For The Good of All, One Must Suffer
Joxer looked around the town in interest. He had seen the sign but like most of Greece at that time, he couldn't read so he didn't know what he was walking into.
*** Six Years Earlier ***
Ares walked into the Fates' cave, smirking at the Fate that met him. "You summoned?"
"We have problems, God of War," Lachesis, the middle Fate, said, waving him inside.
"What's up? Bandits raiding your temples? Trouble brewing from the family? Xena going to take over the world?" He smirked at the youngest Fate, Clotho, pinching her on the ass as she walked past him. "What can the God of War do for you?"
"He can settle down and listen," Atropos told him harshly. "This isn't about your little pets. Your whole family is going to die and you're going to become mortal."
His mouth fell open and he wiped the smirk off his face. "Okay," he said finally. "How do I stop this?"
"Your family's pride will be it's downfall," Clotho said, waving at the tapestry in front of them.
"A child shall be born and it will be their undoing," Lachesis said, moving closer to him, pointing out one thread. "This is the child's mother's thread."
"Yes, it is. And because they took our words too literally they ended up destroying themselves."
"We have spun off that reality into a separate reality," Atropos put in. "It won't happen here, but only if you and Aphrodite work together to change a mortal."
"Which one? Does he need to die? How messily?"
Clotho patted him on the arm. "No, Ares, this is much harder." She pointed at another thread. "When we changed the future, we changed his future also, but he is the key to making sure that it never happens." She walked around him, pointing out a blackened part of the tapestry. "This is somewhere that Hera has just cursed."
"Oh, *that* town," he groaned. "So, this mortal needs to go there? Why is this my problem?"
"He's one of your warriors, one of your most faithful," Lachesis told him gently. "We cannot steer him there without your help."
"And what's 'Dite's role in this?"
"She'll comfort him after this town takes away his life." Clotho looked him over. "Are you willing to risk the one that could make sure that you survive?"
"This warrior's prayers are the strongest of all of your warriors. At your weakest moment, it's his prayers that will keep you going."
"Oh." He looked at the strand, shaking his head when he figured out whose it was. "What's going to happen to him?"
"We haven't woven that far yet," Lachesis told him, touching the side of his face. "Can you do this? Intentionally stop Xena from one of the natural urges of her life, change humanity for the better?"
"I don't know," Ares said honestly. "I need time to think, to watch them."
"You have some," Clotho told him, "but not much."
Ares nodded and left, leaving them alone.
"How long?" Atropos asked.
"He'll have six years until it has to happen," Lachesis said, fingering the thread. "He'll come around before then."
"Good. I don't want to be one of the last Gods," Clotho said firmly. She went back to her spinning, sitting in her corner and humming to her threads.
*** Present ***
Joxer sat down at the lone table in the Inn, looking down the long table at the people he shared it with. He nodded at a man watching him, turning to take the mug of water the server was holding. "Thank you," he said, sipping it. "Hey, this isn't water."
"Our water is fouled right now," she told him, giving him a smile. "All we have is wine. Don't worry, we're not charging you for the first glass."
Joxer grinned. "Okay." He continued to sip, staring at the table while he thought.
*** Two Years Earlier ***
"Okay," Ares said as he appeared in a flash of light. "I'll do it. How do I have to change him?"
Clotho looked up from her spinning. "You have to get him to that town and let him make his own way. If he comes back to you, then his life will continue, if not, then he will die shortly afterwards." She picked up a basket, bringing it over to Lachesis. "Here, for the population explosion in a few years."
Ares paced around the tapestry, looking at the glowing threads. "That's all?"
"That's all," Lachesis agreed. "Send him there somehow. Let them decide how to change him." She glanced at him. "Don't worry, he'll come back, probably."
Ares nodded and disappeared as he walked out of the cave, heading to his main temple. He appeared on his throne, motioning one of his favorite priests closer to whisper in his ear. The priest nodded and left, coming back a few minutes later with a scroll and quill.
*** Present ***
Joxer stumbled into his room, kicking the door shut before he fell onto the bed face first, falling into a wine-induced sleep almost instantly.
Downstairs, the men in the room looked at the lone woman in the town. She shook her head, heading into the kitchen. They all looked grim but they knew what they had to do. Hera had demanded it.
Joxer woke up tied down and on his back. He looked at the people around him, mouth opening but nothing came out.
One of the men leaned down, patting him on the top of the head. "If you had only made a pass at her."
"It's not respectful," he said finally, allowed to speak. "I was taught it was wrong!"
"Be that as it may," the man told him, "Hera has demanded that you be punished. That we all be punished." He stood back up, looking at the woman as she walked up to the bed. He looked over at the man on the other side of the bed, motioning him to silence the young man again.
