ."
"Yeah, we were trying to find out if they had any . . ." Gabrielle faltered and it looked like she was about to faint.
"Lubricant," Joxer finally blurted out.
The tough woman laughed indulgently. "Nothing to be embarrassed about. Don't worry, it looks like this room is well stocked." She grinned at Gabrielle. "Which you two might have realized if you had come inside," she added gently.
"Silly us," Gabrielle shrugged. "When all we needed . . . hah."
"Well, we were also going to . . . . But, nevermind. It's not important. We . . ." Joxer shivered violently. "Is it cold out here?"
"Yes, but it's warmer in here. Why don't you come see."
Gabrielle gave Joxer a shove and he fell forward, then turned around and glared at her.
Suddenly Joxer brightened. "Do we have any wine? I don't think that we do. I'll go get some."
Gabrielle practically tackled Joxer as he tried to escape. "No, Joxer," Gabrielle intoned with false serenity, petting him while she tightened her grip. "We don't need anymore wine, do we?"
"We can send for it," the tough woman offered, watching the performance with a bemused expression.
Gabrielle finally released Joxer, after yanking her hand out from between his teeth. "What a wonderful idea," she chirped.
The woman stepped back and gestured at the room. "After you."
Gabrielle and Joxer stood frozen, their faces drawn up into tight wide-eyed smiles. They started walking slowly toward the door, their movements filled with a feigned jauntiness.
"Okay, then. Now that everything is worked out," Gabrielle nodded at Joxer.
"Yep, we can finally get to it."
Looking for all the world like two people on the way to their deaths, Gabrielle and Joxer finally entered the hated room.
And it was rather warm.
Joxer found himself being glared at by the badboy.
"What was that all about?" he demanded.
"They're just scared."
The door suddenly slammed shut behind them, and both Gabrielle and Joxer grabbed onto one another as they looked back.
The tough woman was leering at Gabrielle as she turned the lock on the door. "But there's no turning back now," she growled.
"But . . ." Gabrielle gasped.
"I think that we've been bamboozled," Joxer breathed.
"Hey, you're the one that came onto me, buddy."
Joxer turned back to see the leather-boy stand up and look him up and down, his dark cruel eyes filled with a mischievous light.
"And I intend to get what was promised."
"Look, you can have whatever you want." Joxer pivoted to point at the tough woman who was coming around to face the pair. "But you can't touch Gabrielle. She doesn't want . . ."
"I don't think that you have a clue about what she wants, little man." The woman grinned devilishly at Gabrielle. "Am I right?"
Joxer looked down to the woman in his arms. Gabrielle's skin was flushed, and she was eyeing the tough woman with a certain . . . .
"Of course." Joxer laughed at his own stupidity. "Badboys. And badgirls."
Gabrielle looked up apologetically at Joxer, shrugging against him. "I can't help it."
"I know. Neither can I."
"Well, then. I think it's about time we introduced ourselves," the badboy said, adjusting himself.
"My name is Procella," the tough woman informed them, strong fingers tugging at her chain mail. "And I have a thing for Amazons." She licked her lips at Gabrielle.
"How did you know?" Gabrielle queried in astonishment.
"It was obvious."
"But I wasn't born one," Gabrielle continued in amazement. "I grew up in a small farming village."
The woman shrugged. "Then you were meant to be an Amazon."
Gabrielle pursed her lips thoughtfully, looking even a little smug. "Well, my name is Gabrielle."
Procella's mouth fell open. "You're not the Gabrielle, are you? From Poteidaia?"
Gabrielle waited for the name, but not hearing it, nodded with a hopeful smile. "Yes."
"The Queen of the Amazons?"
Gabrielle's smile brightened. "Yes."
"The companion of . . ."
"Yes," Gabrielle answered before even hearing the name, her smile gone.
"Okay, so who are you then?"
Joxer looked up at the leather-boy in surprise. "Who me? Um, nobody."
The badboy laughed. "Joxer? As in Joxer the Mighty?"
Joxer looked worried. "Yeah?"
"I heard you killed Kryton," the man said speculatively.
Joxer's face fell. "Yeah, but it was an accident."
The man snorted. "Some accident. Yeah, I've heard about you. I know quite a few men who would love to get their hands on your ass."
Joxer's eyes widened in shock.
"You've got quite the reputation . . . for being a cocktease."
Joxer's mouth fell open and he looked at Gabrielle in bewilderment, the bard smirking back at him.
"Looks like we've rounded ourselves up a coupla celebrities," Procella beamed.
"We sure have."