The other man put something in Joxer's mouth, rendering him silent. Even when she raised a glowing sword and brought it down between his legs.
Joxer woke up, looking up at the leaves of the trees around him. He sat up, moaning in pain, patting himself down. He felt the bandages and whimpered, trying to find anything under them, trying to make sure he was all right. Unfortunately, there wasn't anything under them anymore. He started to cry, wrapping himself in his arms, rocking himself back and forth to comfort himself. That's how the travelers found him. He flinched away from the woman with them, trying to hide behind the men.
"He was in the town," she said finally, nodding at the clearing ahead. "We heard that Hera cursed them."
"I didn't do anything!" he cried, standing up. "I was punished for being polite!" He looked around before limping into the woods, trying to leave who he was behind.
The travelers let him go, not knowing what else to do for him.
Joxer ran as far as he could, eventually falling to his knees and gasping for breath. "Why?" he called. "What did I do that was so wrong!" He lifted his head, crying out to the heavens. "WHY!"
Ares landed beside his warrior, looking him over. "It had to happen," he said, making Joxer look at him. "I'm sorry, Joxer, but there was no other way." He squatted down to get at his level. "I know you don't understand, but you will someday soon." He touched the young man, knocking him out. "I had to." He looked up and glared at the sun overhead. "This sucks, mother, and you're going to pay for this." He disappeared, going to face off with her.
Joxer rolled onto his back, falling back into a healing sleep, the best thing his God could do for him.
Ares landed in front of his parents. "Why? Shut up Athena!" he yelled when she tried to interrupt him, sending a firebolt at her. "Why does not hitting on a barmaid deserve punishment, Hera?"
She gave him a bland look. "I don't know."
"Gee, but it's in that town that *you* cursed that he got hurt." He stepped closer. "That's right, one of my warriors fell prey to your curse. By being *polite*," he sneered.
"I left a sign," she said with a wave of her hand.
"Three-quarters of Greece can't read!" he yelled, reminding her of that little fact.
She shrugged. "That's not my concern. Talk to Athena about that."
"What happened?" Aphrodite said, getting everyone's attention.
"Joxer, one of my minor warriors, wandered into that town Hera cursed a few years ago. He was emasculated because he didn't hit on a barmaid. Because he had been taught it was impolite by his mother." He spun on his mother again. "Never again, Hera, or your temples are going to all fall."
"You can't do that," Zeus reminded him harshly, calling a lightening bolt to his hand. "You will apologize!"
"Like Tartarus," Ares countered. "She removes the curse and fixes him or I will make sure that her temples are erased from the face of the mortal realm!" He faded out, sneering at his mother. "This is your fault, Hera. And it will stay that way."
"Maybe you should remove the curse," Zeus said, trying to sound reasonable.
"No, it will stay."
*** Sixteen Months Later ***
Ares watched as his men raided another of Hera's temples, congratulating them as they came out covered in blood. A cheer went up as the walls started to fall and the warriors built a bonfire in front of the ruins.
Joxer looked up at the temple in front of him, then down at himself. "This is the last chance," he told himself. "If he can't help, no one can." He walked in, heading into the main area to make a sacrifice. "Cupid," he whispered as he laid the clay statue on the altar. "Help me, please?"
A flash of light went off behind Joxer, making him relax. "Oh, Joxie," a female voice said as warm arms went around him. "I just found out, sweetie."
He turned to find Aphrodite behind him. "You just found out?"
"Ares was yelling something about one of his warriors having been hurt, I didn't know it was you." She flashed out, taking him with her to a private garden. "Sit, love." She stroked through his hair. "What can I do to help?"
"I want to be a man again."
She looked him over. "Joxie, honey, I know this is gonna sound harsh, but why?" She pulled him into a hug when he tried to jump up. "Yeah, I know how it sounded, but do you really want to be a *man*? With all those *man* problems?"
"Yeah," he said, nodding. "Preferably with *man* equipment that works." He pulled back. "You can't?"
"I can't, sweetie, it's been too long." She kissed his cheek. "I can fix you the other way though."
"But I don't want to be a woman," he complained. "I liked being a man."
"Yes, but I can't do that," she reminded him. "I can fix what you have, but I can't make time turn back." She stood up. "Your choice, Joxie."
"Um, yeah," he said, shaking his head. "I don't want to be a woman."
"Okay." She waved a hand, making his scars look better. "I did all I can outside of the offer. Call me if you ever change your mind."
Joxer found himself back in Cupid's temple, looking up at the God of Love, who shrugged. "I can't do anymore than she could," he said, patting Joxer on the shoulder. "Hera's suffering though. Ares didn't like the fact that she defiled his warrior." He sat in his throne, looking the young man over. "I'd take Mom up on the offer. It's probably for the best."
"Yeah, maybe," Joxer sighed, turning and leaving the temple. "Thanks," he called.
"No problem," Cupid said, frowning at his priest. "Are there any more people that have been hurt by that town?"
"No, most of the rest died for trying to sleep with the woman."
"What a crock!" Cupid said hotly, getting up. "That's so unfair!" He looked up. "Mother! Did you hear that?"
"Yeah, baby, mommy did," she said as she appeared. She wrapped an arm around his waist, pulling him off to the side, disappearing with him. "Let's go do something about this."
Joxer walked into the Inn where his brother had agreed to meet him, sitting across from him. He took the mug of wine, gulping it down. "Another?" he pleaded.
Jett looked his brother over. "You look bad. Who did it?"
"Hera," he said, laughing bitterly. He looked up at his brother. "I'm the reason Ares is fighting with his mother," he said quietly.
His brother stared at him then started to laugh.
"Gee, thanks," Joxer said, standing up. "Good to know that my family is there for me." He tossed down a few coins and grabbed the mug, gulping it down. "Never mind. I don't have a family." He walked out, leaving the town within a few minutes. Once in the woods, he found a few of his friends, people he was trying to ignore. Unfortunately, they saw him first.
"Joxer, come sit," Hercules called, waving him over.
"No thanks. I have to be somewhere by tonight," he said, continuing to walk.
Gabrielle grabbed his arm and pulled him over. "Just a few minutes?"
"I'm not in the mood," he said, pushing her away. He glared at his friends. "Just leave me alone! I don't want to talk to anyone!" He walked away, heading deeper into the woods.
"What's up with him?" Iolaus asked, staring after him.
"I don't know but someone had better find out. That wasn't Joxer," Xena said, standing up, jogging after him. She caught up to him, taking the knife he was staring at. "What happened?" she asked gently, leading him over to a tree to lean him against it. "Tell me what's going on, let me help you, Joxer."
He laughed bitterly. "You can't do that. Not even the Gods can do that anymore." He looked her over. "Go away," he said finally, taking the knife, accidentally cutting her palm. "Just leave me alone." He walked away from her, dodging her attempt to grab him. "Go away, Xena."
"I agree, go away, Xena," Ares said as he appeared. "Joxer. She's paying for it. It's the best anyone can do." He moved closer. "Sis called, said you had talked to her."
"Yeah, but I can't take her solution."
"It may be the only answer," Ares said. "Do you really want to exist in this state?" He waved a hand down the gaunt body. "I'll even make sure that you get training this time, Joxer."
"It's not worth it!" Joxer yelled, glaring at the other people who ran into the clearing. "Go away!"
"No. Ares, why don't you leave him alone," Hercules suggested.
"No," Xena said. "He's not hurting anything. What's going on, Ares?"
"It's none of your business!" Joxer yelled, getting into her face. "Stick to your own life and leave me alone!"
Iolaus looked from Ares to Joxer and back. "It's him, isn't it?" he asked.
Joxer glared at him. "What do you know?"
"Just rumors," he said, trying to sound calm and helpful. "Ares, maybe we should leave you two alone to talk about this."
"No!" Hercules said, trying to push past to get to Joxer.
Ares nodded. "Please." He held out a hand. "Joxer? Would you like to go somewhere more private?"
"Please." He took the God's hand, letting himself be taken away. He looked around the garden, frowning. "Gee, this looks familiar."
"It's the closest private place," Ares said with a shrug. "What do you want me to do, Joxer?" he said after a few minutes of silence.
"I want to be myself again." He looked up. "The same thing I begged for when it happened."
"What I couldn't fix then, I still can't," Ares reminded him. He looked over the body. "What about your meeting earlier?"
"Just that you prayed for it to go well."
"Yeah, well it didn't. As far as I'm concerned, I don't have a family anymore."
Hera appeared, clicking her tongue. "Young man, family is important." She found a sword at her throat. "Do you really think that you could harm me with that?"
"Do you think I care if I die right now?" Joxer countered, moving closer. "After how you ruined my life, do you really think I care if you burn me to death?"
She shook her head and sighed, flicking her finger and knocking him down.. "If I fix him, would that make you stop, Ares?"
"No," he said diffidently. "You can't fix it either."
"No, but I can take him out of this in between spot."
"He doesn't want to be a woman," Aphrodite said, appearing and lifting Joxer up to hold him.
"He's a mortal, he'll get used to it," Hera told her, waving her hand to gather energy. Until Ares got in her way, stepping between them. "I can't fix this if you stand between us," she said in irritation.
"He doesn't want that, mother."
"He'll adjust." She waved her hand. "Move, Ares."