The two predators began to advance on their famous prizes.
Everyone turned to Gabrielle.
"You haven't introduced yourself yet," she said pointing at the man.
Badboy nodded. "Alright. My name is Gallus."
"And what are you famous for?" Procella teased.
Gallus smirked, then stared at Joxer intently. "Not being a cocktease."
"Introductions are over. Time to get to the good stuff," Gallus said huskily, his eyes eating up Joxer's body.
Joxer felt all the blood rush out of his brain. "Wait," he squeaked.
"What?" Gallus and Procella commanded in unison.
"Is that the whole introduction? It's not very romantic."
Gallus and Procella exchanged stunned glances.
"Is this guy for real?" Procella asked.
"Yeah, that's it, Joxer," Gallus remarked wryly. "But the best part is coming up." He smiled again, an indulgent hand snaking below his leather jerkin. "I promise."
"Well, can't we put the candles out or something?" Gabrielle asked feebly.
"No way," Gallus objected darkly. "I want to see what I'm doing." And he gazed half-lidded at Joxer. "All of it."
"Definitely," Procella breathed, also letting her gaze slink up Gabrielle's taut frame, causing Gabrielle to visibly shudder.
Again they began to advance, and Gabrielle and Joxer looked at each other in mortification.
"But I don't want him to see me naked," Gabrielle insisted.
"I've already seen you naked, Gabby," Joxer grinned. "But it's a good point. I don't want her to see me either."
"Yeah, well, I've seen you naked too," Gabrielle scoffed.
"More than once."
"So, that's another hurdle tackled," Gallus said impatiently, advancing upon Joxer as the would-be-warrior cowered back. "Just be happy that there are two beds. Now, enough talk."
Procella didn't even give Gabrielle a warning before latching onto her, her sword poking into Gabrielle's gut. She kissed Gabrielle's throat forcefully as the bard squeezed her eyes shut.
"I want you to undress me, Gabrielle," the woman murmured, giving a light bite to the royal throat. "Undressed by the Queen of the Amazons." The warrior smiled into Gabrielle's shoulder.
Gabrielle obediently started removing the woman's weapons, the warrior looking on appreciatively. Gabrielle dared a glance in Joxer's direction, and saw that he too had begun to undress the badboy, running his unsteady hands under the leather as Gallus roughly caressed him. Joxer noticed her gaze, and smiled meekly. She smiled back, then shrugged.
"You only live once," she mouthed.
And that was that.
The next few hours were spent in sweaty, feverish clasps, stifled moans, wood squeaking, musky scents, and lots of trips to the outhouse. Inhibitions were lost, blankets were tossed aside, and candles burnt down; only to be re-lit. The women watched the men, and the men watched the women. And then it seemed that there was only a tangle of flesh as they all drifted in and out of consciousness.
Finally, at some point before dawn, Procella stood up unsteadily, and started searching out her clothes. "I have to be at the temple before dawn," she sniffed sleepily. "I wish I could stay longer."
Procella finished dressing and then gathered up her weapons. She stood over Gabrielle, who peered up at her from beneath the blankets. "I'll never forget you, Gabrielle. Queen of the Amazons." She smiled roguishly, then leaned down to kiss the bard. "Goodbye," she whispered into her cheek.
"Goodbye," Gabrielle answered softly.
Procella stood and walked to the door, winking at Joxer and Gallus.
"Bye boys. See ya around"
Both Gallus and Joxer smiled blearily at her from their cocoon.
Procella took one last glance at Gabrielle, then unlocked the door and left.
Gallus grunted. "Well, I don't want to be the third wheel, so I think that I'll split too. If you don't mind," he asked Joxer.
"It's okay," Joxer croaked.
Gallus kissed Joxer gently on the mouth, then smirked. "Cocktease no more." As Joxer smiled bashfully in response, Gallus reluctantly untangled himself from the lithe man's body, and then stood and stretched. He shuffled around the room until he found all his things, then sat down on the bed to dress. "If you ever want to find me again, Joxer, I work at the blacksmith's here. You can come visit anytime."
Joxer was about to respond but the man interrupted. "You don't have to answer. Just so you know. No strings attached."
At the familiar phrase Joxer and Gabrielle exchanged knowing glances.
"Well, I think that I'll be off," he said standing. Gallus walked to the door and opened it, then turned back to them. "Take care, Joxer. And you too, Gabrielle."
"Yeah, take care, Gallus," Joxer answered, his voice still sleepy.
"Bye," Gabrielle said hoarsely.
Gallus smiled and closed the door.