"No," Aphrodite said, standing up to her, putting Joxer on the bench behind her. "If you do that, something worse can happen."
"If I don't, he'll stay this way and my temples will continue to suffer," Hera reminded her.
"You do it and they'll finish being destroyed and I'll get my half-brother in on the act," Ares said with a sneer. "How do you think he'll react when he finds out what that town's doing?"
"Ares, this is the only way to fix it. The Fates have spoken."
"Then I'd rather be dead," Joxer said, standing up and getting between the Gods protecting him. "If I have to be a woman, I'd rather be dead."
"That can be arranged," Hera reminded him coldly. "You have no say in this matter."
"Gee, just like when it happened!" he yelled, but Ares kept him from getting into her face. "I didn't do anything wrong and yet, I got punished. I got punished in a way that you wouldn't let happen to someone who hurt his own children years ago, and all I did was ignore a woman." He looked her over. "I don't see why we worship you at all, Hera. I sure as Tartarus don't anymore." He stepped back, bowing to the two Gods helping him. "I'll make offering soon." He walked out of the garden, through Cupid's temple, nodding at the man he recognized. He even tried to get away from his brother Jace when he tried to stop him but he wasn't in that great of shape anymore. "Let go," he hissed.
"Joxer. What's wrong?" Jace said, pulling him into an alcove with a bench. He sat his brother down. "Cupid said I needed to come here and see you. What happened?" he cooed, patting his brother on the head. "What can I do for you?"
"Nothing," Joxer said, glaring at him. "There's nothing anyone can do about it."
"Well, we can do something but it's not what he wants," Cupid disagreed with a slight smile. "Joxer, maybe it's for the better."
"No, I don't want that!"
"Fine, dude, just tryin' to help. You want to continue running while I tell him?"
"No, I want to hear him laugh too," Joxer said harshly, looking at his brother. "I'm the reason Ares is destroying Hera's temples."
Jace looked confused. "He is?" He looked up at his God. "Really?"
Cupid nodded. "Hera cast a real unfair curse on a town and since your brother didn't hit on the barmaid, he was ... fixed."
"Oh, yeah, that's a nice way of putting it."
"Hey, I'm tryin' ta be gentle," Cupid warned.
"S'okay. If it were me, I'd be screamin' at everyone too." Cupid looked at his follower, frowning when he saw he was holding in laughter. "Don't do it," he warned. "You won't ever get any again."
Jace sobered himself, turning to look at his brother, but Joxer was gone. "I'm sorry, but the thought of him now leaning my way was funny. Especially since he's always hated me."
Cupid shook his head. "This goes *way* beyond that, Jace. You screwed up majorly this time." He walked away, going back to listen to petitions.
Joxer looked at the fire he had built, staring into the flames. "Okay, now what?" he asked himself, staring at the knife that was sitting next to the flames. He had killed an animal with it earlier and it needed cleaned. He heard someone coming but decided he didn't want to be sociable.
Iolaus sat down next to Joxer, handing over a wineskin. "Here, you've probably been using a lot of this."
"Yeah, it kills the pain for a while," Joxer said, taking a sip of the strong wine. "S'good." He waved at the meat. "Eat?"
"Sure. Thanks." Iolaus took a piece of meat, nibbling on it carefully. "So, you okay now?"
"Uh-huh." Iolaus turned to look at his friend. "What are they trying to do? Tell me, let me think about it for a while. Maybe there's another way."
"Unless you can figure out how to restore what she took from me, then there's nothing anyone can do," Joxer said, taking another sip of wine.
"Oh. *That* town." He shook his head, going back to staring into the fire. "What was your crime there?"
"I didn't hit on a barmaid."
"That's a crime?"
Cupid appeared, handing over a golden goblet to Joxer. "Mom said you have no choice now. The Fates really did say it was going to happen." He sat down across the fire from them. "But I can explain it."
"Please," Iolaus said, nudging the knife away from the fire. "What happened?"
"See, the Fates were weaving one day and they noticed that all the Gods' strings were suddenly missing so they checked. Seems Xena, warrior-ho to my father, was going to have a kid that was going to make all the Gods die, mostly because they heard about it and made sure it happen, but that's the whole pride thing." He looked over at Joxer, who was staring at the knife. "Anyway, they spun that off into a different reality, but to keep it there, some things down here had to change. Joxer was the key to all that."
"So I had to change?" Joxer asked, looking up. Cupid nodded. "Ares said it was necessary but not why."
"Yeah, he wasn't sure what to tell you and all." Cupid shrugged. "Anyway, all that was specified was that you had to go there and you had to fall victim to the curse, whichever way it went."
"And I did," Joxer said with a harsh laugh.