Joxer rolled onto his back and sighed. "What a night."
Gabrielle got up from her bed and padded sleepily over to Joxer's. She crawled in next to him, all self-consciousness obliterated long ago, and Joxer lay down his arm so that she could put her head on his shoulder. They snuggled into each other and closed their eyes.
They lay there in silence, enjoying their peacefulness.
"Do you want to have sex?"
Joxer's eyes opened, but he said nothing. He pulled her closer to him and kissed the top of her head. "I'd like nothing more in the world." He spoke softly into her hair. "But I need something more."
Gabrielle squeezed him, and snuggled in closer to his warmth. "I understand."
And they fell asleep in each other's arms.
* * * * *
Xena brushed down Argo contemplatively, still mulling over what she had been told by the Oracle. She looked up as the stable door opened and light spilled in.
"Hi Gabrielle," she beamed.
Gabrielle wiped sleep out of her eyes, and smiled. "Hi."
"Where were you? I expected to see you guys in the tavern an hour ago. I was just about to get worried."
Gabrielle pursed her lips. "Uh, we slept in."
Gabrielle came up to Xena and embraced her, wrapping her tired arms around the leather waist and pressing her head into her chest.
"I missed you, Xena."
Xena hugged back, her face softening. "I missed you too, but it was something that I had to do alone."
"I understand." Gabrielle looked up at her. "Did the meditating work?"
Xena smiled ruefully. "Well, it's kind of hard to explain."
Xena sniffed at Gabrielle.
"What?" Gabrielle asked, trying to hide her fear.
"Your hair smells nice, but your breath. You were drinking alcohol last night."
"Yeah," Gabrielle admitted sheepishly. "Joxer and I got kinda drunk."
Xena snickered and Gabrielle frowned.
"You think that's funny?"
"No wonder you slept in. Are you hungover?" Xena was still grinning impishly.
Gabrielle pouted. "A little bit. But not as bad as I expected."
Xena brushed back her hair tenderly. "I'm sorry, Bri. Do you want some herbs?"
"No, I'll be okay," Gabrielle answered wearily. "Besides, I deserve it. Teach me a lesson."
Xena giggled again.
"You're mean," Gabrielle whined playfully.
"I'm sorry." Xena leaned forward and kissed Gabrielle on the cheek. "Argo is ready. I'll be out in a moment."
"Yeah, I better check on Joxer, he's feeling worse than I am."
Xena sniggered again, and Gabrielle smiled too.
Gabrielle turned away toward the stable doors, and Xena was about to put her saddle on Argo when something caught her attention. She looked back to ensure she had seen what she thought she had seen. And indeed she had.
A half-moon hickey peeking out from underneath the back of Gabrielle's top.
* * * * *
Watching the pair strolling ahead of her, Xena walking beside Argo with the reins in her hands, Xena suddenly saw all the signs that she had never anticipated to see from Gabrielle.
Gabrielle and Joxer walked ahead of her, talking idly, occasionally bumping into one another on the trail, sharing an intimacy that Xena couldn't be sure had been there before or not. Why had she never taken Joxer's infatuation seriously before? Xena was so sure that Gabrielle loved only her. But now that she thought about it, the obviousness of all that they had in common stung her. They both had easy going natures, and hearts that were purer than hers had ever been.
Xena could understand something happening because of the alcohol, but watching the two of them having such a casual conversation, as if nothing had happened . . .
Oh, Gabrielle . . .
Beside the hickey, Joxer had scratch marks on the backs of his arms, and Xena imagined the circumstances under which they were created.
Xena felt wetness in her palm, and looked down to see that she had been rubbing the reins so hard across her skin that she had drawn blood. Xena stretched the reins in her hands in agitation, Argo whinnying nervously at her. She began to imagine wrapping the reins around one small pale throat.
No. If that's the way it was, then that's the way it was. "So be it," she muttered, glaring at Gabrielle as she strolled ahead of her, speaking softly to Joxer as he smiled.
Xena decided that she wouldn't tell Gabrielle the information she had received from the Oracle and her hours of meditation through the night. If Gabrielle does that on one of the most important occasions of her life, then it was her secret to keep.
And in a darker part of her being, Xena relished the day when Gabrielle would find out who the father was. Because Xena knew it would devastate her.
"So be it."
|What can I say? Weird, I know. And sorry for ending it on such a pissy
note. But this is what happens when you sleep all day and write all night
in one long delirious burst. So be it. :)|
Please tell me what you think. And if I get enough requests, maybe I'll write a demented (but happy - or happyish) sequel.
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