"Yeah, you did," Cupid said, watching as Joxer finished the goblet and passed out. "Dion's wine," he said in explanation. "Anyway, the Fates thought they were being kind when they made it so we couldn't fix it back, only make him go fully the other direction."
"Now, he's going to have to agree. The Fates told Hera that it had to be so in order for her to live. She's hot on the subject right now."
"Why did she curse that town?" Iolaus asked, slumping in on himself. "It doesn't make sense. They were always faithful."
"Oh, they were, but a young boy thought she wasn't very pretty." Cupid glared and the fire shot up. "She cursed the town because of a little kid that didn't like girls, he was in that stage ya know, and he said she was an icky girl."
"That's not real fair," Iolaus pointed out.
"The curse was lifted," Ares said as he appeared, with Strife. "Okay, you've seen him, now what's going on, Strife?" The God of Mischief leaned closer and whispered in his ear. "Oh, no," Ares groaned, holding his head. "He's like that other guy, son, the one Xena found in Athens last year."
"Really?" Cupid looked Joxer over and then shrugged. "Nothin' we can do about it now. What about his brothers?"
"Jett's paying," Strife said coldly.
"Jace ain't happy either," Iolaus pointed out. "Xena has him, she's trying to get information from him."
"Oh, wonderful," Ares said sarcastically. "Why don't we just tell all of Greece?"
"Isn't that the next step?" Joxer asked, pushing himself up. He grinned at Strife. "Hey."
"Hi." Strife knelt in front of him, putting his hands on either side of the young man's head, gently squeezing. "We can do something," he said, looking into his eyes, "but we can't return ya to what ya were. No one can now."
"But I don't want to be a woman."
"So, be a butch amazon," Strife said with a shrug. "Be whatever ya want, but you're gonna die if ya don't let it happen soon. Ya can't keep doing this."
"I know," Joxer sighed, looking into the God's eyes. "Why me?"
"Because the Gods need to exist," Ares said. "What Cupid said was true, I didn't know how to tell you." He pulled Strife off and made Joxer stand. "Your choice, Joxer, but it has to be made. You can die, and so will most of us, starting with Strife. Or you can go with the change and let Aphrodite teach you how to do everything for a while."
"What about you?" Joxer said, giving him a begging look. "Does that mean I can't pray to you?"
"No, it doesn't. All it means is that you'll be taking some time off from learning how to be a warrior. And who knows, you might be a better female warrior. You were always a little on the light side to fight with some of the other men." He wrapped an arm around Joxer's shoulders, sobering him up instantly. "Say yes, and I'll make sure you rival Aphrodite in beauty. If you let Hera do it, I doubt you'll be someone anybody wants to look at. And you have a long future ahead of you."
"Whatever," Joxer sighed.
Iolaus sighed, standing up. "Want me to leave?"
"No!" Joxer said, grabbing him. "Stay. Please?"
"Okay," Iolaus said, nodding. "I'll stay." He looked at Ares and shrugged. "I'll stay out of the way."
"Not an issue," Ares said, joining hands with Cupid and Strife. They put their joined hands on Joxer's forehead, their glows merging and flowing into the young man, changing him. Making him different.
Iolaus' mouth fell open, then he started to smile. He could see that the men were earnest in trying to make up for the horrible incident. Joxer was going to need a bodyguard when they were done, or at least a large stick.
Joxer opened his eyes and looked at them. "I don't feel different." Then he looked down at himself and felt shock for all the changes.
"We had ta change a few external things, but basically, ya've been livin' the life for months now," Strife reminded him. He looked at Cupid. "Your mom's lookin' for ya. Bliss is up visitin'."
"Cool," Cupid said with a grin as he disappeared. "My temple, Iolaus. Tomorrow."
"Yes, sir," Iolaus called, helping Joxer down onto the ground, looking him over. The slim form was now evenly rounded out. The new breasts were small but full, and they begged to be touched. The trim waist flowed down into narrow hips and long legs, making her look perfect. "Joxer?" he asked gently. "How do you feel?"
"Different," she sighed, her voice now smooth and soft, very melodic but low. She looked down at herself again and started to cry, clutching at him.
Ares shook his head. "You do this. Aphrodite will meet him there tomorrow." He handed over a pack. "For her." He disappeared, grabbing Strife at the last minute and pulling the younger god with him.
Iolaus held the newly made woman, comforting her as she got used to her new body.
Aphrodite flashed into the temple and wrinkled her nose at the outfit Joxer was wearing. "Oh, yeah, Bro dressed you all right." She waved her hand, changing the simple outfit Joxer had been wearing to something closer to what she would wear. But the young woman looked disturbed so she compromised and gave her a full outfit. "There, better?" she asked.
"Yes, Aphrodite." Joxer looked down. "Thank you for helping me."
"Hey, sweetie," she said, moving over to give him a hug. "You're going to be the best woman ever!" She smiled at Iolaus. "Come back in a few months, sweetcheeks, and we'll show you a whole new woman. You'll get an invite to the unveiling." She took Joxer with her as she disappeared.
Iolaus smiled and shook his head, starting for the Inn where his friends were made to wait.
*** Four Months Later ***
Joxer reappeared in Cupid's temple, smiling confidently at the God sitting on his throne as she bowed to him. "Thank you," she whispered before walking out.
Cupid grinned at his followers. "That's a happy ending. I like those. Bring me more couples who can have those."
Joxer walked out into the town's square, smiling at the man he recognized. He kissed Iolaus on the cheek then gave him a hug. "Hi," she said, putting her head on his shoulder. "Thanks for coming."
"Joxer?" he asked, pushing her back to look at her. "Wow. They did a good job. A great job." He licked his lips. "A really great job."
"Yup. Aphrodite made me see that a few months back." She looked around then held up her beltpouch. "Can you walk me to Ares' main temple? And help me get supplies?"
"Of course," he said quickly. "Herc's in town but I'm sure I can dump him if I have to." He took the belt pouch, jingling it. "We can get supplies with this, and get you something decent to wear when you appear." He nodded towards the stalls, letting her lead the way. "Anything in particular we need?"
"Oh, yeah," she said. "I need clothes. Aphrodite made sure I knew that fact." She looked down at the outfit she was wearing. "I have other stuff, but it's not suitable for traveling."
"Then we'll fix that," Iolaus said, turning her toward a clothing stall. "Do you want to wear pants to travel in or dresses?"
"If you're willing to carry them," he reminded.
"I can do that." Joxer fingered a soft silk piece of fabric. "I learned how to appreciate the finer things, but I'm still aware of what we need to travel with." She pointed at a dress made of a more common fabric. "I want that one and another like it. And two pairs of pants and three shirts," she said, looking at the woman.
"You sure you want pants?" she asked with a smile. "A woman such as yourself shouldn't wear pants."
"We have to travel to Thebes," Iolaus told her. "Pants would keep her out of trouble." He handed over a hat. "Get that too. We can hide your hair in it."
"Thanks. I forgot about that part." Joxer smiled at him. "I knew you were the right one to ask." She handed over the hat, taking her belt pouch to pay for her purchases. She let Iolaus get everything else, then checked into the Inn for the night.
Iolaus glared at the early light, but kept walking. "Are you going to rededicate yourself?"
"Yes. I've even learned that I'm much more graceful now. And Cupid said it would be the healthiest thing for me." She shrugged, pushing her braid over her shoulder. "Do you have the other pack?"
"Yeah. What else did you buy?"
"It's been mine," Joxer said, stopping to open the second pack, showing the contents off. "I learned how to use these while I was learning how to be a woman." She strapped on the three daggers. "I learned some sword work then too, but not a lot. They were really good about teaching me everything I needed to know. Well, all but one thing, but most everything."
Iolaus smiled. "Who do you want to train you?"
"I'm not sure yet. I was going to ask for recommendations after I rededicate myself." She started walking again, putting on a carved metal bracelet.
"That's pretty," Iolaus said, picking up her wrist to admire it. He saw the matching necklace. "Parting presents?"
"From Strife. He was really good about showing up to give me lessons with the daggers. He even took me out for my first night on the town." She smiled at her friend. "He was great to me. Apparently I was a thorn in Hera's side so he and I became friends."
"Yeah, but you were cute. It's not often that I get to sit with a cute girl," a voice said from behind them.
Joxer turned and smiled at the God of Mischief. "And it's not often that I got to be that cute girl." She jogged back to him and gave him a hug. "Are you following us?"
"Yup. Ares sent me ta give ya a message. Don't take the normal pass, it's got bandits and Xena right now." He shrugged. "Other'n that? I'm just admirin' the view." He faded out.
"Yeah, he is," Iolaus said, admiring the view he got himself. "Come on. We need to get moving or we'll never get there."
Joxer looked at the outfit that had appeared on her bed while she was bathing, smiling at it. "Thanks, 'Dite," she sighed, putting it on. Then she hitched on the cloak over it, using the pin Cupid had given her before she had left. She grabbed her pack, shoving the clothes into it so she could meet her friend outside. She ignored the looks she was getting, sliding her arm around Iolaus' waist as she slid up to him. "Ready?" she asked.
He looked her over, his mouth working but no sound coming out.
"Aphrodite picked it out for me specially for today," she said with a grin. "Come on. We'll be late. I'll have to push through people."
Iolaus nodded, following her to the temple.
Once there, a small bribe to a priest put them up close to the dias, Joxer making sure her new sword was on her side. Ares appeared and everyone clapped, but he looked around and it stopped.
"Who has a petition for me?"
No one wanted to move closer but one young man did, with a helpful push from his father. "I do, Lord Ares. I wish to dedicate myself to you, to earn glory in your name."
Ares looked him over and nodded. "Good," he said with a smirk. "You'll start classes tomorrow. Go say goodbye." He waved his hand and the boy stepped back. "Anyone else?" The crowd got very quiet. "Come on, I'm not that scary. Today," he added as an afterthought.
Joxer cleared her throat and stepped forward, bowing to him. "Lord Ares," she said. "I wish to rededicate myself to you. To learn how to better serve you."
Ares stood up, staring at her. He waved his hand. "Go away." The priests led everyone out, except Iolaus, who punched the one who tried to move him. Ares looked over at him. "I'm not going to hurt her."
"I know, but I promised I'd be here for this."
Joxer smiled at him. "Thanks." She turned back to Ares, giving him a little smile. "I'm ready to try and learn now. Are you going to tell me no?"
"No," Ares said, looking over her again. "You look good. We did a good job with you."
"Ares!" Hercules said as he walked in.
"Stop it," Iolaus warned his best friend. "She wants this."
"Yes, go away," Ares said, walking down to walk around Joxer's still body. "Daggers?"
"Strife taught me. He said that a woman like me had to have some protection."
"Hmm." Ares nodded, looking over the sword. "A decent enough blade."
"I have a better one but I wasn't going to bring a Hephaestian blade into the temple." She shrugged. "Aphrodite picked out the outfit," she said with a wink. "She said that you wouldn't refuse me the chance to prove myself."
"Joxer, you've more than earned it. I'm simply admiring my handiwork." Ares smirked at her. "I accept. Who do you want to teach you?"
"I'm not sure yet. I was going to ask you or your priests for a recommendation."
"Hmm. I'd send you to Chiron, but he's no longer with us. Maybe Milaran. He's proven to be a decent teacher."
"How about Malya?" Iolaus asked. "He's used to teaching little fighters."
"Yeah, he taught you, didn't he?" Ares said, sharing a smile with him. "Thank you for escorting her. Would you like to take her to be trained?"
"She's not going anywhere!" Hercules said firmly. "Father sent me to stop this."
"Yay," Ares said, absently sending a fireball at him. "Go away. Joxer's saving his life too." He held out a hand. "Come. We'll send a message to him. Iolaus, you're more than welcome to stay here until she leaves. I'll have a room prepared for you. Just leash your pet."
Iolaus smiled, waiting until the God and his newest warrior were gone before going over to punch Hercules on the arm. "This happened to stop the Gods from dying," he said. "Joxer was forced to make a great sacrifice to stop it. She deserves our support." He smiled at the priest he had punched. "Can I please put our packs in my room?"
"Of course." He waved down a hall. "Follow me."
Iolaus followed him down the gloomy hallway.
**** Two Years Later ***
Joxer walked into Xena's camp, giving her a smile. "I've got a message," she said, sitting down next to Xena, handing her a scroll. "Aphrodite didn't think that you'd listen to her at the moment."
Xena read the letter and closed her eyes. "They're sure?"
"It's the end of what I had to stop," she said, standing up. "Ares ordered me to stop it personally if I had to."
Gabrielle glared at her. "What's going on?"
"I'm about to become pregnant and if I do, all of the Gods will die and Ares will become mortal. We're going to suffer because he's going to follow us around."
Gabrielle huffed and went back to carving an awkward place down on her staff. "Whatever."
Xena looked at the warrior, smiling as she recognized her, getting a wink in return. "You changed your hair."
"Aphrodite didn't like me cutting it short," Joxer said with a shrug. "She made sure I couldn't do it again." She brushed some of the long strands behind her back again. "I'm going to let you make the decision, Xena. What do you want to do about this?"
"There's only one real answer, isn't there?" She smiled, but at that moment, a group of bandits ran into the camp. "I thought Ares was going to let me do it?" she called, turning to fight the first one.
"We come in the name of Discord," the bandits hissed, lunging at the women. "She refuses to lose what's hers!"
Joxer put up a good fight, showing off her training very well. She even managed to regain her feet after Gabrielle accidentally knocked her over. But the second time, she wasn't quite fast enough. She managed to block the stroke of the sword, but it still cut her, just a little higher, in her armpit instead of her chest.
"Joxer!" Xena called, stabbing the bandit that had gotten her.
"That's Joxer?" Gabrielle asked, knocking one of the bandits unconscious. "No wonder she got tangled up in my feet." She didn't see the backhand from Xena, but she felt it when she woke up a few hours later. By that time, Joxer's body had been buried. Or at least that's what Xena told her.
Strife showed up right after the fight was over, bending down to kiss Joxer's forehead. "Don't worry," he said, not looking up. "She'll wake up." He looked down at her. "I'll expect ya to be one o'the last one o'them," he muttered, brushing some hair off her face. "After all, I helped train ya and all, the least ya can do is make it ta the final twenty." He coughed as he remembered he was being watched.
"She's like that man in Athens? The one that was stoned twice and burned a few times?"
"Yup." Strife stood up. "There's a priest coming, two of 'em. I called 'em ta come train Joxer. Take Gabrielle away and don't tell her." He disappeared.
"Sure," Xena said, nodding. "Whatever." She started to make it look like she was burying the body. She was piling on the last row of stones when a male throat cleared itself behind her. She turned to find a slight, young, redheaded male, and a darker, more dangerous looking male, behind her. "You're the ones Strife called?"
"I guess," the redhead said, bending down to look at the body. "Not too bad. She know how to fight?" He looked up at her, seeing her shock at the sight of his friend. "He's fine, he's my teacher."
"Yeah, she does. Ares made sure of it, personally. So did Strife, Aphrodite, and Cupid."
The young man stood up, holding out a hand. "Theodonius," he said quietly.
"Xena." She shook it. "Your friend?"
"Adamus," he said with a nod. He looked down as Joxer gasped and sat up. "Relax. You're not dead."
"Strife hinted that this was going to happen," she said, rubbing her forehead. "Oh, did someone hit me? My head hasn't felt this bad since the last orgy at 'Dite's."
"Only Gabby," Xena said lightly, pointing at the unconscious woman.
Joxer stood up, smiling at Xena. "What about the letter?"
"I won't," she agreed. "I don't want to be a mother again anyway." She hugged Joxer, patting her hard on the back. "Be good. If you need me, call and I'll be there."
"Same goes for me," Joxer said, wiping off a tear. "Thank you, Xena."
"Hey, you were always a good man...woman," she amended. She looked over at the two waiting men. "You need to go before Gabby wakes up. Be safe."
"Yup, always," Joxer said, giving her a second, harder hug. "Take care of Gabby." She turned, looking at her men. "'Dite said I was getting new teachers soon. Is that you?"
"Yes," Theodonius said, giving her a small smile. "Come on, before your friend wakes up." He held out a hand. "We'll camp close by tonight."
"There are caves about three leagues down the road," Xena told them. "Just watch out for the middle one. It's a favorite living spot of some animals."
The second man smiled at her, and it made him seem to be much more of a philosopher than a warrior. "Thank you. You don't seem surprised."
"I was there when they found out about the man in Athens a few years ago," Xena said quietly. "I stopped it in Ares name, figuring he was one of his since he was fighting when he was caught. Then I watched over him as he healed." She looked the other man over. "He was talking about you."
"He wanted to fight me but ran into someone else instead," Adamus said. "She'll be fine."
"Good. As long as she is, we don't have a problem." Xena bowed to them. "Joxer, be safe. Call if you ever need me."
Joxer smiled. "Strife wouldn't let me be harmed. He likes me." She waved and they started down the road. "Bye, Xena."
"Bye, Joxer," she whispered, watching them go. She turned back to her duty, finishing the unused tomb.
*** Fourteen Hundred Years Later ***
Joxer looked at the land around her. "This will be a sanctuary," she said, looking at her teacher. "This is what I'll do for the other immortals. We should always have a safe place to relax, and with the Inquisition, the Church isn't it anymore."
Theodonius nodded. "Good. I'll stay for a while if you don't mind."
"Sure, if you can paint, you can stay."
"Me?" he asked with a smile. "Of course I can." He looked around the lands. "You going to keep doing this stuff?"
"I like the idea of it. We should all have a safe place. I can fight if I need to, but I won't have to. I'll be providing something we all desperately need. And I can be happy here." She looked at the cold stone walls. "I think this is my purpose in the Game."
"If you say so. I'm kinda glad for the space," Theodonius said with a sigh. "Life's been rough recently. Methos helped me be reborn, but I have to get used to this new me. Even he had to become a new Adam after what just happened," he said conversationally.
"And here you'll have space. You can be the new you, I can piss off my former brothers by using their names. Our old friend Adamus can show up and be whichever version of Adam he wants to be this year. It's a good thing for all of us." She walked into her room, bowing before the small altar in there, lighting the candle. "For my friends: Strife, Ares, 'Dite, Cupid. May you be safe." He sent a silent prayer to each of them then blew out the candle. "May you live peacefully."